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Children raise education issues with Minister

© UNICEF Bangladesh/2009/Iftikhar Ahmed Chowdhury
The Minister for Education Nurul Islam Nahid and the group of children who interviewed him for a 40-minute TV programme braodcast by BTV.
By Iftikhar Ahmed Chowdhury

It was their second television rendez-vous with the country’s top policymakers. Their first encounter was with none other than Bangladesh Prime Minister which was aired on the national television on March 17. This time they put the Minister for Education Nurul Islam Nahid on the hot seat. Children – aged 9 to 16 - fired one pointed question after another about the present status of the education sector. Among them some do not go to school while others are regular students.

These children are the main participants and anchors of a monthly 40-minute TV programme broadcast by the state-run Bangladesh Television (BTV).  ‘Our Voice’ is produced under the Government of Bangladesh-UNICEF joint project “Advocacy and Communication for Children and Women Development”, implemented by the Ministry of Information. The interview with the Minister of Education was aired on April 28.

The children’s questions included non-availability of textbooks at the beginning of the year, the right to know the true history of the liberation war, teacher-student ratio in the classroom, education quality and access to education for working children and absence of playgrounds in the schools.

Teertha Ghosh, child journalist from Satkhira district, raised the issue that whenever a new political party comes to power, it tends to distort the history of the War of Liberation. As a result, children do not get the authentic history in their textbooks. “The War of Independence is the most glorious chapter in our national history”, answered the Minister of Education. “But, unfortunately, controversies and distortions have taken place… As a result, children were deprived of the authentic history of Bangladesh. But this time, we have formed a committee with distinguished academics and historians to provide authentic history of the liberation war in the textbooks.”      

Roni, a child journalist from Gazipur district said that in the primary schools of Sreepur upazila, half of the textbooks distributed were already used. As a result, the old books became unworthy of use in the following year: “Will your ministry take any initiative to distribute a complete set of new textbooks in the coming year to all students?’, he asked. The Minister said that they had come to power during a transitional phase. So, they had to resort to this strategy in order to make sure that no children lost their academic year. “But from next year, we plan to distribute 100 percent new books with better paper, binding, printing, illustrations and cover,” he promised.

Mohammad Mamun Hossain from Lalbagh raised another issue about the number of teachers compared to the number of students. He said that in his school, there were 500-600 students from Class-I to Class-V. But there were only four teachers for all these students. “They cannot give time to the students”, he complained. “How can this be justified?”

The Minister acknowledged that the teacher-to-pupil ratio was a problem because of the acute shortage of skilled teachers. He also explained the steps taken to address this issue through the recruitment of 20,000 new teachers. He promised that thousands more teachers will be recruited shortly as “education sector and welfare of children was a very high priority for the Prime Minister”.

Pointing out the quality gap in education between the rural and urban schools, Ruby from Nayabazar in the old part of Dhaka city, said many of her friends who come from villages to Dhaka after completing education up to Class-V, cannot get enrolled into Class-VI as there is a significant difference between the quality of education in the villages and the capital city. She asked the Minister about what could be done to bridge this qualitative gap.

“There are still a lot of inequalities in our education system”, he replied. “This inequality exists between rural and urban areas, and even between school to school in urban areas. This way, children are subjected to discrimination from a very early stage in their life. Only in our primary level, 11 types of education are in place. We want to bridge this gap. But this will not happen overnight”, he argued.

 “I am a vegetable vendor from Gazipur”, said Mohammad Osman Gazi. “Disadvantaged working children like me are unable to attend school due to severe financial constraints. How can we be included into the schooling system?”

“I deeply feel for you and for so many children like you who have to struggle for life at such a tender age”, said Nurul Islam Nahid. “In our election manifesto, we promised to make education available to all, including working children like you. Our government will shortly undertake a huge programme for educating children like you, but also anyone between 14 and 45 who could never attend school to ensure that all can be provided with basic literacy.”

Little boy Shochho said that he loves playing football, so do his friends. But in most schools there are no playing fields.

To this, the minister said: “You have pointed out very rightly that schools are mushrooming in our cities without playing fields. The pressure of habitation, business and other infrastructure has squeezed the amount of land available for playgrounds. Given the present situation, it will probably be a wishful thinking to expect that every school in Dhaka and even in the villages will have separate playing fields. But we could look for ways to have a few schools sharing the same playing filed. We have to find out how you and your friends can play football. It is our duty.”

 

 

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