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Wasim Bin Habib
Although significant progress has been made in primary education over the past few decades, its quality remains a major concern in Bangladesh.
On one hand, high enrolment in primary schools, achieving gender parity, timely supply of new textbooks, dazzling pass rates and results of primary terminal examinations made the nation happy. At the same time, high dropout and low completion rates, and inappropriate teaching-learning methodologies have contributed to poor quality, preventing the country from being euphoric.
One of the main causes of these is lack of quality teachers and teaching as well.
Currently, more than 3.95 lakh teachers are teaching more than 1.92 crore primary education students in around 80,000 primary schools of all types across the country. These are big numbers, but not big enough with adequate and qualitative facilities for a nation of more than 15 crore population.
The teacher-student ratio stands at 1:46 while the total learning time in a year in primary school is yet far behind the international standard of a thousand hours. Besides, a primary teacher alongside teaching has to carry out many other tasks like birth registration, population survey, many other social surveys and polling duties during elections.
Any analysis into this situation would suggest increasing the teaching force from the present number for ensuring standardized education in terms of class size, teacher-student ratio, and sufficient interaction and learning time in school.
But the scenario in Bangladesh is quite different. According to sources of primary and mass education ministry, a vast number of teaching posts fall virtually vacant for a temporary but significant amount of time due to maternity leave, professional training and medical leave of teachers, hampering studies of the students.
In each primary school, there is an average of three to four teachers and if a teacher attends training, falls sick or goes on leave for some other reason, the classes in many cases get cancelled.
Every year, an average of 19,000 teachers from government, registered government and community primary schools take part in the yearlong C-in-Ed training, said the ministry sources.
Over 5,500 female teachers take maternity leave each year and around 5,500 teachers take leave for medical reasons, or to attend religious festivals such as the hajj, they said. Besides, a number of assistant teacher posts and headmasters of government primary schools also fall vacant and it can take several months to fill the posts on a temporary basis.
Although the present government has appointed around 70,000 teachers in schools but that is not adequate for teaching a large number of pupils in the current context.
Another major reason behind the shortage of quality teachers at primary level is poor salary and remuneration.
Unlike any other occupation, teachers have a unique role in laying the foundation of children’s education but the level of reward and social esteem for a teacher simply does not attract enough intellectually capable young people to thise profession.
Currently, a non-trained assistant teacher of a government primary school earns around Tk 8,000 in total. The basic salary of a non-trained assistant teacher starts with Tk 4,700 while for trained ones it is Tk 4,900 per month.
On the other hand, the basic salaries of the newly recruited trained and non-trained headmasters are Tk 5,200 and Tk 5,500 respectively.
Many teachers said that the poor salary fails to attract bright students to join in this profession and those with good academic results take up the teaching career do not continue in it for long because of the low remuneration.
Besides, they said, the teachers are unhappy with their status of Class III government employee which remained unchanged since the nationalisation of primary education in 1973.
“How can we expect meritorious students to become primary school teachers? A university graduate does not want to be a Class III government employee with these poor salaries,” said an assistant headmaster of government primary school.
They said that teaching has now become a transit profession for many meritorious students who take up the profession for a transitional time and look for better job, dignified position and social status.
Educationists said that although the quality of teachers improved, especially with the new recruits, the level is not satisfactory.
They said apart from increasing teachers’ salary and status, they will have to be provided with more training with new approaches that combine theoretical and practical knowledge.
“There should be change in the approach of existing trainings and teachers should be given more hands-on training,” said Prof Siddiqur Rahman, a teacher of the Institute of Education and Research of Dhaka University.
Shyamal Kanti Gosh, Ddirector Ggeneral of Directorate of Primary Education (DPE), said the quality of teachers recruited in recent times is better comparatively and they are giving training to the teachers under many projects and programmes.
Introduction of Diploma in Primary Education is one of such activities which is being run in seven districts on pilot basis with the aim to producing teachers who would ensure acquisition of learning for every child.
Introduced by Primary Teachers Institute (PTI), this programme combines PTI-based teaching with practical teaching experience in the training school in more or less equal proportions, and links the types of knowledge through its assessment and teaching.