Is education the backbone of the nation?

Punna Islam:

Is Education the backbone of the nation? When we quote that education is the backbone of a nation, do we really mean it? A backbone is meant to be the key foundation or support system that holds the nation but does the current education system of our country really play that role? To be pillars in developing the nation, the education system has to create enough employment for people to contribute to the economy. The demographic dividend of Bangladesh has produced a large working-age population that requires adequate education to facilitate the modernizing economy. While demographic dividend provides great opportunities for Bangladesh to move up the ladder, what shudders the vision is the lack of quality in education and workforce. Is Quality Education the prime concern then? Yes substantially it is. Obtaining a quality education is the foundation to improving people’s lives and sustainable development. Ensuring inclusive and quality education for all and promoting lifelong learning is the 4th goal of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Agenda for 2030. Countries across the globe are working to ensure Quality education for all by the next 15 years and it is crucial for us to know where we stand. Through an intensive residential training program entitled ‘Youth and Sustainable Development Goals, conducted at the Global Platform Bangladesh, ( ActionAid’s hub for youth activism and training) , a young group of enthusiast trainees focused to work on Goal 4, identified a few of the key pressing concerns and loopholes that is hindering the country towards progression. A recent report of the ADB, 2016 shows that the unemployment rates of Bangladesh are actually higher among people with higher levels of education, especially among youths. This, to some extent, suggests that the particular education the learners have received is inconsistent to the market demand hence does not match the demands required in the current job market. Professional experts and employers suggest to have an increased training facility for professionals while focusing on mentoring and coaching for individual’s development. What astounds more from the report, is from a survey of School-to-Work Transition that shows among the unemployed youth, 62% quoted lack of education as the main obstacle to employment, while only a tiny proportion cited lack of available jobs. Another 16% mentioned lack of training. This draws a state which delivers the message that neither the volume nor the nature of education and training are enough to the demands of the job market. So which track are we in? While provision of basic general education has expanded greatly in the recent past, greater emphasis is required on secondary and higher education, as well as vocational and technical education, skill development training for employment and life skills training programmes. This has been called in the government’s 7th 5 years Plan that has been partially aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals. Some of the Major challenges in higher education that reinforces the concern for quality include inadequate implementation of development projects for universities, imbalance among the disciplines, gender disparity (while females are ahead of males in primary and junior secondary, they lag behind in tertiary completion), infrastructures- mobilizing more funds on resources, insufficient funding, and intense competition for the limited seats in public universities and a few prestigious institutions. While the government addresses the major challenges by a number of strategies like focus on quality, selectivity, and excellence and emphasizing on research and training, what remains ambiguous is the effectiveness in the implementation of these strategies, its accountability and transparency. From conversation with leading education experts and academicians, concern over the absence of mandatory research labs and proper research work for an authentic thesis report as the key exit requirement for university students to be graduate, has been one of the major identifications. It has been quoted as one of the key reasons why the learning with which graduates are coming off, lack precision and quality. Another finding states the tradition of rote learning, for which the average educational quality remains low and many students are failing to reach the standard achievement targets. When quality of education is what we concern for, the unsatisfactory performance of the TVET sector is one of the ineffective outcomes. A little less than a half of those who graduate from the training system are unable to find jobs and adding to this the lack of infrastructures, facilities, labs and necessary equipment are the major challenges recognized by the National Skills Development Policy (NSDP). Adding to this, a report by the ADB shows, the connection between employers and most technical and vocational education and training (TVET) institutions are limited, and shows limited responsiveness to job market demands. The government, in its 7th FYP, outlines its plan to address these by implementing the National Skills Development Policy. The plan also lays out strategies to include both private sector involvement and initiative in the delivery of technical and vocational education programs. While this is scripted, its practical execution is, once again, the question that remains. Also to ensure quality and an effective system of education for a sound employment and economic development, it is crucial to streamline both the higher education and technical and vocational education in practice. The constricted policies of education make it inflexible to improvise the loopholes of the curriculum and standardize the system. While the traditional education system of Bangladesh needs drastic changes, acceptability of international vocational curriculum like Business and Educational Technical Council (BTEC) by the UGC could be one possible ways to allow standard global practices of assessment, progression opportunity to universities locally and globally, and enhancement of practical skilled learning for employment. To make the learners employable, the employers intervenes the need for vocational system to be more market oriented. Whereas for learners from the higher education, the traditional teaching methods, memorizing-based learning, and poor assessment method are among the common factors identified that hinder the quality of education, hence producing poor quality graduates. An inclusive pedagogy, a research focused curriculum, student counseling, and focus on developing soft skills, through additional training, seminars, inter-university programs are needed to produce impact creating, employable graduates, whose voices would be heard in the policymaking and decisions . To be ready to address the challenges of globalized 21st century and for the economic development and prosperity of the nation, skills and education are the prime rudiments. So to what extent are we developing the nation’s backbone is a serious question that needs to be answered. While the reformation of the curriculum, pedagogy and teacher’s capacity building to ensure quality education for all- the Sustainable development agenda- is an urgent action, we opt not to miss out the ways of ensuring transparency, efficiency and effectiveness at all levels of the educational administration and demanding our accountability. Only then, we can quote ‘quality’ education is the backbone of the nation.

The writer is the Head of Communications in a nonprofit organization and a young advocate of the SDGs. She can be reached at