Bangladesh: New Milestones on the Road to Inclusive Education

December 17, 2014


  • Bangladesh’s smart investments in human development have yielded stellar results—bringing millions of girls into school, increasing female literacy, and reducing maternal mortality.
  • The country is now instituting a pre-primary program to help children learn better when they enter primary school; standardizing teacher training; and modernizing textbook distribution.
  • A longstanding supporter of inclusive development in Bangladesh, the World Bank Group is now investing an additional US$400 million in support of these efforts to achieve learning for all.

Home to 157 million people living in a land crisscrossed by the waters of the enormous Ganga-Brahmaputra delta, Bangladesh is the world’s most densely populated country.* While 47 million people still live in poverty and are extremely vulnerable during frequent floods and cyclones, the country has registered remarkable successes between 1990 and 2010—reducing poverty by a third, achieving gender parity in primary and secondary education, and cutting its maternal mortality rate by 40 percent. 

The World Bank Group has supported development in Bangladesh since 1972, including by financing its groundbreaking conditional cash transfer program that helped get millions of girls into school in the early 1990s, and contributing to the country’s stellar results in increasing female literacy. It continues to support education at all levels, with a new investment in primary education this week of $400 million. 

This latest credit from the World Bank Group adds new resources to the country’s third Primary Education Development program, which is supported by nine development partners including the Asian Development Bank and the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DfID). The new funds will help Bangladesh build on its recent gains, and approach new milestones on the road to inclusive education and better learning outcomes for children.

 “Bangladesh’s effort to ensure better learning for the 19 million children in its primary schools is critical to ensuring the nation’s future. The third Primary Education Development program is making an important contribution through helping to improve access, equity, and the learning environment and also through establishing an effective assessment system,” said Johannes Zutt, World Bank Group Country Director, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan. 

Investing in children early, based on global evidence

Across the developing world, from Jamaica in the Caribbean to Mozambique in Sub-Saharan Africa, there is growing evidence that early childhood development programs help prepare children to learn better when they enter primary school and to earn more as adults. For children from disadvantaged backgrounds, these programs can go a long way towards level the playing field when they enter school. 

Bangladesh’s recent effort to deliver a year of publicly-funded pre-primary education at public schools is highly significant in a context where children from the poorest families tend to enter primary school at a disadvantage. But even as the program expands rapidly, maintaining its quality is not easy. 

To keep up the momentum, World Bank Group funding for the third Primary Education Development program is tied to achieving a number of pre-agreed targets. One of these is the rollout of the preschool year—with trained teachers and the right teaching materials—in 75 percent of the country’s 37,000 government primary schools. Partnership, especially with NGOs, is critical. 

"The government and NGOs are working together to support quality pre-primary education throughout Bangladesh. NGOs with a history of work in preprimary education have contributed to developing the national curriculum and implementation guidelines, and they are now able to support pre-primary provision within the framework of the government system," said Elizabeth Pearce, Education Sector Director, Save the Children in Bangladesh.

Save the Children is an international NGO that works with hard-to-reach or disadvantaged families, communities and regions in Bangladesh. 

Training teachers to improve learning outcomes for children

In 2011, as part of its national primary education strategy and plan, Bangladesh defined professional competencies and standards for teachers and committed to improving training for teachers who are already in service in primary schools, with the introduction of a new Diploma in Education. 

Another important indicator that the disbursement of World Bank Group funds is linked to is the number of primary teacher training institutes offering the diploma, with the goal being 60 institutes by 2018, when the program closes. Eventually, the goal is to provide pre-service training as well.

" Global evidence shows that good teachers can make a significant difference to what a child learns in school, with teacher recruitment, training, and motivation being key factors influencing effective teaching in the classroom. "

Claudia Costin

World Bank Group Senior Director for Education

Through the program, Bangladesh has already put in place a national assessment system that is providing high-quality data and evidence to policymakers on learning levels. 

The project has also supported the transparent recruitment of teachers.  

Getting textbooks to schools on time 

Over the past four years, Bangladesh has already vastly improved the print quality of its textbooks and its textbook distribution system. While only 32 percent of primary schools received textbooks within a month of school opening in 2010, the baseline year for the program, this share rose to 93 percent by 2013/2014. 

“The new textbooks, printed in color and delivered within the first few days of school opening, are extremely encouraging for the children. I think the government’s effort will boost primary education in Bangladesh and the country will reach its goal of universal primary education soon,” said Mosammat Tahmina Akhter Begum, Headmistress of the 38 No. Bishnupur Government Primary School, Comilla. 

Comilla district is located about a hundred kilometers southeast of the capital Dhaka.

Tying financing to results

Expanding pre-primary education, training teachers and getting textbooks to schools on time are only some of the targets to which World Bank Group financing is tied. Others include filling thousands of vacant teacher and head teacher posts, implementing curriculum-based competency testing in Grade V, building and repairing school infrastructure, and improving program planning and monitoring. 

Economic analysis shows that the additional investment of US$400 million, with a further contribution of $200 million from other development partners—over and above existing investments from all partners in the program—yields a rate of return of over 14 percent across the next 20 years, with an increase in the cumulative number of primary school graduates by 2.8 million and a reduction in the number of students dropping out by 2.4 million across this time period. 

These gains are very important as Bangladesh aims to become a middle-income country by 2021 and to reap a demographic dividend as health and education levels rise, people have fewer children, and the economic environment continues to improve, with a focus on creating jobs and savings opportunities.


*excluding small city states