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Education is a powerful implement for individual and social development. It is difficult, mainly due to paucity of sources, to trace, even in outline, the system of education that prevailed in Bengal from the remote past. However, whatever is available allows us to reconstruct a very generalised idea about the educational system in ancient and medieval Bengal. In the colonial period the picture becomes clear and we are in a position to trace the development of education in a much more coherent way.

Ancient It is indeed difficult to determine the system and nature of education in ancient Bengal. We have ample evidence of the flourishing condition of the nourishment of various branches of knowledge in ancient Bengal, but hardly do we get any information about the education system in the available sources. The Vedic Aryans looked down upon the people of Bengal and designated them as dasyus and mlechchhas. But with the passage of time Aryan language and culture entered Bengal; most probably in the Maurya period.

It appears that the pundits (teacher) of Bengal could not establish a strong link with Aryan language and culture before the 6th century AD, though the process might have started a few centuries earlier. The Buddhist sangharamas and Brahmanic religious centres, large or small, served as educational centres. fa-hien stayed at tamralipti for two years to study and copy various Buddhist manuscripts. Brahmanic and Buddhist learning had developed appreciably and become widespread when hiuen-tsang (7th century) visited Kajangal, Pundravardhan, Kamarupa, Samatata, Tamralipti and Karnasuvarna. He has praised the urge of the people of Bengal for knowledge and their cultivation of learning. He noticed more than 300 Buddhist xramanas (shramanas) in 6/7 viharas at Kajangala; more than 3000 sramanas in 20 viharas in pundravardhana; more than 2000 sramanas in 30 viharas in samatata and more than 2000 sramanas in the 10 viharas both at Tamralipti and karnasuvarna.

In the 6th and 7th century AD Bengal had very close connection with Nalanda, the famous Buddhist seat of learning. Shilabhadra, a scion of a Brahmanic royal family of Samatata, Hiuen Tsang's guru and vastly learned in all xastras and sutras, was the mahacharya (head teacher) at Nalanda, where more than 10000 sramanas resided to learn and meditate. The fame of Tamralipti as a seat of learning is recorded in the accounts of a few other Chinese sramanas. Ta Cheng Teng, a Chinese sramana, stayed there for 12 years to study Sanskrit Buddhist texts and Lao Tin learnt Sanskrit and received education in Sarvastivada-nikaya during his three years' stay there. i-tsing, who came to Tamralipti in 673 AD, met Ta Cheng Teng at the Po-lo-ho vihara and stayed there for some time.

All the Buddhist viharas and sangharamas in Bengal were centres for the cultivation of Buddhist learning and for imparting education. They not only taught and cultivated Buddhist religious knowledge, but the curriculum for the education of the Buddhist sramanas included grammar, philology, dialectic, medicine, astronomy, music and arts, chaturveda, sankhya, mahayana xastras, yoga xastra etc. Hiuen Tsang have mentioned many Deva temples, where lived innumerable Brahmanic Acharyas and Upadhyayas and Devapujakas, who not only cultivated and taught religious subjects, but also various secular subjects.

Thus we see that by the 6th-7th century AD Aryan language and learning primarily based on Brahmanic-Jaina-Buddhist religions had reached Bengal and with in the next century had started bearing fruits. The ornamental style of poetry, as recorded in the 7th century epigraphs, bears ample testimony to that fact.

Bengal had earned fame for the cultivation of grammar from very early time. Philology was one of the important components of the study of the Chinese pilgrim I-tsing at Tamralipti. Chandragomin, the grammarian who cultivated chandra-vyakarana, was a Buddhist who lived in the 7th century and hailed from Varendra. Besides grammar he earned fame as a Logician as well. He studied at Nalanda under Acharya Sthiramati and earned proficiency in grammar, literature, astrology, medicine and various arts.

Besides Grammar and Logic, Bengal became famous for the cultivation of Philosophy. Gaudapadakarika, a work on Agamashastra was composed here. Kautilya, Greek historians and Hiuen Tsang - all have mentioned that the eastern Indian countries as the playground of elephants and it is natural that a sastra shall be developed here regarding the treatment of the ailments of elephants. Hastyayurveda, written in the 6th-7th century AD earned all-round fame.

The tradition of ornamental poetry that evolved in the 7th century AD reached its climax in the early Pala period. From the contemporary inscriptions and Chaturbhuja's Haricharita kavya we come to know that along with other branches of knowledge there were cultivation of Astronomy, Grammar, Veda, Agama, Niti, Mimangsa, Vedanta, xruti, Smrti and Purana in Bengal. Cultivation of knowledge was not limited to the Brahmin Pundits only, ministers, army officers and other people connected with the royal families were people of great learning. We are completely in the dark as to how these xastras were taught or learnt. However, it may be assumed that Brahmin Pundits used to establish Chatuspathis in their own houses or in and around the temples and take students, as many as they could manage, under their care. Students used to study one or more disciplines under one teacher (acharya) and then move to others for other subjects. Acharyas specialised in different subjects. Students from Bengal used to travel to other parts of India for learning a particular subject under a specialist. Acharyas from Bengal also visited other places for imparting knowledge. Those who were engaged in teaching used to receive patronage of the rajas and maharajas, samantas and maha-samantas either in cash or in the form of land grants.

Pundits used to write books in Sanskrit, which was, however, not the language of the common people. As such cultivation of knowledge was definitely limited to the upper classes of the society. Haricharita refers to Varendra Brahmins as masters of Shruti, Smrti, Purana, grammar and kavya. Harivarmadeva's minister Bhattabhavadeva was a master of philopsophy, mimangsa, arthaxastra, dharmaxastra, ayurveda, astraveda, siddhanta, tantra and mathematics.

The period of the Senas is considered to be a golden period for the cultivation of various branches of knowledge through Sanskrit language and the extant texts bear testimony to it. So it can be assumed with some amount of certainty that though we are not aware of institutionalised education there must have been a fairly large educated class who could produce those literatures. There must have been some predecessors of the tols and pathxalas of medieval age, where there were arrangements for education, if not for the common people, but definitely for the people belonging to the upper classes of the society. Gurugrhas, axramas and Buddhist viharas served as centres of education. That secular subjects were taught along with religious studies are clear from the books that have come down to us. But they do not, however, give us any indication about the system of education. [AM Chowdhury]

Medieval Muslim sultans of Bengal encouraged the spread of education, scholastic or elementary, to fulfil their religious obligations. The rulers, the sufis, ulamas, the nobles, chieftains and philanthropists all contributed in this regard. Through the patronisation of the Muslim rulers mosques and madrasas were established in different places of Bengal and these institutions served as centres of Muslim education and culture. To maintain these educational establishments the rulers granted rent-free lands as endowments to pious men of learning who gave instructions to others as a matter of their duty. Domestic instructions were also arranged by wealthy people in their localities through private tutors engaged by them.

System of education was closely associated with religious instructions. So the Hindus and the Muslims, the two major religious groups, developed separate educational structure on the basis of their religious traditions. To meet the demands of religion as well as livelihood education was encouraged throughout the medieval period by the rulers as well as by the elite of both the communities, though their respective system of education completely differed.

The educational establishments that had grown for the Muslims were known as maktabs and madrasas and for the Hindus as pathshalas. Many Muslim institutions arranged for the study of the Quran, while the study of Arabic was encouraged for religious education. Some schools combined the study of grammar, literature, theology and law with Arabic. The local pathsalas, where the Hindus studied, taught Sanskrit and Bengali along with religious studies. So the Muslims seldom preferred these vernacular schools. As Persian was the state language, both the Hindus and the Muslims learnt the language to earn a living.

The educational centres grew at Gaur, Pandua, Sonargaon, Dhaka, Murshidabad, Rajshahi, Chittagong and Rangpur. Scholars from home and abroad were engaged in teaching at these places. The Muslim rulers bestowed honours on indigenous talents, spared neither pains nor expense to attract to their courts from neighboring countries men of high literary attainments. Maktabs sprang up in imitation of Pathsalas, wherever the Muslims predominated in numbers.

During the medieval period Nabadvip was the principal centre of education for the Hindus and attracted students from various parts of Bengal. Besides Nabadvip instruction in Sanskrit and Persian languages were also given at Saptagram, Sylhet, and Chittagong. Students and religious devotees gathered at these places to satisfy their educational and spiritual needs.

The traditional system of education thus developed in medieval Bengal gradually declined with the fall of the Muslim rule. The British colonial rulers after their assumption of power for a time maintained the study of oriental languages, as they needed the services of people well versed in Persian, Sanskrit and Arabic for administrative purposes. But the traditional education gradually lost ground and through a gradual process was replaced by the colonial system by the middle of the 19th century. [KM Mohsin]

Colonial Period Initially, the government of the English east india company did not consider promoting education among Indians as a part of its duty or obligation. A change, however, came in 1813 at the time of the renewal of the Company's Charter, when a minimum of one lakh rupees were sanctioned annually for the education of Indians. This again called for the establishment of an organisation whereby educational grants could be disbursed. A General Committee of Public Instruction was therefore constituted in Calcutta in 1823. A majority of the members of this committee opted for an Orientalist policy as against an Anglicist or Western orientation and dispersed its funds in favour of Sanskrit and Arabic teachings. A part of the funds was to be spent on translation of English works into Oriental languages and encouragement was to be given to the production of books in English.

In the mean time, education had received a new impetus because of the work of christian missionaries. The experience of early missionaries soon convinced them that they had to start schools since they were an important means for proselytising. Danish Missionaries (1706-92), in particular were lucky, for they received the benevolent protection and sympathetic assistance of the East India Company. However, the Serampore Missionaries of Bengal had to struggle against odds and would have petered out but for the protection of the Dutch settlements of serampore and chinsura. At any rate, their activities gave a new direction to elementary education for they introduced instructions at regular and fixed hours, a broad curriculum, and a clear-cut class system. By printing books in different vernaculars, the missionaries gave a fillip to the development of Indian languages. With the study of vernaculars went the teaching of western subjects through the medium of English. This prepared the way for English education in India.

In addition to the Missionaries were enlightened Indians like Raja rammohun roy, who felt that English education ought to be imparted to the Indians. In his historic memorandum to the Governor General he argued that the idea of a Sanskrit College at Calcutta should be abandoned and that the Government should promote a more liberal and enlightened system of instruction, comprising Mathematics, Natural Philosophy, Chemistry, Anatomy and other useful sciences.

The controversy that raged between Orientalists and Anglicists within the General Committee itself indicated a change in the company. Younger members holding more radical views challenged the policy of patronising Oriental learning and advocated the need for spreading western knowledge through the medium of English. This controversy was finally resolved in favour of the Anglicists by Macaulay's famous Minute on Education of 1835. His recommendations found confirmation in Bentinck's resolution.

Several other factors played contributory roles in the growth of English education in India. The Freedom of Press Act (1835) for example, encouraged the printing, publication, and availability of books in English, thereby indirectly promoting the cause of English education. A couple of years later, the abolition of Persian as the official language of records, and its replacement by English and Indian languages also helped in the process. Finally, Hardinge's resolution of 10 October 1844, declaring that for all government appointments, preference would be given to the knowledge of English, created the demand for English education in India.

Charles wood’s education despatch of 1854 proposed the creation of separate departments for the administration of education in each province, the founding of the Universities of Calcutta, Bombay and Madras in 1857, and the introduction of a system of Grants-in-Aid. It also laid the basis of the future educational policies adopted by the government. The newly established universities, however, did not fulfill their teaching role at the initial stage - their activities then being restricted to conducting examinations and granting of affiliations, degrees, and certificates. Nor did the establishment of universities result in the rapid expansion of collegiate education, although the products of the new learning displayed keen scholarship.

Reporting on the state of education in India, the Indian Education Commission of 1882 ironically reflected that university degree had primarily become a passport to distinction in public services and in the learned professions. However, a university exerted overwhelming control over secondary schools through a system of Entrance Examinations. When the inexperienced university teachers began to address the question of the mediums of instruction as well as other vital problems, the effects were bound to be unfortunate. For their part, secondary schools associated themselves prematurely with college education, thereby failing to prepare their students for life. As a result the new system became top-heavy. The commission recommended that elementary education for the masses and provisions to extend and improve the same should receive priority. It cautioned against the wild race for academic distinctions and proposed the diversion of a part of the swelling stream of students into 'channels of a more practical character'. It proposed alternative courses dealing with commerce, agriculture, and technical studies, but such courses attracted very few takers. Although Technical Education found favour with the laity, the government chose to remain nonchalant.

In the closing decades of the 19th century, therefore, elementary education was starved and undernourished while secondary education suffered from want of proper supervision. Unplanned growth of high schools and colleges led to many private institutions becoming coaching institutions, rather than places of learning. University control of them was negligible, as the government had adopted a laissez faire policy.

In the latter part of the 19th century, and in the backdrop of a rising tide of nationalism, the indian national congress, several Muslim Associations, and other groups raised their voices against the prevailing British system of education. They demanded instead a sincere attempt at establishing Indian languages and culture through a new educational experiment. When lord curzon arrived in India in 1898 and took over as the Viceroy, he immediately felt the pulse of the people and decided to undertake a close survey of the existing system of education. The survey revealed that four out of five villages were without any schools. Three boys out of four grew up without any education, and only one girl out of forty attended any kind of schools. He concluded therefore that education had extended vertically and not horizontally. So Curzon decided to plug the loose ends. He criticised the indifferent attitude of the provinces towards issues concerning public welfare. He advocated the creation and maintenance of a few institutions under state patronage which would serve as models for private enterprise. He introduced stricter control over private schools through a vigilant policy of inspection and control. Such a policy was bound to agitate the minds of educated Indians who felt that the Government was endeavouring to bring the entire system of education under its control.

However, the stiffest battle was fought on the question of university autonomy. Curzon instituted the Indian Universities Commission of 1902 with a view to improving the state of higher education in the country. This commission recommended that the size of the University Senate should be curtailed and that universities were to function not only as examining bodies but also to act as teaching institutions. In order to ensure a higher educational standard, universities were to insist on quality teaching in affiliated colleges. The commission also recommended Grant of additional state aids to universities for the improvement of courses of study, abolition of second-grade colleges, and fixation of a minimum rate of fees in affiliated colleges. Owing to stiff resistances the last two recommendations had to be dropped. The remaining recommendations were implemented despite considerable opposition from the Assembly as well as from the Press.

In Bengal, a violent agitation started following the partition of bengal in 1905. The problem was that Curzon's educational reforms had come at a time when it was bound to be equated with the bureaucratisation of education. Despite five years of unflagging efforts, Curzon had failed to inspire the general confidence of the people. On the contrary, because of the tightening of the bonds, Curzon's policies and actions had inadvertently prepared the way for the rise of a militant nationalism. This new militant nationalism in turn tried to probe into the nature of educational problems and devise possible remedies. For example, it demanded early Indianisation of the Education Department, adoption of Indian languages as media of instruction, the teaching of history from the Indian standpoint as against the imperialistic approach, and the cultivation of a sense of patriotism among students. Curzon's administrative policies in effect generated the first organised movement for National Education. The National Council of Education, established in Calcutta, laid the basis of a national college and a technical institution in Calcutta as well as the setting up of fifty-one national schools in Bengal. This movement reached a crescendo when the Calcutta session of the Congress (1906) resolved to organise a national system of education. However, with the slackening of the swadeshi movement, most of the national schools were eventually closed. Nevertheless this movement inspired Rabindranath Tagore to start his famous school at santiniketan near Bolpur in Bengal in 1901. The Nationalists' demand for a free and compulsory primary education also found repeated mention at the sessions of the All India Muslim League held in Allahabad and Nagpur.

Curzon's successors modified his education policies to some extent, although keeping its spirit undisturbed. Adverse public opinion regarding Curzon's reforms notwithstanding, a considerable amount of educational progress had taken place during his administration. Universities had been reconstituted and reorganised and they had been transformed into teaching bodies, even while retaining their examining and degree-conferring functions. Inspectors appointed by the university regularly inspected colleges. The government also took up a vigilant role and introduced a better system for granting recognition to private schools. The system of elementary education also improved. There was a remarkable increase in the number of secondary schools and colleges, thereby meeting the growing demand for higher education.

The Calcutta University Commission of 1917 headed by Sir Michael Sadler made an enquiry into the conditions and prospects of the University of Calcutta. Though its primary objective centred on the University of Calcutta, its findings and proposals had an all India significance. The commission recommended the formation of a Board of Secondary and Intermediate Education, along with the establishment of intermediary colleges. These colleges were designed to follow a two-year course while the post-intermediate stage was to comprise a three-year degree course. Teaching and Unitary Universities and the organisation of post-graduate studies and honours courses were to receive priority. A greater emphasis was laid on the study of science, on tutorial systems, and research work. Regarding female education, the commission suggested that purdah (veil) schools could be set up for Hindu and Muslim girls whose parents would be willing to extend their education upto age 15 or 16. The commission proposed the formation of a special board of women's education under the aegis of the Calcutta University which would organise cooperative arrangement for teaching in women's colleges, more specifically for the training of teachers and preparation of medical courses. Departments of Education were to be created in the Universities of Dhaka and Calcutta and Education was to be introduced at the Intermediate, BA and MA Degree Examinations as a separate subject.

The Government of India issued a resolution in January 1920 summarising the basic tenets of this report. All subsequent important legislation concerning Higher Education or University Education incorporated some of the observations made in this report.

Curzon's policies allowed for larger grants to primary education, hastening its expansion between 1905 and 1912. Nevertheless, after his departure the official preference tilted towards qualitative improvement - the result being the abandonment of the principle of compulsory primary education. Indian nationalist opinion however, favoured the introduction of compulsory elementary education. Between 1910 and 1913 Gopal Krishna Gokhale made heroic efforts to induce the government to accept the principle of compulsory primary education. The Bombay Legislative Council accepted Vithalbai J Patel's bill for the introduction of compulsory primary education in municipal areas. This eventually became the Bombay Primary Education Act of 1918 and served as a model for subsequent enactments until 1921

The Act of 1919 made education a transferred subject, entrusting it almost entirely to the care of the provinces. In each province, educational policy and administration was to pass into the hands of a Minister of Education responsible to the provincial legislature and ultimately to the people. Although European-style education was retained as a 'reserved' subject, it was placed under the control of the Indian Minister of Education. This anomaly was finally rectified under the Government of India Act of 1935, whereby the distinction between the 'transferred' and 'reserved' subjects was finally abolished and the provinces were accorded complete autonomy in respect of education.

The constitutional changes initiated by the Act of 1919, however, fell far short of the aspirations of Indians. As a result, the Non-cooperation Movement was launched and this led to the boycott of English institutions and products. With a view to achieving educational reconstruction, national schools were opened throughout the country and vidyapiths (national universities) were set up in select centres. Unfortunately, this nationalistic fervour did not last. In the face of acute official opposition and the lack of suitable equipments, buildings, finances and trained personnel, it was bound to lose some of its vigour.

The Government of India Act of 1935 further strengthened the position of the provincial ministers of education. The development programme of provincial governments included the spread of primary education, the introduction of adult education, stress on vocational education, and emphasis on the education of girls and under-privileged people. The most significant development, which characterised the field of elementary education during 1921 and 1947, was the passing of the much- awaited Compulsory Education Acts by provincial governments. These Acts empowered local authorities to make primary education free and compulsory in areas under their respective jurisdiction.

Another noteworthy step in this direction was the introduction of Gandhi's 'Basic Education' scheme. Gandhi's scheme was designed to provide options to students to train themselves in certain basic crafts which could also be a source of economic support. It was thus a conscious attempt to link education to the socio-political realities of life.

Considerable expansion took place in the field of secondary education as well. During 1946-47, there were 5,298 high schools with an enrolment of 21,99,000 pupils whereas the corresponding figures for 1916-17 were 1,507 and 57,200. The demand for secondary education increased with the growth of political consciousness amongst the masses. The result was the establishment of schools in rural and semi-urban areas where less advanced communities could participate. Female education too received a good deal of attention during the period. Consequently, between 1921-22 and 1946-47, the number of educational institutions for girls nearly doubled.

Vocational education too received a fair amount of patronage, when provincial governments promoted technical, commercial and agricultural schools, providing larger grants to private schools offering non-literary courses. Shortage of funds and a dearth of trained teachers were the predominant constraints in the path of education. Secondary schools still concentrated on preparing students for admission to colleges offering arts and science courses.

University education during this period (1916-17 to 1946-47) saw some outstanding developments. It witnessed the establishment of fourteen new universities in the whole of India, both unitary as well as affiliating owes. The University of Dhaka (Dacca), established in 1921, was a part of the expansion programme. It marked the democratisation of the administrative bodies of older universities by a substantial increase in the number of elected members. There was a remarkable expansion of academic activities through the opening up of several new faculties, curricula, and research projects. This again, induced a substantial increase in the number of colleges and student enrolment. Provisions were made for military training and greater attention was paid towards physical education and the recreational activities of students. Finally, the constitution of the Inter University Board and the development of inter-collegiate and inter-university activities added a new spirit to campus life.

After India and Pakistan became independent (1947), the task of planned and comprehensive educational reconstruction fell upon the planners of the newly independent countries who had to come up with plans to overcome the ills of a colonial legacy. [Rachana Chakraborty]

Since 1947 Uhe year 1947 saw India winning independence from British rule and by all counts it is the watershed not only in politics but also in education. From then on Bangladesh followed a separate path of policy and execution as distinct from those in present day India. The common heritage though left behind continued to exert its influence since many of the institutions founded in pre-independence period remained with the new state, and these in their turn served as models, maybe with changes here and there, for the new ones. In education, as in life, there is no complete break.

The British had left a legacy. In brief, education had been planned on western lines, defined in Macaulay's Minute on Indian Education, 1835. English was to be the medium of instruction and most of the content to be derived from western liberal arts and sciences. It was to be secular in spirit and it was to be open to all, irrespective of caste and creed. And traditional oriental learning was to fend for itself, with hardly any state support. The emphasis was on higher education. Organised higher education was to filter down to the lower levels secondary and primary - of the system.

In 1947, the existing system generally reflected the British policy laid down by macaulay and endorsed by later committees and commissions. The Report of the Sargent Committee (1944), advocating a reformed primary education under the full management of the government, came too late for Bangladesh, at the time part of Pakistan. Independent India gave it full credence, not Pakistan. Education was already a provincial subject, with the central government in Karachi, later in Islamabad, being a distant observer. Its occasional interventions, sometimes well meaning, sometimes ill informed and counter-productive, could be passed over.

After independence, the provincial government of East Bengal, set up a committee under the chairmanship of Maulana akram khan, a senior politician and an Islamic scholar, to frame a new curriculum for schools. The committee did a good job. The curriculum proposed by it made primary education completely and exclusively based on mother tongue, with provision for religious education to be imparted in the medium of Bangla. As for higher education, the government's intervention was simply unfortunate. university of dhaka, the singular institution of its kind in the province, was deprived of its traditional autonomy enshrined in the Act of 1920. Government was given a new and wider authority over its management, including the appointment of vice-chancellors. Worse still, great many colleges, a few government but the majority under private management, was, without much thought, brought under the academic control of Dhaka University. This university, a unitary and teaching institution since its inception, had neither the experience nor the capacity, and hardly the inclination, to discharge a responsibility that had been the preserve of Calcutta University for nearly a century. The measure severely jolted Dhaka University and left the colleges under a scrappy academic supervision of the university.

The total picture of the system in 1947 presents, at the highest level, a university almost fully financed by the government, and lower down the system, colleges and schools both secondary and primary, forming a private sector. This invited and justified governmental involvement in the two vital sectors of education. The successive governments' response to this demand makes a story full of directions and misdirections, of targets proposed and missed but despite all odds, a continuous linear growth of both primary and secondary education in the province, later in the Republic of Bangladesh.

Primary Education Turning to primary education first, this sector is now becoming the centre-point of all educational interventions of the government. The process started in the last decade of the twentieth century. We can notice its changing status in five successive five-year plans but the beginnings are to be traced back to the articles 15 and 17 of the Constitution (1972) and the clear recommendations of the Education Commission's Report, 1974. Both these documents made primary education the responsibility of the government. In 1974, true to the provisions of the Constitution, the government issued a 'Decree of Nationalisation' of all 36,165 primary schools in the country. This was truly a landmark in the history of education. Since then, with every successive five-year plan, the allocation for primary education has increased steadily, both in the revenue and development parts of the annual budget. There are now an almost equal number of primary schools in the private sector; most of them in the rural areas, that enjoy considerable financial support of the government, short of full adoption as government institutions. Urban schools with a leaning toward English but complying generally to the curriculum nationally adopted do not as a rule depend on state support. There still remain a vast number of children of the school-going age who are out of school. A parallel stream of non-formal education, under the management of NGOs, has come into the picture in recent years. Also, international funding agencies the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, UNICEF and others have now emerged in Bangladesh as major partners in primary education. The list now includes IDA, DGIS, SIDA, NOFAD, UNDP, IOB, EU (EEC), OPEC, Saudi Arabia, Japan and Germany.

One factor that has contributed to the new importance being given to and the enhanced status being enjoyed by the sector is the international commitment to it. Bangladesh is committed to the goals set in the World Conference on Education for All held in Jomtein, Thailand in March 1990 and the World Summit on Children held in New York in September 1990. Bangladesh is also committed to implement the Summit Declaration on Education for All of Nine High Population Developing Countries held in Delhi in December 1993.

From 1947 onward, the main problem with primary education has been its tardy growth. At that point of time, for one village with a primary school there were four without any. Most of these schools were poorly housed, teachers were, most of them, poorly trained, and invariably poorly paid. The uphill task of lifting this whole sector to a reasonable level of efficiency rested with the government. But resources, when it came to education, especially primary education, were always scanty. From 1947 to 1972, that is the time when Bangladesh emerged as a truly independent country, primary education and the level of literacy of the country were both stuck in a state of prolonged stupor.

The new phase starting in 1972/73 with the governmentalisation of over 36,000 schools did not produce miracles in terms of universalisation of basic education. But the objective came to be better defined, with the publication of the Education Commission report of 1974. New strategies were proposed for achieving the goal of universal primary education. The Primary Education Act of 1981 made provisions for the establishment of Local Educational Authorities at the sub-divisional level. The move unfortunately proved abortive, mainly due to political uncertainty. Next, in 1990 came the Compulsory Primary Education Act. It empowered the government to undertake legal and administrative measures to implement the purposes of the CPE Act. After this, something like a concerted campaign has been initiated for eradication of illiteracy under projects that have brought the government and many development partners on the same platform. These projects comprehend both formal and non-formal primary education, the NGOs playing a significant role in the non-formal sector. It has been claimed officially that literacy rate now is somewhere between 50 and 60 percent. Also, as a result of the literacy drive initiated by district administrations, a number of districts have emerged, at least officially, as fully literate ones.

Secondary Education In 1947, secondary education presented a similar look with primary. Schools were mostly in the private sector. There were zila schools, under government management, one in each district headquarters. These were to serve as models for privately managed schools, or so the colonial rulers thought. The same policy that kept them unencumbered with primary education left them generally indifferent to secondary education also. Incidentally, the policy extended to college level education, too.

Advocacy for an eight-year long primary education goes back to Sargent Report, 1944, if not earlier. The idea found strong endorsement virtually in all subsequent inquiries, notably in the Education Commission Report of 1974, popularly the Qudrat-i-Khuda Education Commission Report. It is now accepted in principle, though implementation is yet to begin. As and when it is implemented, it will add to the problem of structure that has been inseparably an issue in respect of secondary education.


For many years before and after 1947, secondary education showed a faster rate of growth than primary. High dropout rate took a heavy toll of student population at the primary stage, and this may partly explain the difference.

On the management side, one important post-independence development was the delinking of secondary education from the university. Suggested as long ago as the sadler commission (1917-19), it did not materialise in Bengal, with the exception of the small area that defined Dhaka University's realm, ie Dhaka Municipal area.

East Pakistan Secondary Education Board took charge of the affiliation and examination of secondary level institutions. This step was followed by the creation of a School Text Book Board in 1954. At a later stage, one Board was split into six, on the principle of one Board for each administrative division of the country. In the overall management of secondary education, central control is still in force, though only theoretically. The impact of the governmental grant system has been negative: the local communities have turned their face away from the institutions they themselves established. Decentralisation of management is accepted in principle, maybe less emphatically than in the case of primary. In both cases, the pace is determined by the pace at which the proposed three-tier local government becomes a reality.

The six Boards mentioned above share between them the responsibility of granting recognition to the schools, supply of textbooks, inspection and, above all, holding two public examinations, one at the end of ten years of schooling (Secondary), and the other, at the end of twelve years (Higher Secondary).

In the present system, two public examinations at this level, especially the higher secondary examination, in spite of all its shortcomings, determine the course of future education. Importance of the second, HSC, examination is rather high since it is the gateway to higher education.

Both the quality and management of secondary education has come under severe criticism. Great many schools are privately managed and poorly staffed. There is no scheme for the government to nationalise these schools, after the negative results of similar policy in respect of the privately run colleges. The persistent demand of the teachers of these private schools (also colleges) for equality of pay with government school and college teachers have been met, not fully, but to a considerable degree. The policy so far has been to initiate plans and programmes for the improvement of teaching generally, and introduction and expansion of science teaching in particular. The basic weakness of' school level teaching has become increasingly evident. High failure rate at both the public examinations, SSC and HSC, points to low performance both in teaching and learning. Naturally enough, the situation has been viewed with a sense of alarm at all levels and by all quarters, including the government.

One part of the picture relates to curriculum. Following the recommendations of the 1959 Commission, separate streams were introduced after class VIII, thus signaling a break from the traditional one-stream secondary education. Apparently, the autonomous status of the secondary stage was ignored or perhaps, a still-to-be-realised eight-year long primary education was taken to be terminal for most students. But in the absence of a clearly enunciated policy, the bifurcation of courses resulted in a truncated curriculum producing manpower with insufficient grounding in the essentials of a sound education.

The National Curriculum Committee, 1976-78, sought to remedy this defect, and proposed a return to one-stream secondary education. Of several difficulties faced by the authorities, one was relating to the introduction of science in the village-based schools. Science, especially Mathematics, and English continue to suffer from less than adequate teaching in most of the schools. And it casts its debilitating influence on the next, the tertiary stage of education.

In the past many reform ideas have fallen through because of two reasons: lack of governmental resolution in programme implementation, and scarcity of resources. How institutional adjustments are made, once eight-year long primary education comes into force, remains to be seen. At present, the last two years of secondary form part of a school in some cases, or the bottom classes of a four-year college in some cases or the entire programme of a college, the Intermediate Colleges, in yet another case. The intermediate was visualised as a sandwich course by the Sadler Commission, a preparatory course for the better students completing their entrance/ matriculation and qualifying for higher education. But as it turned out, matriculation was not a terminal examination for many. Later thinking has clearly marked the intermediate as part of secondary and has renamed it Higher Secondary. So it is now clear that this part of reform will entail the shedding off of the two bottom classes for the existing degree colleges and the upgrading of schools that will lose the primary section and will gain the higher secondary section. And all these adjustments will have their accompanying dimension of restructuring the staff.

Higher Education In 1947, the eastern part of Pakistan (later East Pakistan) started with a system of higher education whose beginnings go back to the earlier century. The colleges were teaching courses prescribed by Calcutta University as affiliated institutions of the same and students were taking examinations set by it and receiving degrees awarded by it. The only university that fell within the geographical limits of East Pakistan, the University of Dhaka (estd.1921) functioned within the municipal jurisdiction of the town. Beyond, the entire system was bound with the larger system of which the University of Calcutta was the apex body.

With Partition, this comprehensive role of an affiliating university devolved on the University of Dhaka. Dhaka's problems were manifold. Since its inception (1921) it has been functioning as a unitary, teaching university, distantly modeled on Oxford and Cambridge. Its halls of residence were so many replicas of the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge; its three-year degree Honours course borrowed from them and its tutorial system, too, looking back to the practice prevailing there. In short, both academically and structurally, Dhaka represented a marked departure from the Calcutta system, modeled on London nearly a century earlier. Dhaka now was faced with the problem of reconciling the two systems.

In fact, the university had no option but to let the colleges continue with their old courses, two-year Pass and two-year Honours courses. Its own three-year followed course was left undisturbed.

university of rajshahi, the second in the province, was established in 1954 and Chittagong, the third, in 1965. Both followed the Dhaka example of three-year Honours, followed by a one-year Masters course. All three felt the need to upgrade the two-year Honours, Calcutta's legacy, to bring at least the Honours streams into a common strand. The colleges offering the two-year Honours for a long time under Calcutta University, and later under Dhaka, found the strain of conversion too much. Many dropped the programme, others dithered but carried on.

The newer universities of Rajshahi and Chittagong, in their general organisation, were imitatative of Dhaka in many ways. Dhaka, by now both teaching and affiliating, found compatriots in Rajshahi and Chittagong, founded on the same principle of combining the dual functions of teaching and affiliation. Also, they went ahead with the arduous job of building a campus on a grand scale providing residence to the student body in halls of residence, and to a considerable number of teaching and other staff. Dhaka was spared the birth pangs of building a campus that it got ready made, the abandoned lands and buildings of the erstwhile government of East Bengal and Assam province. Others were not so fortunate. They had to build from the scratch.

By the close of the Pakistan phase of the province, there were two more additions to the number of universities: the Agricultural University at Mymensingh (1961) and the University of Engineering and Technology in Dhaka (1962). The latter was not a new institution. Ahsanullah Engineering College was upgraded and became a university. During these years under Pakistan, the system of higher education in the province comprising the universities, the colleges, both general and professional, was an expanding one. The expansion was more linear than vertical.

Two Commissions, The Commission on National Education (1959) and the Commission on Student Problems and Welfare (1964-66), of the decade of Ayub Khan gave full attention to the Universities. The first was prompted by reformist zeal characteristic of a military regime. sharif commission's Report - popular name for the CNE, had its longest chapter devoted to Higher Education, 46 pages. Secondary Education got 36 pages and Primary, a bare 6. This lopsidedness is not without significance.

To be fair to a much maligned Report, the CNE had something to say on each of the following aspects of higher education: higher education as a distinct stage of education free from the encumbrance of the intermediate, upgrading the degree courses, both Pass and Honours into three-year courses, the importance of language studies and the establishment of institutes of Modern Languages, examinations, with particular emphasis on internal evaluation, research, teacher's work, selection, appointment and promotion of teachers, student welfare and discipline, a simpler administrative structure for the universities. These all led to the promulgation of the University Ordinances of 1961 and the possibility of a university grants commission at some future date.

The CNE report makes good reading. It suffers from an indulgence in generalities, and a lack of supportive data and evidences. In one respect the report was lucky: it was not put aside; a number of recommendations were taken up for implementation; (i) Intermediate sections were taken out of degree colleges; (a beginning was made with government colleges in East Pakistan); (ii) a revised Pass course was introduced with emphasis on languages, and of three years duration; (iii) most importantly, the older University Acts were repealed, and replaced by a set of new Ordinances (1961).

A number of recommendations suggested sweeping reforms and proved controversial. But controversy was gagged, public debate pre-empted by means of instruction circulated to vice-chancellors and presumably also to the Press.

Both the overly prescriptive tone and the three-year degree courses invited criticism, caused indignation and added fuel to the fire already simmering in East Pakistan. Came the formation of the Commission on Student Problems and Welfare. It was chaired by Justice Hamoodur Rahman, who had served in addition to his normal juridical duties, as the vice-chancellor of Dhaka University (5 november 1958 - 14 December 1960). The three other members all held constitutional posts and none was an educationist. When Kazi Anwarul Huq left, making room for Dr Mamtazuddin Ahmed, he was the lone academic in a committee of four.

While examining the causes of student unrest that had lately disrupted normal academic work in the universities, and was increasingly taking a violent turn on the campuses, and while suggesting remedies to the ill, the Commission thought it necessary to turn to the larger issue of university governance. In so doing it found some recommendations of the earlier Commission unduly peremptory. It took into consideration, along with students' grievances, those of the teachers, too. It considered specific workload prescribed by the earlier Commission for teachers unnecessary. At the same time it supported the discipline rules as a guarantee of teachers security of service and not as an encroachment on academic freedom or on the professional dignity of a teacher.

During the Commission's tenure of work, 1964-66, Pakistan, in September 1965, got engaged with an armed clash with India. Though the clash was a brief affair, lasting only seventeen days, it shook the country to its foundations. After the signing of the Tashkent treaty and the end of war, the country was led into a period of political turmoil. This engulfed both the wings of Pakistan. It hastened the fall of President Ayub, leading to the assumption of Presidential power by Gen. Yahya Khan, and ushering in of a period of' political sanity. As the country was looking forward to a general election on the basis of one - man - one - vote, Air Vice-Marshal Noor Khan was asked to give the country a new education policy.

The New Education Policy (1969), short but decisive, is full of positive ideas, including the idea of a reformed University Act. The report suggested university governance with full faculty participation, recommended the return of the Senate, and made a strong case for a University Grants Commission, vaguely promised by NEP and side-tracked by CSPW. The value of the report lies in its positive tone, and it's foreshadowing of the things to come in the University Order/Acts of 1973.

In retrospect, this period of the nation's history cannot be credited with any very sound progress in the sector of higher education. This can partly be attributed to the political turmoil. Under military rulers the states resources were diverted to ambitious military spending, at the cost of manpower development. Mass education and poverty alleviation were criminally neglected, with the result that when East Pakistan emerged, by the end of 1971, as the People's Republic of Bangladesh, it started with a shattered economy and a badly damaged educational edifice.

Independent Bangladesh made a promising start in respect of education. The Decree of Nationalization of the existing primary schools has already been mentioned. The government did not wait for the report of the Education Commission but went ahead with a sense of urgency in fulfilling the academic aspirations of university men. The hated University Ordinances of 1961 were repealed to be replaced by a set of new laws: The Dhaka University Order, and the Rajshahi, the Chittagong and the Jahangirnagar University Acts. About the same time came the law heralding the birth of the University Grants Commission through the promulgation of Presidential Order No. 10, in 1973.

Bangladesh Education Commission too was set up simultaneously, with Dr qudrat-i-khuda as its chairman. The Commission's Report, published in May 1974, is something of a landmark in the history of educational thinking. Both idealism and optimism duly qualified by practical considerations remain the hallmark of this document. It gives both a short-term and a long-term view of the nation's education in all its dimensions in a process of reconstruction. Its hopes and projections have not come true but that does not detract from its abiding value, enshrining as it does the educational dream of a nascent nation.

Despite its thoroughness, the Report is curiously reticent on certain aspects of university education. The Acts restored the university's autonomy, more or less on the lines of the original Dhaka University Act of 1920, And the UGC was inaugurated with high hopes of its acting as the guardian of this autonomy.

There was no increase in the number of universities till about 1985 when the islamic university of Bangladesh became operational. The intervening years were not barren, though. All the six universities continued to grow in size. Colleges affiliated with Dhaka, Rajshahi and Chittagong Universities not only grew in size but also in number. This growth in both the sectors had both positive and negative aspects. On the positive side, it demonstrated the nation's urge for higher education that acted as spurs to found new colleges. A pressure was thus created on the universities to grant affiliation to many a fledgling college, poor in staff and equipment, and far from meeting the academic requirements. This was the negative side of the picture.

As early as early nineteen seventies, the Education Commission had recognized the problem, had desired the teaching universities to be relieved of the burden of affiliation. It found a solution when it proposed four purely affiliating universities to take charge of the colleges. This did not happen till 1992, when the National University took the responsibility. During the seventies and the eighties, the system of higher education showed a higher rate of growth than either the primary or the secondary, in absolute, numerical terms. But statistics do not have the last word here.

Five new universities were established in the public sector after independence: Islami University (1985), Shahjalal University of Science and Technology (1990), Khulna University (1990), Bangladesh National University (1992), and Bangladesh Open University (1993).

The first three owe their origin to a common perception of many years: a university is a regional institution in a country of teeming millions with a growing system of higher education, and serves as the apex body over a large number of degree colleges of the region. Both the universities of Rajshahi and Chittagong were established on this principle. Shah Jalal and Khulna followed suit. With the establishment of a university at Khulna, it lost its affiliatory role planned for it.

The original proposals for four affiliating universities in the 1974 Commission's report was modified in the BNEC's report of 1988. The number was reduced to two. It was finally reduced to one in 1992, when it was sanctioned under the National University Act. With the establishment of NU all other universities automatically became unitary, a long cherished desire.

Starting with a limited programme of teacher training through a correspondence course, the Open University soon generated ideas of the same kind of work, on a larger scale, under the management of a university. Open universities had already been functioning in neighbouring countries to serve as models. The practical value of a system that eschews full-time enrolment with a fee-receiving institution and yet offers degree level courses to numerous working men and women of all ages has its special appeal in a country like Bangladesh. The University has already met with remarkable success in its operation.

Starting with diploma/degree level programmes, the university later took the bold step of opening the SSC programme, thus casting its net wide to attract the younger aspirants for education at the secondary level. Enrolment-wise, OU now comes first among universities. A system of accreditation has become overdue to assign different courses and institutions their relative worth. This is more so as the two newer universities, National and Open, now are operating on a scale and under conditions that are likely to affect standards.

Private universities The idea of allowing the private sector to establish universities was first discussed in 1981. This idea was revisited in 1992 when the government enacted a series of laws related to higher education, including the Private Universities Act that allowed the establishment of private higher education institutions (the first charter was awarded to North South University on 5th November 1992). This represented an attempt to expand access to higher education, to reduce the financial burden on the public sector, and to make higher education more attuned to market and to develop a skilled manpower base.

Between 1992 and 1996, 16 private universities were established during a rapid expansion of the tertiary sector. The rate of approval charters was high between 1996 and 2001 and by the end of 2001 the number of private universities in Bangladesh stood at 29. Now there are 56 private universities in Bangladesh (up to 2011).

There are signs of an inner dynamism at work of the private universities and expressing themselves not only on the plane of ideas but also on the plane of reform and innovation. Already, it is now an accepted sector that only through education can an independent nation fulfils itself. [Zillur Rahman Siddiqui]

Bibliography S Mahmood, A History of English Education in India, Aligarh, 1895; Nathan Committee Report, Calcutta, 1912; Calcutta University Commission Report, Calcutta, 1917; Niharranjan Ray, Bangalir Itihasa, Adi Parba, Calcutta, 1356 BS, 1402 BS; PN Banerjee (et al), Hundred Years of the University of Calcutta, Calcutta, 1957; A Karim, Social History of the Muslim in Bengal, Dhaka, 1959; Commission on National Education Report, Government of Pakistan, 1959.