Although Bangladesh has made remarkable progress in expanding access to education - enrolling nearly 98% of children in primary school - recent data suggest otherwise. Our country is on a gradually declining slope towards educational failure.
Our students spend ten years or more in schools but cannot develop basic skills in fundamental subjects like language, maths and science. A USAID-funded assessment in 2018 found that 44% of students finish first grade unable to read their first word, and 27% finish third grade unable to read comprehensions.
Students completing higher secondary with excellent GPA fail to score qualifying marks in the university admission tests. The downward slope continues in tertiary education as it also fails to equip graduates with the skillsets aligning with the employers' demand.
Consequently, employers are facing challenges in recruiting candidates as the academic performances of new graduates do not ensure suitability for jobs. Graduates with outstanding CGPA from both reputed public and private universities are getting screened out in the preliminary assessments of the recruitment process. This skills mismatch paves the way for higher levels of graduate unemployment.
According to Bangladesh Labour Force Survey 2016-17, the unemployment rate among the youth male and female population who completed tertiary education were 30.1% and 42.5% respectively. The study further shows that the unemployment rate is higher among university graduates, which means that education is not empowering graduates with the required skills.
During Covid-19, the unemployment problem has exacerbated alarmingly. During a recent recruitment of a private commercial bank, Brac, 43,000 applicants applied against only 70 probationary officer posts.
The scenario is equally frightening concerning government jobs as 4.43 lakh candidates appeared in the last Bangladesh Civil Service (BCS) preliminary test to compete for about 1,800 entry-level government officer posts.
A recent study conducted between October and November last year by the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) in collaboration with Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung (FES), revealed that 46% of employers find skills lacking in applicants and the candidates performed dreadfully when assessed in skills like Communication, English Language, Numeracy and Mathematics.
The survey further showed that most employers placed the highest importance on soft skills – communication, followed by time management and problem-solving – over hard skills. If our education system does not realise the needs of the society and job market, it is an injustice to our young generation and a wasted development opportunity.
Bangladesh has a lower Human Capital Index (HCI) than the average for its income group. A graduate loses 4.5 years of education due to a low level of learning. As per Human Capital Index (HCI), a grown-up in Bangladesh would be 48% more productive if s/he got 'complete education and full health'.
If the current trends of low learning and mismatch between our education system and the job market's demand continue, education will fail to deliver on its promise to eradicate poverty and make our country prosperous.
Our schools are struggling with finding qualified teachers, and universities are continuously facing allegations of corruption in the recruitment process. If we want to develop our education system, we must begin by investing in our educators. There is no denying that better recruitments and professional development of teachers are compulsory to maintain the quality of education.
The recent revision in the national education framework, dispensing with examinations till grade three, board examinations in grade five and eight, and groups like science, humanities and commerce for secondary, is a step ahead to bolster our primary and secondary education. However, the imposition of three consecutive examinations in the years 10, 11 and 12 will burden our students again with unnecessary pressure.
Concerning tertiary education, the University Grants Commission (UGC) is working on program accreditation to promote outcome-based education, following the World Bank's Higher Education Quality Enhancement Project (HEQEP) in 2015.
However, the outcome of the quality assurance remained practically unattainable as it accompanied an extra load of paperwork for already overburdened and underpaid teachers, besides reinforcing the burden of the grade-centric education system on our students.
According to recent collaborative research conducted by Bangladesh Breastfeeding Foundation, Public Health Institute, and Jahangirnagar University, more than 60% of teens aged between 13 to 19 experience a high level of stress, anxiety and depression for the demand placed on them for doing well in studies.
The question remains unresolved - though our students are experiencing such high levels of pressure while studying, why cannot they meet the expectation of employers in jobs?
In our context, where infrastructure is underdeveloped, qualified teachers are limited, and the governing bodies are poor, training teachers and empowering them in the classrooms would be much more effective than controlling everything from the centre.
Teachers must enjoy the freedom to adapt the contents, teaching materials, assessments and teaching methods according to the response of the individual learners.
At the same time, curricula must be reformed and revised regularly after consulting with all the stakeholders to suit the demands of the modern economy and society. Regarding higher education, universities must promote research and innovation in collaboration with industries.
An attempt to reduce the gap between our education system and the demand of the job market will be a great beginning to help our country build the human resources necessary for supporting its yearning of becoming a developed country by 2041.
Md Kawsar Uddin is an assistant professor of English at the International University of Business Agriculture and Technology (IUBAT).
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.