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