THE CASE OF BANGLADESH
Bangladesh is a republic formed in 1972, following a war of independence with Pakistan, of which it had formed the eastern component since the foundation of that country in 1947. During the period of British colonial control this area was known as East Bengal and there is some ethnic and linguistic affinity with West Bengal, the neighboring State of the Indian Federation.
Much of Bangladesh comprises part of the Ganges/Brahmaputra lower plains and delta and is subject to severe annual flooding caused by both Himalayan thaw and monsoon cyclones. Coincidence with high tides in the Bay of Bengal causes massive devastation and disaster for scores of millions of rural Bangladeshis, including the demolition of any schools they may have. Around the periphery of the country is a broken zone of higher ground which becomes the normal environment for the south-east sector which around Chittagong experiences some of the highest precipitation of rainfall in the world. The vast majority of the population (about 80 per cent) is Islamic and Bangla speaking, but there is a significant Hindu minority (about 10 per cent) and also tribal groups in the hill regions. The capital, Dhaka, is very much the primate city and the focus of the modest secondary and tertiary sectors of the economy, the majority of which consists of subsistence agriculture. The overall population density is well over 500 per square kilometre, with about 90 per cent being rural.
Bangladesh is placed in the lowest category of countries by international economic
classification, with a per capita income of less that $US200 pa and could well be the poorest country in the world. Consequently its economic survival depends absolutely on international aid, and this includes such capacity as exists to provide education from public funds. The linguistic dimension and its educational considerations has had considerable influence on political developments. During the British colonial period, English was strongly acquired by the elite which favoured that medium and utilised private and international avenues of educational advancement that still operate today. Under Pakistan rule there was an attempt to impose Urdu in schools which was vigorously opposed by the indigenous population and was a key issue in the thrust for an independent state. Having gained that independence in 1972, there was a strong Bangla policy in respect of schooling which led to the decline of English, though in recent years this has been relaxed. However, the majority of the population and especially of the females remain illiterate in either medium.
The diagram below (Cowen and McLean 1984, p 80) illustrates the educational system of Bangladesh. The pupils surveyed were in the top class of the primary cycle with the exception of the children at the BRAC School, which offered two years of basic education to pupils who tended to be older than those in the government schools.
The Educational System Of Bangladesh
Table 1 below gives an indication of the percentages of boys and girls enrolled in primary schools over the period 1951 – 1985. There has been much improvement but the percentage of girls out of school was still 62% in 1985.
Table 1: Age Group Population and Participation Rate at the Primary Level in
In Bangladesh the number of pupils surveyed was curtailed by the incidence of public holidays and a strike, but the schools visited provided a useful range. They included a rural school established by the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), a Government semi-rural primary school, and an urban one where the shifts were arranged by sex and we worked with a class of girls. Our 100 respondents then were mainly female, although there were some boys at the rural schools visited. The age range in the classes included in the survey was 8-15 years, but all the older children were in the rural schools.
Among rural pupils, all the boys were involved in helping in the fields, but very few of the girls. Sweeping, fetching water and preparing food were however very much girls’ tasks. The care of siblings seemed to be one for either sex. As might be expected from the traditions of the country, it is the boys who go to the market, rarely girls. Among the urban elite girls, 70 per cent never go to the store or market. There was a high degree of consensus that girls help at home more than boys. but among both girls and boys in rural areas an alarming 92 per cent said that they sometimes miss school because they have to help at home and over 50 per cent said that it is difficult to go to school every day. These were by far the highest scores in any country or type of location in the survey. Even among elite urban girls 43 per cent were sometimes missing school to help at home.
At the local scale in rural Bangladesh the issues of female security and access to primary schooling combine to the extent that a distance of more than 2 kilometers can prevent female take-up of primary schooling. Indeed the percentage of children wishing schools were nearer to their Homes was 95% in the rural Bangladesh schools surveyed: the highest in any of the countries visited.
On the larger scale the incompleteness of the schooling network, leading to marked disparities in the distribution of educational opportunity: the tendency for the poorer teachers to be on the periphery of the system where access is most difficult; the concentration of single sex schooling and related accommodation in urban areas, the physical disruption of the rainy season with its increased costs of access to school by water, all combine to operate against the educational interests of rural girls to a greater extent than their male counterparts.
The rural/urban imbalance in provision, enrolment, drop-out and female
Literacy rates is very striking.
Societal norms, especially parental attitudes, are key pressures in this case, and operate against the educational progress of girls and women to different degrees in each of the four main components of the population: the rural poor (constituting the vast majority); the rural elite; the urban poor; the urban elite. The rural/urban dichotomy is stark and extreme.
This factor was surprisingly rarely mentioned by professionals and students, but it was identified by parents. Two dimensions are readily apparent. First there is the general medical effect of living in conditions of severe poverty, and the particular point of the extra malnutrition of girls due to the preference given to boys and men. Many rural children reach school hungry and this adversely affects their performance. There is apparently no government food programme for schools as found in some corresponding countries.[ad_2]