"I did not go to school, but my granddaughter does. I love to see her going to school and think if I could have had the chance to go, perhaps my life would have been different,” says Promila Bouri, an 80-year old garden laborer in the Rashidpur Tea Garden located in Bahubal Upazila of Hobigonj District in the northeastern city of Sylhet.
Bangladesh faces serious social and economic challenges, including its continuous battle with poverty and its susceptibility to natural disasters. According to statistics, children account for about 45 per cent of the total population in Bangladesh of which, 46 per cent live below the national poverty line and one-quarter live in extreme poverty. Three to four million of the 19 million primary school aged children in Bangladesh do not have access to primary education. Despite efforts by the government, literacy rates and children’s educational enrollment, retention and achievement rates remain low in marginalized communities, particularly for girls. One-third of children who begin school leave before completing their primary education and nearly 80 percent of children who finish primary school fail to meet literacy and numeracy standards. This creates a repetitive cycle, resulting in and contributing to poverty.
Rashidpur Tea Garden is one such area with limited educational opportunities. The plantation has been operational since 1887 but for almost a decade conditions of laborers have remained unchanged. Promila Bouri who is one of the oldest residents of Rashidpur Tea Garden says, “We have been working here for generations but our condition hasn’t improved much. Many of us barely make subsistence, living on the estate rationing system.” The garden authority began a primary school on the premises for the workers’ children; however, a large number of children on the estate were still out of school. The garden authority school serves 188 children, but more than 100 children have never enrolled in any school. The nearest government primary school is more than two kilometers away.
As part of its efforts to assist the Bangladesh Government in reaching the Millennium Development Goal of Universal Primary Education, Dubai Cares partnered with Save the Children to bring about positive changes in the lives of highly disadvantaged children by improving access to quality non-formal primary education.
The SHIKHON Learning Alternatives for Vulnerable Children project is designed to provide 75,000 out-of-school children with cost-effective, quality, non-formal education thus enabling them to achieve competencies comparable to five years of formal primary school in four years. Using progressive teaching methods both inside and outside the classroom, this initiative will target 30,500 first-time learners and help them gain 5th grade-level competency in four years. Through the 1670 classrooms that have been established across the country, an additional 19,500 learners will reach 4th grade-level competency.
The program also trains 1,670 community teachers and/or assistants from grades one through five in teaching and learning methodologies, provision of cost-effective health and nutrition.
Haribal Deshwara, Chairperson of the School Assistance Group added, “We are observing positive changes in our children’s daily activities both at home and outside. They seem so much happier and they like their teacher as well as the outdoor games. They love coming to school and actively participate in keeping their school premises clean.”
Initial assessments show excellent attendance and achievement rates. This is a source of hope to tea garden laborers, as they clearly see education as the key to opening better alternatives and opportunities for their children.