“Before finalizing the SLIP budget of the primary schools, teachers, parents, and SMC members need to sit together and determine the needs. It will help us to understand the actual needs of the students and will contribute significantly to improving the quality of education.”– Md. Jahangir Kabir, the Chairman of Saghata Upazila, expressed his view at the Town Hall meeting in Gaibandha.
Even though the education policy of Bangladesh encourages stakeholders from different levels, including parents, to participate in the budget formulation process, in reality the situation might be different. In most rural areas, the parents lack awareness regarding the school budget. One of the reasons for this is the irregularity of teacher-student meetings. In many cases, due to time limitations, it is not possible to prepare a demand letter for a budget following the policy. In the context of Bangladesh, different budget-related discussions take place at the national and local levels during the months of May and June. However, the majority of the budget formulation work is completed well before this period. As a result, these discussions cannot have an effective impact in most cases.
Against this backdrop, IID organized two town hall meetings as part of its “e!quality” project, one on December 28 in Sreemangal Upazila of Moulvibazar district and one on December 31 in Saghata Upazila of Gaibandha district. The events were co-hosted by Sreemangal-based e!quality Consortium member MSEDA and Gaibandha-based e!quality Consortium member USS. The focus of the event was how a participatory, demand-driven budget can prepare for a resilient education system and address learning loss. A total of 65 stakeholders (37 men and 28 women) participated in the town hall meetings. Among them honorable chairmen of both upazilas, UP chairmen, upazila education officers, teachers, SMC members, and parents were present.
At the beginning of the meetings, the research findings on the resilience of the education system of Bangladesh during the COVID-19 period were presented. The research was conducted in two marginalized areas. A total of 103 students, 93 parents, 20 teachers, 9 school management committee members, 6 government officials, and 6 private officials participated in this study. The result shows that during the COVID period, when schools were closed, the government of Bangladesh took different online-based initiatives to continue the education of children. However, the advantages of these initiatives were not fully realized for various reasons. For example, most of the students in rural areas were deprived of digital access. In the research area, 99% of households did not have a computer. 49% of households did not have a smartphone or tablet, and 80% of households did not have an internet connection. As a result, in general, the children of this region have fallen behind in education. 56 percent of parents feel that their child has forgotten what they learned at school before Covid. 60% of teachers agreed with the parents in this concern.
In this context, the teachers and parents present in the meetings shared various challenging experiences during the Corona period. The discussion came up about how most of the students could not benefit from online classes during school closures due to a lack of proper devices and a good network. Besides, they also expressed apprehension about students becoming addicted to smartphones. In this case, the discussants emphasized the awareness of the parents and the controlled use of smartphones. Apart from this, the needs of school infrastructural development, the recruitment of sufficient teachers, the recruitment of fourth-class employees to reduce the other workload of teachers, the development of the secondary education system, an effective student council, etc. were also highlighted in the speeches of the attendees
Moreover, lack of participation in school budget formulation, lack of parental awareness, and limitations of school committees also came up in the discussion. In this context, Chairman of Sreemangal Upazila Bhanulal Roy highlights, “There is no alternative to budget allocation based on the upazila’s needs for the development of the upazila level education system. On the other hand, it is important to establish connections between parents, teachers, students, and public representatives to ensure public involvement in the education budget formulation process. I think this town hall meeting has started the work of establishing that connection.”
Emphasizing the capacity building and awareness of the relevant stakeholders, the Assistant Upazila Education Officer present at the meeting said, “If such town hall meetings are held regularly, then awareness of the school budget will increase among the parents, teachers, and other stakeholders. At the same time, arrangements for regular training of SMC members are also necessary, so that they can properly prepare the budget and implement it. ” In this regard, the chief executive of Srimangal-based NGO MSEDA, Md. Tohirul Islam Milon, said in his speech, “Participants can come to the same platform and present their views through this kind of meeting. Therefore, we will try to conduct such activities regularly.”
With this view, two Learning Collaboratives have been formed in both areas with the commitment to organize a meeting with public representatives, teachers, parents, and other stakeholders every two months to ensure participatory demand-based budgeting at the school level.