Wrangle over primary school heads threatens literacy drive

More than a quarter of government primary schools in Bangladesh have been forced to operate without a head teacher for over two years, jeopardising primary school education in a country struggling to eradicate illiteracy.



According to the government’s Department of Primary Education (DPE), some 10,000 of the country’s 37,672 government primary schools are in this position due to a long-standing wrangle over the qualifications needed for promotion to head teacher: In a bid to sort out the dispute, the government in 2006 decided to freeze all promotions to head teacher.



A recent DPE internal report shows that around 70 percent of children are unable to read or write properly, or perform basic mathematical calculations even after five years at primary school, and the absence of head teachers in many schools is exacerbating the problem, according to the education authorities.



“The quality of education is very poor in our country. Our kids are falling behind in many areas of intellectual achievement. This whimsical decision of the government [not to promote teachers without certain qualifications] is further worsening the situation,” said A.K. Fazlul Haque, chief adviser of the Government Primary Teachers’ Union.



“How can 10,000 schools function without any heads for three years?” he asked.



Mandatory certificates



In 2003, the DPE made it mandatory for all primary teachers to have a Certificate-in-Education (C-in-Ed) to be considered for promotion to head teacher in any government primary school. To obtain a C-in-Ed requires an additional six months training.



This decision disqualified teachers with higher teaching degrees, including Bachelor of Education (B.Ed.) and Master of Education (M.Ed) degrees from becoming head teachers of government primary schools.



The decision sparked a furore among better qualified primary school teachers, and the upshot was the decision to impose a temporary freeze on promotions in government primary schools to the post of head teacher.



Frustration



“With decades of teaching experience and having higher teaching degrees, hundreds of B.Ed. and M.Ed. qualified teachers feel deprived when they see younger teachers with much shorter experience supersede them after acquiring a C-in-Ed,” B. M. Asadullah, general secretary of the Bangladesh Government Primary Teachers’ Union and the headmaster of Bangshal Primary Night School of Dhaka, told IRIN.



“Such disparity is causing immense frustration and anger among government primary school teachers, which translates into poor teaching and deteriorating standards of education. Bangladesh cannot afford to let it continue for long”, he said.



“Between C-in-Ed and B.Ed., the latter is regarded as a better and more prestigious qualification,” he said.



Too few quality teachers



Badrul Alam Tarafder, secretary in charge of Primary and Mass Education (PME), said efforts were being made to improve primary education.



“We are trying to overcome the problem of teacher shortages in the next few months. We will also make sure that the teachers are happy and the quality of primary education moves upward at a faster rate. The problem however, is to find high quality teachers,” he said.



Recently, the government held a primary school teacher recruitment exam. Some 600,000 candidates took the exam but only 66,326 of them passed the written test. Some 16,000 of them passed interviews and have been recommended for appointment as assistant teachers.



In Bangladesh some 200,000 teachers educate about 18.5 million students in 37,672 government primary schools. The salary of a senior teacher at a government primary school is around US$90 per month.



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