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Innovations in Primary Education in Bangladesh

A. M. Sharafuddin

Bangladesh is generally known for its high population density (over 800 persons per square kilometre), high population growth rate (1.8 per cent per annum), endemic poverty (per capita GNP about $ 240) and high rate of adult illiteracy (58 per cent). However, in recent years some innovative programmes of basic education have been initiated in the country to tackle the overwhelming problem of illiteracy.

Agriculture is the mainstay of the economy of Bangladesh, and 80 per cent of around 120 million people live in 86,000 villages. The population is basically rural, but urbanisation is growing at the rate of 5 per cent per annum, which is almost three times the population growth rate. The main reason for the high rate of urbanisation is the shifting of the rural population to the cities in search of jobs, creating a large number of slums in urban centres.

The impact of the Jomtien World Conference on Education for All (WCEFA) held in March 1990, which promoted an expanded vision of basic education with the aim of meeting the basic learning needs of all children, youths and adults, has been felt in Bangladesh. As a result, a Compulsory Primary Education Act was passed in 1990 and, in January 1992, the government launched the Compulsory Primary Education (CPE) programme in 68 out of 460 thanas in the country. This programme has been extended nation-wide since January 1993. About the same time, in 1992, the government made rural primary education free for girls up to grade 8, and a new Primary and Mass Education Division (PMED) was created under the Prime Minister’s Secretariat to strengthen the management of primary education and non-formal education programmes.

The national EFA programme was officially launched in March 1992. A project called Expansion of Integrated Non-formal Education Programme (INFEP) was also initiated; this has recently been upgraded into the Directorate of Non-formal Education. In 1993 the government launched the ‘Food and Education’ programme, designed to improve enrolment and class attendance and reduce drop-outs. For qualitative improvement in the primary education sector, several new programmes have been introduced such as (a) a curriculum dissemination programme for teachers, (b) cluster and sub-cluster training programmes, (c) continuous pupil assessment, and (d) a satellite school programme.

Non-formal Education Programmes

In the 1980s a number of NGOs began to see the need for initiating programmes of basic education in support of their poverty alleviation activities. An important result of the Jomtien WCEFA has been that several NGOs have identified education as a priority sector for their areas of operation. Many of them have significantly expanded their education programmes over the last few years.

The NGOs realised that educating the whole nation would require a massive effort and close collaboration between them and the other progressive forces. Consequently, in 1990 a coalition of the mainstream NGOs having major education programmes was formed under the title ‘Gono Shakkharata Ovijan’ (Campaign for Popular Education — CAMPE). The aim was to foster cooperation among the NGOs, the government and civil society in developing a mass movement encompassing both formal and non-formal programmes in order to eradicate illiteracy.

Currently more than 400 NGOs are involved in non-formal education programmes in Bangladesh. In 1994, these had more than 2.6 million enrolled in about 73,000 centres. Of those enrolled, at least 1.4 million were primary-age children (63 per cent of them girls), over 0.4 million were adolescents (65 per cent girls), and about 0.8 million were adults (80 per cent women).

In the EFA National Plan of Action, the government set the target of raising gross primary enrolment from 76 per cent in 1991 to 95 per cent by the year 2000, the completion rate from 40 per cent to 70 per cent, and the adult literacy rate from 35 per cent to 62 per cent. It is being claimed that already considerable progress has been achieved in realising these targets: gross primary enrolment has reached 92 per cent, completion rate 60 per cent and adult literacy rate 42 per cent.

Innovations in Primary Education

In view of the large number of children and adults who remain uncovered by present educational programmes, it is felt that some innovations are needed in primary education to provide quality education at low cost which would ensure high attendance and retention as well as a high rate of success. Several innovative programmes have been initiated in primary education by both governmental and non-governmental agencies to achieve these aims. Generally, the major characteristics of an innovative programme are that it should (a) be based on direct experience and practice; (b) be cost effective; (c) show easily verifiable results; (d) have interdependence within its subsystems; (e) have in-built mechanisms for measuring achievement; (f) have simple but effective management; and (g) create a strong team spirit among the members of the programme. Based on these criteria, some of the more prominent and successful innovative programmes in the field of primary education in Bangladesh are as follows:

  1. BRAC Non-Formal Primary Education Programme: The Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) has developed this programme. This caters to children 8-10 years of age who could not get admission in formal primary schools. Thus the learners are older children who never attended school. The programme covers grades 1-3.

  2. GSS Primary Education Programme: This programme has been initiated by the Gono Shahajjo Shangstha (GSS). Children who could not get admission in formal primary schools are enrolled in these schools. The children are taught up to grade 3, which is now being extended to grade 5. Classes are generally held in brick schoolhouses built by GSS.

  3. CMES Technology School: The Centre for Mass Education in Science (CMES), a science- and technology-oriented NGO, has initiated this programme. In grades 1-2, pupils are provided general education; in grades 4-5, some science lessons are included covering environment, popular science and technology. The aim is to make people conscious of the importance and impact of science education in real life.

  4. Government Satellite School Programme: Under this programme, ‘feeder schools’ are set up within the catchment areas of the formal primary schools so that small out-of-school children who are unable to walk a long distance can receive early education in grades 1-2. The aim is to bring school facilities near the homes of poor children, especially girls, to ensure school attendance. Teaching is done by a couple of volunteer women teachers who get a small honorarium. The schools are run entirely by the local communities.

  5. Dhaka Ahsania Mission Alternative Primary School Programme: Children of 6-8 years are the target group. The course duration is 27 months with 3 grades, each of 9 months. The school premises are provided by the local community.

  6. UCEP School: The Under-privileged Children’s Programme School is a specialised programme designed for working children in the age group 6-14 years. The duration of this programme is 7 years. It is a mixture of general and technical education.

  7. Terre Des Hommes (TDH) Street Children Programme: Children aged 8-10 years who work at railway stations, bus and launch terminals, etc., are the target groups of this programme. Such children are assembled for teaching under the sheds of railway stations or bus and launch terminals with the help of local authorities including the police. BRAC curriculum and materials are used.

Many of these programmes have shown that even with very limited facilities, through better design of materials, improved teaching methods, and better management and supervision, schools can be made highly attractive to children so that drop-outs and absenteeism are almost totally eliminated. The details of some of these programmes are given here.

Models of Non-Formal Primary Education

(A) The BRAC model: nation-wide NFPE coverage

BRAC was one of the first NGOs to have started large-scale programmes of non-formal primary education in Bangladesh. While BRAC started as a relief and development agency for the rural poor in 1973, its education programme began with only 22 experimental schools in 1985. Today its NFPE programme is by far the largest single non-government primary education programme in Bangladesh, currently with more than 30,000 schools and about a million pupils. More than 90 per cent of the children who start in BRAC schools graduate, and a large proportion of the NFPE programme graduates are admitted into grade 4 or higher of the government school system.

BRAC organises two types of schools: three-year NFPE schools for 8-10-year-olds who have never attended school; and two-year Kishor-Kishori (KK) schools for 11-16-year-olds who have dropped out of primary school and are unlikely to return. The major components of the NFPE programme are the following:

Pupils: A school consists of 33 children, 72 per cent of whom are girls living in rural areas, within about a two-kilometre radius of the school. For the most part, pupils come from relatively disadvantaged homes, their families being landless or owning only their homesteads.

Teachers: Teachers are generally married adults, 95 per cent women, who have completed nine or more years of education and live within easy walking distance of the school. The teachers are hired on a temporary, part-time basis and are paid modest wages. There is one teacher for every 33 pupils. Teacher training includes 12 days of initial training at a residential BRAC training centre and one-day or two-day refresher training sessions each month conducted by BRAC staff at a BRAC office near the teacher’s school. Weekly visits from BRAC field workers provide regular feedback.

Parents: The parents of most BRAC school pupils are illiterate and are usually the most socio-economically disadvantaged in their villages. Parents pay no fees for the schooling, apart from replacing broken slateboards and worn mats; BRAC provides all pupil and teacher supplies — pencils, notebooks, textbooks, teacher manuals, slateboards, chalk, etc. Prior to the opening of a new school, parents and BRAC staff meet several times. Parents must pledge to attend monthly meetings and to send their children to school each day.

Schedule: The NFPE instructional programme is presented in three-year cycles. The school is in session for 2½ to 3 hours a day, six days per week, 268 days per year, at a time of day selected by the parents. The group of 33 pupils is enrolled at the beginning of the programme and advances together through the programme. At the end of the programme, the school begins another three-year cycle if there are enough eligible children in the community.

Instructional site: Instruction is provided in one-room premises rented for just three hours per day. These rooms generally have bamboo and mud walls, an earthen floor, a tin roof, and a blackboard. The children sit on the floor on bamboo mats, holding their slateboards on their knees. The teacher has a stool and a metal trunk that serves as a desk as well as a supply cabinet.

Curriculum: The curriculum for both NFPE and KK schools, consisting of Bangla, social science and mathematics, has developed over a period of years and has been revised several times. The material covered is roughly equivalent to grades 1-3 in the formal school system. Since the formal school system requires English, the NFPE schools include English in their curriculum during the third year so that children who want to join formal schools later are well prepared.

BRAC’s ability to implement all the necessary elements of a targeted basic education programme derives largely from its expertise in development management. In terms of development, since its creation 20 years ago BRAC has designed surveys that help it develop and target its programmes for the most disadvantaged rural families. BRAC also has developed ways to encourage these families to participate in the decisions that most affect programme implementation.

Cost efficiency: Independent cost studies have confirmed BRAC costs for schooling (about Tk.800 or US $20 per annum) as roughly equal to the government’s formal schooling, without considering the extra private costs that make the formal schools more expensive and lead to high drop-out and low enrolment rates in the formal schools. In addition, unlike the formal school system, which allocates most of its resources to teachers’ salaries and school facilities, BRAC allocates almost 30 per cent of the NFPE programme budget to management and supervision. Only 29 per cent is allocated to salaries and 6 per cent to rent school space.

BRAC pupils achieve as much as or more than formal school pupils. BRAC pupils complete the NFPE programme and enter the formal grade 4 at a higher rate than do formal school pupils. BRAC pupils score as much as or better than formal school pupils in basic education assessment and basic literacy tests.

Even when annual costs per enrolled pupil in BRAC and the formal school system are approximately equal, the relatively higher attendance rates, lower repetition rates, higher grade 3 completion rates, and higher grade 4 continuation rates for BRAC pupils mean that BRAC schools are substantially more cost efficient per graduate than the government’s formal schools.

Instructional schedule: BRAC schools meet for 2½ hours per day for 268 days in a year. School is held six days a week and the school hours are flexible, depending on the convenience of the parents. The school schedule allows for a short vacation, which is determined jointly by parents and teachers. Teacher absences are quite low. Because of the relatively low pupil-teacher ratio, teachers require little time to take roll and no time is wasted moving from one grade to another. In addition, BRAC teachers assign little homework and consequently spend a minimum of class time on it.

By contrast, government schools operate 220 days a year for one or two hours, two or three hours shifts per day. In addition, teachers may have as many as 100 pupils in a classroom, at least tripling the amount of time allocated to simply taking roll. Because most of BRAC’s classroom time is allocated to instruction, the estimated annual range of actual instruction is between 670 and 804 hours.

Instructional site: BRAC schools operate in rented one-room premises at least 240 square feet in size. BRAC rents these buildings for less than US$5 per month. Pupils sit on woven mats on a mud floor in a ‘U’ shape, with a blackboard and teaching aids at the front of the classroom. Neither the teacher nor the pupils have desks. All books and stationery are supplied by BRAC.

The distance from home to school for BRAC pupils ranges from less than 1 km to 2.5 km. In comparison, the average catchment area for government schools is about 3.2 km, with distances somewhat greater in remote rural areas. Because of this proximity children lose less time in travel to and from school. Especially for girls, this is considered relatively safe. Also, parents are able to monitor what happens inside the schoolroom, how their children are treated, and whether they are happy and busy.

Classroom environment: The 33 pupils that comprise a BRAC school move through three years of course-work as a group. One teacher leads the group. This pupil-teacher ratio is very low in comparison to the government primary schools, where the average pupil-teacher ratio is 65:1. Pupils are often divided into small working groups in which the quicker pupils help the slower ones and all pupils move together through the lessons at the same pace. BRAC materials stress a basically child-centred approach to learning. Instruction in the core subjects is broken up with co-curricular activities, sometimes for as little as five minutes between subjects.

Curriculum and materials: The NFPE’s instructional materials have gone through several phases of revision, sometimes with assistance from the Institute for Education and Research of the University of Dhaka and several outside consultants. The curriculum originally covered three subjects: Bangla, maths and social science. By 1987 it was clear that many of the NFPE programme graduates planned to continue in government schools, and the BRAC curriculum was modified to incorporate English and religious instruction, required subjects in government schools.

The current BRAC curriculum spans grades 1-3 and includes Bangla, mathematics, social studies and English with an emphasis on the practical health and social issues that are likely to be encountered by a typical BRAC pupil. Class time is allocated in the following segments: Bangla (25 minutes reading and 25 minutes writing); mathematics (35 minutes); social studies (25 minutes); and two 20-minute co-curricular activities, which include physical exercise, field trips, singing and dancing. English is added to the schedule in grade 2.

The BRAC curriculum addresses significantly fewer objectives than does the government’s primary curriculum, particularly in languages and mathematics. Such a lean curriculum may be a contributing factor to be programme’s success. A curriculum that addresses fewer topics allows teachers to cover them at a deeper level than if the teacher is responsible for covering many topics. BRAC’s simplified curriculum is effectively implemented, whereas the more comprehensive government curriculum is not fully implemented in most formal primary schools.

The materials are carefully sequenced, segmented into short, discrete lessons, and attractively printed in small, non-threatening booklets (as opposed to larger books that can overwhelm young learners). There is one reading primer for the eight-week preparatory phase (this pase is only two weeks for older pupils), one reading booklet and one maths booklet for each of the three primary grades, and one social studies booklet for each of grades 2 and 3. Concrete examples from everyday life are used throughout the booklets, especially in the social studies materials.

B. The GSS model: independent readers and writers

GSS, a leading NGO of the country, was set up in 1983, aiming at the empowerment of the rural and urban poor. It started its activities by organising and mobilising agricultural labourers of fourteen villages of Khulna district in south-western Bangladesh. Over time it has grown into a national-level NGO which has development intervention in 16 out of the 64 districts of Bangladesh, covering over 450,000 households. GSS joined the private sector effort for promoting basic education in mid-1987 with the first education centre in a village. Since then its educational programme has been expanded to about 250 centres for both rural and urban children.

A major emphasis of the GSS is on the education of slum children. The urban population is expanding fast. It is estimated that in the capital city, Dhaka, as much as 40 per cent of the 8 million population are slum dwellers. The slums lack in such basic facilities as sewerage, drinking water, education and health care. They also have very high housing density (6-8 members in a room of 42 sq ft). According to a study by the Centre for Urban Studies of the University of Dhaka, only 9.4 per cent of the households in the slums have primary schools within their reach. Also, the existing educational system is not suitable for slum children because they have to work for their livelihood. The curriculum content has little to prepare them for life. The teaching method is also not designed to unlock the potential of these children. No wonder the rate of school attendance is low in the slum areas. Against this backdrop, GSS came forward to provide basic education to slum children.

In response to a request from groups in urban slums, GSS opened six experimental schools: four in the capital city and two in Khulna port city. These original urban schools became the testing and training ground for teaching methods and curricula. The five-year curriculum was designed to provide basic education to slum children who work in the informal sector in the urban centres. In designing the curriculum and teaching method, GSS adapted Western methods for the slum environment. The objectives of the primary education programme are:

  • Preparing learners as independent readers while they are in grade 1

  • Preparing learners as creative writers by achieving independence of thought and the ability to present their own ideas in writing

  • Enabling children to become numerate

  • Creating a real and lasting interest in books and other printed matter

  • Taking pupils to the standard of grade 5 of the formal system

It also set the following quantitative targets:

  • More than 90 per cent attendance rate

  • Less than 5 per cent drop-out rate for grades 1-3

  • More than 50 per cent of the children going on to grade 4

  • 100 per cent children should learn to use the four maths rules to 100 by the end of grade 3

  • 100 per cent children should be able to do creative writing (six lines) by the end of grade 3

The learners: The children of GSS schools come from very poor families with varied occupational backgrounds, i.e., factory workers, carpenters’ helpers, builders, masons, hawkers, etc. The children fall in the 4-14 year age group. Often their mothers and sisters work as maidservants and their fathers as rickshaw pullers and day labourers. The parents’ income is not enough to afford food for the whole family in order to maintain a 2000 cal/day diet and to pay rent for 42 sq ft of damp space for the family. Their diet is highly deficient in protein, fat and vitamins.

Land for the school: Finding a piece of land in the city is a difficult task. GSS usually begins with a survey to identify out-of-school children of a slum and holds talks with their parents. Eventually, parents admit the necessity of education for their children and express their willingness to send their children to school if available. The GSS then holds talks with the illegitimate owner of a slum for setting up a school.

The Teacher: GSS invites applications from suitable candidates through local newspapers. The prospective candidate should have a minimum of 12 years of schooling along with a certificate from a primary education training institute. GSS prefers candidates with bachelor’s degrees. For the post of Head Teacher, the minimum qualification is a master’s degree in educations with 2 years’ experience or a bachelor’s degree in education with 5 years’ experience.

Local female candidates are preferred. Most of the teachers of GSS schools are from middle-class families who live near the school. Teachers are recruited on a contractual basis, initially for one year. Upon good performance the job is renewed every year. For five schools one stand-by teacher is recruited who works during the leave of absence of a regular teacher. In special cases, a part-time teacher is also engaged.

Teacher training: Upon recruitment, teachers undergo a 3-day basic training course which is followed by 12-day initial teacher training. Besides that, monthly one-day refresher courses are conducted and a 5-day annual refresher course is held. In the training courses, teachers become acquainted with Western teaching methods and their adaptation in the circumstances of Bangladesh, especially in the slum setting. Once they start work, teachers are given constant support by the supervisor, who visits each school at least three times a week.

Curriculum and course duration: The course duration is three years for rural children (this is now being extended to five years) and five years for urban slum children. The urban schools are experimental ones where curricula and teaching methods are tested. In the rural schools, classes are held in two shifts and each school has three teachers. In designing the curriculum, GSS has tried to make the content meaningful, easy and attractive to the learners. As such, it has made provision for multiple choice of materials developed by different organisations. Notably, the GSS curriculum is largely based on the public-sector primary school curriculum. In addition to the main books, children also go through supplementary materials designed to accelerate the learning process.

Teaching method: GSS adapted some Western teaching-learning methods to the local setting. This method is substantially different compared to those practised by many other organisations in the following ways:

Comparison of Traditional and GSS Teaching Methodology

Traditional Method

GSS Method

1. Rote learning Child-centred approach
2. Passive learning Active learning; group teaching
3. Use of insufficient reading materials Large quantity of meaningful, relevant and interesting reading materials
4. Absence of supporting materials Use of adequate support materials
5. Inefficient use of lesson time Efficient use of lesson time

The child-centred teaching practice followed by the GSS appears to be quite innovative in the context of Bangladesh, where formal primary schools follow a rigid curriculum and the teaching method basically remains teacher-centred. The GSS curriculum aims to provide the following skills to the learners:

(a) participating in a discussion

(b) drawing pictures

(c) writing and expressing creativity through writing

(d) reading of any materials

During the five-year course, learners at GSS schools are given a wide range of books published by the government, BRAC (the biggest provider of non-formal primary education), individual writers, and the GSS itself. As a result, children become independent readers within 8 months of joining a GSS school and independent writers in the following 8 to 12 months.

The additional materials are prepared with the context of the working children in mind, whereas government textbooks and materials tend to refer exclusively to the background and life-style of the middle class. Besides reading, writing and numeracy, the children of all the five class are involved in a wide range of co-curricular activities. The co-curricular activities include rhyme, dance, making paper flowers, playing, gardening, singing, story-telling, etc.

Teaching method: Unlike the traditional system in which there is a different teacher for each class, in the GSS system the teacher is responsible for all the different areas of curriculum in her or his class. This facilitates a close teacher-pupil relationship. GSS has adopted group teaching methods in its classrooms which allow the teacher to pay equal attention to each child and allows the children to develop according to their own ability and speed.

Classroom management: There are 30 children in each grade, with one teacher. In a classroom there are three tables: one for vernacular, one for creative writing and the third for arithmetic. Besides, there are three corners and in the middle a mat for playing with materials. At the beginning of the class all learners assemble and sit on the mat. Thereafter, eight work on the creative table, six on the vernacular table and six on the arithmetic table, two in each corner and the remaining four sit on the mat. Everyday each learner performs all the activities in turn.

The teacher moves from group to group, giving attention to individual children or to a group as a whole. Each child receives 4 minutes of individual attention daily from the teacher and spends the remaining time engaged in direct learning or such activities as doing maths exercises or purposeful activity such as reading story books or playing an educational game.

Classroom activities in grades 1-2: Classes for these two grades are held from 8 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. This period can be split into three sessions. The time allocation for the three sessions is as follows: 1st session, 8:00 a.m. to 8:35 a.m.; 2nd session, 8:35 a.m. to 9:50 a.m.; 3rd session, 9:50 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.

1st Session (35 minutes)

Activity Time
Exchange of pleasantries 5 mins. (4-5 learners involved)
Story-telling 10 mins. (often continues next day)
Arithmetic 5 mins. (practical problem-solving)
Exercises in language 5 mins. (oral, using book and board)
Roll-call 5 mins.
Distribution of materials 5 mins.

Second Session (75 minutes)

On completion of the first session, teachers give tasks to learners. We have already seen how they are split up.

Third Session (40 minutes)

Arithmetic in small groups — 20 minutes. Each day the teacher arranges the learners on the mat for arithmetic. Learners are organised in three groups and each consists of four.

Schoolhouse: Unlike many other NGOs, GSS constructs semi-pucca buildings for the school which will eventually be retained by the community. Land is donated by the community and the construction cost is borne by GSS.

Classroom management: The classroom has a range of furniture and this is placed in a corner of the classroom. There is a mat on the floor of the classroom. The learners assemble on the mat at the beginning of a class. On entering the classroom the teacher asks the children to spread it on the floor. Learners use the mat during roll-call and story-telling.

The teacher sits on a stool in a corner where learners can have a clear view of her. This seating arrangement is believed to strengthen the teacher-learner relationship. A board is hung in a suitable corner. There are three tables in a classroom, which are used to carry out group activities. The tables are placed in such a way that the teacher can go around them to see the learners’ group work. There is a bookshelf which contains books, exercise books, pencils, etc.

Wall charts are hung in the classroom. The teacher decides the topics for them. Usually they are prepared on animals, birds, flowers, fruits, vegetables, names of the months, names of the days, names of the seasons; and maps of the district, country, and the world are also made. Commonly used words are also written on them. A wall chart is usually hung at the height of the children’s heads and written or drawn in coloured ink. The wall chart changes every month.

There are also wall paintings as a part of the weekly projects. Learners draw pictures and put down their own ideas and observations on paper. The grade 1 learners describe to the teacher what the drawing represents. The teacher then writes down the child’s words. Children draw pictures for the wall paintings every week. At the beginning of the following week, the teacher hangs the painting so that upon arrival at school, children can see their work on the wall.

Classroom activities: GSS runs urban schools in three shifts. The first and third shifts are usually for the learners of the play groups, grades 1 and 2. The second shift is for all grades together. Here is a description of the activities of the different grades.

Grades 1 and 2: Classes of these two grades are usually held from 8:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. The total instruction period is 2½ hours. This time is divided into three parts as follows: first part, 8:00 a.m. to 8:35 a.m.; second part, 8:35 a.m. to 9:50 a.m.; third part, 9:50 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. The first 35 minutes are devoted to activities in which the whole class participates. The following structured tasks are conducted by the teacher:

(a) Story-telling 10 mins. (if not finished, will continue next day)
(b) News 5 mins. (4 or 5 pupils give news to the class)
(c) Arithmetic 5 mins. (practice on board and using learning aids such as sticks)
(d) Language 5 mins. (oral, board and book)
(e) Roll-call 5 mins.
(f) Materials distribution and group singing 5 mins.

Once the learners are involved in their respective tasks, the teacher goes to table 1 along with the reading record book, the reader, and a pencil. She asks a learner to read with her. She first pronounces a word from a sentence and then the learner follows her. In this way, every learner reads a sentence, in which 1½ minutes of time is spent. The reading exercise of 30 learners takes 45 minutes.

For arithmetic, creative activity and games, the teacher spends one minute on each child. For each task a total of 30 minutes are spent. Thus all the activities are completed within 75 minutes.

This arrangement creates an intense learning environment. Seated in small groups in the classroom, pupils attend to their assignments with concentration. One group solves maths problems, with each child at his or her own speed and level, another group practises writing skills in the Bangla copy-books, while a third group works with varied individual assignments. The fourth group plays with learning materials.

The time allocated for the third part is 45 minutes. Two group tasks are also done in the third part:

  1. Reading game (20 minutes): Four to five groups are formed, based on the attendance of learners, each group consisting of a maximum of seven learners. Each group practises reading seated on a mat for 5 minutes.

  2. Mathematics (20 minutes): Three groups are formed and each group consists of 5 learners. These groups also sit on the mat and practise mathematics for 6 minutes.

Grades 3, 4 and 5: Learning activities for the 3rd, 4th and 5th grades usually start at 11:00 a.m. and continue until 2:00 p.m., a total of three hours. Activities are divided into four parts as follows:

First Part: This lasts from 11:00 a.m. to 11:55 a.m., viz. 55 mins. The activities are: (a) assembly, 15 mins. (in the yard); (b) story-telling, 10 mins. (on the mat); (c) Bangla (vernacular), 10 mins. (on the mat); (d) mathematics, 10 mins. (on the mat); (e) news/roll-call, 10 mins. (on the mat).

Second Part: The second part is from 11:55 a.m. to 12:55 p.m., viz. 60 mins. The following activities are performed : (a) Bangla reading, 2 mins.; (b) mathematics, 20 mins.; (c) assignment on language, 18 mins., (d) creative work, 20 mins.

Third Part: Duration 12:55 p.m. to 1:20 p.m., or 25 mins. Activities are (a) English, 10 mins. (board); (b) social studies, 10 mins. (on mat); (c) religion, 5 mins. (on mat).

Fourth Part: Duration 1:20 p.m. to 2:00 p.m., or 40 mins. Activities: (a) English reading, 5 mins.; (b) project on science, 15 mins.; (c) English, 10 mins.; (d) mathematics, 10 mins.

Weekly project

Learners of grades 4-5 do project work on a certain topic every week. Activities of the project can be divided into three types:

  1. Class book: Learners prepare a class book on a particular topic or issue every week. This book contains a picture on the selected topic along with a few sentences beneath it to explain what the drawing represents. The learners draw a picture and then describe the guiding idea behind it.

  2. Personal book: Besides preparing the class book, learners have to prepare individual books for themselves. They draw pictures for their own books. The learners who are independent writers put down their ideas beneath the pictures, while the teacher helps or writes on behalf of those who have not yet attained the skill of creative writing.

  3. Wall chart: These are always hung at head level of the learners. In addition to the class book and the personal books, learners draw pictures on some object or topic on the wall. In a month thirty pictures are drawn by the learners.

Learning materials

In GSS schools, children read between 12 and 24 books within the first two years. The teacher uses a variety of visual materials and games. Emphasis is placed on creative thinking and writing. For Bangla, children of GSS schools read a lot of books in comparison with their counterparts in government primary schools. In the GSS schools, the children in grade 1 read 8 books, in the grade 2, 14 books, and in grade 3, 14 books, while children in the government schools read only one book in each grade.

Special features of the GSS model

In the traditional system of primary education in government primary schools, rote learning is the normal practice and the children feel bored in the classroom. On the other hand, some of the special features of the GSS system are as follows:

  1. Well-being of learners is enquired after in the classroom.

  2. Learners give news about the events that happened around their houses.

  3. Group work is carried out.

  4. In roll-call, only the number of a pupil is mentioned, not the name.

  5. Children learn in groups.

  6. The teacher listens to every learner’s reading.

  7. In creative writing each learner has to draw a picture and write a description of it.

  8. Reading record of learners is maintained.

  9. Learners practise arithmetic individually.

  10. Reading games are organised.

  11. There is a weekly project.

  12. Children draw pictures on the wall chart and in their books.

  13. Learners do co-curricular activities twice a week.

  14. The teacher gives concrete examples.

  15. In order to increase vocabulary, the learner uses a dictionary.

  16. Spelling is prohibited while a learner reads.

  17. One teacher teaches all subjects.

  18. The teacher goes around to the learners.

  19. Most of the time the teacher remains standing in the classroom.

Developing a creative writer

Achieving independence of thought among children and the ability to produce their own ideas in writing is one of the objectives of the GSS programme. Children attain the skill by putting their ideas and observations beneath pictures drawn by them. Thus GSS produces a large number of independent creative writers from among the children.

In this method, instead of being treated as part of the classroom the child is treated as an individual. The teacher pays attention to each child and individual learning takes place; each child proceeds according to her or his own ability and pace.

Community plays a vital role

As part of its involvement the community has to donate land. The community is also involved in the house-to-house survey of children. They take the programme staff around and explain why the survey is being conducted, and generally ensure willing compliance. Once a school is established, monthly parent-teacher meetings are the basis of the interaction between the school and the community. Discussions are held concerning any problems that may have arisen over the past month, especially with regard to children’s attendance or teacher absenteeism. A nominal fee of Tk.1:00 (US 2.5 cents) for admission and Tk.1 per month for education is paid by all parents.

Cost effectiveness of the GSS model

Lack of resources is the main constraint in providing universal primary education in Bangladesh. As such, attention needs to be given to ensure cost effectiveness. The unit cost of the GSS primary education programme is about Tk.800 per annum. This is comparable to the unit cost of BRAC schools.

C. CMES: a technology-based basic education programme

The CMES (Centre for Mass Education in Science) was founded by Dr M. Ibrahim and originated from the publication and distribution of a science periodical by him.

The first step towards the goal of CMES was establishing basic schools which were designed to provide non-formal primary education to disadvantaged children and youth along with integration of technology training and marketing. The basic school is a grass-roots school within the home environment of the target group. Its inner campus consists of a small bamboo-and-mud house or shed provided by the beneficiary families right within their homesteads.

Twenty basic schools are served by a Rural Technology Centre for Basic Schools (RTCBS), covering an area equivalent to a union (the smallest administrative unit of Bangladesh). There are four levels of education in the system: ankur (germinating), bikash (developing), Agrosor I (Advanced I) and Agrosor II (Advanced II), roughly equivalent to grades 1, 2, 3 and 4 respectively, of the formal system, and each takes about one year. The first two levels are available in the basic schools and the last two only in the RTCBS.

The ankur and bikash levels mainly deal with the attainment of literacy, numeracy and some life skills, while the Agrosor I and II in addition to basic education provide opportunities to learn one or more technological skills directly relevant to income generation.

The learner: The learners of the system are from those children who never went to school or dropped out. There is no age bar for enrolment. Thus this can be an option for children who are too old to enter or go back to primary school. Pupils may be enrolled in either ankur or bikash level as appropriate. In each of these levels there may be 20-30 pupils at a time. Care is taken to enrol at least 50 per cent girl children.

The teacher: Each basic school has one teacher. The teacher is a young man or woman from the locality who has finished or is about to finish high school. In some cases very successful pupils who have passed from RTCBS within the system itself are trained as teachers.

The RTCBS has two teachers and five assistant teachers. The teachers are diploma holders in technical education while assistant teachers are skilled artisans who in most cases have had a reasonable schooling and have been practising their trades in the locality. Currently, there are 20 RTCBS centres with 400 basic schools enrolling 23,000 learners.

In addition to the basic education programmes, there is an adolescent girls’ programme. The aim is to free the girls from social constraints and free their creative energies. CMES conceived the necessity of undertaking this programme in 1992 with the objectives of undoing the injustice done to the girls, helping them have a chance to exercise their basic rights as human beings, and develop properly towards an empowered womanhood.

Participants: The participants are distributed in basic schools and the RTCBS of the unit. There are 5-10 girls in a basic school and the number is 25-30 in the RTCBS. All the participants are organised into groups of 5, usually one group in a basic school, and 5-6 groups in the RTCBS. Participants’ homes are in the vicinity of the basic schools.

Credit to participants: There is a credit scheme for the girls. For this scheme CMES entered into an agreement with the Grameen Bank, who provided funds to extend credit to the participants with the same rules and interest rates followed by the GB itself. The loans are managed by the programme teacher in consultation with the headmaster/assistant headmaster. The teachers undergo intensive training on credit management, organised and conducted by GB.

Skill training: Adolescents, both from RTCBS and basic schools, receive skill training in trades which have immediate job opportunities. The skill training chosen by the girls is mostly garment making, tie-and-dye, batik, poultry farming, sericulture, soap-making, candle-making and pottery. But the RTCBS also offers other trades such as carpentry, metalwork, welding, machine repairing, etc., which are traditionally considered the domain of the boys. Most of the training is on the job, while real-life services and production are actually marketed to the community.

Marketing of products: Products of the girls like candles, soap and poultry have market demand both in the school area and in distant urban and commercial centres. For the marketing of the products, a salesman is usually hired for a unit. The salesman maintains contact with local traders and shop owners and delivers the goods. To give an incentive to participants in various trades and the artisan teacher, the profit generated from the sale of products is distributed among them every two months.

Conducting the sessions: During these contact sessions further education and skill training for the participants are conducted and feedback is taken to assess the progress of each individual participant.

The special teacher and the assistant teacher conduct the contact sessions in the RTCBS and in the 20 basic schools in rotation. The routine is so arranged that there is such a session every week in a particular school. The assistant teachers, who are skilled artisans in most cases, have had a reasonable schooling and have practised their trades in the locality. They have expertise in various technologies relevant to the programme of the BS system. But from time to time they have to learn new techniques from various sources.

One of the major objectives of the programme is to put its participants in a leadership position in the community. Towards this end, participants are assigned to take the lead in installing a sanitary latrine, mobilising children to be vaccinated against six deadly childhood diseases, making provision for safe water, motivating villagers to make compost, providing nutrition advice to mothers, and so on and so forth. In carrying out the above activities, a participant pays house-to-house visits.

  1. Determination of health and nutrition status: The task is usually carried out by simple observation, taking body weight and body measurements to identify the state of nutrition. The measurement is followed by a discussion which focuses on preventive measures for some common diseases. In some cases patients are referred to nearby health centres. Distribution of simple remedies such as riboflavin tablets, iron tablets and oral saline, etc., takes place.

  2. Installation of improved cookers: Earthen cookers traditionally used by the Bangladeshi women are not energy-efficient and safe. They produce smoke and turn the kitchens into gas chambers, causing a health hazard to women. Moreover, 40-50 per cent of the fuel is wasted. To solve the problem, an improved cooker has been evolved by a state-run scientific research organisation. The adolescent girls carry out extension work to introduce the cooker to rural women by making the cooker themselves and also ensure its use.

  3. Keeping the environment clean: In Bangladesh refuse from kitchen, cowshed and poultry stocks is carelessly dumped near the household. This causes serious environmental problems. The girls persuade the housewives to dig a compost pit and put all waste inside it. Thus the environment is kept clean and the compost is used as fertiliser in the vegetable garden.

Service centre of CMES

The service centre, which is located in the capital city, functions as the headquarters of CMES. The basic school system is planned, developed, managed, monitored and evaluated from the service centre. It carries out research on appropriate technology for the basic school system. By organising training and preparing relevant materials and prototypes it transfers the findings of experimentation to the school system. It also innovates technology suitable for the villages. It designs and develops curricula, teaching methods, instructional materials, teaching aids and training courses for teachers and monitors their effectiveness.

Programme outcomes

Access to credit, literacy and exposure to technology have enabled many girls to become assets to their families instead of liabilities. Most of the girls have attained a considerable degree of skill in different programmes, which has helped them to start businesses with financial assistance from CMES. In many cases, the girls have assumed the responsibility for the whole family, even their elder brothers. Girls are also joining the formal system of education. Many adolescent girls on completion of the bikash stage have been admitted to the formal system in the third grade. Others are in the fifth grade on completion of Agrosor stages I and II.

Cultural development of the poor

Extreme poverty as well as conservatism often make life devoid of decency as well as aesthetic sense. The conservatives usually discourage children from reading novels, poetry, rhymes, etc. Children were also prevented from enjoying music, sports, dance, and so on and so forth. The adolescent girls’ programme provided its participants with the opportunity to recite, sing, dance, read classic novels, etc., which were previously the monopoly of the middle and the rich classes.

Women’s mobility has increased

The programme threw a challenge to the seclusion of women imposed by the conservatives. Now a growing girl sits in a tea stall serving the customers and doing book-keeping. Similarly, girls are found to move with the household merchandise across the villages, sitting in a market corner on the weekly market day, and doing similar other activities previously done only by boys.

Marriage delayed

Their association with the programme has changed the attitude of girls towards life and work. Now the girls plan their lives. The choice of a husband is no more the sole business of the parents. Almost all of them express the desire to be self-reliant before marriage, and delay marriage until 20 years of age.

From acquaintance to solidarity

RTCBS organises assemblies of adolescent girls every two months. On an average, over a hundred participants assemble at each. Before joining basic school they would not know each other, and it provides them with the opportunity to develop solidarity among themselves.

Thus, through the CMES, elementary education with life orientation has been made available at the doorstep of the learners. Instead of rote learning the participants reflect on themselves as human beings. As girls, they examine their relationship with boys and other male members of the society at family, household and community levels. What they learn, they try to apply in practical life.

In its basic school system, CMES found that in the first grade, enrolment and attendance of the girls were equal to those of the boys. Their performance was also better in the system’s education and skills training programmes. But when they grow a little older everything changes with their sudden dropping out.

The programme has produced some visible results, which are reflected in the positive change of perception about women’s life, greater mobility of the girls beyond the village, participation of girls in production and sale of market commodities, organising cultural functions, etc. Some of the activities have a direct bearing on the community. For example, the cheap sanitary latrines and the cheap washing soap produced by the girls and sold in the locality have a direct effect on the health and sanitation of the target group.

CMES organises workshops for adolescent girls and mothers both at the premises of Rural Technology Centres and basic schools. The purpose of these workshops is to begin and continue a dialogue with the families on all aspects of the programme. It provides an opportunity for the older generation to understand the problems through their own life experience and lend their support to the new generation’s effort towards emancipation.

D. The government satellite school project

The Government of Bangladesh has undertaken several projects such as Food for Education, Compulsory Primary Education Programme, stipend for girl students, etc. to combat the problem of low coverage, low attendance and high drop-outs. The satellite school project is one such project designed to increase coverage and attendance and reduce drop-outs. The project was undertaken on an experimental basis in 1992 with the opening of 62 schools.

In a sense, a Satellite School (SS) is a feeder school for the normal primary school. The planners were convinced that bringing schools to the doorsteps of learners would increase enrolment. In the second year another 138 schools were opened, bringing the total to 200. Of these, 144 were set up in four administrative divisions, namely, Dhaka, Rajshahi, Khulna and Barisal, and the remaining 56 schools are in Chittagong division.

Programme description: Usually a locality with very low literacy rate, high population density and difficult access to school (particularly for girls) owing to natural barriers (canal, bush, field) is chosen for the satellite school. Children of the 6-7 years age group are enrolled in grades 1 and 2. In the second year, a low-cost two-room school is constructed. It is usually established one kilometre away from a primary school, which is called the mother school.

Teacher selection: Teachers must be female and employed as volunteers. They receive a modest monthly allowance of Tk.500. The induction of women in the project is expected to contribute towards the participation of women in development.

Mobilising community support: In the first year no expenditure is made on the construction of the schoolhouse. The house or space is provided by the local people to be used as a classroom temporarily. The classroom can be housed in a mosque, maktab (religious learning centre), veranda or in the drawing room of a private house.

If the requisite number of learners, cooperation from local people, space for a classroom, land for constructing a building, etc., are available in the first year, only then is a two-room building constructed in the second year. The establishment of a satellite school demands the following:

  • Class of 1st year to be housed and conducted in a mosque, madrasah, veranda or drawing room.

  • If the government decides to construct a two-room schoolhouse, the community must provide 15-25 decimals of land.

  • The community and guardians must send all their children to the satellite school and ensure regular attendance.
  • Participation of local people in managing satellite schools is essential.

In order to obtain community support and motivate the local people, a committee is formed with the following composition:

  1. Thana Executive Officer (TNO) — Chairman

  2. Thana Education Officer (TEO) — Member-Secretary

  3. Two teachers from local high school (preferably women) and H/M of a primary school, nominated by the TEO — Members

  4. One UP Chairman nominated by the TNO — Member

  5. One villager interested in education nominated by the TNO — Member

One female teacher is inducted in the first year, and on the fulfilment of conditions another is recruited in the second year. The teacher must have passed the SSC (Secondary School Certificate). A committee chaired by the Thana Executive Officer (TNO) usually selects the teacher through advertisement. The committee invites applications, scrutinises them and finally selects a volunteer teacher purely on a temporary basis. The committee makes its selection using the following criteria: (a) the candidate must be resident within one kilometre of the school; (b) she must have passed the SSC; (c) candidates with certificates in education will get preference; and (d) she must be 18 years old or above.

The selected teacher has to perform the following functions:

  • She must conduct classes for 3 hours a day.

  • She has to organise and conduct mothers’/guardians’ meetings to motivate them twice a month. Proceedings of the meetings are to be sent to the Deputy Director, Satellite School Project, Director of Primary Education, Dhaka, through the Thana Education Officer on a regular b

  • She has to arrange the enrolment of 6-7-year-old children within one kilometre radius of the school, the number of learners being at least 50.

  • She must retain the enrolled children for two years and take the initiative to get the learners enrolled in the mother school in the 3rd grade.

  • She has to conduct a survey in the school catchment area and display a list of school-age children on the wall of the school.

  • Monthly monitoring report is to be prepared and passed on to the Deputy Director, Satellite School Project, through the TEO/ATEO.

  • Total working days should be like in government primary schools.

  • For no reason is the school to be kept closed. If the teacher is unable to attend class, the ATEO will take necessary steps to keep classes running.

  • The teacher must attend the training courses organised by the Directorate of Primary Education.

  • If the teacher is not found satisfactory, her services would be terminated.

Supervision of satellite schools: Teachers of the mother school provide overall assistance to the volunteer teacher of the satellite school (SS), while the ATEO inspects the school and supervises the teacher locally. Furthermore, TEO and DEO visit the school and send a report to the Deputy Director, Satellite School Project. An instructor nominated by the superintendent of the District PTI (Primary Training Institute) visits each SS once a month and send a report to the DD.

Training for the satellite school teachers: The Satellite School section of the Directorate of Primary Education has designed a training module for teachers which contains such topics as community participation, teaching-learning methods, child psychology, evaluation process, teaching aids, management, etc. The training course is expected to be attended by the District Primary Education Officer, TEO, ATEO, teacher of the mother school, PTI instructor and the volunteer teacher.

Management: The Deputy Director, Satellite Schools, under the Directorate of Primary Education based at Dhaka, is in overall charge of the project. He is assisted by an Assistant Director and a Research Officer. There is also a Satellite School Managing Committee headed by the local Union Parishad chairman.

The project aims to achieve some crucial objectives like drawing community support by way of securing space for classrooms and donation of land for schools, organising guardians’ meeting by the volunteer teachers, total coverage, etc. Moreover, there are three committees: for the selection of a location for the school, to involve the community in teacher selection, and for school management.

The voluntary teacher bears a work load heavier than her counterparts in government primary schools. The pilot project is being implemented centrally. Its outcome would help small NGOs to design or redesign their own NFPE programmes.

There are some similarities between the non-formal primary education programmes of the NGOs and the Satellite School Project such as hiring female teachers from the community, providing them with short training, recruiting the teachers as volunteers for which they receive an allowance, block teaching, etc. The objective of solving children’s access problem to school due to geographical barriers has largely been achieved. The other objective of drawing community support seems to have been achieved to some extent. It also has succeeded in recruiting village women for the teaching jobs.


It is thus obvious that the NGOs in Bangladesh have been playing a leading role in introducing innovative non-formal education programmes. There are some obvious limitations in the present non-formal education programmes. These relate mostly to the issue of replicability of the programmes. In most of the organisations there are no middle-level staff between the co-ordinator and the field supervisor. As such, the project head has to give considerable attention to field-level supervisors. Generally, the period of training is also too short to help a teacher internalise the whole teaching-learning process. The teaching method calls for a teacher with long experience and it is difficult for a newcomer to attain mastery over teaching skills.

Another problem is the lack of resource materials. Although the major NGOs generally have more resource materials than the formal system, the supply proves to be inadequate. A number of small NGOs have taken steps to introduce the newer innovative models such as those of BRAC and GSS in their schools, and for this they have sent their staff to the respective organisations to undergo training.

In the beginning, some organisations like the GSS faced difficulty in training teachers who would implement the relatively complex teaching method. Their method demands teachers of higher capability than the average teacher. The problem was solved in the following way:

  • a systematic minute-by-minute time-table for the teachers

  • a focused curriculum so that the number of tasks is restricted

  • adequate provision of low-cost materials and resources to permit and support individual and group work

  • on-the-job training for six months so that new teachers are carefully inducted into the role they have to play and into the philosophy that lies behind it

Overall, it may be said that the public sector agencies should benefit from successful NGO-introduced innovative programmes. NGOs, moreover, will need sustained government cooperation and support to make their efforts a greater success through to the end.


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