A call for 'education redesign'

The present scenario of public examination results in Bangladesh, apparently, looks attractive.  In 2016, the pass rates in Primary Education Completion (PEC) examination, Ebtedayee examination for madrasa students, Secondary School Certificate (SSC) and equivalent examinations, and Higher Secondary Certificate (HSC) examination were 98.51 percent, 95.85 percent, 88.29 percent, and 74.70 percent respectively. However, the higher the pass rate, as has frequently been reported in recent days, the lower the performance in post examination real life situations, such as the university entrance examination and job recruitment tests.  Often Higher education educators and employers complain that the 'product', if so are they called, they are getting in their classrooms or in job sectors lack the expected proficiency levels in language and other areas. It seems that with a bag full of GPA-5, securing 80% or above marks, we are failing to produce compatible and skilled 21st century workforce who can face the challenges in a globalized world.

The graveness of the situation was found in last year's university entrance exam results. On 30th September, 2016, a total of 40,234 candidates,   against 1,250 seats, took part in Dhaka University's entrance examination for 2016-17 academic session of "Ga" unit (Business Faculty). Sadly, only 5.52 percent students qualified for undergraduate admission. Such was the scenario in other faculties as well - in 'Ka' unit or Science and Engineering faculty the pass rate was 13.55 percent, in 'Cha' unit under Fine Arts Faculty it was only 2.47 percent, for example. (UNB, bdnews24, Dhaka Tribune). The case was not much different in the previous year too. Under the circumstances, it appears that the overwhelming quantity is not actually synonymous to quality - clearly there is a gap in between the end and means. To mitigate the gap, the root cause should be investigated and addressed, and perhaps time has come to think for a complete 'education redesign'. The causes of such phenomenon demand empirical research. Yet, from available information, among many other factors, teachers training, teachers' accountability, institutional accountability, students' needs analysis, gap between the rich and poor, socio-cultural orientation, appropriate educational methodologies and many as such alike are identified.

On March 1, 2015, the government issued a directive that students with 70 percent attendance would be allowed to sit for public exams, provided that they clear the pre-public exam tests. However, this raised some criticisms.  Besides, this is just one small drop of water into the oceans. In addition the government has also tried over the years to introduce inclusive education, and took steps to provide free education up to grade VIII. However, it still needs to go a long way. We have to keep in mind that the root of our education system stems from the colonial period, but for today's reality we need a system that is free from colonial mindset and appropriate for an independent nation. Therefore, introducing any new educational structure needs much careful background research, and that has to be done with a vision fitted for the 21-st century context, considering our own economic, socio-cultural and anthropological setting in mind, so that the education provided becomes cognitively suitable.

When we say "education for all" does it mean getting everyone into education or getting one standard education system for all? In this regard Professor Paul Reville of Harvard University's Institute of Education says, though in the context of the United States where 50 percent students still belong to the poor segment of the society, that getting 'all' means 'all' and it requires a new system that addresses "students' individual academic, health, social service, and out-of-school learning needs set up with a right paradigm, and it needs a vision." 

Similarly, in our context for this, we need to set up new vision and policy goals, not scattered decision applied now and then. Our reality is that we still have socio-economic disparity at different levels. The scenarios at urban and rural settings are not the same.  So, if we do not address those needs equally in a balanced manner we cannot expect equal outcome. It has to be engraved within the content of the education and the way that education is supplied or delivered. It will be an imprudent idea to expect a child from the rural area with less advantageous position than that of an urban child, to perform similarly.  The percentage is high.  This involves, but is not limited to, figuring out students  identity, challenges, their personal needs analysis, challenges and potentials, support and guidance they need to be successful in their academic life, and beyond, creating an environment rewarding intellectually. For children, regardless of their economic status, caste and religion coming to school and learning should be motivating and fitting to their interest. It may include providing one time meal to meet their nutrient need where applicable, as an empty stomach is deemed to hamper performance.  This means meeting the students' mental and physical needs is also inclusive of the education system. For this level of service, it will need policy level involvement, a top-down approach to solve the problem. Educators or educational institutions alone cannot address this. The next concern is the educators or facilitators who are engaged in shaping and preparing the students for future challenges. Educators need the expertise to do the service they are entrusted upon; therefore, they need appropriate training, as well as incentives so that they have the accountability and collaborative mind toward their service.

According to Harvard Professor Paul Revile, such system that includes all these aspects is needed to take educational performance forward. Hence, a necessity arises to build "a braided systems of education and child development" that attends students' in and outside school urgency, as most of their time is spent outside the school.  Professor Revile and his colleague Professor Putman emphasize that it is important to meet the achievement gaps. Therefore, only in-house training is not sufficient - the content of the entire education needs to include out-of-school learning essentially. The fact that our students are not being able to perform well in post school situation, does not stem from a single cause, and therefore requires attention from a global perspective, a confluence of macro and micro factors. Time has come to re-envision our education system for a better outcome and to build a better society. If need be, with a clear vision and appropriate planning for an independent nation, we need to think of a complete education redesign.

The writer is an Assistant Professor of Department of English at Stamford University Bangladesh

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