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Building a strong foundation

  • Published at 07:03 pm March 21st, 2019
A more favourable environment
A more favourable environment / SYED LATIF HOSSAIN

What else can we do to improve child education?

Think about a sapling that has just been planted.

It requires deep care -- sprinkling water, checking soil moisture, removing harmful weeds, and looking out for animals and critters. Such care results in a strong foundation for small plants.

Children are a lot like saplings, which means that they also require deep care. A child’s education is a very important part of his or her future; it is the core which builds the foundation of a future leader, entrepreneur, or any upstanding citizen.

Child education is not usually given enough attention in developing countries, one of them being Bangladesh. From the very early stages of life, children experience a traditional approach to learning, which offers no holistic development, leading to poor performance in the next few years of their education. Thus, the country faces the burden of unskilled manpower.

Primary education in Bangladesh is free for all children. However, quality education remains a goal yet to be achieved. The government of Bangladesh currently spends about 2% of its total GDP on education, which is the second lowest level of spending in South Asia. 

Teachers employed to teach children are not of a very high quality, with statistics showing that more than 40% of government primary school teachers having no university degree.

If we observe the student-to-teacher ratio, it is also horrible. In government primary schools, the average teacher-to-student ratio is 1:50, and in each classroom in rural areas, the average number of children is about 150.

The above-discussed facts and figures are all about children who are able to access education naturally. Moreover, access to education remains a big challenge for some vulnerable groups, which include working children, physically-challenged children, indigenous groups, and children from remote areas suffering from extreme poverty and unfavourable geographical conditions. 

Among those who are living in slums in big cities like Dhaka, only about half can access education, and that too because of the effort of various non-government and voluntary organizations.

The major factors that are acting as barriers for holistic child development are extreme poverty, lack of awareness (particularly with regards to female education), lack of specialized educational facilities for vulnerable groups, lack of skilled and properly educated instructors, and lastly, lack of standard curriculum for child education.

According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), the current rate of extreme poverty in Bangladesh is 12.9%. The members of these families are highly disconnected from the awareness of having education, and not too surprisingly, they are unwilling to send their children to schools, as they think education is expensive. 

Typically, female education is still discouraged in some families, although the rate of female participation in all types of professions is increasing. Many families in Bangladesh still think that girls should not be provided with higher education, and should only contribute to household work.

Vulnerable groups, including physically-challenged children, children from remote and unfavourable geographical locations, drop-outs, working children, and children of indigenous groups lack any sort of special educational care. Physically-challenged children are often considered as a burden for families, and they see no hope to get education. 

Some non-government and voluntary organizations are looking to bring about a positive change. Revolutionary initiatives like boat schools for rural children, BRAC Urban Slums School, children’s learning centres, Unicef’s Education for Out of School Children (OoSC), and Teach for Bangladesh, are making a significant impact to move forward child education in Bangladesh.

Organizations like BRAC, together with EAC (Educate a Child), are working at remote areas that are disaster-prone, to educate using boats. In addition, BRAC Urban Slums School has established 2,000 single-classroom schools in urban slums which provides education to over 62,000 students. 

In the same way, children’s learning centres EAC and Dhaka Ahsania Mission (DAM) through the use of non-formal primary education, has reached more than 40,000 children of numerous districts. Besides all these efforts, other programs are aiming to reduce the number of drop-outs by ensuring access, quality, and efficiency in primary education and providing disadvantaged children an opportunity to complete their primary education. 

However, all these efforts are still minimal compared to the number of students currently not receiving quality education. More effort from the authorities is needed. 

Giving access to scholarships for those under extreme poverty, establishing more innovative and temporary schools in disaster-prone areas, providing school materials free up to a certain level, funding and cooperating with non-government and voluntary organizations, creating accessible educational institutions for physically-challenged children, and motivating communities are some ways to reduce the current rate of drop-outs among children, and pave the way for children in Bangladesh to have better education. 

Jakir Hossan is a freelance contributor.

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