Despite having achieved gender parity in primary school enrolments, Bangladesh still has a long way to go to achieve gender equity, access to quality education for all girls, completion of basic education with acceptable competency levels and relevant life skills and equal roles for women and girls in society. Some of the key issues which must be addressed are as follows:
Perceptions of lesser value and limited roles of girls: Gender discrimination starts from birth and continues throughout life in Bangladesh. The perceived lesser value and limited roles of girls and women are embedded in the socio-economic system. Girls’ education, very broadly defined, can play a part in changing these norms and practices. The issue must be addressed both within schools and in the broader society, starting from early childhood and continuing through adolescence.
Quality of basic education: As the statistics illustrate, neither girls nor boys are receiving an education of an acceptable standard. By age 11 only just over a quarter have achieved the expected minimum competencies of primary school. Besides low academic achievement, there is little scope for developing relevant life skills within schools. Although many girls do continue with secondary school, their low competency levels put them at a disadvantage from the very beginning of the secondary cycle. For those who do not go on to secondary school, their low competency levels will be a severe limitation to their participation in economic and social areas throughout life. For girls, because of the gender discrimination they already face, poor quality education doubly disadvantages them. Education, which should enable them to overcome these obstacles, instead fails to give them the skills and confidence they need to actively participate and advance in the social and economic spheres. Most of the 1.5 million girls out of school are drop-outs from the system. Quality improvement is essential if the goal of universal completion is to be attained.
Equity and access: Reaching the 10 per cent of girls who never enroll in school remains a challenge. The exclusion of nearly 1.5 million girls is a violation of the fundamental and basic right of every child to education. While in general there is high awareness in Bangladesh of the value of education, there are some groups of girls and boys who never enroll. These include working children, girls and boys with disabilities, children in urban slums, children of the ultra poor and girls and boys living in geographical areas with limited access to schools. It is not only an access issue, but primarily one of equity. Very focused efforts will be needed to ensure that these children are enrolled in basic education programmes. In many cases the girls are doubly disadvantaged, and special efforts will be needed to enroll and retain them.