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Transforming Bangladesh Primary Education

Project Result / Case Study | 14 November 2014

New teaching methods, increased student participation, and reward schemes for parents are helping Bangladesh modernize its vast primary education sector.

A picture is worth a thousand words, the saying goes, and staff at Kamargaon Model Government Primary School near the town of Narsingdhi in Bangladesh seem to have taken it to the letter. In class, teachers often initiate what they describe as a picture discussion.

“This is how we get students interested in a difficult subject,” says 40-year-old teacher Md. Quamruzzaman. “When they see the picture on a multimedia screen, they hardly get bored.”

His students agree. “I like to learn by seeing the picture on a screen. It’s as if I’m watching a cartoon movie on television,” says Asia Islam, the 11-year-old daughter of Sukkur Ali, a mason and Mosammat Mina Begum, a homemaker.

The novel approach to teaching seems to be yielding results. In 2013, Kamargaon School was judged to be the best school among about 500 government-run primary schools in Narsinghdi district in recognition of the students’ performance.

But information technology is only one of the tools used to attract children to school and retain them until they complete fifth grade. Reward schemes and debating competitions are also part of the strategy.

Rewarding success

In recognition of the role parents play in sending their children to school, the authorities at Kamargaon Primary School have introduced prizes for mothers based on the children’s attendance rates and exam results.

“This works as incentives for mothers to prevent their children from staying away from school,” says 48-year-old head teacher Jakaria Bhuiyan.

The prizes are usually a water pot or kitchenware, says government education officer Dilruba Yeasmin who visits the school every two months to monitor attendance. “The honor associated with the prizes matter,” she says.

Razia Sultana, a 32-year-old mother from Kamargaon village explains why this scheme is effective for children and parents alike. “My daughter is so serious about attending the class. She knows that I will get a prize if she attends class regularly.”

Over the past five years, the school has maintained a class attendance rate of over 95% and registered no dropouts, compared to the national average attendance rate of 61% and a dropout rate of 33%.

Kabutarkhola Government Primary School in neighboring Munshiganj district can boast similar success rates.

New approach

Like thousands of other schools across Bangladesh, these two institutions are reaping the benefits of a five-year primary education development program that was coordinated by ADB and completed in 2012.

Bangladesh has one of the largest primary education systems in the world with 16.53 million students, over 365,000 teachers, and more than 81,000 schools as of 2009. Despite significant progress made in recent years toward providing universal access to free primary education, the country still faces problems with its retention rate, and inequity and the quality of education. In 2013, almost 500,000 children aged between six and 10 years were reported to be out of school and only three out of four of those who enroll eventually reach grade five.

Many teachers still follow traditional teaching methods, forcing students to memorize lessons instead of encouraging them to be creative, imaginative, and innovative. Schools like Kamargaon and Kabutorkhola, however, show that there are new approaches to education that can make a difference.

At the Kabutorkhola School, students take part in monthly debates on a variety of subjects. In their latest debate, the grade five students debated the positive and negative aspects of rural and urban life. Ten-year-old Mousumi Akter Mou led one group speaking for rural life, while Mohammad Mehdi Hasan represented the opposite view. Mou’s group won the hour-long debate, watched by the entire school in a new building constructed under the ADB-assisted program.

“There is a lot of fun and entertainment in our school,” says Mou, wearing a broad smile on her face. “I love to come to school every day.”

Raising tomorrow’s leaders

At Kamargaon School, students are encouraged to participate in the governance of the school. An elected Student Council takes care of seven portfolios: sports, water supply, library, environment, tree planting and gardening, health, and entertainment.

“The idea is to instill among the students the spirit of good and honest leadership,” says head teacher Bhuiyan. “We see our future leaders among these students.”