By Chris Niles
NEW YORK, USA, 12 December 2011—Mohammad Azizul Islam, 28, is a trader in Chinipara, in the remote Rangpur region of Bangladesh. As a landless man, he has very few opportunities to make a living.
He wants his pre-school aged daughter, Akhimoni, to be educated and have a profession. Among his chief concerns is how he will pay for it.
At the moment, however, she is receiving an education. Once a week, she and another friend meet for classes that involve learning rhymes, counting and the alphabet.
“We study, play and do rhymes like ‘head and shoulders’ and ‘one little finger’,” Akhimoni said.
Stepping onto the education ladder
Pre-school is a luxury in most of Bangladesh, where fewer than 23 per cent of children aged 3 to 5 receive any type of early childhood education.
Chinipara is no exception.
“We live in a remote area. We have a lot of poverty here. All the students are children of day labourers and farmers,” Chinipara Primary School assistant teacher Sarkar Faruk Shana.
For Mr. Islam, the chance to see his daughter step onto the education ladder, even before primary school, is very satisfying.
“When I was a child I had wanted to study,” he said. “In 1985, there was a drought in this area, and since we were poor I had to start working in the fields at a young age.”
A child-to-child approach
Ahkimoni’s facilitator at the school is not much older than she is; Liton is only 10. She is part of an innovative new UNICEF-supported programme that aims to prepare children, emotionally and academically, to go to primary school.
Called ‘Getting Ready for School: a Child-to-Child Approach‘, the pilot programme was launched in several countries in 2007. Its goal is to provide supplementary and cost-effective early learning to the most vulnerable.
The programme builds on the natural phenomenon of younger children learning from older children.
In March 2010, it came to 30 schools across Bangladesh selected for their high dropout and low school completion rates.
The programme is simple, cost effective and its benefits extend not just to the pre-schoolers. The facilitators also improve in their studies and find their increased responsibility earns them greater respect.
Chinipara School has 15 facilitators and 30 teachers. The children who participate in the programme –– both students and facilitators – demonstrate a marked improvement over those who do not.
“At the moment we’re seeing that they are coming to school regularly, participating well in class and not dropping out. I believe this is a major achievement,” said Bangladesh’s Director General of Primary Education Shyamal Kanti Ghosh.
“Students who were facilitators in 2010 have moved forward a lot,” added Ms. Shana. “Their reading and their maths have advanced. I’m happy about that.”
Bangladesh is planning to expand the programme 30 schools at a time.
“The most important thing for this innovation is that it’s less costly. And it is community based, so everybody can see the changes. And the attachment of the teachers to the process is very strong,” said UNICEF Early Childhood Development Specialist Mohammad Mohsin.
The benefits of the programme are also very evident to Mr. Islam, who hopes that getting Akhimoni a good start for her education means that she will somehow, against the odds, be able to have opportunities that he was denied.
“I hope that Akhi will grow up educated. I hope to see her become a doctor. But I don’t know how to make it happen. I’m poor, how will I pay for her studies? I have hope but just hope isn’t enough,” he said.