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.
School Management Committees (SMCs) are often not inclusive
Having SMCs in all schools has been a priority in Bangladesh over the last two decades to promote community participation in decision-making processes, enhance principals’ leadership in schools and ensure accountability of both service providers (e.g. teachers and school administration) and recipients (e.g. parents) for student attendance and learning. However, SMCs were found to be mostly ineffective. They did not take into account parent and student concerns and were often run by politically powerful people.
School inspections often have little to do with education quality
In an effort to effectively monitor the activities of schools, the government has made several attempts to expand the functional responsibilities of inspectors at the Upazila (sub-district) level. For instance, Assistant Upazila Education Officers (AUEOs) are in charge of 20-30 primary schools in a cluster for regular inspection and supervision. However, a recent news article showed that schools in remote areas were sometimes not visited at all due to high transportation costs. Moreover, inspectors mostly invest their time in Government Primary Schools (GPS) and less in Registered Non-Government Primary Schools (RNGPS).
Furthermore, a shift in focus towards data gathering rather than educational quality and standards means that AUEOs spend a lot of time completing inspection forms and consider that their main responsibility. Further impacting their ability to give useful assessments and recommendations of teacher and school effectiveness, AUEOs may not have experience in education management and leadership since candidates for this post can be recruited from any academic background.
Private supplementary tuition continues unabated
Although basic education is free, the costs associated with schooling can be unaffordable for the poor. A study in Dimla, showed that tuition and related costs in private primary schools exceeded the limited means of low income families. The 2017/8 Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report warns that this parallel education system widens the education gap between rich and poor. For instance, in Bangladesh for secondary education, the richest spend 15 times as much on private tuition as the poorer households.
The absence of appropriate policy measures significantly contributes to the practice of paying supplementary private tuition fees. Bangladesh does not still have an act banning private tuition and coaching, although the final draft of Education Act proposed to ban all types of tuition and coaching businesses. In addition, in 2012, the government issued a circular to all schools, colleges and madrashas to stop providing private tuition by students’ own teachers (although students from other institutions are allowed) and coaching businesses in schools. However, this did not stop the rampant business of tuition and coaching as there is no law and meaningful monitoring to control and sanction malpractice.
The lack of proper accountability measures and an ineffective monitoring system allow teachers and other private tutors to take advantage of it. On average, 77% primary completion examinees received private tutoring in Bangladesh in 2014. Almost 40 percent of them received tutoring from their teachers. Additionally, 81 percent primary completion examinees received coaching arranged by schools in the same year. Parents allege that schools even force students to attend private coaching arranged by their own teachers.
Bangladesh specific recommendations to improve accountability
- Allow for participation in the budget preparation process with all key education stakeholders. Creating the space for meaningful engagement with all education actors can build trust and a shared understanding over their respective responsibilities.
- Improve the capacity of the Upazila Education Officers (UEOs) for carrying out effective school inspections and providing actionable recommendations for improvement of quality instruction.
- Introduce enforceable regulations for teachers providing private tuition to their students after school.
2017/8 GEM Report recommendations
|Governments must make the right to education justiciable in national law, which is not the case in 45% of countries.||The right to education is not justiciable in national law.
|Governments should be transparent about the strengths of weaknesses of education systems, opening policy processes to broad and meaningful consultation and publishing a regular education monitoring report.||Bangladesh produces a national education monitoring report on an annual basis in primary education.|
|Governments should develop credible and efficient regulations with associated sanctions for all education providers, public and private, that ensure non-discrimination and the quality of education.||There are regulations for schools regarding separate toilets for boys and girls, and facilities for disabled students. But there are no regulations in public schools for safe drinking water.|
|Governments should design accountability for schools and teachers that is supportive and formative, and avoids punitive mechanisms.||Bangladesh uses test scores to sanction or reward schools.|
|Governments should fulfil their commitment of spending at least 4% of GDP on education or allocating 15% of total government expenditure.||Bangladesh has not reached either of the two financing targets for education spending 2% of GDP (less than 4%) and 14% of public expenditure (less than 15%).|