Academic calendar should be reformed in Bangladesh

On March 10, 2009, the 44th president of United States of America (USA) Barack Obama said that his country needed to increase the working days for the schools as they have comparatively fewer working days than schools in other countries. President Obama compared the working days of USA schools with South Korea and said "Our children spend over a month less in school than children in South Korea. That is no way to prepare them for a 21st Century economy."



I do not know if any country has fewer working days than the USA, but it should be informed to you that our Bangladesh has more working days in schools than any other countries in the world as far as I know. In Bangladesh, schools have 280 working days for teaching students out of 365 days in a year, according to the authorized holiday list for the junior-secondary and secondary schools--2019. Initially we may be happy with this, but these 280 days does not mean 280 days; I believe all of you aware of this.

Currently there are two internal examinations in the secondary level which reduce 24 days and test examination (internal examination for SSC examination to make) reduces more 12 days. These three-examination take 36 days from 280 days from the list. In reality, these examinations take not only 36 days, more than 36 days as in the examination period students and teachers, both do not/cannot attend classes.

You all know now that currently students in our country have to face four public examinations before higher education. At the end of grade five, eight, ten and twelve students are taken to Primary Somapanoy, Junior-Secondary, Secondary and Higher Secondary certificate examinations. Secondary School Certificate examination gets started in the first week in the month of February and it lasts until last of the month, sometimes it takes the first week of March. When April comes, Higher Secondary Certificate examination takes place and lasts until mid of the month of May. These two-public examinations cut more than 80 days as it is not possible to run regular classes at many schools.

You may say it is a problem to run regular classes at schools are used as examination centres or venues, rests are free from this; and there has chance to take classes in the exam free days. But the reality does not match with your thinking. Most of the benches are taken to the examination centres and venues from rest institutions to make better and sufficient sitting arrangements for examinees, a special number of teachers from all institutes have to take responsibility of invigilator every day, and this is why it is almost impossible to run regular class activities during public examinations. Persons who work in the sector of education, guardians or parents of learners, must not disagree with me; they are concerned as well.

Weather and climate is one of major issues to discuss to formulate academic year and working days for institutions for a country. Every country or geographical area has different weather and climate diversity, this is why countries from all over the world count their academic year from different suitable times and prepare working days for schools. Academic calendar is counted from September to July in European country England and North American country Canada. It starts from February 1 and continues to December 15 in the south-western Pacific Ocean country New Zealand. In Bangladesh, the academic year starts on the first day and it ends on the last day of the Gregorian calendar since the British period; but it is not clear to us what kind of explanation stays behind it as our neighboring country's Indian calendar is July-May.

There are six seasons in a year in Bangladesh, everyone knows this. Months of January, February, March, April, November and December are comparatively more suitable to keep students in classrooms and other months are not totally in favour of us as weather conditions treat well and strokes of natural disasters like storm, rain, flood and tidal waves are always there. Maybe students in cities and towns are not fallen down in trouble, but the situation is very opposite to rural students. In the time of rain (during fall or other seasons), working days of schools in rural area just like vacation or holidays.

I know some primary and secondary schools where students do not get enough space and number of benches to make them part in classes normally. I studied at two secondary schools at Bauphal Upazila of Patuakhali District, sometimes I had to participate in my classes in shabby rooms with no bench in both schools, and one of the two schools has only a six-room tin shade house. Like this, there are a lot of schools having no proper spaces and structure. Can you imagine how students take part in their regular classes? In shabby schools in the rainy season, students get wet in rain water; in the summer, they have to endure heavy temperatures. Do you think it is possible to run classes properly for the countryside schools in these times?

It should be noted-in the solid time for teaching-learning in classrooms, teachers and students have to manage busy schedule of co-curricular activities or examinations. And during hostile weather, we found the academic calendar remains fulfilled with working days. Academic year or session in primary and secondary sectors starts on the first day of January, when co-curricular activities keep most learners busy.

We cannot get more than 365 days in an academic calendar, but if the authority counts sessions for primary and secondary level from the mid of Gregorian calendar in lieu of 'first day to last day' in a year, comparatively better times will not be lost to co-curricular activities or examinations. Educationists or education experts and teachers have recommendations on this issue. A seminar was held on the said amendment at Government Teachers' Training College, Dhaka.

I ask the policy makers whether the length of public examination will be shortened. Researchers of education agree if the questionnaire method is truly creative, then there is no need for a 3 hours' test largely. If SSC and HSC are taken on the same day by maintaining a morning-evening shift, it will be better for working days in schools. It will be more effective if the authority and policy makers emphasize formative assessment.

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