Building for Inclusion – BRAC, Bangladesh
Bangladesh is on the verge of celebrating thirty years of independence. We can say with confidence that substantial progress has been made in expanding primary education. Net enrolment in the formal education system is now 85%, it was 55% in 1985. But it has not been easy. A huge population, gender discrimination, abject poverty, environmental and natural disasters resulting from floods, high child and maternal mortality are some of the major obstacles to progress. This article explores the lessons to be learnt for inclusion from the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC)’s Non-Formal Primary Education Programme (NFPE).
A special feature of the primary school system in Bangladesh is the presence of a large number of NGO and community managed schools. Around 40% of primary school age children are enrolled in schools managed by non-governmental organisations (NGOs), religious bodies and community organisations. NGO schools are partially financed by the government to cover some of the cost of teachers’ salaries. These schools are especially recognized for their innovative approaches to teaching and classroom instruction and for providing education to the poorest section of the community.
The Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) is today one of the largest NGOs working in primary education. BRAC’s work began in 1972 with the resettlement of refugees in the Sylhet district, following Bangladesh’s independence in 1971, and since then has focused its efforts on poverty alleviation. BRAC’s Non-Formal Primary Education Programme (NFPE) was conceived in 1984 in response to the question, “What about our children?” posed by a member of a Village Organisation. The education programme was launched in 1985 with just 22 pilot schools. Now it has expanded to over 40,000 schools, with an enrollment of over one million children.
NFPE’s objectives are to reduce mass illiteracy; contribute to the basic education of children, especially those from the poorest families; promote the participation of girls in education; and support the government’s universal primary education programme.
At present, more children than ever are coming into the safety net of Education for All – both in formal and non-formal systems of education. The enrollment rate of girls is now the same as boys.
Most BRAC schools are situated in the centre of villages. The timing of lessons is determined by parents and teachers. Lessons may start as early as six in the morning or as late as ten. Some schools have two shifts per day, depending on the number of students in the area. These flexible schedules ensure that BRAC schools are compatible with rural life. Most teachers are recruited locally. They are required to have completed 9 years of schooling and are given a 15 day training course, supplemented by monthly in-service training. The community is involved in agreeing school timetables, choosing a site for the school and in providing labour and materials to build classrooms.
The schools’ teaching methods and classroom practices are learner-centered and participatory. Physical exercises, singing, dancing, drawing, crafts, games and story telling are integrated into the curriculum. The pupils’ interest is guaranteed and high attendance levels are maintained.
BRAC runs 2 types of school. One provides education for children who have never attended primary school. The other offers a course for older children who have dropped out of government primary schools. After completing BRAC courses children are able to continue their education by enrolling in formal primary schools at the appropriate level.
If education is for all, and teachers and schools are to develop more inclusive practices, we need to ask some important questions. Have all children in the class learnt something? What and how have they learnt? Have they learnt by rote or by exploring the subject’s many mysteries? Does the class sit in forced discipline or does it have an informal organization? Is the teacher feared or is s/he an object of all the children’s affection? In BRAC schools these questions have been answered positively.
BRAC’s work demonstrates what is possible when education systems are adapted to local needs. The government has worked closely with BRAC on the scheme to get older children back into school and is now adopting many of the curriculum and teacher-training ideas pioneered by BRAC. Links between the formal and non-formal education system need to continue to be more firmly established. The rigid approach of the formal system has a great deal to learn from the innovative approach of non-formal education, which is more child-centered and emphasises active learning. These links will water the seeds of inclusive education in Bangladesh.
Anupam is a Resource Person for UNESCO on the use of the Teacher Education Resource Pack. She can be contacted at: A-59 Malviya Nagar, New Delhi 17, India. Email: email@example.com
BRAC’s address is: 356 Mohakhali C/A, Dhaka 1212, Bangladesh.