Bangladesh needs systemic change as it prioritises education for all: Dipu Moni

Comprehensive changes to Bangladesh’s education system are necessary to prepare the country for further development, Education Minister Dipu Moni says, as the nation aims to provide education for all.

“To realise the dreams, goals and ambitions of a developed, prosperous nation by 2041, we need to update our education system,” the minister said on Toufique Imrose Khalidi Live on Monday.

“This cannot be done with small, gradual changes. That is why we are instituting a change at the systemic level.”

By properly harnessing Bangladesh’s labour force, the country will be able to attain the Sustainable Development Goals set out by the UN, the minister said.

And one of the goals is “quality education”, which means Bangladesh must ensure “inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”.

Major changes are coming to the school and college curriculum and their system of assessment in the next few years.

A trial run of this revised curriculum will take place in 200 educational institutes in January 2022, the start of the new academic year.

From 2025, students across the country will study under the new curriculum. However, the reforms will be implemented in phases starting in 2023.

Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad, chairman of Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation who co-chaired a committee that enacted the National Education Policy of 2010, is disappointed by a lack of continuity in implementing the policies.

He believes the 2010 policy would have provided a firm footing for the upcoming changes to take hold had it been implemented. “Everyone knows the problems and talks about them, but we’re still experimenting with the ways to the solution,” he said in the show.          

Bangladesh has assembled eight education commissions in the past 50 years, but their recommendations have not been fully implemented.

The Awami League government that was in power between 1996 and 2001 made the last attempt to overhaul the system. An education policy was put forward in 1997 and was even approved in parliament in 2000, but little was done with it due to the subsequent change in government.

The scope of these changes means that 15-20 years may pass before they are properly implemented, said Khalidi, the host of the show and editor-in-chief of bdnews24.com.

“This is because we need a change in mentality, which is a slow process,” Dipu Moni said. “It is hard to change our habits, behaviours and practices and it takes time to do so.”

EDUCATION FOR ALL

The government’s first priority in education is to ensure that it is accessible to all, Dipu Moni said.

To do this, the government is taking steps to build educational infrastructure, such as the 12 institutes of science and technology Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina promised to develop in her election campaign, Dipu Moni said.

Asked about the quality of the education that is provided at higher levels, the minister said: “Our first priority must be to ensure that everyone has access to education.”

“First, we are putting our energy into building infrastructure. We are aware of concerns regarding the quality of education and we are working to improve it. But, ensuring everyone is able to get the education they wish to pursue is our priority.”

“We will also open up opportunities in higher education for all,” she said.

“We are introducing shorter, more specialised courses in addition to undergraduate and postgraduate degrees.”

“These include training courses, technical courses and diploma courses that will give students a more focused education.”

Education Minister Dipu Moni speaks on new curriculum reforms on Toufique Imrose Khalidi Live at bdnews24.com’s offices in Dhaka on Monday, Dec 6, 2021.

TEACHERS WILL BE TRAINED TO ADAPT

A major concern among education experts is whether teachers currently employed by schools and colleges will be able to adapt to the new curriculum.

As Kazi Shahidullah, assistant professor at Bangladesh University of Professionals, pointed out that the reform proposals by the country’s first national education commission led by Muhammad Qudrat-i-Khuda, a scientist and educationist, could not be implemented because its ideals and vision were not properly conveyed to teachers.

As teachers were unprepared, the necessary changes did not take place in their classrooms.

An assistant professor at Rajshahi University’s Institute of Education and Research, Goutam Roy said he doubted whether a teacher will have enough time and focus to evaluate students throughout the year.

“We need to raise the standards of teachers,” Dipu Moni said. “They have to take on such work.”

The government will provide training to teachers to help them adjust themselves to the new changes.

Asked how many would receive training, she said that all of the hundreds of thousands of teachers in the country would eventually receive some assistance on this matter.

Will they be able to adapt to such extensive reforms in such a short amount of time? asked Khalidi.

“We can’t hold off necessary reforms,” the minister said. “Teachers are already teaching students. They are already getting an education. Our aim is to improve that education.”

In order to maintain and improve the quality of education in the country, it is essential to pay teachers appropriately and to afford them the proper respect, Dipu Moni said.

“I believe that we need to ensure that teachers are financially secure and receive the proper respect to make any improvement to education anywhere."

When pressed on the issue of teachers’ wages, Dipu Moni said the government was taking steps to provide the proper funding.

Otherwise, teachers can turn to private tuition and teaching at coaching centres, which hurts the quality of education, she noted.

Asked if any steps were being taken to curb the “coaching business”, the minister said the new education law being devised by the government aims to curb such private lessons to a significant extent.

Khalidi asked how the social standing of the job could be improved when teachers in Bangladesh have to bow to civil servants, local politicians, police officers, magistrates, and many other people of influence.

Both time and unity are needed to change this attitude, the minister said.

Asked whether the necessary reforms could be brought to the civil service, a notoriously bureaucratic and stodgy entity, she said: “I’m not speaking about reforms to the civil service, but to the education system. We can improve their financial security and social position and, alongside that, if we can implement the reforms that will bring them more respect.”

Khalidi also referred to the recent incident when a teacher at the Khulna University of Engineering and Technology was allegedly insulted by students soon before his death.

The minister did not want to offer an opinion on the matter as it is still under investigation.

“We know that two incidents occurred – the teacher was disrespected and, later, he died. But we do not know if one led to the other."

Education Minister Dipu Moni speaks on new curriculum reforms on Toufique Imrose Khalidi Live at bdnews24.com’s offices in Dhaka on Monday, Dec 6, 2021.

HOW WILL RELIGIOUS EDUCATION BE IMPLEMENTED?

The revised curriculum will also include a religious education subject starting at the primary education level. This subject will be a combination of moral and religious teachings, said Dipu Moni.

“Every religion teaches values and morality. The students must learn about morality and then about the core areas of their respective religions and their practices,” she said.

As the government highlights a culture of tolerance and mutual respect, the minister was asked if the reformed curriculum will require students to learn about the religions of others, in addition to their own – a practice that aims to promote tolerance in society.

“Students should learn about their own religion and those of others as well. This will teach them to be more tolerant. Violence occurs because many have a poor understanding of the religions of others. We must teach them that someone is not different just because they belong to a different religious community,” Dipu Moni said.

In the revised curriculum, teachers will have more authority as they will evaluate students regularly, and without a traditional standardised examination system.

Under these circumstances, it is possible for teachers from a specific religion to abuse their authority and uphold the perceived supremacy of their own religion while evaluating students from other communities.

But Dipu Moni disagreed and reassured that the teachers would not abuse this power. “They have been evaluating their students for a long time. This will not be a new thing for them.”

COMPLETION EXAMS SCRAPPED, BUT NOT SCHOLARSHIPS

Though the new curriculum does away with Primary Education Completion and Junior School Certificate exams, it retains the scholarship and certificate system for students in those grades, the minister said.

Scholarships will still be provided according to needs, and students will still receive certificates for completing fifth and eighth grades, Dipu Moni said.

“It will be a form of recognition for the students, an acknowledgement that they have studied and completed their primary education. It will bring them contentment when they move up to the next level of education.”

“We’ll provide the certificates as before, but we will not use the public exam system. Assessment will be done through alternative means,” she said.

IS REMOVING EDUCATION STREAMS A GOOD IDEA?

Under the reformed curriculum, the government has decided to abolish the distinctions in the streams of science, arts and commerce in classes IX and X.

No other education system in the world divides the streams before grade XI, said Dipu Moni.

“A student is not mature enough to make a decision on what subject they should study when they are in grade IX and X,” she said.

“In most cases, parents just decide for them. And parents always want their children to become doctors or engineers. Few want their children to become artists. If students choose their subjects in grade XI and XII, they will have more time to figure out which subjects they really want to pursue and which they have the capacity to study further.”

[Written by Shoumik Hassin and Sabrina Karim Murshed]