Maddipatla Foundation believes education is a fundamental right of every citizen
Primary education is free for all children in Bangladesh, from grades one through five. By law, children between the ages of six and ten must attend school. However, the quality of education remains a barrier for education levels.
The Government of Bangladesh has made significant progress in recent years to increase primary-school-age enrollment rates to cover 89 per cent of boys and 94 per cent of girls. However, access to education remains a challenge for vulnerable groups, particularly working children, disabled children, indigenous children and those in remote areas or living in extreme poverty. Only half of all children living in slums attend school, a rate 18 percentage points lower than the national average.
Drop-out rates have made substantial progress where in 2006 the proportion of pupils starting grade one who reach grade 5 was 63.6 per cent, in 2009 this has increased to 79.8 per cent. However, progress is still required in this area. Absenteeism is also a significant problem. Parents often withdraw their children from school as a strategy for coping with natural disasters or economic difficulties, such as rising food prices. Recent studies show that boys are more likely to drop out of school than girls, or not enroll at all, pointing to an emerging gender imbalance.
At least ten per cent of primary school teaching posts are vacant. To compensate for the lack of teachers, high-school graduates can apply for teaching positions. One third of staff at government schools teach without a Certificate in Education.
Promoting interactive and inclusive learning is difficult in face of traditional teaching methods that require students to memorise facts. Students regularly fail to meet required curriculum competencies, so repetition rates are high. It currently takes an average of 8.5 years for a child to complete grades one through five. 10 per cent of primary school students are above primary school age (11+).
Primary schools often do not have enough space to accommodate all local children. To combat the problem, 90 per cent of government schools run a ‘double shift’, half the students attend school in the morning and the other half attend in the afternoon. A child in a double-shift school is typically in the classroom for between three and four hours a day. Regular school closures further reduce class time.
The Government is working to improve learning environments, building 17,277 new classrooms between 2005 and 2007, improving ventilation and lighting, and increasing access for disabled children. In those schools that are still waiting for these improvements, dark and cramped classrooms continue to hamper learning.
Poverty causes families to send children to work, often in hazardous and low-wage jobs, such as brick-chipping, construction and waste-picking. Children are paid less than adults, with many working up to twelve hours a day. Full-time work frequently prevents children from attending school, contributing to drop-out rates.
According to the Labour Law of Bangladesh 2006, the minimum legal age for employment is 14. However, as 93 per cent of child labourers work in the informal sector – in small factories and workshops, on the street, in home-based businesses and domestic employment – the enforcement of labour laws is virtually impossible.
Dangers and risks
Long hours, low or no wages, poor food, isolation and hazards in the working environment can severely affect children’s physical and mental health. Child labourers are also vulnerable to other abuses such as racial discrimination, mistreatment and sexual abuse. Some work, such as domestic labour, is commonly regarded as an acceptable employment option for children, even though it too poses considerable risks.
Camel jockeys and trafficking
Although trafficking is usually an issue for older children, small boys from Bangladesh have been trafficked to the Middle East to work as camel racing jockeys. These children are often deliberately starved to prevent weight gain and can be subject to sexual and physical abuse. In 2005 the United Arab Emirates banned children (under 18) from working as camel jockeys.
Quality of Water
As the world celebrates World Water Day today, UNICEF urges governments, civil society and ordinary citizens to remember that behind the statistics are the faces of children.
Globally, an estimated 2,000 children under the age of five die every day from diarrhea related diseases and of these some 1,800 deaths are linked to water, sanitation and hygiene.
“Sometimes we focus so much on the big numbers, that we fail to see the human tragedies that underlie each statistic,” says Sanjay Wijesekera, global head of UNICEF’s water, sanitation and hygiene programme.
“If 90 school buses filled with kindergartners were to crash every day, with no survivors, the world would take notice. But this is precisely what happens every single day because of poor water, sanitation and hygiene.”
Almost 90 per cent of child deaths from diarrhoeal diseases are directly linked to contaminated water, lack of sanitation, or inadequate hygiene. Despite a burgeoning global population, these deaths have come down significantly over the last decade, from 1.2 million per year in 2000 to about 760,000 a year in 2011. UNICEF says that is still too many.