The controversy over the quality of junior level education continues in the midst of increasing pass rate in public examinations. How do you look at the issue?

Students taking the JSC examinaions.— New Age/Ali Hossain Mintu

Students taking the JSC examinaions.— New Age/Ali Hossain Mintu

The contemporary issue of leakage of question paper in the public examinations through coaching centers has made the quality of education at all levels of the country controversial, which continues in the midst of increasing pass rates in public examinations. The authorities should take appropriate measures to stop this trend of leakage of question papers as well as coaching business to maintain the quality of education at all levels.
Education is the backbone of a nation and if there develops any fracture within this backbone, sooner or later, the nation will suffer. So, it is our duty to halt this illegal practice for combating the challenges of development.
Bangladesh is a densely populated country. A small percentage of the population is educated. The rate of educated people in the country is less than that of other developing and developed countries. The development of the country is possible only through the development of human resources. Raising the level of education among the ordinary masses is the only means of reducing poverty and bolstering economic development.
The educational system in Bangladesh is three-tiered. They are General Education System, Madrassah Education System and Technical and Vocational Education System. Each of these systems is divided into five levels, namely Primary Level (class 1 to class 5), Junior Level (class 6 to class 8), Secondary Level (class 9 to class 10), Higher Secondary Level (class 11 to class 12) and Tertiary Level.
Article 17 of the Bangladesh Constitution states that all the children between the ages of six and eighteen years will get education free of cost. The government projects for promoting education of children in Bangladesh include compulsory primary education for all, free education for girls up to grade 10, stipends for female students, a nationwide integrated education system and a food-for-education literacy movement. A large portion of the country’s national budget is set aside to put these programmes in action and make education accessible for all. As such, the education system in the country is more improved now than it was in the past.
02The government is committed to undertaking some structural reforms which are expected to bring significant improvements in the education sector. It is also putting forth efforts to resolve the existing problems in the management by way of bringing reforms in the education system.
But all these efforts of the government are bound to be abortive as the practice of question paper leakage in public examinations and coaching business are going on unabated.
Question papers of almost all examinations from Primary School Certificate Examination to Higher Secondary Certificate examination have been leaked in recent years. Experts are of the opinion that this frequent question paper leakage is contributing to an increase in pass rates in public examinations and posing a threat to merit-based quality education, and thus frustrating both the students and their guardians. The authorities are trying to catch the culprits who are behind question paper leakage but haven’t yet come up with positive results.
It should be taken for granted that without the involvement of public officials such leakage of question papers is impossible. Without a connection between a section of teachers who prepare the question papers, the BG press where these are printed and a bunch of people involved in distribution of these papers at different tiers including the National Academy of Primary Education, the Directorate of Primary Education, the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Secondary Education, these activities could not have taken place.
The government should take appropriate measures to stop this illegal practice which is destroying not only our education system but also our society and the country as a whole. These culprits should be brought to book in no time in the greater interest of our nation. Those involved in coaching business should also be taken to task.
We need to rethink the whole issue. Do we need to restructure the whole education and assessment systems? If the answer is ‘yes’, let us concentrate on changing our assessment and motivation systems. Let us answer the following questions:
Should homework of students be brought under the gradation system? Should students’ performances be graded on monthly or weekly basis? Should the coaching business be stopped by enacting special laws? Should the teachers at the school level be trained properly? Should the salary of teachers be enhanced? Should the leakage of question papers be treated as an offence against the interest of the country? Should the government withdraw public examinations from the primary and junior levels of schooling?
It is high time for the government to formulate an education policy taking into consideration the above mentioned questions.
Hossain Md Aktar

Lower secondary education caters for children and adolescents aged between 11 and13 years while secondary education is for students aged between 14 and 15 years. Madrassahs (Islamic schools) offer an equivalent level of religious education in Islam. This equivalency is recognised by the government as graduates from madrassahs are given the same opportunity to continue taking lessons at higher levels. Technical and vocational education is also available at the junior education level in vocational and training centres as well as Business Management institutions.
Performances of students in public examinations, for example, at the Secondary School Certificate level are getting significantly better compared to those in the past. On an average 57.03 per cent of students passed in the SSC examinations in the nineties. The pass rate fell to 47.03 per cent during the period between 2001 and 2008. An increase in pass rate was again noticed from 2008. Between 2008 and 2014, the average percentage of pass rate was 80.98 with the highest rate 92.67 per cent in 2014. The percentage of passing out students in public examinations is increasing without any doubt. But our question is about their quality. Has their quality been enhanced with their passing? There is a public perception that their quality is not commensurate with the rate of passing Students are resorting to easy ways for passing in examinations. Guardians, teachers, relatives of the students and even the political leaders of the country are happy with good results of the students.
Good grades for students and good results in public examination have become obvious targets of our education, targets which can also be manipulated. Whether quality education at the junior level is at all achieved is not considered nowadays. There is a perception in society that usually good students choose the Science group. Others read in Humanities or Business groups. The Humanities group was chosen by 64.73 per cent and Science group was chosen by 35.27 per cent of students between 1990 and 1997. Business education was introduced as a separate branch of education in 1998. This branch of education is getting more and more popular with the passage of time. Only 7.30 per cent of total examinees participated in SSC examination under Business group in 1998. However, the participation rate reached 35.76 per cent in 2014. The rate of participation in Humanities and Science groups gradually decreased. In 1998, percentages of examinees in SSC from Humanities and Science groups were 59.68 and 33.02 respectively and percentages fell to 39.21 and 25.00 respectively in 2014. Falling in percentage of Science students may be an indication of overall low-quality education.
Furthermore, inconsistency between school results and public examination results prevails in our country. Students were not doing better in public examinations than in school examinations only a decade ago. Nowadays students are doing better in public examinations. A student does significantly better in public examinations than his school level examinations. The rate of passing in public examinations is supposed to increase gradually and should be consistent with the quality of education. Abrupt increase in pass rate, therefore, is not acceptable as it is not consistent with the standard of education. Attaining a certain standard in education requires time and appropriate measures. An abrupt increase in pass rate in public examinations, therefore, raises questions about the standard of these students.
Learning Assessment of SEQAEP (Secondary Education Quality and Access Enhancement Project) was prepared by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) in Bangladesh in 2012. It systematically measured the quality of learning by the students who completed grade 8 and are studying in grade 9. The research found that the quality of learners is much lower than what is expected from grade 8.
The government of Bangladesh recognises education as a means of reducing poverty and improving the standard of life of the learners. Standard living is directly related with quality of education. To ensure standard schooling, school facilities including their infrastructure, availability of space and furniture, adequate instructional materials and textbooks, working conditions for students and teachers, effective policies for school discipline, peaceful and safe environment especially for girls and adequate health service facilities for students and teachers are important. The size of classrooms also needs to be increased to accommodate all students. The number of teachers should be enhanced for better classroom performance. Local and national value-based school curriculum is needed for uniqueness. Aspects of pivotal areas such as literacy and numeracy should be included in curricula. Good working conditions for teachers and professional training for their development also play an important role in making them feel confident about their sole objective, which is, imparting lessons. To attain all the dimensions will require resources, commitment, good leadership, and finally, willingness to change.
Jahangir Hossain
programme officer
Skills and Training Enhancement Project (STEP)
Ministry of Education, Dhaka.

Quality education strengthens a nation. Education begins at home. Schools, colleges and universities also help students in acquiring knowledge. A student’s objective should be to take lessons from his/her teachers and it must take the highest precedence over all other things for a student. A student who reads only to pass the examinations cannot develop him/herself into a perfect human being. Those who are persevering in their pursuit of knowledge can prosper as good human beings. However, when a child is in class four or five, his/her guardians become serious about the child’s education. But when the child reaches a higher level s/he in most cases does not get proper education because of lack of good teachers and proper environment. The educationists’ opinion that –– although the results of the Junior School Certificate and Primary Education Completion Examinations demonstrate high pass rate, the competence of the successful students is still questionable –– needs to be taken into serious consideration, despite the fact that the incumbents look upon their introduction of the Primary School Certificate Examination and Junior School Certificate Examination in the country as a momentous event, and scoring high grades by the students as a feather in their cap. A report by the World Bank in December 2013 echoes almost the same idea when it says that although Bangladesh has succeeded in providing greater educational access to its populace, ‘learning is low and unequal’. If one delves into some facts and figures, in this connection, things will stand crystal clear and reveal a number of unpalatable truths. A Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education Learning assessment of students at the secondary education level for grade VIII, carried out in July 2012, revealed that the proportion of grade IX students who had mastered grade VIII-level competencies in Bangla, English and Mathematics are 44, 44 and 35 per cent in those subjects. In the Primary examination 2,40,961 and in the JSC exam 1,52,987 students have scored the highest grade point average 5. Regrettably, when the students with the same grade appear for admission tests in different universities most of them fail to qualify for admission. This points to the fact that the education that they are receiving at schools is not adequate to make them competent to face exams at the higher levels. Thus, this again reinforces the idea that their foundation in education still remains weak-kneed. To overcome the difficulties to improve the quality of education is a daunting task. The government needs to come out of its apparent contentment and devise a comprehensive strategy to address the problems at schools to improve education.
Azmery Zannath
by E-mail

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