Impact of Education on Socio-Economic Development
of Rural People of Bangladesh
Dr. SM Mahfuzur Rahman*
Md. Mokter Hossain**
The Constitution of Bangladesh recognizes that education is a fundamental right and it is the responsibility of the state to provide basic education to all its citizens.1 The recognition of the right to education and literacy has been reinforced by other national and international documents signed by the government of Bangladesh for implementing the strategy of Education for All (EFA) such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Dakar Declarations, Millennium Development Goals, PRSP Action Plan, etc. Bangladesh government has formed various commissions at different times to frame National Education Policy. Unfortunately, although most such commissions could work out some versions of the National Education Policy, none of these versions could ever be implemented. The government however, prepared a National Plan of Action on Education, and later, a National Plan of Action–2 that accommodated at least, theoretically, most stated EFA goals.2 Steps taken by the government in implementation of EFA include the launching of the National Campaign for Social Mobilization for Basic Education in 1992, abolishment of fees for girls’ education, distribution of uniforms to girl students free of charge, and introduction of the stipend and food for education programs. One of the visible impacts of the steps is the significant increase in girls’ enrolment rate.
Despite various initiatives taken by the government, literacy situation and poverty alleviation in the country deserve much more attention and improvement. Official statistics on literacy rate attained in the country are often said to be ‘not reliable’ and further, the proportion of people with functional literacy are significantly less than what is officially shown as the literacy rate. A huge number of children are still out of school, there is still a high degree of gender disparity, and disable and ethnic minority groups continue to remain deprived. There is a growing demand for quality literacy services, which require skilled teachers, healthy environment, community participation, good governance and accountability and transparency in administration, and better monitoring. Evidences do not suggest that the country has earned a credible capability in meeting these requirements and also the efforts in these directions seem to lack commitment, integrity and professional seriousness. Besides, mismanagement and inadequate attention in addressing issues like access to education, equity and uniformity, the quality of education, participation of the alumni and guardians of the students in management of academic institutions, politicization, and students violence in the campus continue to remain as areas of major concern.
Education is an important variable in augmenting productivity of the existing and potential labor force of an economy, a catalytic agent for raising the level of income, a key to the access to resources, both private and public, and a channel of income distribution, through which gains from increased growth can be filtered down to the lower income groups. Education is regarded as a productive investment, as well as an all- pervasive activity of human welfare.3, 4, 5 While formal education serves global purposes as indicated above, non-formal education provides benefits, both economic and non-economic, which are instrumental for increased individual and social welfare6 and addresses a whole bunch of issues such as basic literacy (ability to read, write and count), training in livelihood trades and life skills, creation of opportunities for self-employment and income generation, access to resources, especially technology and credit, awareness about nutrition and healthcare, and understanding about development processes and a meaning participation in them.
Because of the poor quality of education and the gaps between education system and the needs for people with practical life skills, the present education system and literacy services do not contribute much to the growth in productivity or rapid socio-economic development of the country, including especially the improvement of life style of its population. Yet the efforts in education and literacy services have some positive impacts on the lives of the rural people, which are demonstrated through
The formal education system and the literacy services that are now available in the country have some negative impacts, too. For example, literacy/education has an adverse effect on agricultural productivity. This had been pronouncedly felt about two decades ago.7 Money is drained away from the agricultural sector because peasant families pay for the education of their children from incomes of farming and sometimes, from sale of agricultural land. Sending children to schools implies withdrawal of a significant part of the family labor from agriculture. But, after leaving the educational institutions (with or without graduation), most children do not return to family farms, often do not find jobs and even if they find any, they hardly invest money in the family farm or in the agricultural sector.
The present paper has been prepared on the basis of a field survey based study conducted by its authors in November 2004 – May 2005 on Impact of Literacy on Socio-economic Development of the Rural Poor in Bangladesh.8
2. Objectives of the Study
Given the above background the main objective of the study was to investigate into the impact of education on the lives of the rural people of Bangladesh within the present framework of literacy and educational services in the country. The study however, does not cover investigation into all the various aspects of the lives of individuals and communities that are changed by literacy/education and the few major issues included in the assessment are
· The relationship between literacy/education and development;
· Income-expenditure, savings and lifestyle of rural people;
· Awareness, responsibilities and related social factors; and
The study assessed the importance of basic education/literacy and skills training services for school age children at selected rural locations in terms of their orientation towards a knowledge-based community and the potential contribution of the system to making them/their parents or guardians equipped with literacy and life skills. The set of specific indicators for evaluating effectiveness of the existing basic education services/institutions and their links with development included:
Following a review of literature on relevant areas, the study conducted a fairly extensive fieldwork that included rapid rural appraisal, observations and focus group discussions and a questionnaire based sample survey of the rural people looking into their level of literacy/education, income-expenditure and savings pattern, lifestyle, awareness, responsibilities, related social factors and status in the community etc. The fieldwork was carried out in six upazilas, one each from six districts of six administrative divisions of the country. The survey areas within each selected upazila were three rural locations representing developed, moderately developed and underdeveloped areas within the respective upazilas in terms of opportunities for literacy and education. The selection of upazilas and the survey areas within each of them was done according to the study objectives following a brief area study and consultation with informed persons, including local community leaders and people working in NGOs with literary programs. The selected areas were classified in following categories:
After selection of the sample areas, a simple random sampling method had been used for selecting the respondent households within the stratified population assuming that the distribution of households with different level of literacy/education, occupation, family incomes and expenditures, standard of living, and understanding the society and environment in a given area would be normal and the population had equal chance of being included in the sample. Given the high degree of homogeneity of the culture, similarity in approach towards life and a more or less stable pattern of socio-economic relationships in the rural areas, the sampling frame used in the survey appeared fairly acceptable at the stage of planning the survey work.
Subjects under the sample survey comprised household heads/members, community leaders, and teachers/facilitators of educational institutions (primary schools, literacy/learning centers, community schools). The sample size for the questionnaire- based survey was initially 60 from each of the three locations of the six upazilas, which made the total to 1080. But for some inefficiency in the fieldwork, ultimately 1075 filled in questionnaires could be accepted for processing. The sample locations and distribution of sample population by different areas/communities are shown in annexure, table-1.
3. Findings of the Study
3.1 Literacy level and Occupation
As shown in annexure, table-2 (Distribution of the Sample Population by Main Occupation and Literacy Level), about 40% of the respondents (425 out of 1065) had agriculture as the main occupation, 16.6% of them had business, 15% were engaged in teaching, about 12% were housewives, 4.6% were artisans, 1.5% did medical practice, and 10.2% had various other occupations. The occupational characteristics of the sample population reveal that education has an impact on the lives of the rural people in the sense that the rural people are restricted in their choice of occupations without education. Also, even if they chose some forms of occupation that require knowledge and skill, they operate at lower levels. For example, the part of the sample population that could be identified, as businessmen were predominantly persons operating small and medium size shops.
Illiterate population among those with agriculture as the main occupation comprised 30.6%, about the same proportion of them had only primary education, 27.5% of them had secondary education, 7.3% higher secondary education and about 4.5% were bachelor degree holders. Among the teachers, 14.3% passed only secondary school certificate examinations, 36.6% had higher secondary education, 33% had Bachelor’s degree, and 15% had Master’s degree. About 50% of the respondents with medical practice as the main occupation had higher secondary education and the remaining had secondary education. A part of this group of population might have some training to work as village doctors and nearly two thirds of them practice allopathic medicine, while the others practice homeopathy. About one fourth of the respondents with artisanship as the main profession were found illiterate and about the same proportion had primary education, 38.5% had secondary education, 6% higher secondary education, and 2% had Bachelor’s degree. Illiterate women dominated (about 41% in number) the occupation group ‘housewife’, while 22.8% of them had primary education, 26.8% secondary education, 7.9% higher secondary education and only 1.6% had Bachelor’s degree.
3.2 Operation of Educational Institutions and Literacy Level
Theoretically, there should be some association of literacy level of the population of an area with the number of the various types of educational institutions offering literacy/basic education services in that area. The survey finds that the proportion of illiterate people is more in areas with less number of primary schools but even with up to 10 primary schools in a union (at least one in a ward) the illiteracy may continue to prevail at a fairly high rate. About one third of all the illiterate population have been found to hail from unions with 10 or more institutions of primary/basic education. Also, although in general the proportion of illiterate people is high (33 to 41%) in areas where the number of such institutions ranges between 4 and 6 or the proportion is fairly low (12 to 3%) in areas where they rage between 14 and 20, the one-fifth of the total population in areas where such institutions are 11 have been found illiterate and another one-fifth of them have only primary education (see annexure, table-3).
3.3 Level of Education and Household Income, Expenditure and Savings
Distribution of the sample population by ranges of monthly income and by the levels of education show that people with less incomes concentrate more among the illiterate or less educated sections while those with higher levels of education belong more to higher income brackets. Nearly 70% of the sample population have average monthly income below Tk 5000, about one-fifth of them have monthly income between Tk 5001 and Tk 10,000 and less than 10% have higher average monthly income. But the distribution of population with these three different income ranges by the different level of education is: illiterate – 90%, 7% and 3%; primary education – 85%, 12% and 3%; secondary education – 66%, 21% and 13%; higher secondary education – 58%, 30% and 12%; bachelor level – 41%, 41% and 18%; and higher education – 23%, 52% and 25% (see annexure, table-4).
In response to the question whether there had been any change in their household income over the last five years, 82.8% respondents informed that it had been increased, 13.7% informed that it had been decreased and 3.5% said that there had been no change (see annexure, table-5). The increase in income had been more with people having higher levels of education than those with lower levels. About 95% of the respondents informed that they had also experienced increase in household expenditure during the last five years and the distribution of these respondents by their levels of education and the range of change is nearly the same as that of them by increase in income. While increase in expenditure of people with different levels of education has appeared to be almost the same, that in income of them has been found to vary and the people with higher level of education are better off in terms of the gap between increase in income and that in expenditure. This implies that the more educated people have more savings. This is also confirmed by data on relationship between literacy level and savings of the sample population.
However, although the coefficient of correlation between level of education and the total household income has been estimated at 0.298 (see annexure, table-6), a large number of respondents consider occupation or profession, and not the level of education matters more in the change of level of income. Of the 1075 respondents, 886 report that increase in their income has a positive relationship with acquiring of skills and learning/training in a profession. Coefficients of correlation between literacy level and (a) rate of change in income, (b) rate of change in expenditure and (c) increase in savings of the sample population had been estimated at 0.282, 0.179 and 0.474 respectively.
Figure-1: Change in Income and Expenditure
3.4 Level of Education and Quality of Living
A comparison of literacy level of the respondents with the type of house they live in had been thought of as a method of developing idea about the relationship between literacy level and standard of living. The survey data show that of the 150 respondents living in houses made of straw, 70 are illiterate and 41 have primary education but the majority people among the total of 254 illiterate respondents live in tin-shade houses (see annexure, table-7).
The distribution of the sample population of different levels of education by the types of houses they live in does not allow making any concrete conclusion on relationship between literacy level and standard of living. In fact, an overwhelming majority of the respondents even indicate that education has only a marginal role in changes in their housing structure. Fortunately, this type of possible results could be anticipated at the time of developing the data collection tools and the questionnaire included more direct queries such as whether there had been any improvement in the standard of living in the last five years and whether education had contribution to the improvement, if there was any.
Figure-2: Housing Structure by Literacy Level
People of different levels of education did not have much difference in opinion about the positive role of education in improvement of the standard of living. Although the coefficient of correlation between literacy level and improvement in the standard of living of the sample population had been found significantly positive (0.569), a little more than one-fourth of the respondents informed that their standard of living had significantly improved in the last five years, about 52% reported to have a moderate improvement and 22% said that there had been no change (see annexure, table-8).
Figure-3: Change of Living Standard in the last 5 years
People with higher education has attained more improvement in standard of living, while almost half of the illiterate population and one-third of the people with primary education do not see any change in standard of their living. The indication is: whatever has been the improvements in education or in other sectors of socio-economic life in the country, from one-third to half of the rural population remain deprived of the benefits and at the same time, the educated people get some share. This means that education does have a positive impact on the lives of those who can use the access to it and also the access to resources (presumably, through various methods but definitely, using education as one of the important factors).
3.5. Education and Socio-economic and Cultural Development
The survey included a provision for looking at how the sample population evaluate the importance of education in cultural development. The findings reveal that in the opinion of about two-thirds of the respondents education is very important/very useful in cultural development and development of personal/family life (see annexure, table-9).
But the following observation gives some food for thought: in an overall situation where the lower the level of education of the respondents, the lower is the recognition of education as an important factor, only 3.4% of the respondents of illiterate group and 1% of the group having primary education consider that education is not useful. This type of response from the population with no or little education of the rural areas is possibly the result of their own experiences in life and observations on the lives of others in the community or neighbourhood.
Education has a positive impact on the lives of the rural people in terms of developing a practice of sending their children to school and regularly maintaining accounts (see annexure, table-10).
Figure-4: Literacy Level of Household Heads and their Practice of Sending
Children to School and Maintaining Accounts
The higher the level of education of household heads, the more of their children study in schools. The coefficient of correlation between the level of education of the sample population and their practice of sending children to school, however, has been found not very significant (0.165). This is possibly a strong indication that people use basic accounting and make comparative judgment on what they gain by receiving education and what they loose by not receiving it. It is only a guess that most likely, the judgment often base on very short-term considerations and the rural people need real motivation and training in how to make such estimates meaningful, so that they understand the real worth of education and become serious about ensuring an equitable access of them to quality education.
Investment in education is not like that in business and the return from investment in education is often not visible at the immediate future. Although investment in education has a relatively long payback period, the end result is often a perpetual inflow of benefits in both tangible and intangible forms. Without Education new generation remains unfamiliar with evolution process and the current practices, skills, values and expectations suitable to changing conditions9 and therefore, learners need to absorb the education they are given and more importantly, to understand certain socio-economic concepts, orient themselves in the real world situations and develop a way that best suits their abilities and can meet their needs. Education without understanding these concepts is useless and can hardly have any impact. This is why an attempt has been made to investigate into the ability of the sample population to understand a number of selected concepts (see annexure, table-12).
Figure-5b: Literacy Level and % of Population having Clear Understanding about Some Important Issues
Education/literacy programs in rural areas of Bangladesh have an effect in enhancing the socio-economic development of rural people in Bangladesh. The rural people with little or no education are restricted in their choice of occupations without education. Also, even if they chose some forms of occupation that require knowledge and skill, they operate at lower levels. Availability of educational institutions alone does not automatically ensure access of the rural people to educational services and their attainment of literacy. The present study shows that the proportion of illiterate people is more in areas with less number of primary schools but even with up to 10 primary schools in a union (at least one in a ward) the illiteracy prevails at a fairly high rate.
There is a moderately significant correlation between the level of education of household heads and their income, expenditure and savings. People with less income concentrate more among the illiterate or less educated sections while those with higher levels of education belong more to higher income brackets. Increase in income, and also, in savings have been observed to take place with people having higher levels of education. However, although there is a correlation between level of education and the total household income, it is occupation or profession, and not the level of education that plays a more significant role in change in the level of income.
Education does play a significant role in improvement of quality of living. But in the rural areas of Bangladesh, it hardly brings equal changes in all the different parameters of the living standard. For example, there is little variation in changes in the hosing structure depending upon levels of education of the household heads. A large section of the rural population even consider that education actually does not bring change in quality of life. However, this comes out as a summary of responses of the sample population on the question whether they consider education important in bringing change in quality of living. But analysis of changes in living standard of the sample population over the past five years and their level of education shows that there is a significant correlation between the two. People with higher education has attained more improvement in standard of living, while almost half of the illiterate population and one-third of the people with primary education do not see any change in standard of their living. The indication is: whatever has been the improvements in education or in other sectors of socio-economic life in the country, from one-third to half of the rural population remain deprived of the benefits and at the same time, the educated people get some share. This means that education does have a positive impact on the lives of those who can use the access to it and also the access to resources (presumably, through various methods but definitely, using education as one of the important factors).
In addition to the above, many people now realize that education and the certificates, no matter of what level and grade they are, are not enough for employment and subsequent income. Getting a job is more a matter of connections with people enjoying proximity to power or of bribing the decision makers than education and skills. Many even say that, “education has nothing to do with development; money is what one needs”.
One of the reasons why despite some improvements in literacy levels in the country, there is little sign of any take off in development is the failure of the literacy/education system to provide functional literacy and equip learners with clear idea about socially and economically important concepts. Development of a person or his/her meaningful participation in the development of the community and the country depend largely upon how one internalises these concepts and uses them in his/her approach and activities. The sample population could comfortably explain their understanding about some concepts such as prosperity in family life, happiness in family, family planning and drug abuse irrespective of their level of education but most illiterate people or the people with low literacy levels have very poor understanding about concepts such as national economy, means of poverty alleviation, balanced food, or empowerment of women.
The illiterates are the most affected and they do not have a voice. They lack proper understanding of many issues they need to address. Because they are illiterate, they do not have adequate access to much of the information they need and the knowledge they require, often fail to identify what is good for them and what is not, and cannot formulate appropriate arguments in favor of what they deserve or against what is unjustly imposed upon them. Lack of adequate information and the required knowledge often makes it difficult for the uneducated people to identify useful/profitable and feasible ventures, assess funding/credit needs and ensure equal opportunity access to sources of funding for development.
Majority population in the rural areas suffers from widespread illiteracy, obsolete and unproductive technology in their simple production systems, chronic poverty, lack of basic social services and information and the inability to press for their needs and demands. All these factors lead to a growing inequality among the rural people. Being heavily deprived and helpless they often consider that their position is determined by their fate, which they cannot change. Taboos and folk beliefs and practices guide most part of their behavior and the thinking pattern. The children and women are the worst victims of the situation.
Education definitely has a positive impact on agricultural production because it helps understanding the use of improved technology and its application in the field. But education also has a negative impact on agricultural productivity. Money is drained away from the agricultural sector as the peasant families pay for the education of their children from incomes of farming and sometimes, from sale of agricultural land. Sending children to schools implies withdrawal of a significant part of the family labor from agriculture. But, most among those who enter high schools and higher educational institutions start thinking of some job or business outside agriculture and after graduation, a vast majority of them never return to family farms.
Observations suggest that the quality of primary education in the country has been deteriorated because the primary school teachers neither possess the required knowledge and skill for teaching nor they are sincere in their responsibilities. Therefore, it is not possible to transform the ‘bad’ outputs of primary schools into ‘good’ students of the secondary level. The quality of education, especially of the primary level and in rural areas is poor because there is hardly any system of accountability of the teachers, school inspection system is weak and there is practically no follow up mechanism. The schoolteachers are however, paid very low and they have no incentive for taking even the regular care of their students.
Educated people can contribute to the nation and most rural people believe that community has a role to play. It can motivate people to learn and send their children to schools and too often, the development of opportunities for education in an area is more a result of the efforts of individuals or community initiatives than of the implementation of any government program. Local leaders can create an environment that promotes education in the area. Also fortunately, there are many examples that educational institutions are established at the philanthropic initiative of a local rich man or a group, who also finance education of the poor and talented students.
1. Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, Article 15, 17, 23, 28 and 31.
2. Government of Bangladesh, Ministry of Primary and Mass Education, Education for All, National Plan of Action – 2, Dhaka, 2003
3. Rahman A, Contributions of Education in Economic Development: Lessons for Bangladesh from other Asian Countries, Journal of Asiatic Society of Bangladesh, Hum. 38(2), Dhaka 1993.
4. Hussain M, Education and Economic Performance in Rural Bangladesh, Bangladesh Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 9. No. 3, Dhaka 1989
5. Tilak JBG, The Economies of Inequality in Education, Sage Publication, New Delhi, 1987 (reference quoted in 3 above)
6. Ahmed M, The Economics of Non-formal Education: Resources, Costs and Benefits, Praeger Publishers, New York, 1975, pp. 101, 102
7. Hussain M, op. cit.
8. Rahman SMM, Impact of Education on Socio-Economic Development of Rural People of Bangladesh, Final Report, Dhaka, May 2005
9. Mahtab FU, Educational Needs and Basic Education, paper presented in the 8th Bi-annual Conference of Bangladesh Economic Association, Dhaka, July 1988.