Gender gap, dropout rate a challenge for schools

The gender gap in the upper echelons of secondary school and indications of an increasing overall dropout rate pose key challenges for education in Bangladesh, experts say.

Despite an improvement in enrolment levels at the primary and lower secondary levels, Bangladesh has a long way to go to achieve gender equality, says the UN Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI), a worldwide initiative aimed at narrowing the gender gap in primary and secondary education.

Gender parity has been achieved in primary and lower secondary enrolments, but the number of girl students significantly decreases in the later stages of secondary school, according the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Although 85.6 percent of primary school girls are enrolled in school, the remaining 14.4 percent who are not, represent some 1.5 million girls, UNGEI reported, citing the latest available figures from the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics.

The situation is worse in slum areas where enrolment rates are only 61 percent, and 26 percent of primary-age girls have never enrolled in a school.

''Poor quality of schooling is responsible for the high dropout rate.''

UNGEI cites a lack of trained teachers; a lack of female teachers; inadequate school materials; classroom environments not conducive to girls; families living far from schools; the social perception of girls being of less value and parents consequently having limited ambitions for them; and child trafficking, as the primary barriers to girls’ education.

“Only 50 percent of children enrolled in grade [year] six reach grade 10, and only 40 percent of girls pass the secondary school final exams,” Tasneem Athar, deputy director of the Campaign for Popular Education (CAMPE), a coalition of around 700 NGOs involved in literacy and education in Bangladesh and one of 21 organisations working for UNGEI initiatives, told IRIN.

In the 1990s, Bangladesh made remarkable progress in primary education with enrolments and completion rates increasing by over 20 percent in the decade. During the same period, girls’ enrolment increased by over 30 percent, but has stagnated in recent years.

Dropout rate rising

According to a baseline survey on primary education conducted by the Directorate of Primary Education (DPE), the dropout rate for both boys and girls increased from 33 percent in 2002 to 47 percent in 2006.

Photo: David Swanson/IRIN
A young girl smiles for the camera at a primary school outside Dhaka

“Poor quality of schooling is responsible for the high dropout rate,” Abul Kalam Azad of Dhaka University’s Institute of Education and Research (IER) told IRIN.

Meanwhile, a recent decision by the government to provide fewer free text books to primary schoolchildren will undoubtedly have and impact, and directly affect about one million children: The government has stopped free delivery of textbooks to six out of 37 categories of primary schools, including private schools.

According to the DPE, Bangladesh’s over 80,000 primary schools teach more than 17.5 million students, of whom roughly half are girls.

In September 2004, the Government of Bangladesh (for 2004-2009) - with technical and financial assistance from a consortium of 11 donors and led by the Asian Development Bank - launched the Primary Education Development Programme (PEDP-II), aimed at improving the quality of student learning and achievement outcomes, as well as ensuring “education for all” by 2015.