MANILA, PHILIPPINES – The Asian Development Bank (ADB) will lend Bangladesh $500 million to help finance a major overhaul of secondary education to meet the country’s need for skilled, technology-savvy workers.
“Over the next decade, Bangladesh will have a huge working-age population and the country needs to take advantage of this demographic dividend to accelerate growth and poverty reduction,” said Sungsup Ra, Director of the Human and Social Development Division in ADB’s South Asia Department. “Right now, the secondary education system is not producing graduates who can fit easily into a modern, information-driven economy.”
About 2 million youths are now entering the Bangladesh job market annually but nearly 90% of them end up in poorly paid informal work that requires few skills. The low skills base of the workforce is undermining productivity and weighing on attempts to diversify the economy.
While Bangladesh has made great strides in improving enrolment rates among girls and boys, secondary schools still suffer from outdated courses and teaching materials, a lack of common school standards, poor teaching, and weak management. Dropout rates are high, with only 46% of students completing the full five-year secondary school cycle.
The ADB funds – to be provided in four tranches over the coming decade – will support the Government of Bangladesh’s $17.1 billion, 10-year secondary education reform plan. This plan projects an increase of about 3.5 million students by 2023, requiring an additional 145,000 teachers and 10,000 more schools.
Over the coming decade, the ADB funds will finance new equipment, laboratories, classrooms and teacher training, and scale up information and communications technology-based learning in schools, including madrasahs. Exams will be reformed and curricula overhauled to make them more relevant to the needs of employers. Capacity building support will be given to agencies overseeing secondary education, and common school standards will be established.
Student stipends will also be assessed to ensure the monies go to those who need them most, the poorer students and girls in particular, to encourage them to attend and, importantly, to stay in school. Recent data show 37% of children from poor households enroll in secondary schools compared with 59% from better-off households. Girls meanwhile, although outnumbering boys in secondary enrolment, have higher dropout rates and poorer exam results.
The first loan tranche of $90 million will fund reforms from fiscal year 2014 to 2017 with three other installments to follow through to 2023. The education sector is a key recipient of ADB assistance in Bangladesh with cumulative loans of nearly $1.3 billion by end 2012.