More meaningful government engagement with all education actors could improve learning in Bangladesh

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This blog is written by Mobarak Hossain, Independent Consultant, the author of a case study on accountability and education in Bangladesh commissioned for the 2017/8 GEM Report. The blog is part of a series showing that accountability in education is shaped by a country’s history and political, social, and cultural context. 

Background: Bangladesh’s Education system

Like other service sectors, the education system in Bangladesh is also centrally controlled. Pre-primary and primary education systems are managed by the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education. Post-primary education, including secondary and higher education covering general, madrasah, technical-vocational and professional education, is managed by the Ministry of Education. The University Grants Commission (UGC) is responsible for administering the activities of universities while the National University looks after the majority of the colleges for higher education. The teaching materials and curricula for both education levels are also centrally decided. No policy related power is delegated to the local administration at the District and Upazila (sub-district) level.

 

Over the past decade, Bangladesh has achieved remarkable progress towards universal primary education. Enrolment rates reached almost 98% in 2016, up from 87% in 2005. However, the National Student Assessment 2015 showed that only 10% of Grade 5 students demonstrated proficiency in mathematics, while only 23% were proficient in Bengali.

In a joint dialogue on accountability for SDG-4 and citizen participation, held in Dhaka in April this year, the Campaign for Primary Education and the Citizen’s Platform for SDGs, Bangladesh, asserted that poor learning is a result of lack of accountability, which must be tackled with adequate resources, participation of all stakeholders and transparency of decisions.

However, the rigid centralization of power in the administrative system impedes the functioning of an effective accountability system. The lowest administrative tier, the Union Parishad, has no functional role in education provision. The budget is also highly centralised. An International Institute for Educational Planning study also showed that, even compared to other countries in the region such as Nepal and Sri Lanka, lower administrative tiers in Bangladesh play a negligible role.

In short, Bangladesh only enjoys a form of de-concentration of centrally controlled responsibilities rather than devolution of policy power to the local level. There is only a semblance of participatory accountability, as the following examples show. Continue reading

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The role of civil society in accountability systems: A human rights perspective

By Zama Neff, director of Human Rights Watch’s Children’s Rights Division

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School Number 42 in Vuhlehirsk, Ukraine, was struck six times in January and February 2015. © 2015 Yulia Gorbunova/Human Rights Watch

From girls in rural Afghanistan, to children in immigration detention on the US-Mexico border, to grandmothers fleeing war in Sri Lanka, throughout my career working on children’s rights, I’ve heard firsthand the importance that education has for families and their children, even in the midst of the most desperate circumstances. These families expect their children to be able to access a quality education, and they have a right to do so.

In light of this, I welcome the launch of the new Global Education Monitoring Report, especially its focus on accountability, which is a key element in building equitable and quality education systems.

This blog explores how civil society can work to increase accountability, drawing on my experiences at Human Rights Watch, with the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, and as a human rights lawyer. Continue reading

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Accountability in education in post-conflict Nepal

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This blog is written by Tejendra Pherali, UCL Institute of Education, the author of a case study on accountability and education in Nepal commissioned for the 2017/8 GEM Report. The blog coincides with the national launch of the report taking place in Kathmandu today and is part of a series showing that accountability in education is shaped by a country’s history and political, social, and cultural context. 

A country’s social, political and economic conditions determine how the state perceives its responsibility towards its people and whether the people are empowered to sanction states that are not responsive. In post-conflict societies, such as Nepal, traditional structures have been ruptured and new mechanisms are fragile or yet to be institutionalised.

Historically, the Nepali state has been exclusionary, centralized and unaccountable to its people. There was lack of public awareness about rights and weak enforceability of those rights for the majority of the population. And agencies, organisations and individuals who, responsible for service delivery of often poor quality were not being called upon to account.

Social accountability was also constrained by the traditional culture of unconditional submission to power holders. Traditionally, wealthier, high caste individuals have monopolized power in Nepalese society, which is reproduced through their capture of state resources. Patrons often use state resources to ensure the loyalty of clients in the population, which reproduces a culture of informal governance and often undercuts accountability towards the public. Corruption, nepotism and the network of elitism further consolidate their power in the environment which suffers from state fragility and frail economic conditions. Continue reading

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What is a ‘living laboratory’, and why should all universities become one?

1 Last year, the Planet chapter from the 2016 GEM Report formed the basis of the keynote presentation that kicked off the Education day at the COP22 in Morocco. UNESCO’s former Director-General Irina Bokova and the GEM Report’s Manos Antoninis were joined by HRH Princess Lalla Hasna of Morocco and the Minister of Education of Morocco to discuss the importance of education in the climate agenda.

One year on, at the Education Day at COP23 in Germany, the GEM Report continues to underscore the importance of education as a key element of any solution to climate change as well as a fundamental part of creating a safer, healthier, cleaner and more prosperous future for all. Successful sustainability education must be transformative. Formal education is critical to improve awareness of environmental challenges as well as our individual and communal responsibilities to address these challenges.

In this blog, we look at the role of higher education institutions in teaching and embodying environmental sustainability. Continue reading

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South African inquiry finds free university education is not viable

The long-awaited report by the South African Commission of Inquiry into Higher Education and Training, released by President Jacob Zuma on Monday, has concluded that it is not feasible for South Africa to abolish fees for higher education. This inquiry was prompted by a student-led protest, entitled #FeesMustFall, which began in 2015 and demonstrates the extent to which we all have a role to play in accountability in education.

While the report did not recommend that fees may not be abolished, there are three other positive outcomes. These include recommending that:

  1. technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) be made free;
  2. tertiary students be able to access government-guaranteed loans from commercial banks that must be paid back upon achieving a specific income threshold after graduation; and
  3. the South African government increase its expenditure on higher education and training to at least one percent of GDP.

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The student-led protests #FeesMustFall, were centered around the slogan ‘Being intelligent is not good enough if you are poor’ which for many is an accurate reflection of the lack of accessibility of tertiary education in South Africa. The 2017/8 GEM Report discussed this issue, noting that only 1 in 5 tertiary education students received state-sponsored financial aid in 2014/5. This is concerning, as annual tuition accounts for 20% to 40% of the average annual household income, meaning that higher education was simply unaffordable for many young South Africans. Continue reading

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From talking to creating jobs for Africa’s youth

By John Mugo, Director of Youth and Talent, ZiziAfrique

africa skillsThe inaugural Africa Talks Jobs (ATJ) conference has just ended at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa. This was an African Union-European Union (AU-EU) bilateral conversation to highlight that 2017 was the year for harnessing the demographic dividend through investments in youth. This meeting brought together over 300 government officials, academia, civil society actors and youth participants from member countries, as well as partners, funding agencies and youth from Europe. The extent of participation showed a clear commitment to the issue. Over two days, we belaboured the equipping of Africa’s youth with adaptive education and skills for employment. Nonetheless, as I now return home, my head has more questions than answers.

First, the youth bulge is nothing to anticipate, it is here with us. As we speak, more than 20% of Africa’s population is constituted by youth aged 15-24 years. Among them, 31% are unemployed, while 35% are underemployed. Most of them are poorly educated, having either dropped out of school or graduated with insufficient skills or knowledge to provide a sound foundation for employment. The 2016 Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report estimates that just 25% of young people in sub-Saharan Africa complete secondary school. It also points at recent estimates of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics suggesting that 9 in 10 adolescents of lower secondary school age do not reach minimum proficiency levels in mathematics.

The GEM Report has shown in the past that the probability of having a decent job is almost double among those with high, rather than low, reading skills. Yet, in Ghana, 61% of adults had less than the lowest level of reading proficiency skills, for instance.  Now, the ATJ conference called, for the business community to upscale training opportunities and expand internships at all levels for youth employment. Now, I can only wonder to myself. Are we fighting some fierce fire in preventive rather than extinguishing gear? Continue reading

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Punishing teachers is often counter-productive

One of the key messages of the Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report 2017/8, Accountability in education: Meeting our commitments is that punishing teachers can often be counter-productive.

Teachers have the primary responsibility for educating students. But in many countries, they face growing pressures. The complexity and variety of their tasks can put conflicting demands on their time, complicating efforts to hold them accountable.

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Punishing teachers for absenteeism

A common reason for teachers to be punished is absenteeism: when teachers don’t come to school, they may face sanctions. A study of six low and middle income countries suggested teacher absenteeism averaged 19%, exacerbating already high teacher shortages.

However, when we delve deeper into why teachers are not in school, a different story may emerge. Continue reading

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