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Reaching Out to 'Hard-to-Reach' Children in Bangladesh
By By Tabibul Islam
Inter Press Service

    DHAKA, Apr 25 (IPS) - For 16 dollars a month Firoz Kabir, a university student, takes time off from his classes to teach children who live in Jigatola, a slum that co-exists with the posh Dhanmondi residential area in the Bangladesh capital.
     More than the money, Kabir finds great satisfaction spending two hours every morning at the Jigatola non-formal school with the 30-odd children of domestic help, street vendors and daily wage workers.
     The school, run by 'Development For The Poor,' a non- government organisation (NGO), imparts basic education. Its impoverished pupils, most of them girls, are divided into two shifts a day and provided free books and educational material.

  Many of the pupils are themselves wage earners and work as domestics, shop helpers, hotel boys and mechanics to supplement meagre family incomes. These working children are what experts call ''hard-to-reach'' in the Education for All (EFA) drive..

    Before the Jigatola non-formal school came up children in the slum did not attend school, and according to Khodeja Akhter, a teacher, success of any EFA project here depends on allowing the children flexibility to ''learn as well as earn.''
  In Dhaka city, as many as 2,025 non-formal schools are now imparting basic education to about 60,750 slum children, 54 percent of whom are girls, says Kazi Farid Ahmed, director at the Directorate of Non-formal Education.
     Funded by the UN children's agency, UNICEF, and supported by the governments of Bangladesh and Sweden, the Basic Education for Hard-To-Reach Urban Children's project (BEHTRUC) aims at providing non-formal basic education (NFE) to 350,000 children. in six divisional headquarters between 1997 and 2002.
     Already, under BEHTRUC, 180,000 children in Bangladesh's six divisional headquarters of Dhaka, Chittagong, Khulna, Rajshahi, Barisal and Sylhet are receiving a basic education.
     The next 16 months are expected to see several thousand more (NFE) schools established for urban non-literate children in the 8-14 age group in the biggest initiative of its kind.
     Some 125 NGOs have been entrusted the responsibility of operating these NFE schools for slum children who are a source of income for their impoverished families and in fact form 56 percent of the total slum population.
     In some families, child labour makes up one third of the family's income. Not only do these working children have little time to go to school, but in most slum areas, there are no schools to attend.
     And even if there were schools, the children still cannot afford the extra-costs associated with education and so they are considered the most hard-to-reach, a UNICEF study says. .
     As part of the project, teachers from participating NGOs receive special training in participatory, child-centered teaching methods and in the specific needs and concerns of hard- to-reach children.
     Project teachers are required to make home visits to all their students to closely monitor progress and to keep their families informed.
    Aided by the Asian Development Bank (AsDB), the International Development Agency (IDA), the Swiss International Development Agency (SIDA) and the Norwegian aid agency, four NFE projects worth 309 million dollars are now underway in Bangladesh.
     Education Minister A. Sadique told Bangladesh Parliament last month that as a result of sustained efforts, the literacy rate has now reached 60 percent from 34.6 percent in 1991 and that he expected it to rise further to 80 percent by 2001.
     But many experts think the government needed to formulate a more realistic policy to address the problem of drop-outs and never-enrolled children at the primary level. The majority of the country's roughly 120 million people live in its villages.
     Currently there is a 38 percent drop-out rate and imparting education to five million drop-outs and children who have never been enrolled in schools poses a formidable challenge to the government.
  Also there is as yet no comprehensive plan for the education of over six million child workers in the 9-15 age group.
  Ansar Ali Khan, UNESCO or the UN's Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation's representative in Bangladesh advocates a more vigorous drive to remove illiteracy from the country by 2006.
  ''For this the government will have to invest more funds in the education sector and make all-out efforts for the spread and sustenance of education,'' Khan said.
  Currently, Bangladesh spends 2.3 percent of its GNP on education which is far less than what other countries in the region spend, according to the Education Watch Report, 1999.
  The report pointed out that allocation for primary education is also very little and that 90 percent of the allocations are swallowed by salaries and allowances for teaching staff and administrators.
  This article is free of copyright restrictions and can be reproduced provided that Inter Press Service is credited.
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