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Speeches & Transcripts

Speech by Ellen Goldstein, Country Director, The World Bank Dhaka at the Report Launch of “Secondary School Madrasas in Bangladesh: Incidence, Quality, and Implications for Reform”

August 10, 2010

Ellen Goldstein, Country Director


Honorable Minister for Education, Mr. Nurul Islam Nahid
Mr. Asahabur Rahman
Dr. Niaz Asadullah
Friends from the media
Ladies and Gentlemen

Welcome to the launching of the report “Secondary School Madrasas in Bangladesh: Incidence, Quality, and Implications for Reform”. Let me take this opportunity to convey my deep gratitude to the Honorable Minister for Education for honoring us with his presence as Chief Guest today.

Bangladesh has made tremendous progress in the last two decades in increasing enrollments and gender parity in primary and secondary education.  Indeed, the country has already achieved the Millennium Development Goal for gender parity in primary and secondary schooling.  This progress has been achieved along with a significant reduction in poverty, despite the country’s capacity constraints and high vulnerability to natural calamities.  Nonetheless, the quality of education and access to education remain challenges for many in Bangladesh, particularly in remote rural areas.

Bangladesh has a history of innovative reforms that have helped bring madrasa schools into the mainstream of the education system.  This pragmatic approach has set Bangladesh apart among the countries of South Asia and elsewhere, and contributed significantly to overall progress in recent years.

Let me say a few words about analytic work on the madrasa sector that has been supported by the World Bank over the years in collaboration with academic researchers.  Past research has helped document unique characteristics of the Bangladeshi registered madrasa system, and how it has contributed to progress toward MDG targets. We have studied the success of the teacher salary subsidy scheme and the ‘Female Secondary School Assistance Program (FSSAP)’ in encouraging registered madrasas to broaden their curriculum and become coeducational schools.

More recently, gaps in knowledge were identified with respect to the magnitude of the registered and unregistered madrasa sector, and the quality of educational outcomes.  Therefore, the World Bank sponsored this study on the Quality of Secondary School Madrasa Education in Bangladesh.  It is the first-ever detailed, nationally-representative analysis of secondary madrasas, and will help inform policy decisions related to secondary education across all institutions.  The study is based on large-scale field-based investigation over the last 5 years, and combines data on educational institutions, teachers, students, households, parents and children from multiple sources including a census of primary and secondary schools, a survey of secondary schools, and a household census and survey.

The report focuses on two main issues: the incidence of madrasas, and the quality of learning outcomes in madrasas.  The main empirical findings are that state-registered madrasas account for nearly 19 percent of secondary enrolments, while unregistered madrasas account for only 2 percent.  We see that one in every five secondary students is enrolled at a madrasa, so it is an important sector in any discussion of education policy in Bangladesh.

The study used testing to assess learning outcomes in Mathematics, English, general knowledge and Islamic studies.  Children in state-registered madrasas scored statistically-significantly lower on Mathematics and English than children in non-madrasa schools.  This raises a concern for madrasas, but it is also important to recognize that scores were low across all types of institutions, suggesting an across-the-board need to focus on improving the quality of secondary education.

The study also highlights the persistence of a gender gap in the quality of learning outcomes in all types of institutions.  This gender gap is greater, however, in madrasas than in other types of schools.  So while madrasas have played a very important role in improving gender parity in enrollments, the challenge now is to enhance the quality of outcomes for girls in particular. 

In any country in the world, discussions about the role of the state and the role of organized religion in educating children can be contentious, often generating more heat than light.  I hope that the empirical data and analysis presented in this study shed real light on an important sector, and help to anchor the debate about reform of secondary education in the metrics of learning outcomes.  It is, after all, the results that matter.  For this reason—and as documented in this study--our joint efforts going forward should focus on improving learning outcomes for boys and girls across all institutions.

Thank you.