The New Humanitarian Annual Report 2021

  1. Home
  2. Asia
  3. Bangladesh

Report blasts primary school education

In rural Bangladesh many primary schools are not even in proper buildings, with students attending classes under the shade of trees

Around 70 percent of children in Bangladesh who complete their primary education are unable to read, write or count properly, according to an internal report by the Department of Primary Education (DPE).

Sixty-nine percent of students who had completed five years of primary school were unable to read news headlines in Bangla newspapers properly, while 87 percent of pupils failed to do simple mathematical calculations, the study, entitled National Assessment of Pupils of Grades Three and Five - 2006, said.

Conducted by the Second Primary Education Development Programme (PEDP-II) - a donor-assisted programme to ensure quality primary education for all children - the study reported that 72 percent of children were unable to write a short composition in Bangla - the mother tongue of over 95 percent of the population.

The report also found students “pitiably weak” in English, which plays a key role in day-to-day life, particularly in business, higher studies and technical education.

The quality of education in remote rural areas was far worse than in urban areas, largely due to a scarcity of English teachers and the predominance of religious schools (`madrasas’) where English is not taught, the study said.

The report said students in the fifth grade completed only about 56 percent of the Bangla syllabus, 46 percent of the mathematics syllabus and 47 percent of the English syllabus.

''Many poor students come to school half-fed. They cannot pay attention to their studies in the afternoon classes as thirst for knowledge is replaced by hunger for food.''

Weak institutional framework

The PEDP-II study identified the weak organisational and institutional framework of primary education and the lack of a proper physical environment at school as leading causes of poor performance.

“Inadequate qualified teachers, lack of devotion on the part of the teachers, [and] poor support and monitoring from family largely contribute to the causes of weakness,” Rawshan Ara Begum, head teacher of Chakhar government primary school in southern Barisal District, told IRIN.

“Many poor students come to school half-fed. They cannot pay attention to their studies in the afternoon classes as thirst for knowledge is replaced by hunger for food,” she said.

According to Badrul Alam Tarafder, secretary in charge of the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education (PME), the government placed emphasis on enrolment without concentrating on the quality of primary education.

Insufficient contact hours

The PEDP-II study recommended that contact hours between teachers and students be increased and more attention paid to mathematics and literacy.

According to the DPE, children get only 500 hours annually to interact with their teachers in grades one and two. This increased to 700 hours from the third to the fifth grade.

This compared unfavourably to an international standard of 900 contact hours per year for grades 1-5.

One reason for the fewer contact hours was the running of double shifts in most government schools due to a lack of classrooms.

The low teacher-student ratio was another factor keeping contact hours down.

The study recommended that at least 90,000 new teachers be recruited and 60,000 new classrooms be built to enable the existing number of students to attend in a single shift.


David Swanson/IRIN
A young primary school student outside Dhaka smiles to the camera.
Sunday, October 21, 2007
Report blasts primary school education
A young primary school student outside Dhaka smiles to the camera.

Photo: David Swanson/IRIN
The internal report presents a bleak insight into the state of primary education in Bangladesh

Fewer holidays?

Power and Participation Research Centre (PPRC), a private research organisation, in its annual report for 2008 entitled Primary Education Halkhata (State of Primary Education), recommended reducing holidays.

“The future of the nation is dark because primary students lack adequate academic knowledge,” said renowned academic Zillur Rahman Siddique. He attributed the low contact hours to long holidays.

At present in government primary schools, pupils get nine days holiday during the two Eid festivals, 15 days for the summer vacation and 20 days off for Ramadan. The report suggested seven days for the two Eids, five days in summer and 10 days for Ramadan would be more appropriate.

Some 200,000 teachers educate close to 19 million students in about 38,000 government primary schools country-wide. Teachers are paid by the government which also supplies free text books. At least 40 percent of students receive financial assistance based on their performance, attendance and the level of family poverty.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

Share this article
Join the discussion

Right now, we’re working with contributors on the ground in Ukraine and in neighbouring countries to tell the stories of people enduring and responding to a rapidly evolving humanitarian crisis.

We’re documenting the threats to humanitarian response in the country and providing a platform for those bearing the brunt of the invasion. Our goal is to bring you the truth at a time when disinformation is rampant. 

But while much of the world’s focus may be on Ukraine, we are continuing our reporting on myriad other humanitarian disasters – from Haiti to the Sahel to Afghanistan to Myanmar. We’ve been covering humanitarian crises for more than 25 years, and our journalism has always been free, accessible for all, and – most importantly – balanced. 

You can support our journalism from just $5 a month, and every contribution will go towards our mission. 

Support The New Humanitarian today.

Become a member of The New Humanitarian

Support our journalism and become more involved in our community. Help us deliver informative, accessible, independent journalism that you can trust and provides accountability to the millions of people affected by crises worldwide.