Education, undisputedly, is vital for a nation. It has social, cultural, and most importantly, economic implications for a nation.
Through time, we have witnessed radical changes in mechanisms which make education more effective. For some time now, we are seeing the emergence of an offshoot of the education system, widely known as shadow education, working as supplementary to the mainstream.
For students, the enthusiasm of playing after the school hours has been replaced by extra classes at coaching centres and private tutors.
The Asian Development Bank in 2012 defined this form of study as 'shadow education', a phenomenon that is increasingly visible in many parts of the world. This sector is strongly present in Bangladesh as well.
Although Bangladesh is experiencing its finest era in terms of economic growth, it has sadly spent lesser amount of money on education as a proportion of its GDP, than every other South Asian country.
According to the Directorate of Primary Education (DPE), Bangladesh has one of the largest primary education systems in the world where currently a total of 37,672 primary schools are functioning. The minimum international standard for teacher to student ratio is 30:1, whereas in Bangladesh there is only one teacher for every 53 students.
Furthermore, less qualified teachers, lack of necessary resources and poor infrastructural facilities are responsible for unsatisfying outcomes from these primary schools. The World Bank in their report "Bangladesh Education Sector Review" found out that "around 70% of children are unable to read or write properly or perform basic mathematical calculations even after five years at primary school."
To address that, the government initiated two newly developed public examinations - PSC and JSC, which put enormous pressure on the students and their parents, making the situation worse. All these limitations and poor policies are continuously forcing students to pick out alternative sources of studies, like private tutors or coaching centres.
Parents nowadays lean towards unorthodox sources of education because they do not want to take any risk, and leave no stone unturned, for better results for their children. Some parents even seem to be competing with one another over trivial things such as the number of tutors for their children.
This situation has opened the doors for coaching centres to operate all over the country. Besides, many renowned teachers from various schools and colleges leave their jobs just to run private tuition classes from home or other establishments.
A government-sponsored survey found Bangladeshi parents are spending three times more money on coaching fees or keeping house tutors, compared to the amount spent on tuition fees of their children. This has become an alarming problem.
Despite the fact that the Education Act 2016 proposed a ban on all coaching centres and private tuitions, it seems it would be impossible for our government to stop parents from sending their children to conventional alternative institutions, given the way our education system is organised.
We can see that Bangladesh is not the only country in Asia which has the existence of a shadow education. Some Asian countries with the tag of having the best education system, like India, Japan, South Korea and Singapore, also appear to practice it.
Considering this, rather than forming hard and fast rules, an alternative approach - with some wise and adaptive strategies - can be taken up by the government. Appropriate legislations can be enacted for regulating the shadow education institutions in our country.
The act can be used to bring the coaching centres under the radar of the National Board of Revenue. Eventually, these revenue earnings would be a huge addition to our economy.
Furthermore, this act shall create a monitoring mechanism for these coaching centres, which might prevent unlawful and unethical practices of these institutions. As most of the tutors of coaching centres are themselves students, a question often arises regarding their qualification. The proposed act might take this question into consideration and give a guideline on the minimum requirement and also the recruitment process of these tutors.
Shadow education has already become deeply rooted in our country and our education system itself is responsible for it. It is time for our policymakers to deal with it properly by keeping it alive, instead of eradicating it.
I am advocating a well-intentioned educational policy by reshaping the shadow education system of our country. Only then will shadow education not be responsible for harming the system. Instead, their formal inclusion could strengthen our education system.
The author is a postgraduate student at the University of Chittagong