Education has been considered as the backbone or prerequisite for the progress of a nation. A new nation, Bengali emerged on 16th December in 1971 through a deadly liberation war between Pakistan and Bangladesh. To lay the foundation of the Bengali; the father of the nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman formed a commission led by Dr. Qudrat-E-Khuda (QK) in July 1972. Before the parliamentary election in 1970; Bangabandhu addressed the disparities in education between West Pakistan and East Pakistan.
At the same time, 80% of adult in East Pakistan (Now Bangladesh) was illiterate and millions of new illiterates were increasing every year. He pledged to turn around the situation by spending 4% of GDP on public education. Besides increasing the number of schools, establishing new medical and engineering colleges, and general universities kept a top priority. In an assembly of writers and teachers in March 1972, Bangabandhu shared his frustration with the education system inherited from Pakistan.
The education system failed to transform the people into the human, instead, it produces bureaucrats. Without educating people, poverty cannot be eliminated and socialism cannot be implemented which is a fundamental principle of the constitution. He also suggested that educated people live in rural areas to spread the light of education. To reform the education system QK commission was established by involving educationists and experts in the education sector. The commission aimed to eliminate the defects and deficiencies in the present education system of Bangladesh.
Bangabandhu expressed the educational vision in his address at the convocation of the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology in 1973. At the first convocation of BUET, he lamented that the education system under British and Pakistan rule produced clerks (Kerani). Necessary measures will be taken to produce ideal citizens and facilitate the creation of Sonar Bangla. Also, he expressed the need to produce skilled human resources for socioeconomic and political development.
The QK commission presented its report to Bangabandhu in May 1974 and asked for his advice. The report stated the goals of education would serve the fundamental principles of the Constitution such as nationalism, socialism, democracy, and secularism. In addition, education should transform society by making the people good citizens, patriots, and morals. Bangabandhu’s ideology was reflected in the report and he clearly stated the commission to work independently.
In August 1975, the heinous assassination of Bangabandhu ended the progress of the QK commissions. Until 1990, different authoritarian roles followed and more than eight bodies were employed for the educational perspective denying the QK commission. The most common action taken by implementing some recommendations from different bodies. As a result, the realistic recommendations from the QK commission and Bangabandhu’s policy on education remained on paper only.
The current National Education Policy (NEP) 2010 might be considered a political compromise or the consequence of political uncertainties. Instead of responding to the change in time and situation; NEP developed being influenced by post–1975 political influence and far ahead from the QK commission report. The QK commission recommended all institutions should follow a common curriculum up to class eight. In contrast, educational institutions practice diversified curricula now.
From the primary level, students are deprived of equal educational rights. Similarly, the QK commission proposed Bangla as the medium of education at all levels and foresaw the secondary level as the stage to acquire proficiency in the English language. In the meantime, current education policy supports learning English from class one while there is a lack of English teachers at the primary level. Surprisingly, NEP 2010 compromised with the decision made by authoritarian rulers in post-1975.
Today, around half of the students at the Primary level are unable to read and write Bengali functionally. In addition, a rationale effort was not made to implement the NEP 2010 policy, and a visionary leader is not assigned at the helm of education. Now the decisions are made by administrative officials and most of them are not professionals in the educational sector. Innovative measures to enhance teachers’ professionalism and status that might attract the most qualified graduate are not listed in the national agenda.
The teaching profession is not on the priority list among the literate person in Bangladesh. Bangabandhu warned regarding the foreign talent dependence to accomplish the necessary roles and responsibilities at the workplace. Thus, Bangabandhu’s philosophy on education is grounded on creating innovative people, developing the education system, and ensuring balanced socio-economic development. His philosophy was not limited to rhetoric thought and obtained proactive measures to develop the education system.
Bangabandhu’s other education policy of spending 4% of GDP for the education sector is yet to implement by the government. This could help create equal opportunities for everyone and state education as a fundamental human right. Also, the model for a prosperous country, Sonar Bangla, might not be applied or achieved with an ignored education sector in Bangladesh. It requires good citizens and patriots who will sacrifice personal interests for the welfare of the entire nation.
Bangabandhu established the QK commission to reform the education system in Bangladesh after the liberation war. The commission submitted a final report titled “Bangladesh Education Commission Report”. The report was published in 36 chapters and it has been the most comprehensive work to reform the education system. The report embodied the educational thoughts of Bangabandhu. It emphasized teacher training, decent salaries, and making Bangla medium instruction at all levels.
Bangabandhu takes the necessary steps before getting the report and recommendations from the QC commission. On 12 February 1972, the education ministry declared Bangla as the medium of educational institutions up to the higher secondary level. Also, on 19 February of the same year, the education ministry declared that students from class one to class five will get textbooks free of cost and the student from class six to ten will get them at a 40% discount.
To encourage the participation of women in education; Bangabandhu’s government arranged tuition fees free education for girls up to class eight. Later the government formed by his daughter Sheikh Hasina offered financial incentives for female students. Bangabandhu also prioritized the free exercise of knowledge and authority which led him to give full autonomy through a 1973 order to four universities in Bangladesh – Dhaka University, Chattogram University, Rajshahi University, and Jahangirnagar University.
Meanwhile, abiding by the political influence and current principle; Bangabandhu’s vision and policy for education will remain largely unimplemented in the education system. The first failure was revealed in the diversified curriculum and absence of Bangla medium up to higher secondary level. In contrast, Bangabandhu’s worthy daughter Sheikh Hasina integrated a significant portion of the QC commission report. Free textbooks, free education for girls, and financial incentives for girls are the shining example.
Secondly, Bangabandhu’s philosophy to spend 4% of GDP is yet to implement. He considered education as the best investment to ensure socio-economic growth and development. There is no alternative to education and creating qualified talent to increase their contribution to becoming an upper-middle-income country by 2031 and a developed country by 2041. Evidence suggests that the current education might be unable to help meet these targets.
Bangladesh’s economy is backed by the Ready-Made-Garments (RMG) sector which is run by marginally educated workers. Also, the majority of the top management and decision-makers in the export-oriented business are dependent on overseas talent. With less than 2% of GDP expenditure on education would not boost productivity and produce a trained labor force. Hence, the defect in the education system found by Bangabandhu is not addressed yet properly, especially in 4% of GDP expenditure for education.
Md. Shahenur Islam
Deputy Secretary, Secondary and Higher Education Division, Ministry of Education