In the last decade, the country's education system has made strides in increasing the numbers of students, teachers and academic institutions.
Near 36 lakh students enrolled at public universities in 2017, more than triple the amount of such students in 2008, and concurrently, the number of private universities has almost doubled to 95 institutions.
Yet, when it comes to standard education, there is still a long way to go.
The government has failed to ensure quality – be it at primary, secondary or tertiary level – according to government and non-government data.
Academics have linked this dismal picture to inadequate classroom teaching, a high student-teacher ratio, poor infrastructure, and an insufficient budget.
They also said the existing education system prioritises passing exams rather than acquiring knowledge.
Moreover, the government has not implemented the 2010 National Education Policy nine years into its enactment.
The students' success rate in examinations are excellent, but they have poor results in learning.
As a result, every year a large number of students enter universities with little knowledge – and graduate having made hardly any progress.
Dr Mohammad Ali Zinnah, Professor of Institute of Education and Research (IER) at Dhaka University, said the combination of knowledge, efficiency, attitude, and values can determine the quality of an education.
"As we cannot produce graduates who meet the demand of job sectors, a large number of top-level employees in the apparel sector are still foreigners," he added.
"Additionally, the number of unemployed graduates is increasing every year because of a lack of standard education," he said.
"In the last decade, we have seen a lack of management planning in the education sector, which is one of the major reasons for corruption and irregularities in various institutions," he added.
The government has made the education system public examination results-centric after having adopted an incorrect policy. Thus, students are unable to learn properly and their skills-development is neglected.
The number of students and universities has doubled over the last 10 years. However, the government has failed to make a proper plan to ensure higher education fosters quality graduates.
Academics said the knowledge and skills that the graduates acquire at colleges and universities have a little application at work, which makes the educated less capable on the job market.
The rate of unemployment among people with a tertiary level education has risen considerably, according to the latest Labour Force Survey conducted by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics.
About 46 percent of unemployed youths are university graduates.
A recent study, conducted by the World Bank, has found as high as 46 percent of National University students remain unemployed for at least three years upon graduating.
No Bangladeshi university has secured a position among the globe's top 1,000 universities in the 2020 Times Higher Education World University Rankings – like in 2011.
Private universities have yet to ensure the quality of higher education. Most of them lack skilled teachers and only 21 of them run their academic activities on their own permanent campuses.
Eminent academic Professor Serajul Islam Choudhury told The Business Standard, "Most private universities [in Bangladesh] cannot provide students with good teachers, research opportunities, or infrastructure—which are the indicators of a quality education."
According to the last annual report of the University Grants Commission (UGC), in 2017, there are no guidelines for the educational qualifications and professions of trustee members of private universities. There is also no detailed description about the power of trustee boards, academic councils, vice-chancellors, and senates.
UGC Chairman Professor Kazi Shahidullah said, "It is true that there is a lack of senior teachers at most private universities and new public universities. But, the situation will improve in a few years when lecturers attain seniority."
Bleak state of secondary level education
Many students at the secondary level pass their public examinations with brilliant results, but their competence level remains poor.
For example, only 13.05 percent of candidates passed the 'Ka' unit admission test held at Dhaka University in 2019.
Noted academic Syed Manzoorul Islam said, "A large number of students get GPA-5 every year but the majority of them cannot pass university entrance exams because of their poor English skills."
The recent study of Campaign for Popular Education found that more than 56 percent of teachers at the secondary level in Bangladesh cannot prepare question papers for exams on their own.
Some 58 percent of teachers can teach and prepare question papers in the creative system, according to another study, conducted by Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education of the education ministry in 2019.
The creative system was introduced in the country in 2008, and exams under the system have been held since 2010.
The government introduced the first phase of its multimedia classroom project in 2012 to increase the quality of secondary-level education. However, it saw no benefits and the second phase was supposed to begin in 2017, but unfortunately it has not yet begun.
Children complete primary level education with insufficient skills
The performance of primary school students is very disappointing. The government has succeeded in terms of increasing enrolment and reducing the number of dropouts at the primary level.
However, only eight percent of third-graders can read English and 79 percent of children lack the skills in reading and understanding Bangla, according to the 2019 National Academy for Primary Education Report.
The National Student Assessment survey in 2015 found that only 10 percent of students who passed fifth grade knew math – down from 32 percent four years ago.
The National Student Assessment survey in 2017 found more than half of primary school kids do not have the expected level of competence in mathematics and Bangla.
Rasheda K Choudhury, executive director of Campaign for Popular Education, told The Business Standard that a good number of students end their primary education with very little knowledge and poor understanding of the basics – which affects their future student life.
Md Akram-al-Hossain, secretary to Primary and Mass Education Ministry, told The Business Standard that the ministry has been trying to increase the language skills of primary school students.
"I think the actual scenario in primary education, in terms of quality, is better than what research shows," he said.
After the Certificate in Primary Education courses failed to improve teachers' quality, the government introduced the Diploma in Primary Education in 2012. This course takes one and a half years to complete. However, the number of trained teachers remains low.
Meanwhile, the country's public and private polytechnic institutions are in a shambles due to a serious crisis of skilled teachers.
Engineer Abu Noman Hawlader, managing director of BBS Cables Limited, told The Business Standard that his company usually hires skilled manpower from India and other neighbouring countries – as Bangladeshi technical education institutes cannot produce qualified diploma engineers.
National Education Policy remains neglected
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, in its Global Education Monitoring Report 2017-18, published in 2019, stated the need for an accreditation council in Bangladesh to ensure quality tertiary level education in Bangladesh.
The Accreditation Council Act 2017 was passed by the parliament on March 6, 2017 to ensure the standard of higher education, but there was no significant progress towards forming the council.
The education ministry has yet to determine the secondary level as per the National Education Policy that says the secondary level will be from grade 9 to grade 12.
Plus, the teacher-student ratio should be 1:30 at the secondary and primary levels. The deadline for this was in 2018.
The primary level education must be grade I to grade 8. But it is now uncertain. Many other directives of the National Education Policy remain neglected.