Rapid changes in the world—including technological advancement, scientific innovation, increased globalisation, shifting workforce demands, and pressures of economic competitiveness—are redefining the broad skill sets that students need to be adequately prepared to participate in and contribute to today’s society. To face the challenges and meet the global demands, there is no alternative of attracting the students in studying science, participating in science-related activities and spreading science education all around the country. Science provokes interest in the mysteries and wonders of the world. Through studying science students can understand about its massive contributions to everyday living. Science teaches children to be open to new ideas and new ways of thinking in order to resolve problems. So, science should be presented in an interesting way to the tender aged kids so that they become curious.
Besides enough quality text books, study materials, science laboratories, technical assistance and adequate research fund, good and dedicated teachers are essential for science education as an understanding of science, science concepts and science research is crucial if students are to become intelligent citizens in a democratic society. That is why developing proper science education policy and implementing that among the students are essential especially for a lower-middle income country like Bangladesh. How Bangladesh is addressing this necessity? How prepared our education system is to encourage science education? Do we have proper plan and fund to explore the opportunities regarding science education? Let us try to find out the answers of these questions.
All the students of Bangladesh at the primary level study Bangla and English along with an elementary science subject. In class one and two, natural and social environments are taught together as science. The teachers need to teach the subject following the teachers’ guide on environmental studies developed by experts and published by the National Curriculum and Textbook Board (NCTB). It’s understandable that providing a basic idea about science without creating complication is more important for the tender-aged students, but if you search the textbooks of class three, four and five, you will find that students of these classes have no additional textbook for learning science. There is no initiative taken to make students inquisitive about science and many teachers have questions regarding the NCTB guide as well. Students should get science as a fun in the elementary classes. It’s really important to focus on learning how to create amazing experiences that encourage discovery through play, asking questions, exploration and using creativity to solve simple problems.
Research shows that most children form an opinion about science by the time they reach the age of seven. Thus early childhood educators have tremendous impact and influence on shaping the thoughts and opinions of children. Unfortunately there is a clear scarcity of qualified and dedicated science teachers at the primary level. Talented science graduates usually don’t apply for the post of assistant teacher in government primary school, as the salary and other benefits are not enough to allure them. As a result students don’t get specialist science teachers in their classrooms. Students of primary schools in some cases use multimedia projectors and computer, but they are never supported with science laboratory and other necessary study materials. The situation is worse in the ibtadai madrasas. Students hardly find any interest about science there. Different languages and religion related subjects get more emphasis in these madrasas. Albeit many English medium schools have required laboratories and study materials, but there are allegations that the fees is more for the science students there and often the school authority doesn’t pay proper attention. Basic science education at the primary level could be an excellent one by making aware the students about how Bangladesh is becoming the victim of global environmental problems such as climate change and natural disasters.
But the fact remains that the quality of science education has not reached the satisfactory echelon at the primary level.
When asked about the situation of science education at the primary level in Bangladesh, Rasheda K. Choudhury, Executive Director, Campaign for Popular Education (CAMPE), said, “Science has created enormous opportunity for the students and with the contribution of modern technology demand of the talented science students is increasing globally. Asian countries like China, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore and even India have used this opportunity appropriately. If you want to maximise the potential, you have to make science interesting at the primary level, but it seems that we haven’t understood the fact. Most of our primary schools and ibtadai madrasas don’t have proper study materials and good teachers for science education. As a result, many students memorise the answers of the questions to perform better in science. It never helps them to be science enthusiasts.”
If you look at the junior and secondary level science education, you will find that teaching science is limited to a single subject up to class eight and the students don’t get even any hint about the basic science subjects like physics, chemistry and biology in class six, seven and eight, which they study in the following years. Students get multiple science subjects first in class nine, when they choose science group to study further. As a result, educationists can’t discuss extensively about science in the science textbooks of the early classes as it would go in vain for the students who would choose other groups.
Ultimately students get very few ideas through the repetition of the same topics in different classes. This limits explanation of science subjects to a certain level. Studying mathematics and mathematical terms are vital for the science students. Unfortunately like the other science subjects higher mathematics is also first introduced in class nine. Therefore students don’t even understand the relation between mathematics and other science subjects. Such situation creates extra burden for the science students in secondary and higher secondary level. That is why numbers of students change group when they take admission in colleges. It indicates that many of them don’t find studying science comfortable at the secondary level. Other students who continue with science group feel that they need to cover so many things at a time during their study in HSC classes. Result suggests that many of the science students who have good result in SSC can’t repeat their performance in HSC examination. It is a matter of great regret that there is hardly any scrutiny to find out the reasons of such outcome. A proper fragmentation of the topics from class one to class eight could create a balance for them and other students could find a way to get attracted to science as well. Both Bangla medium schools and madrasas have lack of well-trained science teachers and well-equipped laboratories. Some students who pass Dakhil examination from madrasas take admission in colleges in science group. They undergo a crisis. Besides completing the comprehensive curriculum by making the pupils satisfied and taking different strategies to teach students of diverse level requires efficiency and some certain qualities which are truly rare in the teachers of the colleges and alim madrasas in Bangladesh. According to modern teaching strategies science teachers should use student-centred method, unfortunately which is teacher-centred in our country. Methods of cooperative learning, group discussion and use of a learning cycle support the construction of knowledge for the students. In absence of these practices it has been found that most students begin with an interest in science in general, however over the years it fades away.
Bangladesh has 49 government and 217 private polytechnic institutes under the Board of Technical Education, from where thousands of students obtain diploma degree every year. Students whose interests are not strictly academic find technical-vocational programmes more interesting and valuable for their future. Regrettably, the situation of polytechnic and vocational institutes of Bangladesh regarding science education doesn’t make us optimistic. These institutes have been struggling due to the dearth of laboratory, study materials and quality teachers. There are 37 public universities and 93 private universities in Bangladesh. Government has established number of specialised universities based on science and technology to spread science education in higher study level. Different surveys and news reports show that these universities are creating fresh graduates on various science subjects, but failing to contribute to quality science education. Maximum of the science students can take their graduation and post graduation degree from these universities, but when they think of completing MPhil, PhD degree or post doctoral research, they become bound to go abroad. Public universities of Bangladesh allocate very low amount of money for the research works of their teachers and students. Most of the budgetary allocations are spent for salary and infrastructural development there. The government provided only Tk 36,50,000 for the 15 research institutes of the country in 2016-17 fiscal year. How many research works can be completed with this tiny allocation? As scientific research is always expensive, you may find that why such research is too short in number in Bangladesh. Where public universities are not interested in science related research works, you may understand the situation of the private universities.
Studying in science subjects in the private universities of Bangladesh is too expensive. Maximum of the private universities only focus on instant benefits instead of thinking about long-term success of their students. That is the reason why none of the Bangladeshi university has any place in the list of top 500 universities of the world. When the talented science students and researchers struggle for money, they can’t bring meaningful outcome and set any example for the next generations. It discourages students to choose science subjects in their higher studies. The most talented students usually study in science subjects, but when they find that neither their institution nor the government is interested to invest on their research works, they lose hope. Besides, we couldn’t create enough appropriate job opportunities for them inside the country. There are numerous examples where students completing masters’ degree in physics are now working in the commercial banks. As a result, being the victims of brain drain many brilliant science students are leaving the country owing to their study and professional purposes.
Education policies repeatedly mentioned about the necessity of quality science education, but such suggestions only exist in papers. Even our government doesn’t look at how other countries are emphasizing on science education. Professor Jamilur Reza Choudhury, Vice Chancellor of University of Asia Pacific and one of the prominent educationists of the country, observed, “All the education policies taken in Bangladesh speak about the importance of science, but there is no adequate follow-up and funding to realise those suggestions. Often people think that the science education is expensive and mainly the developed countries focus on it. Look at India. Their Department of Science and Technology started an initiative called ‘Inspire’. The programme has three sub-projects- scheme for early attraction of talents, scholarship for higher education, and assured opportunity for research career. In the attraction programme they give Rupees 5,000 each to 1 million young learners from class VI. And as the scholarship for higher education programme government provides Rupees 80,000 per year to 10,000 students aged between 17-20 years. Under the assurance programme these students get job guaranty after completing their graduation and research in science. This is a lifelong commitment. But here in Bangladesh you will find garland of words, but no real implementation.”
An intimate look at the overall situation of science education in Bangladesh can easily identify the problems science students need to face. Maximum guardians of the science students didn’t study science in their personal lives. As a result, students have to rely on the teachers of their institutions. When their teachers fail to meet their demands, they depend on the private tutors and coaching centres. It makes science education expensive. This is also a reason behind the low number of girl students in science group while lack of funding is the biggest obstacle in science education in the higher study level. If the government fails to address the problems related to science education in the upcoming budget, Bangladesh will continue to lag behind the technologically advanced world.