Besides climate change, growing inequality is perhaps the major challenge the world must address in the coming decades. Like many countries, inequality in Bangladesh is widening reaching Gini-coefficient at 0.483 in 2015 from 0.453 in 2000 according to BBS; where 1 indicates perfect inequality and 0 indicates perfect equality. Disproving numerous myths, the economy of Bangladesh has been soaring. Concurrently, the extent of inequality is expanding staggeringly.
Many studies prove that inequality may be, on balance, beneficial for a certain phase of development, while harmful to growth during another period. Moreover, growing inequality in a country is the root cause of exacerbating conflict, crime, social and political instability.
One hypothesis of this notion is that income inequality boosts economic growth by channeling resources towards well-off households who possess higher saving propensities. Another is the credit market imperfection approach, which illustrates that inequality reduces economic growth by impeding access to student loans and other forms of financing human capital.
The “trickle down” theory (that development of upper classes would benefit the rest of society) and “Kuznets” curve (inequality should increase during the early stages of development because of urbanization and industrialization and decrease later) has proved unable to bring significant change in development thinking.
Now, perhaps, we can move towards Indian Nobel Laureate's Amartya Sen’s approach which shows an explicit link between education and development, where poverty is the deprivation of the ability to live a good life. If a person were to be provided with opportunity and access to the resources that build his capacity to earn a better life, then poverty will no longer exist. Quality education and vocational training at an affordable cost allow a person to increase his income.
Economist Thomas Piketty rightly argued that knowledge and skill diffusion is the key to comprehensive productivity growth and reduction of inequality both within and between countries. Like many others, he said when a country experiences a transition from an agrarian to an industrial economy, it requires more skilled labor to perform technology-based functions. Thus industrialists have direct economic incentives to invest in education that would foster human capital formation. Consequently, labour’s share of income will rise as capital’s share falls. Here, the main force in favour of greater equality has been the diffusion of knowledge and skills.
Policies, therefore, intended to promote growth should not only take into account the level but also the distribution of education, allowing access to formal education to a wider section of people.
The government has always highlighted issues of development and GDP growth denying other indicators of the economy such as inequality, unemployment, and low wages. Infrastructural development has been given utmost attention while non-infrastructural investment such as social spending, particularly in education and health, has been sidelined.
It successfully secured a massive victory in the last polls, drawing people’s attention to many mega projects which are underway. Bangladesh remains among the countries with lowest allocation for education, never exceeding 2.5% of GDP, despite commitments for 6% allocation. A large chunk of this allocation goes to pay for teachers’ salaries and basic infrastructure, while research and development remain secondary.
There is an old saying, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime”. If a person is capable of earning a living by himself, then need for varied forms of allowances will decrease. So, both the quantity and quality of education should be a concern while formulating policy.
Bangladesh has been remarkably successful in increasing school enrollment. But, according to the annual education survey-2017 of the Bangladesh Bureau of Educational Information and Statistics, the drop-out rate has remained static, at 37.81 at the secondary level and 19.89 at the higher secondary level. Low family income and poverty is at the crux of this problem.
Moreover, high enrollment rate doesn’t produce human capital as it reduces quality education in a developing country like Bangladesh, which has failed to cope with growing demands of the education sector, like efficient and sufficient number of teachers, infrastructure, material and impart quality education that results in cognitive skills, rather than promotion to the next grade.
Bangladesh is confronting the dilemma of the dearth of skilled manpower and higher unemployment rates. There is no alternative but education to address this gap.
According to the Bangladesh labour force survey 2016-17, the proportion of people aged 15 or older who have no education is 30.6 percent; 22.3 percent completed primary education, 35.0 percent secondary education, 7.5 percent higher secondary and only 4.2 percent have completed tertiary education. On the other hand, only 1.7 percent have received vocational training while 98.3 percent remain untouched. This demonstrates the status of the workforce. The person with less education and skill ends up earning merely hand to mouth, leaving nothing to save, thus becoming incapable of investing for his offspring to get a quality education.
As Bangladesh embarks on a journey towards becoming a developed nation, it must consider some options. Economists have sounded alarms that the world is on the brink of another economic recession. If the country becomes rich in human resources, we can survive a recession.
Therefore, income redistribution has become the development practitioner’s dominant interest. But their resolution is constrained by political decisions every time. Because politics is controlled by powerful business tycoons who turn a blind eye to these issues. But we are upbeat that the future of education will be revolutionized under a competent leadership.
(The writer is an undergraduate student at Dhaka University’s Institute of Social Welfare and Research. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)