In the 1981 census only 19.7 percent of the total population was counted as literate. The literacy rate was 17 percent in rural areas and 35 percent in urban areas. The urban-rural gap shrank slightly between 1961 and 1981, primarily because of the influx of rural Bangladeshis to urban areas. The adult literacy rate in 1988 remained about equal to the 1981 level, officially given as 29 percent but possibly lower. The education system also had had a discriminatory effect on the education of women in a basically patriarchal society. The female literacy rate in 1981 (13.2 percent) was about half the literacy rate among men (26 percent) nationally. The gap was even greater in rural areas, where 11.2 percent women and 23 percent of men were literate. (In 1988 the literacy rate was 18 percent for women and 39 percent for men.) The national school attendance rate in 1982 was 58.9 percent for ages 5 to 9; 20.9 percent for ages 10 to 14; and 1.9 percent for ages 15 to 24. The estimated 1988 student-teacher ratio was fifty-four to one in primary schools, twenty-seven to one in secondary schools, and thirteen to one in universities. Approximately 10 million students of all ages attended school in 1981.
The base of the school system was five years of primary education. The government reported a total of nearly 44,000 primary schools enrolling nearly 44 million students in 1986. Recognizing the importance of increasing enrollments and improving quality, the government made universal primary education a major objective of its educational development plans, which focused on increasing access to school, improving teacher training, and revising the primary school curricula. As a result, the share of primary education by the mid-1980s increased to about 50 percent of the public education expenditure. Although enrollment in the entry class rose over time, the ability of the primary education sector to retain students in school and increase the literacy rate did not match government goals. Throughout the system a high annual dropout rate of 20 percent existed in 1988. Studies suggested that no more than 10 to 15 percent of those attending primary schools retained a permanent ability to read and write. The Third Five-Year Plan (1985-90) envisaged reducing the rural-urban gap in education, establishing facilities for the enrollment of 70 percent of children of primary-school age, and placing emphasis on keeping children in school longer.
Bangladesh had 8,790 secondary schools with 2.7 million students in 1986. Secondary education was divided into two levels. The five years of lower secondary (grades six through ten) concluded with a secondary school certificate examination. Students who passed this examination proceeded to two years of higher secondary or intermediate training, which culminated in a higher secondary school examination after grade twelve. Higher secondary school was viewed as preparation for college rather than as the conclusion of high school. Development efforts in the late 1980s included programs to provide low-cost vocational education to the rural populace. Efforts also focused on the establishment of science teaching facilities in rural schools, as compulsory science courses were introduced at the secondary level. The government also had provided training for science teachers and supplies of scientific equipment. In spite of many difficulties over the years, the number of both secondary schools and students, particularly females, increased steadily. For example, whereas there were 7,786 secondary schools for boys and 1,159 for girls in 1977, the number of boys' schools had decreased to 7,511 while girls' schools had increased to 1,282 by 1986. The number of students increased as well. In 1977 there were 1.3 million boys and 450,000 girls in secondary schools; by 1986 there were 1.9 million boys and 804,000 girls. Enrollment in technical and vocational schools increased in a similar manner. Secondary education for the most part was private but was heavily subsidized by the state budget. Nationalization of private schools was a standing government policy.
Development of the education system depended largely on the supply of trained teachers. In 1986 about 20 percent of the estimated 190,000 primary-school teachers were adequately trained; at the secondary-school level, only 30 percent of the teachers were trained. Contributing to the shortage of trained teachers was the low socioeconomic standing of educators. The social image of teachers had been gradually eroded, making it difficult to recruit young graduates to the profession. The high proportion of poorly trained teachers led to lower standards of instruction. Despite these problems, the number of secondary-school teachers increased from 83,955 in 1977 to 99,016 in 1986, according to government figures.
In 1986 there were forty-nine primary-school teacher training institutes and ten secondary-school teacher training colleges. In addition to regular degree, diploma, and certificate programs, various crash programs and correspondence courses also were available. The Bangladesh Institute of Distance Education also had started an experimental program of teacher training under the auspices of Rajshahi University.
At the postsecondary level in 1986, there were 7 universities, 758 general colleges, and 50 professional (medical, dental, engineering, and law) colleges. More than 25 percent of the colleges were government managed; the rest were private but received substantial government grants. The private colleges were gradually being nationalized. In the 1980s, emphasis was being placed on the development of science teaching facilities in nongovernment colleges. Twelve government colleges were selected to offer graduate courses during the Third Five-Year Plan.
In addition to four general-curriculum universities--the University of Dhaka, Rajshahi University, Chittagong University, and Jahangir Nagar University--there were the University of Engineering and Technology in Dhaka, the Agricultural University in Mymensingh, and the Islamic University in Tongi (near Dhaka). The total enrollment in the 7 universities in 1986 was estimated at 27,487, of which 80 percent were male. Universities were selfgoverning entities with 95 percent of their total expenditures paid through government block grants. The University Grants Commission, created in 1973, coordinated the funding and activities of the universities. A large number of scholarships and stipends were offered to students in education institutions at all levels.
The number of college students increased from 238,580 in 1980 to 603,915 in 1986, according to government statistics. During that period, female enrollment increased from 29,000 to 115,000. Qualitative improvement, enrollment stabilization, interuniversity rationalization of departments, and controlled expansion were some of the government objectives for college education in the mid- and late 1980s.
Curricula in nongovernment institutions of higher education focused mostly on the humanities and social sciences. Many government colleges and universities, however, offered advanced courses in natural, physical, and biological sciences. Sophisticated courses in language and literature, philosophy and philology, fine arts, and folk culture also were offered at the universities. Advanced research degrees, including doctorates, were offered in several disciplines of science, the arts, the humanities, and the social sciences. Faculty members at the government colleges and universities were usually well qualified, but research facilities were limited.
To remove the heavy bias toward liberal arts education, greater attention was being focused in the late 1980s on technical education, which received the third highest allocation, after primary and secondary education, in the Third Five-Year Plan. In addition to four engineering colleges, Bangladesh had eighteen polytechnic institutes, four law colleges, two agricultural colleges, a graphic arts institute, an institute of glass and ceramics, a textile college, a college of leather technology, sixteen commercial institutes, and fifty-four vocational institutes in 1986. The nation also had ten medical colleges and one dental college, offering both graduate and postgraduate training. In addition, there were twenty-one nursing institutes, a music college, and a college of physical education.
Because secondary and higher education benefited the small middle and upper classes and because the government defrayed a portion of the costs of private higher institutions through grants, the poor in effect subsidized the education of the affluent. This situation was most evident at the university level, where about 15 percent of the education budget was devoted to less than 0.5 percent of the student population. The technical education sector, which experienced some growth in the late 1980s, nevertheless failed to provide the numbers and kinds of personnel required for economic development. Most university training also failed to equip its recipients with marketable professional skills.
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