Education in Bangladesh
The education system of Bangladesh faces an enormous challenge in the form of a huge population, poorly educated and largely impoverished, and a lack of funds to address their needs. Gradual improvements are being made, but the system still struggles to meet the needs of the Bangladeshi population. A few statistics will illustrate the scope of the challenge of education in Bangladesh. In a country of almost 150 million, only 300,000 (one-fifth of one percent) have completed high school. The adult literacy rate is below 50% (all the way down to 35% for women). 40% of children will never set foot inside a classroom. And what little resources are available for education are concentrated among the urban elite, so low-income families rarely see the benefit of an education for their children.
The existing school system has three separate tracks: General Education, Madrasah (religious) Education, and Technical/Vocational Education. Each track sends students through preschool, primary school, and secondary school, and in some cases there are colleges available as well. In most cases, students attend whatever school is most accessible – ideology does not play as strong a role in the choice of a school as it does in some other countries, and so religious education is common even among families that are not especially pious.
There are a total of roughly 80 universities in Bangladesh, a small number given that the population of the country is more than double that of the UK or France. About half are run by the government, while the others are private schools, but in either case they serve almost exclusively the children of Bangladesh’s small upper class. Unfortunately, lack of funds, lack of good leadership, and the complete absence of centralized regulation have led to a decline in quality among the majority of these universities since their founding in the 1980s (shortly after Bangladesh won its independence from Pakistan in 1971). This in turn causes students not to bother applying or attending college even when they have the opportunity to do so, and so the cycle of poor education continues.
Fortunately, the government of Bangladesh has taken aggressive steps to correct this problem. School is now mandatory until the fifth grade (although vast numbers of school-age children will still not attend because the law is not being enforced), and female students are being given modest stipends to encourage them to attend school and smooth out the gender disparities in literacy and general education. Despite the fact that lack of resources makes many of these policies difficult to implement and enforce, they are at least a step in the right direction.