Is the Right to Education Part of Bangladesh Education Policy?

A girl in a yellow dress sits at her desk in a Bengali school. By Fionn Kidney, Flickr.

A girl in a yellow dress sits at her desk in a Bangladesh school. By Fionn Kidney, Flickr.

National vision for education

Education is critical to human development, enlightenment and emancipation. It is a powerful vehicle for securing social justice. Education is a fundamental human right, the responsibility of the state and a core element of national development policy. Securing the right to education is a key in enabling people to secure other basic rights. Article 17 of the  national constitution of Bangladesh mentions free and compulsory education; it articulates that the “State shall adopt effective measures for the purpose of  (a) establishing an uniform, mass-oriented and universal system of education and extending free and compulsory education to all children to such stage as may be determined by law and (b) relating education to the needs of society and producing properly trained and motivated citizens to serve those needs; removing illiteracy within such time as may be determined by law”. It basically resonates with article 26 (1), of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which states that “everyone has a right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit”. A nation’s position and fundamental philosophy around education is basically reflected tin its education policy. In Bangladesh a long awaited education policy, which is believed to be inclusive, pro-poor and shared by all, was declared in 2010. This education policy envisages that the transformation of societies through instilling democratic values in the minds of its citizens with the final aim of creating a better future for all can be realized through the provision of quality education for all. This was a huge step towards the realization of the right to education of all.

Current education policy and legislation

The existence of an education policy document is never enough because the policy only articulates how the government values the importance of education, what ideological position it takes. It also provides guiding principles for achieving the policy goals and interprets the course of actions taken. Since the declaration of education policy in 2010 the people in Bangladesh have expected that appropriate legislation which would ensure the implementation of the policy. The government established a twenty- member education law-drafting committee on March 16, 2011. Later, on June 1, 2012 another nine-member working committee was formed to join in the preparation of the draft law. Thanks to the work of the two committees, the draft law was prepared and posted on the website of the Ministry of Education on August 5, 2013 with the aim to collect feedback from educators, experts, academics, education rights activists and others concerned. The draft education law was supposed to be developed in accordance with the national education policy of 2010. In general, the proposed law deserves appreciation not only for its revolutionary characteristics of being pluralistic, non-discriminatory, inclusive and non-communal character, but also for proposing a few practical and essential measures fro implementation. On the other hand, the main criticism of the proposed 2013 education law is that it does not satisfactorily protect the right to education of the citizens.

Citizen’s right to education is at stake – policy recommendations

The basic tone of the draft education law must strongly pursue the rights-based approach aiming to create social justice by overcoming inequity and discrimination in the society through the positive effects of participating in education. Bangladesh constitution does not yet recognize education as “fundamental human right” hence the state and the government are not obliged to protect and fulfill the right to education of citizen.

Article 5 (1) on page 4 of the draft law mentions that primary education will be recognized as children’s right. However, defining primary education as children’s right does not actually pledge that the state will be accountable for the fulfillment of education rights of all children. Therefore, the law needs to clearly define the right to free and compulsory education where there will be no charges, direct or indirect, for pre-school and primary education. Education must gradually be made free at all levels. We strongly demand that the education law 2013 will recognize education as fundamental human right to protect the education rights of and for all.

In fact, declaring an education law is not sufficient unless it is accompanied by an amendment of the constitution, where education is recognized as fundamental human right. Indian government passed the “Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act” in 2009 which came into effect on 1 April 2010.  The Article 21-A declares that the provision of free and compulsory education of all children in the age group from six to fourteen years as a fundamental right. With this step, India joined a group of few countries in the world, where the historic law declaring education as a fundamental right of every child has come into force.

Creating an equal society depends on the redistribution of educational opportunities for all and the   redistribution of opportunities should happen through sustainable public funding in education. Therefore, the education act must include adequate and sustainable funding arrangements for the realization of the education policy. Even if the act gets enacted under the present government, civil society will have the role to keep government’s partnership with NGOs and private sector under scrutiny with regard to pre-primary and primary education as there is risk that it might undermine the responsibility of state.

The draft education act has to clearly mention that every primary school will have adequate number of properly trained teachers who will receive good quality pre-service and in-service training with built-in components on gender sensitivity, nondiscrimination, risk resilience and human rights.

The draft education law 2013 ought to mention measures to provide safety for children, especially girls,   on their way to and from the school and within the school building. The act must clearly provide confidential systems for reporting and addressing any form of abuse or violence against girls.

The proposed education law 2013 doesn’t clearly define the duties, responsibilities and obligations of the different stakeholders such as the state and the government, local government, school authorities, parents, learners, teachers and communities. The education acts of most neighboring countries have categorically articulated the duties, responsibilities and obligations of different parties, for example, these have been very well defined in the Indian and Vietnamese education acts.

The draft law 2013 needs to include an article about children’s right to adequate school infrastructure such as appropriate number of classrooms, accessible to all and adequate and separate sanitation facilities for girls and boys. As Bangladesh is a country extremely exposed to disasters, school infrastructures must be built from appropriate materials to make them resilient to natural risks and disasters.

The draft education law has not clearly defined the role of state in providing mid-day school meal. The need is huge for state-provided mid-day cooked meal as it is nutritious, culturally appropriate and tackles with hunger problems of the children.

The draft education law needs to determine the scope for citizen participation in local education and should mention the mechanisms how schools as social institutions will be accountable to people. Traditionally, citizens have very limited or no voice or participation in the assessment process of local schools. Consequently, the accountability of teachers, head teachers and School Management Committees (SMCs) is non-existing. Two-third of SMCs is unaware of their roles and responsibilities and do not practice democracy in decision-making and ultimately fail to represent the voice of the communities.

At present, citizens barely have access to data/information on school performance, budget and expenditures. Therefore, in line with the right to information act the draft education law should determine more precisely from which sources citizen can get access to educational information, statistics and data.

The draft law must demystify the nature of decentralization of education and should also elaborate the roles and responsibilities of local government in education. Historically, one of the fatal mistakes of our education system is the lack of the involvement of local government in education.

The draft law must uphold the value of public education and deject commercialization and privatization of education and any step that undermine the role and accountability of state in fulfilling and protecting education rights of citizen. The law must keep provision for penalizing any commercial agreements that consider education, research and other social services as tradable items. Since Public Private Partnership (PPP) is popular, our government seems to be very inclined to have PPPs, civil society must keep an eye on this trend as, in our opinion, the inclusion of PPP in basic service sectors such as education will undermine the responsibility of the state.

The draft education law does not mention teacher union rights which would give teaching professionals the opportunity to exercise collective bargaining power for addressing the conditions of service and pay and to speak up for quality public education.


The proposed education law 2013 does not fairly uphold the value of democracy as it does not allow citizens to take any legal step if the law is not obeyed and allows only the government to do so. It clearly manifests the totalitarian mindset of the government that no particular clause is included for the citizens, which, in case of violation of education right, would make it possible to take legal steps against the education service providers e.g. the school authority and education administration. The draft education law 2013 must articulate specific clauses to particularly support the parents of the children who suffer discrimination in receiving quality public education. Civil society needs to bravely challenge and speak up against the discriminatory articles and clauses within the proposed law with the aim to hold the government accountable for providing people’s rights to quality education.


Khandaker Lutful Khaled is an education program, policy and campaign manager with ActionAid Bangladesh.

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