Study: Learning loss remains in children’s education despite Bridge Schools showing promise

Brac Bridge School students ahead in Bangla and mathematics compared to their Indian counterparts, according to research findings

Brac organized a research dissemination event, “Learning Loss Study and Bridge School Evaluation” at its head office in Mohakhali on Thursday.

At the event, findings of two studies on Brac Bridge Schools and learning loss were presented.

Brac Education Program launched an innovative model called Bridge School in 2014, said a press release.

The non-formal primary education (NFPE) model was initiated for children in marginalized communities who had never enrolled in any school or dropped out of primary school at an early stage.

In the Bridge model, a five-year course of primary education is followed in an intensive method so that children can gather knowledge in a short period of time.

A four-month bridge course is conducted for Class 2 students with the goal of overcoming their learning loss and improving their primary knowledge.

A study was conducted to understand how effective this course is. Under Brac’s supervision, a team of international researchers used Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) tools to evaluate the learning of Brac Bridge School students.

According to their data, Brac Bridge School students were ahead in Bangla and Mathematics compared to their Indian counterparts. This assessment was completed in 2021 when Bridge School students – like others from around the world – had been at risk of severe learning loss due to prolonged school closures since 2020.

Other notable findings of the evaluation include students with better skills in reading short stories compared to Indian students (53% relative to 50%) and competence in division math compared to Indian students (63% relative to 28%). The performance of urban school students in division math is significantly weaker than those of rural students.

The study was led by Stephen Heyneman, emeritus professor at Vanderbilt University, USA, John Richards, professor of public policy at Simon Fraser University, Canada, and Shahidul Islam, a doctoral student at Queen’s University. They all gave a presentation at the event titled “BRAC Bridge School Evaluation”.

John Richards said: “One important success of Bridge Schools is that they probably have better reading and math results than the average government schools.”

Stephen Heyneman said: “We noticed that the teachers all used innovative techniques to connect with parents who used their phones and learned how to monitor their children’s learning. I have not seen that level of control and contact anywhere.”

Shahidul Islam said: “Bridge model has huge potential for replication in resource-poor settings/countries. It can immensely help in achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 4 in countries where school dropout is a major challenge.”

Another study was conducted to evaluate the learning loss of children in Bangladesh where Samir Ranjan Nath, program head of Brac IED, conducted the “Literacy Test”. In this study, Nath found that the enrollment rate in pre-primary schools was 62.7% in 2020, which has come down to 49.6%. Although 96.2% of students participated in primary in 2020, it has come down to 93.6% in 2021.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the rate of female student participation was higher than that of male student participation in pre-primary – which has now declined. After schools reopened, 79.7% of students participated of whom 78.6% were in primary and 80.6% were in secondary schools. The attendance rate was found higher for girls than for boys. In rural areas, it was 80.9% but in urban areas, it was 77.5%.

Samir Ranjan Nath presented his findings on learning loss at the event. He added: “Learning loss is a reality. The question is how fast can we recover from it. This can start with an assessment of the learning levels of all students, categorize them and prepare recovery strategies as per students’ needs.”

Asif Saleh, executive director of Brac Bangladesh, in his closing said: “The learnings from our proven Bridge School model along with the findings of Brac IED’s learning loss study will benefit policymakers and practitioners on ways to accelerate learning and build our education systems back better.”