Bangladesh spends way too low on primary education, only 17 PC of what Sri Lanka does or 30pc of India's spending on each student.
Expenditure on primary school students in Bangladesh is 72.1 percent less than the average expenditure in South Asia and 70.1 percent less than the average in lower-middle income countries, says a report of the World Bank.
Due to the negligible allocation in primary education, the quality of education is poor in Bangladesh. It also results in a high rate of poverty in education in the country.
The World Bank measures "Learning Poverty" by considering the inability to read and understand a short, age-appropriate text by age 10. In Bangladesh, the rate is 57 percent, despite the enrolment of about 98 percent of children in primary schools.
The World Bank has recently published a report, "An Early-Warning Indicator for The Human Capital Project", which indicates a learning poverty 35.2 percentage points higher than the income poverty level in Bangladesh.
According to the report, only $249 (Purchasing Power Parity or PPP) is spent on each primary school student in Bangladesh, which is the lowest among South Asian countries, barring Afghanistan.
Purchasing power parity indicates a capacity to buy goods and services in several countries with local currency compared to the US dollar.
The report notes that expenditure for each student at the primary level in Sri Lanka is $1,474, which is nearly six times the amount spent in Bangladesh.
India spends three times more than Bangladesh – about $624 – on each primary student.
Per head expenditure for a primary school student in Pakistan is $467, about 87.55 percent higher than that of Bangladesh.
Afghanistan spends $196 for each primary level student which is lower than Bangladesh and the lowest in this region.
Due to the lower investment in primary education, Bangladesh achieved 0.48 points in 1 in the Human Capital Index, which is substantially lower than that of Sri Lanka (0.58).
The World Bank's report states that 57 percent of children in Bangladesh at the late primary age are not proficient in reading.
About 5 percent of primary school-aged children are not enrolled in school, says the report.
Based on a learning assessment, the World Bank says, about 55 percent of students in Bangladesh do not achieve the minimum proficiency level at the end of primary school.
"Learning poverty in Bangladesh is 1 percentage point better than the average for South Asia and 2.1 percentage points worse than the average for lower-middle income countries," notes the report.
Referring to reading skills as a gateway to learning, the report says that all children should be able to read by age 10, and although it is possible to learn later in life with enough effort, children who cannot read by the end of primary school usually fail to master reading skills later.
Although the majority of children around the world are in school, in recent years a large portion of them have failed to acquire fundamental skills, with many of them not learning to read proficiently.
Moreover, 260 million children around the world do not attend school. This factor points to a learning crisis threatening the efforts of the countries they inhabit to build human capital and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
"Without foundational learning, students often fail to thrive later in school or when they join the workforce," the report warns.
Gloom in BBS report
A disappointing picture of the overall condition of primary education in the country has emerged in a separate report, titled "Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (Mics)," recently released by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS).
The report says only 49 percent of Bangladeshi students aged between 7 and 14 years have basic reading and number skills, and only 3.7 percent of these students have three or more books other than textbooks at home.
The report also states that less than 19 percent of children aged below 5 in Bangladesh attended school and only 61.4 percent of children enrolled in primary school at age 5 in 2019.
Although 98 percent of children in Bangladesh enrol in primary schools and only 86 percent of them attend classes regularly, while 6.4 percent drop out of school later.
Currently, only 82.6 percent of children complete primary level education, with 89.5 percent of them moving on to high school.
Economists emphasise quality
"Bangladesh has achieved success in enrolling all children in primary schools, but it is not the end of the story," said Hossain Zillur Rahman, executive chairman of Power and Participation Research Centre (PPRC) and former adviser to a caretaker government.
In his view, "Enrolment in pre-primary education is now below 20 percent, which is why students in primary schools have a serious lacking in preparedness."
The government should provide proper infrastructure, recruit enough teachers and ensure training for them, and reduce administrative complexities in order to develop the quality of education in primary schools, said Hossain Zillur Rahman.
Identifying public examinations as a major hurdle in the way of quality education at an early stage, he recommended introducing a classroom-based assessment system.
Abdul Awal, chairperson of Sushasoner Jonno Procharabhijan or SUPRO (Campaign for Good Governance), told The Business Standard, "Historically, allocation for education at any level in Bangladesh has always been very low."
He said about 2 percent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP) is spent on education, while the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) recommends allocating 6 percent of GDP for education.
"The actual amount spent on education will appear less if the calculation excludes educational expenses of the Cantonment Board and various government institutions," he added
Abdul Awal also emphasised ensuring quality and transparency in education expenditure.
"The primary school is the place to develop the foundations of human capital, and education at the upper level cannot fill the gap of primary education," said Dr Mustafa K Mujeri, former Director General of the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies.
He told The Business Standard that low investment in primary education is the main reason behind the low quality of human resource, which has an inverse impact on productivity, employment and income.
"From the early 1990s, the government has been implementing massive programmes to expand primary education and enrol all children in educational institutions, but there was no significant initiative to improve the quality of education," said the researcher.
Dr Mujeri drew attention to the fact that about 90 percent of the investment in the primary education sector was spent on salaries and construction. The government should invest more to improve the quality of education in addition to the money spent on salaries and construction, he argued.