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Primary education is free for all children in Bangladesh, from grades one through five. By law, children between the ages of six and ten must attend school. However, the quality of education remains a barrier for education levels.
The Government of Bangladesh has made significant progress in recent years to increase primary-school-age enrollment rates to cover 89 per cent of boys and 94 per cent of girls. However, access to education remains a challenge for vulnerable groups, particularly working children, disabled children, indigenous children and those in remote areas or living in extreme poverty. Only half of all children living in slums attend school, a rate 18 percentage points lower than the national average.
Drop-out rates have made substantial progress where in 2006 the proportion of pupils starting grade one who reach grade 5 was 63.6 per cent, in 2009 this has increased to 79.8 per cent. However, progress is still required in this area. Absenteeism is also a significant problem. Parents often withdraw their children from school as a strategy for coping with natural disasters or economic difficulties, such as rising food prices. Recent studies show that boys are more likely to drop out of school than girls, or not enroll at all, pointing to an emerging gender imbalance.
At least ten per cent of primary school teaching posts are vacant. To compensate for the lack of teachers, high-school graduates can apply for teaching positions. One third of staff at government schools teach without a Certificate in Education.
Promoting interactive and inclusive learning is difficult in face of traditional teaching methods that require students to memorise facts. Students regularly fail to meet required curriculum competencies, so repetition rates are high. It currently takes an average of 8.5 years for a child to complete grades one through five. 10 per cent of primary school students are above primary school age (11+).
Primary schools often do not have enough space to accommodate all local children. To combat the problem, 90 per cent of government schools run a ‘double shift’: half the students attend school in the morning and the other half attend in the afternoon. A child in a double-shift school is typically in the classroom for between three and four hours a day. Regular school closures further reduce class time.
The Government is working to improve learning environments, building 17,277 new classrooms between 2005 and 2007, improving ventilation and lighting, and increasing access for disabled children. In those schools that are still waiting for these improvements, dark and cramped classrooms continue to hamper learning.