The Price of Staying in School

The Price of Staying in School
by Hana Shams Ahmed
[March 16, 2007]

One of the reasons for the high rate of drop out is that there is little interaction between teachers and students.

Thirteen-year-old Tuma has been working at a home in Dhaka for the last three years. When she was eight years old, her parents had enrolled her in a primary school in their home district of Brahmanbaria. She studied there for two years but had to drop out when her sister who worked in Dhaka said that her employer’s relatives were looking for a maid. Her education came to a premature end and that too not for the best of reasons.

It is unfortunate, shocking even, that Tuma is among 48% of primary school students who drop out from the many government and non-government rural schools all across the country. Like Tuma, many come from very poor families, for whom education is not a priority. Families with very low income place more importance on food and shelter, rather than education or healthcare, and thus the alarming rate of untimely dropouts every year.

A report titled ‘Access to education in Bangladesh: Country analytic review of primary and secondary education’ published by the international Consortium for Research on Educational Access, Transitions and Equity (CREATE) along with partner institution Brac University-Institute of Educational Development (BU-IED) revealed these statistics at an official launching recently.

The data was collected from government sources, which never bothered to publicise it, perhaps because it reflects negatively on them. So is poverty the only reason these children, who enthusiastically enrol at schools, lose their motivation so easily? The Director of Campaign for Popular Education (CAMPE), Dr. Rasheda K. Choudhury talks about the frightening trend of dropping out in our country.

“Most of these children are the first-generation of school-goers,” says Choudhury, “so they don’t have the backup support from their parents that they so need. Choudhury thinks that the fact that there is a demand for education is a very positive sign but unfortunately the teachers do not have the orientation to handle the children. She thinks that it is very unfortunate that the teachers are not properly trained to do so. “Although they [the government] do say that 90% of the teachers are trained,” she says, “the whole environment is not child-friendly.”

Undoubtedly, it is very important for every child to get individual attention from the teacher. “But,” says Choudhury, “Even now children are physically punished although you will not find any official data on this.” The use of physical punishment, including beating and caning is still believed to be an effective way of getting pupils’ attention in class in poorly regulated schools in many rural areas. “The parents not only tolerate this, they actually allow the teachers to do that,” she adds, “One father actually said to a teacher once, his (the child’s) bones are mine and the flesh is yours. Do what you have to do to make him human!” Choudhury questions how a physically punished child with no support from parents would ever find interest in education.

“Not only is the teaching-learning process not friendly, but even the textbooks are not child-friendly,” says Choudhury. There are many inexcusable oversights in the primary school textbooks. “If we just take a look at the book for first graders, designed by professional teachers, it has more than 1,600 new words introduced,” she says, “Even in the developed world they don’t introduce more than 500 words at this stage.” Choudhury alleges that the National Curriculum and Textbook Board (NCTB) promised that they would revise the contents of the book but the same book was reprinted this year. “For a child who does not come from an educated background, whose parents don’t have the money to buy oil for their lanterns, you cannot expect them to cope with this pressure,” she retorts.

Textbooks of primary school students are also made unnecessarily difficult or confusing. The word for ‘deer’ is given as ‘mrigo’ instead of ‘horin’. To demonstrate the alphabet ‘khiyo’, there are two examples given side by side ‘rakkhosh’ (monster) and ‘shikkhok’ (teacher). “What image can a child possibly get from that,” questions Choudhury, “Ok, maybe we do have limited funds but is it really necessary to make these books so complicated?”

There are also major limitations in the quality of teaching/learning. Although the National Academy for Primary Education (NAPE) which trains teachers has said that they are modernising their programmes, the results are yet to be seen.

“The contact hour [the interaction time between the learner and the teacher] is the lowest in Bangladesh (around 400). In other countries it is above 1,200,” says Choudhury. “The teacher student ratio is also one of the worst, 1:70 while it should not be more than 1:35 to 1:40. Children lose interest and when parents see that their children are not really learning anything they too lose interest and take them off the schools.”

Ever since Ershad’s Pothokoli Trust days, all the subsequent governments have always underscored their commitment to education for the poor. But hardly have they ever paid attention to the quality of that education. The teacher-student ratio at most schools is appallingly high. So while it might look good in the books to see a high enrolment of students all over the country, it is never reported how many eventually remain and there is a big question mark over what they are actually learning.

It is a child’s basic right to be educated. But in our culture children are not taught to be inquisitive or imaginative. The teaching environment destroys any ounce of analytical power that a child possesses and he/she equates education with fear and intimidation. Moreover, the teacher usually just comes in to the class and reads out aloud from the textbook and students don’t have the chance to draw their own conclusions. Students are ordered to memorise text from the books and read out and write down exactly that. With no parents to encourage them and finding little interest in the monotonous school work, these children, deprived as they are from everything, do the only logical thing, in this case drop out.

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