Is education delivering on its promise for Bangladesh?

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Are students really learning? This is the primary question In Bangladesh, where more than one third of grade 3 students could not be classified as “readers” because they did not score high enough to be tested. In case of mathematics, the share of students who do not meet minimum proficiency is at 60 percent. These assessments confirm the key message of World Development Report 2018 .

Why are learning levels low? WDR 2018 identifies that the global learning crisis is a result of gaps in one or more of four key school level ingredients for learning - prepared learners, effective teaching, learning focused inputs, and the skilled management and governance that pulls them all together. The report notes that when countries and their leaders make learning for all a national priority, education standards can improve significantly . Relying on evidence gathered around the world, the report offers three policy recommendations: First, Assess learning - so it can become a measurable goal. Second, Act on evidence - to make schools work for all children. Finally, Align actors - to mobilize everyone who has a stake in learning.

Schooling is not the same as learning. Bangladesh has already made a tremendous start by getting most of the children and youth into school. Unfortunately, schooling is not same as learning.  Thousands of children attend school but gain very little in terms of actual skills. Moreover, learning outcomes are almost always significantly worse for the disadvantaged. As a result, millions of youths are facing the prospect of lost opportunity and lower wages in later life because schools are failing to ensure learning outcomes.

This affects productivity. A child born in Bangladesh today will be 48 percent as productive when they grows up as they could be if they enjoyed complete education and full health, as per the Human Capital Index (HCI). Part of this lost productivity comes from low learning. Nearly 4.5 years of education are lost on average due to low levels of learning. Consequently, Bangladesh has a lower HCI than the average for its income group.

Invest Smart. Progress is possible. Both World Development Report 2018 and a Companion Report identify possible solutions to this problem. They highlight that one priority is to expand quality early childhood development (ECD) programs. These programs are some of the most effective investments Bangladesh can make in its education system.  They help children ‘learn to learn’, by doing so they can help launch children on higher learning trajectories, making them more adaptable, resilient, and productive.

Realizing Education’s Promise. If the current trends of low learning continue, education will fail to deliver on its promise to eliminate extreme poverty and create shared prosperity for all in Bangladesh. Schooling without learning cannot realize education’s promise, as it is not just a wasted development opportunity, but also a great injustice to children and young people worldwide.  The Companion Report, which focuses specifically on South Asia, recommends four crucial next steps for Bangladesh:

  • Expand access to quality early childhood development programs
  • Invest in better recruitment, professional development and performance management systems for teachers
  • Improve the market relevance of skills development programs
  • Promote research and innovation in universities
This will be a great beginning to help the country build the human capital necessary for supporting its aspirations of becoming an upper middle-income country. Now, the final question remains: Can all the stakeholders in Bangladesh’s education -- not just the government, but also civil society, business community and parents -- come together to make this happen?

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