To fight against drop out and child marriage, that has become a challenging issue due to Covid-19, Room to read is remotely mentoring girls from low income communities across the country
With over 8.3 million girls (UNESCO) in Bangladesh’s secondary education level, away from school during the on going Covid-19 closures, the generational poverty that the country was reversing is feared to encroach back. The first generation of learners created in many families are now at risk of never returning to school. This is a huge blow to the country’s effort toward achieving the SDGs.
Girls aged 11 to 17+ years (Grades 6 to12) in Bangladesh’s low-income communities have always been at a constant risk of dropping out of school, of child marriage and sexual harassment. Covid-19 has heightened these challenges. The girl children, acknowledged as a crucial demographic but sometimes lost in percent figures, are human beings who, like anyone else, deserve a life of dignity. They have a right to safety, to education and access learning materials that can help them chart their own, secure path in life.
The closure of schools during Covid-19 has resulted in the largest disruption to formal education. However, Room to Read Bangladesh has braved through the challenges to adapt to the New Normal world in continuing to coach and mentor the girls remotely so that the long-term education goals that the organization has been stepping toward stay on – so that the girls do not lose hope.
To continue to support from remote locations unfettered by Covid-19 challenges, Room to Read Bangladesh reviewed outreach strategies so that girls and their families do not consider stopping education or resort to child marriage. The regular individual and group mentoring support effort was doubled and delivered online for girls in the far-flung, poverty-prone communities of Dhaka, Cox’s Bazar, Natore and Sirajganj.Out of the 46,188 mentoring sessions, 3,869 girls attended individual mentoring and 9,774 girls joined group mentoring sessions that were delivered via audio/video calls.
Moreover, during the April to September tenure, a total of 91,531 communications as phone calls or SMS were made to keep the girls within contact, to inquire about their well being, inform them about Covid-19 safety measures, and encourage them to watch distance learning program on TV. With around 50% households of the girls supported by Room to Read Bangladesh having access to TV set, a total of 2,453 girls reported to have watched government’s distance education program being aired on national TV.
Room to Read Bangladesh also emphasized on mental well being of the girls’ during the ongoing obligatory home stay enforced for health safety, and engaged them to take up creative endeavors. A total of 3,001 girls submitted inventive pieces such as essays, drawings, handicraft etc. that were received with appreciation, and stories shared on social media with due consent and credits.
While the organization considers Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) in primary education, it also prioritizes life-skills for girls in the secondary school level so that they learn to negotiate key life decisions toward breaking gender disparities and inequalities. To this end, Room to Read Bangladesh continued speaking with parents, schoolteachers, members of SMC and local government officials.
To continue to support girls with their life-skills, Room to Read Bangladesh handpicked 40 life-skill topics (such as learning to be assertive, how to stay healthy, being empathetic to family, time management etc.) their roster of 80 to develop 20 videos in a bid to meet content requirement from the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education (DSHE). The videos have been made part of the weekly class routine of ‘Amar Ghoray Amar School’ (‘My School at Home) and are being telecast every Saturday at 11:45 am on Sangsad TV. Most of the life-skill topics covered may relate more to girls, but many are targeted to both boys and girls so that co creation of an equal and gender-sensitive education is possible.
It is crucial that girls are not sidelined in the wait for better times. Rather, all organizations investing in girls’ education need to enhance their efforts so that the ongoing crisis does not imprint long-term consequences in the girls. The inequality and uncertainties girls and women face throughout their life need to be addressed in a timely manner. Education is key; so are life-skills.