It is also one of the flattest, lowest countries on the planet, most of it being the deltas of three mighty rivers – the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna.
It is the 143rd most wealthy country in the world (2016)¹ and 1 in 8 people (13%) live on less than £1.35 per day² (2016). But, in recent years, Bangladesh has made a lot of progress; it has reduced its population growth and improved the quality of life of its people and life expectancy is now 70 years.
Dhaka is the capital and biggest city in Bangladesh with a population of nearly 19 million in the Greater Dhaka area. It is a bustling, busy megacity. It is the biggest industrial centre in Bangladesh, as well as being its biggest financial centre. It has modern hospitals, several universities and large shopping centres.
300,000 people a year move here from the countryside in search of a higher standard of living. There certainly is a lot of wealth in the city and many well-paid jobs, but there is also extreme poverty and homelessness on a significant scale. Over a quarter of a million people live on the streets³.
Only 1 in 5 children here (23%) are able to complete their primary and secondary education; the rest of the children either do not go to school or drop out of school.
The students of Dhanmondi Government Girls’ High School in Dhaka have agreed to work with us to try and increase the opportunities for children in one part of Dhaka to go to school and stay at school. They firstly researched the main barriers to education in Dhaka by interviewing a cross-section of the community, including parents, teachers, community leaders and children. Their findings have been summarized and have been presented as PDF files and as powerpoints. These can be found at: https://j8educationalpartnerships.co.uk/research, which is password protected for educational purposes. Please get in touch and ask for the link to access these files.
Dhanmondi Government Girls’ High School was established in 1965 with a view to promoting female education. There are about 1000 number of students, ranging in age from 11 to 16 (grade six to ten). The school day begins at 12.30pm and finishes at 5.25pm. This is because Dhanmondi has to share its premises with another school which occupies the building in the mornings. The school occupies an attractive, quiet sitewithin the affluent residential area of Dhanmondi in Dhaka.
Increasing Access to Education in Dhaka
Having found the main barriers to education and some practical solutions, the students in Dhanmondi and Hutchesons’ were able to start taking action. These are some of their actions, so far:
Starting a Student scholarship scheme
Working together, the Hutchie and Dhanmondi students have set up a child scholarship scheme for children in the local area whose parents cannot afford to send them to school. This scheme pays the fees, uniform and other costs of one or two children per year from a poorer background to attend the school. The sponsorship will continue until the girl has sat her crucial Secondary School Certificate Examination. As well as greatly improving their career prospects, it is hoped that the girls will become role models in theirextended families and neighbourhood and help others to see the importance of education.
Working with a second-chance centre
To persuade more parents from the poorest areas to send their children to school, both sets of students worked with the UCEP school in the district of Rayer Bazar. This school is a second-chance centre for children who have dropped out of school and need to catch up before they can rejoin a mainstream school. The children at the UCEP have been taking part by giving talks to adults and children in their area. They have had discussions with the local police and councillors to improve safety in their area because this is one of the reasons why some girls, especially, do not go to school.
Working with a pre-school for girls
Rezwan Hussain, a university lecturer in Dhaka, has started a pre-school for the benefit of girls living in the shanty town of Rayer Bazar. Rezwan, himself, went to school in Glasgow. Attending the Ariel school gives these girls a head-start in their education, making them much less likely to drop out
Raising awareness in the local community
The girls composed a play which they performed and filmed, made banners and posters which they displayed publicly.
Informing the government
Some educational problems in this area of Dhaka need expensive solutions, well beyond the means of the students. What they are doing, however, is to make sure the local and national government know of the issues here, know of the solutions and know how important all the students think it is to improve the opportunities for education. So, the students in Dhanmondi GGHS have written to the Minister of Education to highlight the barriers to education in their area and to present their findings.
Raising awareness amongst local children
The Dhanmondi girls have given presentations in local schools, informing them of the benefits of staying on at school and completing their education.