Pre-primary Education

Pre-primary Education refers to the stage of education for children aged below 6 before their primary education starts. Pre-primary education is usually divided in two stages: kindergarten/ nursery/playgroup for children of 3-5 years; and pre-primary or kindergarten for children aged 5-6 years. There is, however, another kind of arrangement in some schools: play group for children aged 3-4, nursery for 4-5, KG-1 for 5-6, and KG-2 for children aged 6-7.

Since independence, there has been a growing awareness of the significance of pre-primary education and the need for appropriate care for the very young children. As a result, the number of early childhood educational institutions increased day by day in the form of daycare centres and nursery schools. The Education Commissions of both Qudrat-e-Khuda (1974) and Mafizuddin Ahmed (1988) recognised the importance of early childhood education and recommended its introduction in the country.

The reports of both Commissions recommended establishment of nurseries and kindergartens in the urban and industrial areas, especially for the children whose parents work outside. It was generally accepted that the responsibility of the children's mental, social and physical welfare should rest jointly with the public healthcare, social welfare and family planning departments. Mafizuddin Commission recommended to open a baby class in all the government primary schools where there was no such arrangement by private initiative. The National Committee on Education For All constituted in 1995 recognised the importance of early childhood education in achieving education for all and made various recommendations for developing and improving pre-primary education. Also the Committee on Formulation of National Education Policy formed in 1997 recommended that the first six months of grade 1 might be spent for preparatory education for pre-primary children. The committee further suggested that female teachers with special training should be engaged for teaching the youngsters.

Although all educational commissions recommended pre-primary education, not much was achieved until now. The government of Bangladesh recognised that there should be a separate pre-primary class for children aged 5+ and accordingly, attempts were made to arrange a baby class in all government primary schools. This job is now done mostly by private organisations/agencies through nursery schools. Several thousand nursery schools are run privately to meet the demand of the time but these are not adequate. Hence, children mostly receive their early childhood education at home from parents and other adults. Children of families whose members are not educated in most cases remain unattended and no early childhood education is available for them, although most 5+ children attend pre-primary classes in the government primary schools.

According to some estimates, the number of kindergarten schools in Bangladesh is 2,500. The Kindergarten Association, however, puts the number at about 5,000. These are located mostly in the urban areas. Many of them have classes up to secondary education level, and some others, those of even higher secondary level. In other words, such institutions are kindergartens-cum-schools or kindergarten-cum-school-cum-colleges.

A good many Non-Government Organisations cater to the needs of pre-primary education, particularly for the poor. There are about 38,000 government primary schools and an equal number of non-government schools where pre-primary education is imparted. These classes are conducted by teachers most of whom are not properly trained. Many such schools do not have adequate equipment and support materials. Physical facilities in many of them are also highly inadequate.

School fees are different depending upon the type of the schools, their location, and their assets and management. At the thana or union level, the tuition fee is usually low. At government primary schools, the tuition is free. Kindergarten schools of NGOs usually charge a nominal or no fee. Private kindergartens of Dhaka and other urban areas charge quite high. Private high schools charge even higher. Moreover, every year in the beginning of the session a fat amount is realised as session fees or development charges from each student. There is no central authority or agency to regulate the fee structure in private kindergartens and schools.

In the absence of any countrywide survey it is difficult to know the exact number of children attending pre-primary educational institutions. Assuming that the average number of students in a government primary school is 50 and the number of such schools is 38,000, the total number of students enrolled would be 1.9 million. And if there are about 5,000 kindergarten schools in the country and each of them has 50 students on an average in pre-grade 1 section, the number of students in these schools stand about 0.25 million, thus making the total at 2.15 million. This comprises approximately 24% of total population of that age group.

Kindergarten schools do not follow any common curriculum. Privately managed existing kindergartens follow some sort of educational guidelines (syllabus and curriculum) of their own. In 1998, however, national curriculum and textbook board (NCTB) prepared a textbook for pre-class 1 children. The book named Dekhashona, if followed in all schools, could portray a general pattern of the curriculum. In the same year, caritas Education Programme extended help in establishment of the Institute of Childhood Education in Dhaka, which formulated aims and objectives and identified subject matters to be taught in kindergartens and suggested suitable teaching methodologies for their teachers.

At present, there is no guiding principle for conducting pre-primary education in the country. In most schools children are taught formal reading, writing, counting, adding, subtracting and such other elementary things. Regular examinations are conducted for assessing children's achievement level in these schools. In some schools the medium of instruction is English. Sometimes the standards become too high for the children of this age to absorb. In some schools little children also learn to read and write Arabic alphabets.

Assuming that the teacher-student ratio is 1:50, the estimated number of teachers teaching children at this level is around 48,000. They are mostly women. The teachers, however, are not specially trained for teaching very young children. In some cases they are not trained at all.'

The education policy 2000 recommended introducing pre-primary education in some special schools. But in course of time, most of the schools have introduced pre-primary education. As an alternative to this education it was suggested to provide a 6-monthe long preparatory education before class one. The period might be extended to 12 months from 2005. The policy further suggested involving all local people in the programme and they should bear all expenses of pre-primary education.

The National Education Commission 2003, however, favoured to give the responsibility of bringing all 5-year-old children to schools on the concerned school management committees for developing the status of primary education. Accordingly, the government had constructed six new classrooms in each school. The National Education Policy 2009 recommended introducing a 2-year long pre-primary education for 5-year-old children. Although all commissions, policies and committees are in favour of primary education, the target has not yet been achieved. The steps taken by private nursery schools to this end are also not enough. [Kamrunnesa Begum]