Qissa Bar Aks : The Untold Story

Qissa Bar Aks : The Untold Story

The recent federal budget allocated for education for the fiscal year 2012-13, just 1.8% .A big hue and cry has been raised as to how a population of 187 million can be serviced with this amount.  As usual the discussion will start and die in drawing rooms of low budget and low quality but we would never like to look around to see that it is not just the finances and much more….


I would like to narrate the example of Bangladesh which has a low budget expenditure on education – only 2.4% of GDP (2008) but in spite of low level of spending in education, the country has seen remarkable improvements in its education system. Bangladesh has been successful in attaining gender parity at primary and secondary level of education and an increase in enrolment rate. It is an outstanding achievement that Bangladesh, being one of the poorest countries in the world is the only country in South Asia other than Sri Lanka to have achieved parity in male and female enrolments not just at the primary level but also at the secondary level. [1] In 2005 the national literacy level in Bangladesh was 52% whereas Pakistan’s literacy level stood at 57.7% with gender parity still a far-fetched prospect.


At liberation in December 1971, the literacy rate in Bangladesh was only 16.8 percent. The partition had destroyed almost one-fifth of the country’s economy; the internal displacements and aftermath impeding progress and crippling growth for years to come.


So how did Bangladesh become better than us – simple, value to Human Capital and here is the story for us to read and learn from.  A mistreated and backward part of Pakistan with an estimated 149 million[2] today is doing much better in numerous social indicators.


After liberation it fell on the Government of Bangladesh, to lay the foundations of an extensive education system. In 1974 primary education was nationalized, making it free, placed it under a centralized administration and made the teachers state employees. To emphasize the importance of primary education the government separated it from the Directorate of Public Instruction and set up the Directorate of Primary Education in 1980 and  took up two Universal Primary Education (UPE) projects in 1981 on limited scale, one with donor support and the other with government’s own funds.  At the same time, the government also started a massive Mass Education program to impart literacy to illiterates. Such measures led to an increase of literacy rate from 16.8 percent to 24.8 percent by 1991.* In 1990 the government passed a law and made primary education compulsory from 1992 onwards.


Today the Bangladesh Literacy Survey 2010 paints a remarkable picture of how far the country has come and that with sufficient political will and sound reforms, a positive change in the development indicators of a country is possible. Bangladesh sought to do so through not only provision of basic education to school going aged children but by also taking measures to minimize dropouts.


The demand side too has been as responsive; even the poorest families have come to value education and give high priority to the basic education of their children, boys and girls alike. Bangladesh has made impressive gains in reducing gender disparities in primary and secondary schooling – one of the MDGs. The ratio of females to males in primary schools has steadily increased from about 83% in 1991 to 96% in 2000. At the secondary level, there are already more girls enrolled than boys. It is an outstanding achievement that Bangladesh, being one of the poorest countries in the world is the only country in South Asia other than Sri Lanka to have achieved parity in male and female enrolments not just at the primary level but also at the secondary level. [3] If the country can sustain the current annual trend growth of net enrolment of 1.83%, it is also on track to attain 100% net enrolment by 2013.[4]

National development planning and successive budgets have identified and accorded highest priority to education and literacy as a major intervention strategy, both for human resources development and poverty reduction in order to raise the quality of life of the people.[5]


As a result of increased literacy, Bangladesh can be proud of her successes in health, population and nutrition indicators. Bangladesh’s infant mortality rate of 41 is much lower than India (52 per 1000 live births) or Pakistan (61 per 1000 live births).[6] The total fertility rate has also declined by a remarkable 57% during the period 1975-2007.[7] The country has experienced its steepest decline during the decade of 80’s and early 90’s when a major intervention in primary education was made in 1986 and studies were undertaken on primary education to make it need-responsive and time-befitting. The reform that resulted from this intervention was the remodeling of the primary education curriculum. From a traditional mode the curriculum was transformed into a competency based one brining in radical changes in both pedagogy and learner assessment system. The following reforms in the secondary curriculum were initiated: (i) establishing equivalence of education (curriculum) standard to the international level (ii) inculcating values into the curriculum (iii) curriculum to be made need based and job-oriented (iv) the curriculum to be designed in such a way that learners’ potential is exploited to the fullest extent. On the basis of these research findings, secondary curriculum had been reformed and revised in 1996.


There has been impressive increase in terms of adopting modern methods of family planning as a result of awareness and increased gender parity in primary enrolment. The contraceptive prevalence rate has increased from 36.2 in 1993/94 to 47.5 in 2007.[8] In comparison to other South Asian countries, Bangladesh’s position (48) is also worth mentioning as the rate is much higher than that of Pakistan (19) or Nepal (44) and similar to that of India (49).[9]


Increased literacy and enrolments in primary schools has had noticeable impact on the nutrition in children. The percentage of children underweight for age has declined also to 41 in 2007 from 56.3 in 1996-1997. Under-five mortality per 1000 live births has declined from 115.7 in 1996-97 to 65 in 2007. Maternal mortality rate per 100,000 live births has reduced from 322 in 2000 (BMMS: 2001) to 194 in 2010 (BMMS:2010)


In case of adults, over time and with awareness and increased literacy there has been impressive progress in controlling several diseases like that of Malaria, Filaria and Tuberculosis. The life expectancy has increased from 44 years (1970) to 67 years (2007).* Bangladesh is even ahead of India if we compare life expectancy. One of the other significant achievements of the health sector in last two decades, which has contributed towards relatively higher life expectancy, is partial or complete eradication of certain life threatening diseases like that of Polio, DPT etc – a goal Pakistan is far from achieving by 2015.


There are no two opinions that socio-economic prosperity of a country critically depends on the quality of its human capital and the development of human resource requires an educated and responsive population. Human resource development is only possible when education is compatible with the development needs of the country and when it effectively contributes to intellectual development of a person.[10] Bangladesh’s example is a testament that education is the foremost priority for development and progression in any sector and can turn things around for the better if there is sufficient political will and demand and need in the masses.


S what should we do? Firstly take off our blinkers that keep us so focused on our own critical situation and have a peek around.. India, Iran, China, Bangladesh …. Hold hands and rise to the future as it is ceratin that Pakistan will need to acknowledge subservience to the Nations who have risen based on educating the masses and hence show that we are sincere to our country.

[1] The impact of socio-economic reforms on governance: The Bangladesh experience – Sajal K Palit

[2] Source: World Bank, 2010

[3] The impact of socio-economic reforms on governance: The Bangladesh experience – Sajal K Palit

[4] Bangladesh Human Development Progress and Prospects - Sayema Haque Bidisha

[5] The Ministry of Primary and Mass Education – Bangladesh

[6] Source: State of World Population 2010, UNFPA

* Bangladesh Human Development Progress and Prospects - Sayema Haque Bidisha

[7] Bangladesh Human Development Progress and Prospects - Sayema Haque Bidisha

[8] (Source: BDHS 2007).

[9] Statistics from ‘Bangladesh Human Development Progress and Prospects - Sayema Haque Bidisha’

[10] Bangladesh Human Development Progress and Prospects - Sayema Haque Bidisha

Mehnaz Aziz

A member of the Pakistan Education Task Force (PETF) and Founder of Children’s Global Network, Pakistan


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  • Anonymous

    Added considerations when accounting for education advances – Ethnically more homogenous, some tasks are certainly made easier. Post-partition, some of the reforms Pakistan still awaits, have been implemented in Bangladesh (one grievance pre-1971 was that primary schools were beng closed down in the East). Petty land holding pattern is much different too with far fewer landless….(although economic sustainbility of small holdings is still a debatable point, holdings seem to alter the public psyche positively). Perhaps Hernando Desoto us very relevant to Pakistan today.