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Preventing drop out and out of school children in Bangladesh

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31st-Mar-2019       
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Saiful Islam Vutto :
A young boy Eyasin, 11, was forced to drop out of the first grade from primary school in the year 2016 due to extreme poverty. The school where he used to study was also far away from his dilapidated house of Mougati union of Netrokona Sadar. After dropping out of school, Eyasin's dream of going to school never stopped. His dream came true when, he came across a children learning centre (CLC) in his village. He still does not know that these CLCs were established by Dhaka Ahsania Mission (DAM) in various remote and hardest to reach areas of the country. Once DAM volunteers had to go house to house and motivate the villagers to send their children to schools.  Eyasin got motivated and enrolled at a CLC named 'Purbo Dohar' in Mougati union of Netrokona Sadar in the year 2017.  Good to see that the CLC was run through multigrade teaching learning approach, found most appropriate to address Eyasin's learning needs and start his schooling afresh. One year of association with this CLC, enabled Eyasin further to get admitted into a local primary school in 2019.  
 'Bangladesh has clearly spelled out constitution which makes it mandatory for the state to provide universal basic education. The reflection of this state obligation has been adequately reflected in all of its educational policies since independence. Bangladesh is signatory to EFA, MDGs and, most recently to SDGs. Bangladesh has also ratified UN Child Rights Convention. Therefore making sure no child is left behind is a policy priority for Bangladesh. SDG4 to which Bangladesh is also a signatory assigns high priority to access, inclusiveness, equity and quality. Reaching out for hard to reach children is also high in the list of policy priorities for funding projects by European Union (EU)'.
As is said EU has been supporting Bangladesh since long in its all major development priorities- education is one of them.  As part of this support, DAM, a national NGO of Bangladesh, implemented this intervention through UNIQUE-II project for drop out and out of school children in two phases starting from 2006 to 2018 followed by a short term contract until March 2019. Over the period, about 0.3 million drop out and out of school children in 442 unions of 84 upazilas in 26 districts of the country had been provided with quality primary education so far.  
In a context where out-of-school children or primary school dropout students cannot attend formal schools because of its structured system, the flexibility in the Multi-Grade Teaching Learning (MGTL) approach of Dhaka Ahsania Mission (DAM) offers an answer for their access and learning. An MGTL class provides a flexible class environment to school-age children, who could not enroll in school or have dropped out early for a wide variety of complex and often interlinked reasons. Catering to individual learning difficulties and facilitating learning by children at their own pace are the two basic features of DAM's MGTL approach.
In this sojourn, local and national organizations-ASOD, CCDB, DORP, Padakhep Manabik Unnayan Kendra, Surovi and Ypsa as well as Plan Bangladesh also supported DAM as implementing and technical partners. During this time, the project continued to carry out various activities to create education opportunities for out-of-school and drop-out children. This intervention therefore side by side supplemented government efforts for Education for all and the Agenda as mentioned in SDG-4.
Bangladesh has achieved significant progress in primary education in terms of enrolment of the students and free distribution of books across the country. The government has given the highest importance to the education sector to ensure education for all. A large section of the country's national budget is set aside to promote education and make it more accessible.
 (To be continued)
But the education system of Bangladesh faces several problems. Low performances in primary and secondary levels and dropout are matters of concern. Low performances are results of poverty, widening disparities in education opportunities and facilities, poor school attendance, less contact time in school, lack of skilled school teachers, burden of excess curriculum, grading system, high cost of education, creative system of education, PSC and JSC examinations etc.
According to UNICEF's report, Bangladesh has one of the largest primary education systems in the world with an estimated 16.4 million primary school aged children (6 to10 years). There are 365,925 primary school teachers, working in more than 82,218 schools including Madrasahs. The Primary Education Compulsory Act passed in 1990 made primary education free and compulsory for all children up to Grade 5.
According to UNICEF 2006 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, only about half of the children living in urban slums attend school compared to a national average of 81 per cent net attendance ratio, and about 24per cent of slum girls never enroll in any form of formal or non-formal school. Even for those who are enrolled, completion of the primary education cycle is a critical issue. Only 55 per cent of children eventually reach Grade 5.
The quality of the teaching learning process, the school environment and children's learning achievements are also major challenges in primary schools. Poor qualifications and lack of teacher motivation are major challenges. Approximately, 24 per cent of Government Primary Schools and Registered non-government primary schools teachers are untrained. The traditional and dominant way of teaching in most schools tends to focus on memorizing facts. There is little emphasis on developing analytical, practical or vocational skills. This results in several issues such as low achievement rate, high dropout and high repetition rate.
In the present day, one of the most challenging tasks is to provide need based education to children living in remote and char areas. The 'multi-grade teaching-learning' method has been a unique attempt to bring children aged between 6-14 years to schools who are dropped out and did not have the opportunity to have access to any schools.
Why this model is imperative for the drop out and out of school children:
Now it is imperative to know as to why this programme has been so effective for the children who are drop out or out of schools. In multi-grade system, the pupils are assessed at the time of the admission to identify their individual competencies by subject and can have option to learn in different grade's subject according to their rating in individual subjects. Therefore, a pupil may learn Bangla of grade-3, English of grade-2, Math's of grade-1 and so on so forth.   
According to multi-grade teaching approach, a teacher gives instruction to learners according to their subject-specific competencies as determined in base assessment and a student will be grouped accordingly. For example, if a student of Bangla is considered to be with the skill level of 3rd grade, then s/he will sit in the table / group selected for the 3rd grade or level in Bangla.
A teacher follows an academic plan and maintains a lesson plan accordingly to facilitate the class. There is a group leader in each group (table) who facilitates learning of other pupils in the same group; senior grade pupils sometimes help a tutor to follow up lower grade pupils.  In addition to monthly assessment, a quarterly assessment of the academic progress is also done and pupils can move to upper grade or mainstream to formal schools.
In a country like Bangladesh, there are many areas-which are geographically hardest to reach and inaccessible as well as resource constrained- a handful of children in a particular pocket without any schools or any qualified teachers around. Where launching of a full-fledged school will be a total waste and an imprudent step. Multi-grade schools as being implemented by DAM are therefore a solution to this situation.
The other features of the model
Unlike conventional systems of primary education, there are other features of teaching-learning in multi-grade systems, which are considered to be instrumental to ensure effective learning of the students. These strategies include: self-learning, mutual learning, use of project method where students are given a learning assignment to complete by him/herself; competency based assessment of each student as well as promote non-cognitive skills of students to ensure their commitment to social and human values.  
Some statistics may give an indication of the MGTL approach's effectiveness
During 2012 and 2013, 7,267 students and 3,359 students appeared in Primary School Certificate (PSC) examination of which the pass rate was 93% (6726) and 99% (3,342) respectively. In respect of access of children in the hardest-to-reach areas, a total of 14,088 children in Hill areas, 6,400 children in haor areas, 11, 219 children in char areas, and 14,358 children in coastal belt of the country have been covered under this approach (as of March, 2014) alongside the children in other areas of the country. A study report appropriately said: "The flexibility of [MGTL] to reach children in isolated locations and in difficult conditions could be utilised in the mainstream education system.
It is to be noted that, Dhaka Ahsania Mission (DAM) won the Commonwealth Education Good Practice Award in 2018 for its unique Multi-Grade Teaching Learning (MGTL) model in non-formal education. Out of the entries from 53 Commonwealth nations, DAM received this award. Earlier, in 2014 and in 2018 again the model has been awarded by Unesco with a honorable commendation.

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