Boys and girls

De­spite tremen­dous progress in the past, many young girls in Bangladesh still lose out on qual­ity education

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Mahrukh Fa­rooq

The fe­male pop­u­la­tion of Bangladesh is on the

re­ceiv­ing end.

With re­spect to gen­der dis­par­ity in education, Bangladesh has in­deed come a long way over the last 20 years, with fe­male en­rol­ment and com­ple­tion rates sur­pass­ing those of their male coun­ter­parts. Yet, there still re­mains a need for mas­sive im­prove­ment in the area, what with the coun­try’s cur­rent education sys­tem be­ing plagued with is­sues re­lat­ing to a lack of fe­male teach­ers, ir­rel­e­vant cur­ricu­lum and a non-con­ducive learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment, the repa­ra­tions of which seem­ingly con­tinue to elude the fed­eral govern­ment.

Ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions Ed­u­ca­tional, Sci­en­tific and Cul­tural Or­ga­ni­za­tion (UNESCO), Bangladesh’s lit­er­acy rate cur­rently stands at 61.5% with a rank­ing of 193 out of 215 coun­tries. Al­though this paints a some­what grim pic­ture, it still rep­re­sents a stark dif­fer­ence be­tween now and the state of affairs that ex­isted two decades ago, when there was a dearth of govern­ment pro­grams geared to­wards the in­sti­tu­tion of pro­gres­sive ed­u­ca­tional frame­works.

Stud­ies con­ducted dur­ing this pe­riod show that the pri­mary education sec­tor is one that has ben­e­fited the most from such en­deav­ors. As of 2012, the net at­ten­dance ra­tio of pri­mary school par­tic­i­pa­tion for male stu­dents, ac­cord­ing to UNESCO, is at 77.2% while girls have made sure to sur­pass their male coun­ter­parts with a net at­ten­dance ra­tio of 81.2%. The same goes for the over­all lit­er­acy rate be­tween both gen­ders in the coun­try; for young men, aged be­tween 15 and 24 years, the lit­er­acy rate, as of 2012, stands at 77.1% while for young women of the same age, it stands at a whop­ping 80.4%.

Th­ese mas­sive in­creases in over­all lit­er­acy of both gen­ders in Bangladesh can be at­trib­uted to UNESCO’s Education for All (EFA) ini­tia­tive in which two parts of the Pri­mary Education De­vel­op­ment Pro­gram (PEDP II and III) were in­tro­duced. Ac­cord­ing to the pro­gram, one year of pre-pri­mary education prior to school en­try was sup­ported with ev­ery govern­ment pri­mary school hav­ing a pre-pri­mary class. As a re­sult, ap­prox­i­mately 50% of preschool chil­dren were es­ti­mated to be re­ceiv­ing some form of pre-pri­mary education in 2012 with the fig­ure in­creas­ing to nearly 67% in 2013.

Many of th­ese achieve­ments can be cred­ited to the re­cent rise and re­form of madrasa education. With a cur­ricu­lum based on Is­lamic teach­ings and an en­vi­ron­ment geared to­wards

sat­is­fy­ing the religious sen­ti­ments of many de­vout Mus­lim fam­i­lies – for ex­am­ple, the be­lief that girls and boys should oc­cupy sep­a­rate spa­ces and have no di­rect con­tact with each other - such in­sti­tu­tions give Bangladeshis peace of mind upon giv­ing their girls a proper education. Per­haps this is why, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent study, nearly 1.5 mil­lion girls are cur­rently en­rolled in such madrasas.

This rather en­cour­ag­ing trend does not, how­ever, repli­cate it­self in the area of sec­ondary school education where fig­ures posted by UNESCO are shown to lean more to­wards the av­er­age point on the scale. The net at­ten­dance ra­tio for sec­ondary school par­tic­i­pa­tion for males drops to 42.9% whereas for fe­males, the fig­ure de­creases to ap­prox­i­mately 47%. In its re­view of its EFA ini­tia­tive, UNESCO points out that over one-fifth of stu­dents do not com­plete the fiveyear pri­mary cy­cle due to dropout and grade rep­e­ti­tion. A high dropout rate at the sec­ondary school level re­sults in less than a third of the age group com­plet­ing the sec­ondary school cer­tifi­cate, which rep­re­sents up to 10 years of school­ing.

There is also a ris­ing level of con­cern for the qual­ity of education be­ing de­liv­ered in th­ese in­sti­tu­tions, mainly be­cause very few stud­ies have been con­ducted in or­der to prop­erly as­sess their va­lid­ity and au­then­tic­ity. This, in turn, in­di­cates that many fe­male stu­dents cur­rently en­rolled in such madrasas will most likely not be able to com­plete sec­ondary school. Ac­cord­ing to in­ter­views con­ducted by The Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion, a non­profit pub­lic pol­icy or­ga­ni­za­tion based in Wash­ing­ton DC for a re­search pa­per on Global Education, of madrasa prin­ci­pals in Sylhet, only 3-4 per­cent of girls com­plet­ing their ma­tric­u­la­tion will be able to pur­sue higher lev­els of education.

Data from the Madrasa Education Board of Bangladesh on the num­ber of girls and boys who ap­pear for their grade 8 (Ju­nior Dakhil Cer­tifi­cate, JDC), grade 10 (Dakhil) and grade 12 (Alim) ex­ams es­ti­mate that, on av­er­age, 33% fewer girls ap­pear for their grade 10 ex­ams as com­pared to the num­ber sit­ting for their grade 8 ex­ams. By the time the madrasa’s stu­dents go on to grade 12, the school is miss­ing up to 79% of its fe­male stu­dents. Fur­ther com­pound­ing the is­sue is the fact that only a small per­cent­age of girls who suc­cess­fully grad­u­ate from such madrasas are able to en­ter the la­bor mar­ket.

Due to there be­ing an over­all lack of data that would help both ex­perts and an­a­lysts to fully de­ter­mine the per­for­mance level of such in­sti­tu­tions, one can only rely on ob­ser­va­tions made by non-gov­ern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions (NGOs) such as Em­pow­er­ment and Hu­man De­vel­op­ment So­ci­ety (EHDS). The find­ings in­di­cate that girls study­ing in th­ese madrasas face a mul­ti­tude of chal­lenges, par­tic­u­larly per­tain­ing to the kind of education be­ing de­liv­ered as well as the type of class­room en­vi­ron­ment be­ing pro­vided. Most madrasas in the re­gion are run by male prin­ci­pals and even classes are taught by male teach­ers, re­sult­ing in many par­ents hes­i­tat­ing on let­ting their daugh­ters con­tinue their education. Cloth di­viders used to sep­a­rate girls from boys and male teach­ers in the class­room end up af­fect­ing fe­male stu­dents’ abil­ity to see the black­board and their teach­ers.

Though out­wardly triv­ial, it is the fail­ure to ad­dress such kinds of is­sues that have, in fact, led to girls in Bangladesh miss­ing out on qual­ity education. In ad­di­tion to this, madrasas, on the whole, re­ceive less at­ten­tion from the fed­eral and lo­cal gov­ern­ments as com­pared to the plethora of other projects cur­rently oc­cu­py­ing their agenda. Even sev­eral NGOs do not en­gage such in­sti­tu­tions in an ef­fort to im­prove gen­der equal­ity. By not at­tempt­ing to re­solve such prob­lems, the govern­ment is in­ad­ver­tently cre­at­ing a pre­car­i­ous sit­u­a­tion for the coun­try’s education sec­tor, with the num­ber of girls drop­ping out of madrasas in­creas­ing ev­ery year.

The Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion, through its re­search pa­per ti­tled, ‘ Im­prov­ing the Qual­ity of Girls’ Education in Madrasas in Bangladesh: Dis­cus­sion Guide and Pro­gram Plan, 2015-2020’, out­lines sev­eral mea­sures by which the fed­eral govern­ment as well as NGOs work­ing in the coun­try can counter such chal­lenges. Th­ese in­clude teacher train­ing, the in­duc­tion of more fe­male teach­ers, refining the cur­ricu­lum and in­creas­ing the num­ber of madrasas of­fer­ing higher level education. At the com­mu­nity level, the study calls for pro­grams to end early mar­riage, in­crease par­ent and com­mu­nity mo­ti­va­tion and en­gage­ment as well as in­volve­ment by lo­cal govern­ment, NGOs and donors.

Through the im­ple­men­ta­tion of such strate­gies, it is very likely that the even­tual out­come of many young girls look­ing for­ward to a bright fu­ture will be pos­i­tive.

The writer is a mem­ber of the staff.

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