A new school meal programme, kit allowances, ICT teachers' training, adequate laboratory set-ups, and an internship programme for graduates were some of the big announcements the government had made in the national budget for the current fiscal 2021-22.
But the reality does not match the grand declarations as the ministries concerned failed to achieve these targets. There was even no government research on students' learning losses induced by the Covid pandemic, and how to prevent them from dropping out.
Moreover, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education did not extend any financial assistance to private institutions that had been shuttered because of the pandemic-induced economic catastrophe, despite the fact that two ministries could not spend the full allocation they received in the budget.
Education experts have expressed concerns over the non-fulfilment of budget promises, as, according to them, many children have already dropped out because of not getting proper facilities at schools.
Manzoor Ahmed, Professor Emeritus at Brac University, said, "We have been asking for the allocation of a special budget to set up district and upazila committees comprising community representatives to curtail school dropouts and estimate learning losses. But the education ministry is yet to take any steps in this regard."
The education ministry hardly takes expert suggestions into cognisance, he alleged, adding, "We urged the ministries to increase the stipend amount for poor students and to provide their families with financial support, but they ignored our suggestions," he said.
The government announced the start of a new school meal project in July last year but later shelved it. It is uncertain when the programme will start or whether it will at all be undertaken. Moreover, the ongoing school feeding programme in poverty-stricken areas was halted for several months last year.
In an effort to encourage students to attend classes, the government in this year's budget pledged to provide each student with Tk1,000 in "kit allowance" to help them buy a dress, a pair of shoes and a bag. But the promise has remained unfulfilled.
Alamgir Mohammed Monsurul Alam, director general of the Directorate of Primary Education, told The Business Standard that the directorate would begin disbursing the kit allowance soon.
"The school feeding programme is going on. We will introduce the school meal programme once we get the nod from the government high-ups," he added.
This year's budget also included a plan to impart training to around 2.10 lakh secondary school teachers and 2.75 lakh ICT teachers. But the plan was not implemented.
It may be noted that some 23,331 public and private schools, colleges and madrasas across the country got laptops, multimedia projectors, modems and speakers from 2012 to 2015.
The education ministry distributed the digital devices by spending Tk300 crore under the first phase of a programme that aims at integrating ICT education in secondary and higher secondary level to better prepare pupils for the fourth industrial revolution (4IR).
But a project evaluation by the Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Division (IMED) in 2018 found that 97% of the digital devices were lying idle and gathering dust thanks to a serious lack of ICT educators.
Of the altogether 40,000 public and private schools, colleges and madrasas, 22,000 institutions were found to have not a single ICT teacher, while the remaining 18,000 schools had one such educator each.
Even though the teacher shortage had been stymieing academic output, the education ministry commissioned the second phase of the project in 2017. In the wake of "anomalies", the project was shelved in 2021.
A large number of students in the country graduate from universities every year and wait to enter the job market. To make sure these new graduates easily get jobs in their respective fields, the government had a plan to launch an internship programme both in the public and private sectors. It also planned to formulate a policy framework. But no initiative has yet been taken in this regard.
This year, the education sector got a total allocation of Tk71,951 crore. Of the amount, Tk26,311 crore went to the primary and mass education ministry, Tk36,486 crore to the secondary and higher education division, and Tk9,154 crore to the technical and madrasa education division.
However, according to available data, the secondary and higher education division could only spend a little more than Tk32,000 crore from the total allocation it got. The unspent portion has been returned to the finance ministry. The division has sought Tk39,862 crore for the forthcoming fiscal 2022-23.
Md Nur-E-Alam, deputy secretary (budget) at the secondary and higher education division, told TBS that the division has sought an increased budget allocation from the finance ministry for the upcoming fiscal.
Asked about this year's unused funds, he said he has no data about it. "I can speak about this only after getting information from all departments under the ministry."
In the FY21 budget, the government allocated Tk66,000 crore for the education sector, but the education-related ministries could spend no more than Tk56,000 crore.
Even though the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) suggests spending 4-6% of the GDP of any country on its education sector, the ratio was 2.09% and 2.08% in FY21 and FY22, respectively, in Bangladesh.
Even then, the authorities could not utilize the funds fully, which is unfortunate, experts have said.