Sarabangla: Commercialization blamed for project failure

In 1996 the Bangladeshi government declared girls’ education free. In the following years the government put a lot of effort in preventing girls from dropping out of school. It has been 22 years since the groundbreaking declaration but has the situation for girls improved?

Sarabangla investigates the 38.44 percent drop out of girls from the secondary level in school and finds the reasons for why they are forced to leave school.

Original story here (in Bangla) >>

Free education’ for girls’ initiative fails

Ad hoc policy and commercialization blamed

Written by Maksuda Aziz, Assistant Editor,

Students of Mahanagar Mahila College held a sit-in protest blockading the Suhhas Bose Avenue of the city’s Laxmibazar area. They were blaming the college authority that had allegedly demanded money before issuing admission cards to the HSC examinees.

The HSC examination started on April 2. On that day around ten guardians of the Mahanagar Mohila College spoke to the in front of the Kabi Nazrul Government College. Kabi Nazrul College was the examination centre for the students of Mahanagar Mahila College. Guardians were complaining that the college authority had taken away nine or ten thousand taka from each student for filling up the forms, although the government fixed it 1760 taka as the maximum amount.

2016-2017 academic year
55 lac 80 thousand 387 female students enrolled in the secondary schools. 38.44 dropped out. 21 lac 45 101 girls couldn’t finish their education. Government expenditure for these girls was 1 727 crore taka. (Government expenditure per student was 8 480 taka). It was 2.63 percent of the total budget for education.

Girls’ education was declared free in 1996. The government distributed books free of cost, introduced stipend programs and adopted many more initiatives to stop drop-out of female students from the education system. According to the statistics of the Bangladesh Bureau of Educational Information and Statistics (BANBEIS), the government has allocated 581 crore taka of the education budget to run the stipend program for girl students in the primary and secondary level. Still, the inconsistent education policy and the aggressive commercialization of education are making the initiatives unsuccessful. Girl-students could not be prevented from dropping out.

On investigation finds another side of free education for girls. It was learnt that 38.44 percent girls drop out at the secondary level and the rate is 2.42 percent higher than the boy-students.

Case Study 1
Bakchar High School, Shyampur – only school around the industrial area near Dhaka city. Students live in slums adjacent to factories. The monthly income of these families is not above five or six thousand taka. And almost all the families have more than one child.

Sabbir Ahmed, the Headmaster of the school said, drop-out rate is very high in his school. Many of them reach the level of SSC but fail to sit for examination. They start staying at home stopping school, join factories or get married.

“Parents are not educated, they don’t understand the necessity of education,” Sabbir Ahmed told.

But while interviewing at least 17 drop-outs from the school and their parents, they refused the headmaster’s claim that they were disinterested in education. They complained about the commercialization of education that compelled them to take such decision.

Amena (not her real name) is 14 years old. Only nine or ten months ago she used to go to school. She had her booms and exercise books, a school bag as well. Now she uses the bag for factory.
Amena’s monthly school fee was 150 taka. Amena’s father was struggling hard to afford this amount. But the school suddenly issued an order that Amena must attend coaching in school and pay additional eight hundred taka. Besides, she need guide books and some other fees. Amena’s father could not manage and Amena gave up.

“My daughter was brainy, but we couldn’t manage money for coaching, so she had to stop,” Amena’s mother said. Her mother also faced the same sort of experience.

Amena is not alone, almost all the girls in the slum told the same story. Some stopped studying before the PEC examination, some at class eight. Few studied up to class nine. But the fact is pressure to enrol in coaching rises and expenditure too in the upper classes in secondary schools. It’s difficult to pass without joining coaching centres.

“The government is giving books free of cost, but are they of any use? Teachers teach from guide books. We need to buy guide books for all subjects. The price range for each book is from taka 200 to 600. At least nine subjects, where shall I get this much amount of money?” another guardian resented.

Why coaching was made compulsory? Asked the headmaster of the school Sabbir Ahmed totally refuted the allegation. But he observed, coaching is important for the students.

“Students of this school live in slums, their parents are also not educated. They start working in factories since morning. After school our students roam around the street. They may become unruly. There is nobody back home to help them in studies. That is why we teach them again after school,” Sabbir told.

Case Study 2
Baunia Bandh area of Mirpur, it belonged to ward no 6 of Dhaka north city corporation devoid of the envious development works that are being done in other parts of the capital. Dilapidated roads, dirt streets and slums remind the famous quote of Manik Bandapaddhya, “God resides in that village far away from here, where reside the classy people.”

There are many schools here. While walking along the road schools were found in regular intervals. Sarabangla talked to some dropped-out girls. One of them was Tamanna (not her real name).
“I was a student of the Girls Islamia High School. I was supposed to sit for the SSC examination this year. The school fixed six thousand taka as registration fee, three thousand taka as school fee and some other expenses. I secured poor marks in two subjects and that why I was asked to pay additional charge worth three thousand taka. It was 12 000 taka in total. This is not the end, school charged 800 taka coaching fee per month for the last two and half months before the SSC exam. My father stopped sending me to school. He said, he couldn’t afford this. “

Tamanna’s friend Rahela told me almost the same story. She was a student of Dhaka Ideal School. The school fixed seven-thousand taka fee and then again Sarabangla heard the familiar story of dropped-out girls.

These girls are now seeking jobs, they have to earn some money for their wedding.

This is not happening in one or two schools, almost all the schools hold caching classes in the afternoon, they charge from four hundred taka to one thousand taka per month. But the income of the families is not more than eight thousand taka.

Though one teacher remained cautious as he was with a journalist, suddenly he told – might be a slip of the tongue that coaching is compulsory and here again the logic behind obligatory coaching is `students from the slum area might become unruly without coaching’.

Is the situation prevail only in case study?
Rasheda K Chowdhury, executive director of Campaign for Popular Education said, “Campe did a research on `whither grade V examination?’ in 2014. The study found above 86 percent school stopped their regular classes and opted for coaching classes. In 73 percent school coaching is compulsory. Compulsory coaching is more prevalent in villages than urban areas.”

Mohammad Billal Hossain, a Dhaka University associate professor of the department of Population Science observed commercialization of education is now a universal problem for Bangladesh.
“If we go for a random sampling, we will find the same situation in urban and rural areas,” he said.

Billal Hossain added, “During many of our studies we found education is not free at all after all these efforts from the government. Education has flown away from schools to coaching centres.” He thinks since students face two board exams in four years from grade six to grade 10, girls drop out at the upper classes of secondary schools.

Why such business?
Sarabangla talked to the renowned economist and social scientist Zillur Rahman regarding the upward trend of commercialization of education. The education system and quality of text books are the reasons behind such commercialization, he thinks.

“Every year we get new policies, changes in examination systems, syllabus and examination policies. The students and their parents get confused. So they do not raise voice against commercialization of education,” Hossain Zillur Rahman observed.

Impact deep rooted
According to education study – 2017, 55 lac 80 387 girls enrolled in 2016-17 academic session. Of them 38.44 percent dropped out equalling 21 lac 45 101 girls could not finish their studies. The Government’s spending for these girls stood 1 727 crore taka (the government spends 8 480 taka per student) which is 2.63 percent of the total education budget. This estimate only includes government’s expenditure for secondary education. If primary and higher secondary levels were also added with the secondary level spending, cost would be much higher.

BANBEIS carried out a study in 2011 that looked into the reasons for dropping out. The primary causes according to the research was poverty and illiteracy of the parents.

The three major reasons of drop-out:

  • Illiteracy of parents 24.7%
  • Poverty 24.2%
  • Unwillingness of parents 17.2%

Mohammad Billal said, whatever may be the economic condition of the parents, they are more interested to pay coaching fees for the male child than the female one. So drop-out happens regularly where a girl is concerned. Once their school life comes to an end, they start staying at home and have nothing to do there, so the parents get them married. That’s how commercialization escalates the rate of child marriage.

A Dhaka University associate professor Mohammad Mojibur Rahman, PhD told, parents who are poor and illiterate cannot invest in education. That’s why their sons or daughters cannot achieve much in life. When these children become adult they remain poor and uneducated and the vicious cycle goes on. Girl child of such family is the first victim.

The cycle of poverty and illiteracy. Poor and uneducated parents-low income, unwilling to invest, dropping out from study.

Role of the government
Mojibur Rahman, PhD told, there is a guideline of the government to stop commercialization of education issued a guideline to ban unauthorized coaching system in schools. According to that guideline the teachers can take separate classes in schools only on requests from the guardians. Besides, the government has fixed the charge to maximum 400 taka per subject. An observatory committee was supposed to be formed to monitor all these things.

If the committee finds anything wrong and a teacher is found guilty, his MPO (monthly allowance from the government) would be stopped, yearly increment would be held up, salary would go one step down, he might be closed or terminated.

“But it is nowhere in the directives that who would draw attention of the observatory committee,” Mojibur told.

The Sarabangla talked to Md Mahbubur Rahman, chairman, higher secondary education board, Dhaka to discuss the issue of costly education and girl students dropping out from school as the follow through.

He said ”Few days before replying to a query about 50 headmasters of secondary school told me that they are not taking coaching classes. I made it clear that if we find any deviation we would cancel MPO,” Md Mahbubur Rahman.

Still the business is on
A Shyampur based development worker on condition of anonymity said, student and their parents do not know how and where to lodge complaint against commercialisation of education.
Again, there is hardly any hope that coaching centres will shut down because local political leaders and influential quarter are getting along with these schools. In fear, people can’t express their opinion. Thus, the business keeps going and the scapegoat of this business is no other than the girl students.

“Liability of commercialisation of education falls under teachers only, but even we need to give speed money when we go to board to bring examination papers or draw the admission cards,” a teacher from a private college resented.

This teacher added, every student from private colleges have to pay 200 taka for admission card, where does this money go?”

Hossain Zillur Rahman said, government’s initiative to restrain commercialisation of education is not enough. He observed the government is adopting ad hoc policies every now and then, that’s why nobody can ask certain question for a problem. Because, there might come an answer and again a policy without knowing the side effects.

“The government has adopted a policy to ban or restrain coaching, its aimed at teachers only. But the government and the secondary and higher secondary education board can easily collect data from the grass root and settle the issue. But what did the government? It formed a guideline and declared it, thus it shrugs off its responsibility,” Hossain Zillur said.

“Quality education is a must, free education is not enough. Books should be easy, free books is not enough also. Only then, commercialisation of education can be stopped and the investment of the government will succeed,” observed the social scientist.