Habibullah, a private service holder residing in Mirpur area, used to spend Tk10,000 per month on his two sons' education pre-Covid-19. In the post-pandemic period, Habibullah has to spend almost double what he used to.
The rise in out-of-pocket expenses is exacerbated by the fact that Habibullah's salary has not increased since March 2020. In fact, he earned less in the pandemic due to deductions in his salary.
"One of my sons is in Class-IX and the other in Class-IV. I hired a home tutor for Tk3,000 each in 2020. Now I have to pay Tk5,000 each for the tuition. Even, the rickshaw fare and other expenditure, like for tiffin, has increased," Habibullah said.
"I get Tk30,000 per month. Now I have to spend about Tk16,000 per month on my children's education. It will be tough to continue this way as my salary doesn't even cover my expenses," he said.
This is the reality for a number of guardians across the country: less income, more expenditure.
According to the UNESCO 2021/2 Global Education Monitoring Report, the average expenditure on education increased by a staggering 80% in real terms.
Around 7% of families in Bangladesh have to borrow to send their children to school, the report added.
Ziaul Kabir Dulu, president of the Bangladesh Guardians' Forum, told The Business Standard that education expenditure has increased significantly and the guardians have been compelled to cut their daily needs to bear the additional costs.
"Guide books, school copies and prices of stationery have increased. Even rickshaw-pullers are charging almost double the fare compared to the pre-pandemic period. House tutors have also become more expensive. Most of the guardians' incomes have not increased, while for many it has actually fallen," he said.
Rumen Mridha, a businessman in the Eskaton Garden area, told TBS that his income decreased since the pandemic, falling to Tk30,000 from around Tk50,000-60,000. At the same time, his two children's education expenditure has almost doubled.
"The pandemic has hit my income. On the other hand, the daily essentials' prices have also increased. Now, it is difficult for me to meet the daily needs and education expenditure. So, I am thinking of leaving my business, shifting to another job or leaving the country altogether," he said.
Under these circumstances, many are calling for out-of-pocket costs to be slashed in different areas.
A key cost remains private tuition, apart from exorbitant school fees.
According to the Bangladesh Tutor Providers' Association, tuition fees have increased more than double due to increase of essential prices, home rent and traffic jams on roads.
Md Mainul Islam, executive member of the Bangladesh Tutor Providers' Association and also the owner of Tutors' Club, told TBS that the number of aspirants wishing to become private tutors are mostly students who want to do so to bear their educational expenses.
"Most students could do two-three tuitions per day, but now they could only do one due to the severe traffic jam in Dhaka city. Thus, to compensate for loss in earnings, they need to charge higher than before," he said.
Books and copies are another area of increased cost.
Shaymol Pal, vice-president of the Bangladesh Pushtak Prokashok Bikreta Samity, told TBS that they were compelled to increase the price of books and copies due to the skyrocketing price of paper.
"We sold per tonne paper at Tk40, 000. Now it is Tk70, 000. So, we have no other way but to increase prices," he said.
Professor Emeritus of Brac University Dr Manzoor Ahmed told TBS that the people of this country are suffering from a financial crisis now.
"Many guardians cannot bear the education expenses for their children. A good number of the guardians take loans for this purpose. But they cannot continue it for a long time. So, the government should take a recovery plan for education," he said.
"The government should pay a portion of tuition fees and other related expenditures to the students. It can provide the money directly to the school authorities. Otherwise the crisis may deepen," he said.
About 4.5 crore students from the pre-primary to higher education levels are enrolled in nearly 2 lakh educational institutions across the country. About 40 lakh of them are studying at higher educational institutions.
In Bangladesh, the share of urban households paying for private tuition increased from 48% in 2000 to 67% in 2010, while the corresponding share of rural households doubled from 27% to 54%; for the poorest quartile it quadrupled from 10% to 40%.
Almost two-thirds of the total cost of education is covered by households in Bangladesh, while only one-third is by the government - the fourth highest per cent covered by households in the world (after Haiti, Nigeria, and Liberia).
Even free public education has many hidden costs. About one third of household education expenditure in low and middle-income countries comes from households with children in public schools.
A global comparison
The UNESCO 2021/2 Global Education Monitoring Report shows that globally one in six families saves to pay school fees, while 8% of families (or one in twelve) in low- and middle-income countries have to borrow money to pay for their children to go to school.
In some countries, such as Uganda, Haiti, Kenya and the Philippines, 30% of families have to borrow to afford their children's education.
The report calls for governments to keep to their promise of providing one year of pre-primary and 12 years of primary and secondary education free for all.
New data show that the costs of education are falling on households disproportionately in the poorest countries.
In low and lower-middle-income countries, households cover 39% of the cost of education with the government covering the remainder, compared to only 16% in high-income countries.
The biggest recommendation from the UNESCO remains to increase efforts to guarantee free, publicly funded access to a year of pre-primary and 12 years of primary and secondary education.
Governments need to monitor out-of-pocket education spending with household income and expenditure surveys.
It also suggested formal payments are often the only ones to which governments pay attention. They often turn their eyes away from other less well documented costs that increase inequality, such as private supplementary tuition, it said,
The effectiveness of policies that aim to target resources at disadvantaged learners needs to be evaluated and not assumed.
It also asked that government capacity to monitor and enforce regulations be strengthened.
The Unesco further called upon governments to build a relationship of trust with non-state providers, encouraging them to register, eliminating arbitrariness in rules and communicating the right incentives for them to run their schools effectively for learners' benefit.