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Education for all

Interview - May 12, 2015

Honourable Minister of Education Mr. Nurul Islam Nahid sits down with United World to discuss Bangladesh’s remarkable achievements and ambitious plans for the future.


So as you mentioned, we gave you quite a broad context but certainly it is true that education touches a lot of sectors. In terms of Vision 2021, education is obviously an important part of that vision, and I’d like to get your comments on how the Ministry is fitting into that and exactly what your objectives will be for the next 5 years. 

The vision is to achieve a goal so that we can develop our country by 2021. All sectors, in all areas of life, have an influence on what we can achieve in education. So the aim of our education is to prepare the new generation so that they can be the builders of this modern Bangladesh also to lead Bangladesh into 2021 - this Bangladesh we want to be developed is of course a very big challenge. We achieved our independence in 1971, but have been through very difficult periods in the past.

In our country for a long time we have struggled to find an education policy, but that can be achieved. We have a long tradition of struggle for education, rights of education, development of education and so on. And for the first time in 2010 we have constructed all sections, all ideas, political parties, all groups, social, religious, and education most of course, so we have a new education policy which was approved by the parliament which we are now able to use. As I mentioned previously our main aim is to prepare our new generation so that they can be the builders of the modern Bangladesh, and now we are working to that.

We have fixed our aim to bring all children to school and keep them in school and decrease drop out levels to zero, which is our target of course. And another problem was that our girls were, in this country, far behind the boys. We have focused on bringing equality to our boys and girls by 2015 after primary level. This also we have achieved and for three years now since 2012, it is not only in primary but in secondary, we have now more girls than boys because of many reasons. Those who could not come to school, and those who could not continue their education sadly is mainly because of poverty. Opportunities are not always granted to them due to circumstances, so we try to grant the opportunity and offer support for students to come out of the more serious poverty level so they can come to school, so the boys and girls will come to school and achieve the same, not only in primary level but in secondary level. Now in primary level up to class 5 girls are 51% and boys are 49% a remarkable change it is and now in secondary level the girls are 53% and boys are 47%.

These are remarkable achievements 

Yes, yes they are, you see in India the honorable President remarked in his coronation speech last year 'it is true that the liberation of books… in Bangladesh is the biggest program of education in the world' so far 333,000,000 books have been distributed, we also give support to students in other ways. 40% of students coming from poor families do not go to school or continue their education because of poverty, because of money and because of many things. So we give them a return of 30% to girls and 10% to boys for books - this is a very good incentive for the families.

Over the last two years there has been a very big campaign try to get children to school, and we try to double up the intake each year. We built up infrastructure, a large amount of infrastructure in primary and secondary education, and to the University level. Also we try to improve the teaching quality. First of all the teacher is the main essence of education so we get many more teachers and we train them; we have trained one million teachers this year, and we have changed the curriculum which has been fast distributed. The previous curriculum was written 17 years before, by those who had not seen mobile telephones. So we have new curriculum, new updated books that the students are being given which is befitting with the present situation, and also we have developed the level of computer education, we have doubled up in computers, we also have developed multimedia classrooms to use the technology of the classroom, we cannot in all the classes, but there is about 20,500 multimedia classrooms across all the schools.

 One problem we have is that our resources are limited so overnight we cannot improve the infrastructure, but we have more than doubled the infrastructure in just in five years. And another thing is now in education we are trying to put in technical and vocational education, we have a very vast number of population and many of them, about 10 million, come from outside the country. We have hopes that by 2021 we will have more than 20% of students and by 2030 we want it to be at 30% in these courses. We want to give our young people modern knowledge of course, but also skills so they can find employment. We are developing connections with factories, employers and investors. 

And is this through private or public institutions? I mean primarily in terms of vocational and technical, what is the mix of public to private circle?

In terms of vocational and technical there is both public and private services, there has been much more importance put on private investors, because we cannot complete our goals without the assistance of them. Right now we have around 36 public investors and we have 80 private investors, the concept of which is relatively new, it was introduced in 1982. We have allowed these people to invest in education, but with limitations, there is a new law brought in by this department in 2010 which regulates investors, as there where situations where people where investing to make money, to profit. We said no to that. No personal profit can be made from education. Profit is for the people, for the students, for the country. There are still people that are still letting individuals profit, they do not want to comply with the regulations given to them, even in universities. Generally the importance is not on doing research and finding new knowledge in universities, so we now have a new project that focuses on developing the research facilities in universities so then a greater focus can be put on coming up with new ideas and new information to help up in fixing problems and improving our society. So we are doing our best to update and develop as many research facility's as we can, so that many students' learning is benefited. 

Is there enough opportunity for student mobility as well, particularly in universities for them to travel to a place like the United States to be educated abroad? Are those opportunities available to students at this point? 

It is available, but in different ways there are some scholarships offered by some states, for example the Commonwealth offers a few opportunities for research, but it depends on the young teachers. Also individuals, some people have the opportunity to find sources and connections and then have experiences such as those in places like Canada, Australia, India, countries that are willing to support them. We have 16332 students who are studying at the moment at private institutions, so if we can develop our own situation then we can take on students from other countries. So we organize some projects and send teachers to go for short visits and short courses every year. There are some relationships that we have built through this, for example, with the British consult we have been able to develop school to school exchanges. If you ask me what our main goal is, it is equality of education, it is not possible overnight. To achieve this goal we need quality teachers, and to get them it costs more. Generally there is a very small amount of people that come from poverty to become teachers, so this is one problem. We are trying to attract more teachers, and those already in the profession. One of our main challenges is to improve the quality of teachers on all levels, to improve the quality of their teaching and also their efficiency.

It's so interesting that you mention the quality of teachers because for me I had great teachers and therefore I'd like to think they inspired me. I would like to know who that teacher was for you, who inspired you to become the Honorable Minister of Education and really make a difference in so many people's lives?  

When I was a student I studied in a village, a remote village. At that time when I studied primary school generally the girls did not go to school, which of course has changed now. But I think I was encouraged by firstly my family, of course my teachers, my neighbors, and my village people, and my courage expanded. I learned from school, from classrooms from textbooks, but also I learned from people. I learned from the students who could not go to school. Before I took on this responsibility I had experience, but I am not a very highly educated, learned man, but I have learned through life experiences. For example I went to the villages to learn the minds of the children - the best teachers are students. We must learn from our teachers, of course our teachers are our main source of learning, but also our students. The students’ satisfaction is the truest gage of how good the teacher is.