Addressing the inequality of the segregated education system and improving teacher quality are keys to ensuring educational justice. To discuss the issues and factors that challenge ensuring educational justice in Bangladesh, and to identify and prioritize solutions for these challenges, Members of Parliament, civil society leaders, civil servants, and education experts were convened at a 3-day-long ‘Policy Conclave on Educational Justice’ in Cox’s Bazar from 12 to 14 March 2023. The conclave was hosted by IID, in collaboration with the Parliamentarian Caucus on Social Justice, and with support from Global Partnership for Education (GPE).

During the conclave, participants recognized the significant progress made in Bangladesh’s education system over the last five decades. This includes the modernization of classrooms, the introduction of digital technologies, the establishment of ICT labs in schools, and recent efforts to renew the curriculum and examination systems. However, participants also pointed out that segregations such as Bangla-English-Arabic mediums, public vs. private, or school vs. madrasah education systems have resulted in unequal access to quality education for all.

Professor Emeritus at BRAC University Manzoor Ahmed started the discussion by highlighting the journey of Bangladesh’s education system in 50 years. In this regard, he emphasized the role of political leadership in the education system and said, “Education is a matter of political economy. However, our education policies and administrations have become dependent on bureaucrats. In this context, all political parties – not just the ruling party – should prioritize the development of the education sector on their agenda.”

As Professor Ahmed set the stage for further discussion, various Members of Parliament presented their suggestions to address the challenges facing the education sector throughout the session. Tanvir Shakil Joy, a member of parliament from Sirajganj-1, shed light on the sufferings of the marginalized community living in the Char areas. “The Char area is facing deprivation because primary school teachers are reluctant to perform their duties, and the classes are taken by proxy teachers”, he said.  In this context, he recommended implementing a school-specific teacher recruitment policy in the primary sector, whereby the appointed teachers would be required to work at a specific school, likewise the secondary and higher secondary institutions.

Emphasizing the decentralization in terms of budgeting, Shameem Haider Patwary, Member of Parliament from Gaibandha-1 said, “Although we are aware of the difficulties in our constituency, we can’t take the proper measures due to a lack of budget. In that circumstance, a certain degree of decentralization is needed. For instance, if area-wise budgets are granted, it can be helpful for ensuring access to education for marginalized individuals”. Ahsan Adelur Rahman, Member of Parliament from Nilphamari-4 highlighted the importance of discipline in schools and pointed out that many teachers fail to adhere to schedules, arrive late to school, and do not follow the prescribed curriculum while teaching. To address this issue, he suggested implementing a fingerprint attendance system in schools, which could also help to address the issue of proxy teachers.

Focusing on the importance of appropriate qualifications of tearchers, Anwarul Abedin Khan, Member of Parliament from Mymensingh-9, says, “Although most schools have science and computer labs, most of them remain completely unused because the appointed teachers do not have the proper knowledge regarding the use of lab equipment”. In this context, he stressed the importance of a fair hiring process in which only qualified teachers should be appointed. Advocate Adiba Anjum Mita, MP, emphasized the value of extracurricular activities in addition to formal schooling, “Sports and cultural activities should be prioritized in order to ensure the appropriate development of children’s talent. At the same time, proper amounts of physical activity for children should also be ensured, as this is crucial for their intellectual development”.

Md Nazrul Islam Babu, Member of Parliament from Narayanganj-2 stressed that monitoring should take precedence over assessment, with state-level monitoring being the primary focus. He recommended efforts to train both teachers and students in the necessary skills, which would create more employment opportunities for the younger generation. He pledged to bring the outcomes of the conclave to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Education. Barrister Mohibul Hasan Chowdhury, Deputy Minister of Education and Member of Parliament, joined the conclave virtually and emphasized the significance of foundational learning and learning outcomes in the education sector. He also mentioned that the government is planning to implement systemic changes to address the challenges related to learning outcomes, such as continuous assessment of students to monitor their learning in the classroom.

The participants at the conclave reached a consensus that to address the inequality in the education system, subjects such as science, math, and language should be taught in every institution, including madrasas. While the participants appreciated the recent initiatives taken by the government to reduce public examinations, they emphasized the need to strengthen formative assessment and monitor learning and the school system.

Among others, the conclave was attended by Nadira Yeasmin Jolly MP, Kaniz Fatema Ahmed MP, Former MP Mahjabeen Khaled, MD. Noor-E-Alam, Deputy Secretary of Secondary and Higher Education Division, Mohammad Ashraful Alam Khan, Deputy secretary of the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education, Ranajit Bhattacharyya, General Manager of ASER India, Md. Tohirul Islam Milon, Chief Executive of MSEDA, Md. Shahadat Hossain Mondol, Executive Director of USS, Syeed Ahamed, CEO of IID, and Policy Champions Aninda Sundar Basak, Deen Islam (Oikko) and Shirin Akhter Asa from Youth for Policy.

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