Despite the worldwide digitisation drive and shift towards technology-driven employment, the number of Secondary School Certificate (SSC) and Higher Secondary Certificate (HSC) in the science discipline has barely increased since the 1990s in Bangladesh.
Employers are struggling to fill science-related vacancies, while universities, too, are facing a dearth of students in the relevant departments.
According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Educational Information and Statistics, the number of SSC and HSC examinees from science disciplines was 42% and 28% in 1990. For humanities, it was 57% and 52%, in that order.
In 22 years, the number rose to 32% and 24% for science. For humanities, the number of SSC examinees fell to 50%, but for HSC it rose to 57%.
Education experts and employers say the government should concentrate on science and technology-based education. Another factor behind the disinterest is the associated costs.
Md Zihad, a commerce group student of Hafiz Ibrahim College in Bhola, told TBS that he chose the subject in the hope of getting good results. "Also, my father is not very solvent, so it is difficult to afford the many private tutors science subjects require," he said.
Parents and students both said that pursuing science during the SSC and HSC periods can cost up to Tk5,000 extra in tuition fees, a steep price for many in the country.
Professor Tapan Kumar Sarkar, chairman of the Dhaka Education Board, told The Business Standard that science education is still expensive in the country. The lack of qualified teachers also plays a role behind the poor number of students in the discipline.
On the employment front, the extent of the problem becomes clearer.
Engineer Abu Noman Hawlader, managing director of BBS Cables Limited, told TBS that the firm has been facing a shortage of skilled manpower, while the quality of science-based students is very poor.
"My company usually hires skilled manpower from India and other neighbouring countries as the Bangladeshi technical education institutes cannot produce qualified diploma engineers," he said.
MdJashim Uddin, president of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industries (FBCCI), at a programme recently said the lack of skilled manpower has become a major obstacle in achieving development targets.
There is a lack of necessary skills required in the industry although there is no shortage of highly educated youths in the country. Therefore, entrepreneurs have to depend on foreigners for various management positions, the FBCCI president said.
Professor Dr ASM Maksud Kamal, pro-vice-chancellor of Dhaka University, told TBS that the university has reduced more than 1,000 seats out of 7000 from the 2021-22 academic session with a view to producing quality graduates.
"Our target is to produce a skilled future generation. That is why we reduced the number of seats in subjects which are less in demand."
Professor Dr Hadiuzzman, of the Civil Engineering Department of the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet), told The Business Standard the fourth industrial revolution is knocking on the door, with demand for humanities decreasing and for science education rising.
He urged the education ministry to take immediate action to expand science education in the country.
The impact of the lack of science students can also be seen at the university level.
According to the 47th annual report of the University Grants Commission, the country's lone higher education regulatory body, only 11% students at all higher educational institutions have enrolled in science and technology disciplines, while the enrolment numbers in arts, social sciences, business studies and others stand at 89%.
The poor rate of undergraduate students choosing science, technological and technical subjects has been continuing for quite a long time as it was 11% in 2019 and 2020, 12% in 2016 and 2017, and 11% in 2015.