A narrow muddy road slithers up to a modestly high hill. During rainy season, the roads become more slippery and it takes a minimum of 15 minutes to reach the heart of the hill's village from the main road. Here Jobyer, Ayaz, Rofiul and the other kids reside with their parents. The name of this village, where these little children live, is Borochara in Cox's Bazar. The children living in this unassuming place dream of a bright future. Some want to be doctors, some aspire to work in law enforcement.
Mohammad Jobyer is one of these kids. He aspires to be an artist one day. Jobyer never misses his classes. To pursue his dream he enrolled in a local school. As luck would have it, the school provides education only up to class three. Jobyer's education had to stop there. Jobyer and his parents were worried. Where would he go to school now? The closest primary school is four hours walk away. And any means of travel other than walking is not an option, his family cannot afford to pay extra money for transport.
The first step to build a nation or a country is supporting the education of the next generation from the earliest. Of course, fundamental moral education starts from the family, but, formal education is also necessary. Ensuring that every child has access to education no matter where they live and which social class they belong to, is the most rudimentary element to building an educated society.
The government of Bangladesh holds a firm stance of fulfilling the objectives of education for all. The prime objectives of the Primary Education Development Programme-3, under the Primary and Mass Education Ministry, is enrolling all primary school-aged children in the primary level educational institutions and complete the primary cycle by 2016.
More than one lac government primary schools, together with non registered primary, community based, NGO run schools are functioning all over the country to achieve this goal together. However, the percentage of children not attending or unable to attend school across the country is still at 3.1%. What are the reasons?
To make it possible for each children to at least complete primary education, the government has come up with programmes like stipends, school feeding and free books distribution projects at schools. Despite all these facilities, however, a lot of students cannot afford the cost of maintaining their school life. According to Education for All 2015 National Review, the drop-out rate in primary education currently stands at 4.3 percent.
One of the main reasons behind the drop-out is limited schooling opportunities for some specific groups such as working children, disabled children, indigenous children. For children living in remote areas or living in extreme poverty the problem is naturally more pressing.
There are a lot of disaster prone rural areas which are still hard to reach and the closest schools from those areas are still very far. This affects the primary school goers most severely.
This is where the Shikhon programme of Save the Children International (SCI) comes in. They aim to provide schooling for the vulnerable and hard to reach children around the country. Children living in conditions of extreme poverty in remote and disaster prone rural coastal areas, river islands and hoars (wetlands) among 160,400 hard to reach children in rural areas of Bangladesh are gaining Non-formal Primary Education (NFPE) from Grade I to Grade V through this programme. The SCI has established early primary education (EPE) schools from pre-primary to Grade II. Funded by the European Union and Chevron, the program is being implemented through three partner organizations: Community Development Centre (CODEC), RDRS Bangladesh and The Village Education Resource Center (VERC). The programme currently covers 2582 villages, 387 unions, 63 Upazilas, 17 districts in 5 divisions of Bangladesh. From the northern part to north-east to extreme South-East, thousands of hard to reach children are benefiting from this initiative.
Hope at last
Now let's go back to Jobyer's story. Having learned about the presence of Shikhon on the hill where they live, Jobyer, together with his friends joined the school at class four to complete their primary education. Now they don’t have to worry about the cost of transport. But there is more. All kinds of stationary, including exercise books, pencils, pens are also provided to them free of cost. Jobyer and all of his friends are now preparing for the Primary School Certificate test.
Having full support, community people are lending their hand to help the initiative with Save the Children and the partner organisations. Teachers, chosen from the community and trained each year on the new syllabus by the partner organisations, employ lots of creative methods to make the learning a fun experience. Lots of colourful posters on the theme of the national anthem, Bengali idioms, usage of double consonant in words, list of students name with parents and their contact number and many more can be seen across the class room. To maximize creative thinking many different books are provided to the students at the Shikhon schools.
The schools prioritise group learning. Fast learners take on teaching duties to help the slow learner in the group study setting. It is a true community learning environment. In addition to providing teaching guide books to the teachers, the students also get a teaching instructional book titled 'Shikhon Shohaika (teaching guide).
Mohammad Abu Shamin, the assistant upazila education officer, Cox's Bazar, agrees that the education policy employed here is good and he would like to apply these methods in a few government owned pre-primary schools.
However, after the completion of the NFPE or EPE, the SCI programme will also make sure that these kids are enrolled in the nearest high school or primary school. Appreciating almost 100 percent attendance and 97 percent pass in PSC in Shikhon schools, the education officer said, “government schools are very eager to have these children admitted for further education.”
Amina, a guardian said, “my son is studying at the Shikhon school. At the end of this year he will sit for the PSC exam. Now I'm a little anxious because Shikhon doesn't provide further education. The closest government school is located almost five miles away. To send my son off to school from my home I need 60 taka each day, which I cannot afford since my husband earns very little as a lumberjack.”
Amina, along with other guardians pleas to expand the schooling under the SCI up to class 8, so that their children can continue education. Because, like Amina, many other parents are incapable of bearing the additional expanses.