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2 April, 2016 00:00 00 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 1 April, 2016 08:54:26 PM
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Make education free and compulsory now

Kazi Mostaque Ahmed
Make education free and compulsory now

For taking a very important step for the overall development of Bangla­desh such as making free and compul­sory educa­tion, the question that has to be answered first whether the government at present has the required financial capacity to do so. The next question is if education is declared compulsory, would the boys and girls of poor families be able to attend school regularly. We think it is possible to fund in a worthy project like it and parents and children will also attend school responding positively to a declaration like this.  
The Bangladesh government indeed thinks over the prospect of making education free. Some time ago at a stipend giving ceremony the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said that the nation’s financial condition was not that much strong to have an education system where no students will have to pay for their education expenses in public institutions. There might be truth in what the prime minister said about the financial constraint; but if the government positively wants to make education free it is possible as it is the case with the construction of Padma Bridge. After the World Bank declined to provide loan for the bridge, the government relentlessly chased after the dream of making the bridge and now if everything goes well, by the year 2018, the bridge would be a reality for us. And achieving cent per cent literacy rate is no less important than the Padma Bridge and we think it is even more important than the construction of the bridge because without education the desired all-round development is not possible. Education, institutional or otherwise, is absolutely necessary for raising the standard of life and what could be a better means of breaking the cycle of poverty than educating the poor and backward mass.     
Bangladesh is indeed making progress in this regard. The country has achieved a lot in terms of providing education to its largely backward masses during the last four decades. As the spectre of extreme poverty is gradually leaving the society, so is the curse of illiteracy. Even a decade ago, the rate of girl children attending school is much lower. The efforts of inclusive education both by the government and non government organisations are showing good results. The number of dropouts is decreasing every year. Providing free textbooks up to secondary level and stipends to the poor and meritorious students up to degree level are indeed very positive developments in our public education system.
Despite all these developments, the Education for All (EFA) Global Monitoring Report recently revealed that about 200 million young people in the developing countries, including our Bangladesh, have not even completed primary education and lack any skill for work. In today’s world education has become a commodity: as with every commodity, the haves are buying it and the have-nots are being able to do that. The privileged people are reaping the benefits of advancement of science and technology and enjoying the positive things life can offer; on the other side of the spectrum, hundreds and millions poor are failing to create even a hold for their life. It is for these have-nots the state needs to come forward. The tender boys found doing hard labour just for the sake of survival beside their parents or begging on the streets are sights we must strive to eliminate for the sake of our peace. Like everybody else, the have-nots have their right to education.
Therefore the state must sincerely dwell on how to generate fund for making education at the public institutions free. In a country where thousands of crore of taka are being looted from the public banks; where hundreds of crore taka are going down the drain due to misuse and mismanagement of government’s development projects; where ministers and MPs and high government officials can have several luxury cars for their use and make unnecessary tours to foreign nations spending huge public funds; you can here also make education free and let its fund be looted by the corrupt officials! The point is: it is the will to make education free that is absent here, not resources; it is the managerial skill that is missing, not the willing parents who cannot send their children to school due to poverty.             
Once confident that fund can be managed for making education free, the next step is to declare that attending school is compulsory for all children of a certain age group. Initially free education can be for up to the SSC level and in the next phase up to the HSc. All poor parents would not be able to respond to this announcement spontaneously at first, but gradually it will create an impact. An analogy here can be made. Despite the fact that smoking in public places has been banned in Bangladesh for quite some time now, and a smoker can be slapped a fine of Tk 50 in case s/he is found doing the act in public places, but people here still openly smoke. Even you can spot members of law enforcing agencies listlessly puffing smoke in the air forgetting that it is not for him to pollute the air and become a cause of concern for public health. But does it mean that banning smoking has achieved nothing? Not at all. The declaration of the ban itself is acting as a deterrent against smoking in public places. Compare the scenario of the present day with that of one or two decades ago, you will find that a great change has occurred in this regard. At least a non-smoker now can with a strong voice urge a smoking person mentioning the ban. The point here is announcing a ban is serving the purpose of a strong campaign against smoking.
Similarly, if education is declared compulsory, the declaration itself will motivate parents and guardians to send their wards to school. It is to be noted here that in the countries where the percentage of literacy is high, education is compulsory. Even in India where literacy is at present 72.1 per cent, education is compulsory for children in the age group 6-16. It is not long ago India declared education compulsory. It passed the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act in August 2009. In Pakistan where education is optional the literacy rate is 58.7% like Bangladesh (61.5%). In countries where education is compulsory the rate of literacy is comparatively high: in Egypt it is 75.2%, in Indonesia, 93.9%, in Iran, 86%, in Malaysia, 94.6%, in Morocco, 72.4%, in Syria, 86.4% and in Turkey, 95%.      
Free and compulsory education for all should indeed be the target the nation now needs to set for itself after 46 years of independence. Education alone can set Bangladesh along the path of prosperity and achieving the desired quality of life of its citizens. Education stands as a bulwark against almost all the social vices including child marriage, menacing dowry, child labour, domestic violence, superstitions, etc. There are some detractors who do not favour making education compulsory on the ground that it infringes upon the rights of children violating freedom and liberty. This is a theoretical debate. Practically speaking, and for Bangladesh, those tender boys who do not attend school are mostly engaged in grueling child labour. Without an education, street children grow up to become members of the underground world. Various social vices still exist in Bangladesh because a large section of citizens here is languishing in poverty and illiteracy. If attending school up to certain level can be made mandatory through a law, there must also be some punishment to uphold the law. And in this particular case, the government will have go to the violators of the law and bring them to school offering handsome incentives!

The writer can be contacted at: kazi.mostaque@theindependentbd.com      

 

 

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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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