Sumalya’s Bright Future
Kieran Roberts is Director of The No Barriers Foundation and co-ordinates our projects in Bangladesh. This is his summary of our work in Bangladesh in 2017.
For many reasons, 2017 has been a difficult year for Bangladesh. The country has been ravaged by floods but news of this has been overshadowed. Even in Dhaka, the Bangladesh capital, English-language newspapers covered events from Houston on their front pages but Bangladesh has faced its worst floods in a century. As Tom Bamforth wrote in the Guardian:
“As the chopper soared above the sprawling traffic jams of Dhaka, the extent of the recent monsoon floods became immediately clear. In every direction, it was hard to find any dry land. For 45 minutes as I flew north with the Red Cross disaster assessment team, I saw nothing but the silvery tint of floodwaters swamping crops and houses. Occasionally, we spotted the odd isolated village above the waterline.”
Over 100,000 homes are estimated to be ruined and over 8 million people have been affected. Education remains a problem in Bangladesh, a problem only compounded by these events.
Although there are challenges, Bangladesh has made remarkable gains over the past two decades by ensuring access to education, especially at the primary level and for girls. The country’s net enrollment rate at the primary school level increased from 80 percent in 2000 to 98 percent in 2015, but secondary school net enrollment is still only around 54 percent, up from 45 percent in 2000. The percentage of children completing primary school is close to 80 percent which shows there is still a lot of work to be done.
It’s easy to look at statistics, particularly 98% enrollment at primary, and become complacent. Is the problem solved if children are staying in primary school? Is the teaching effective enough to equip them with the skills they will need in later life? National learning assessments conducted by the Government of Bangladesh show poor literacy and numeracy skills among students – only 25 percent to 44 percent of the students in grades 5 through 8 have mastery over Bangla, English and maths, and performance on these measures is especially low among poor students.
The No Barriers Foundation has now worked in Bangladesh for nearly two years and although these figures start to form an image of education in Bangladesh, the country is so much more than this. As Jean Houston said:
“Bangladesh is a world of metaphor, of high and low theatre, of great poetry and music. You talk to a rice farmer and you find a poet. You get to know a sweeper of the streets and you find a remarkable singer.”
Our partners in Bangladesh are a locally based education charity called Agami. Agami is made up of ambitious, talented teachers and their schools are filled with enthusiastic children who are eager to learn. We have worked together on our ‘Ready to Read’ initiative which has been piloted by our outstanding teacher, Israt Sharmin. Most of the pupils we work with live in inner city slums around Dhaka but through 2017 we have been improving their education and opportunities on a daily basis.
Whilst we have delivered the Bangladesh curriculum, we have not just used the traditional, worn text books. We have devised new resources to engage the children and we have introduced a host of new games which teach vocabulary in a more exciting way.
Internet access has been installed in our pilot school allowing the teachers to show the children videos and images; we are all visual learners so the importance of this cannot be overstated. This has also allowed us to teach the children new songs to embed certain phrases in English.
Alongside the ‘English for Today’ curriculum, we have placed a strong focus on literacy and early reading skills. We have taught phonics for the first time in these schools and to complement this, we sent over 1000 books for the children to explore and practise their phonics skills. This phonics teaching has been reinforced through frequent use of flashcards and our teacher in Bangladesh has developed her own phonics resources based on effective practice. We believe our teaching methods are effective but our results show it:
When the issue of education in developing countries is discussed, it’s usually in terms of statistics and national trends and the figures are vast. In doing so, it’s easy to forget the individuals behind the numbers and their own unique circumstances. We haven’t done that in Bangladesh. Like in any class, children attain knowledge at a different rate and their personal circumstances have an enormous impact on this. For children living in slums, sometimes they may not have access to clean drinking water. If a frail bamboo bridge collapses because of heavy rain, they don’t have access to school for days, maybe weeks. That’s why for any children falling behind we have ran after school ‘booster’ classes to review any topics or deliver more personalised teaching. The children aren’t statistics; they’re individuals who have been born with fewer opportunities than most but we will continue to do everything we can to make up for it.
I have absolutely no doubt that every child in the slums around Dhaka has dreams and ambitions which stretch beyond what life has granted them so far. Not all of those children go to school yet (we’re working on it) but for the ones that do, those dreams become more attainable.
Sumalya, one of the students in our partner schools, wanted to write a letter to us to say thank you for the books her school received from The No Barriers Foundation. Sumalya wants to be a teacher and her education has made her believe that her future is bright. Sumalya, we agree.