95.18 percent of students have passed the primary terminal examination this year. However, according to The National Student Assessment 2015 only 10 to 30 percent of students in Grade 5 are actually performing at grade level in Bangla and Mathematics, while nearly 65 percent of students in Grade 3 are performing at their grade level or above. This basically illustrates the fact that the academic performance of students is declining with time. And this problem is even worse among children in the underprivileged communities.
Focusing on the importance of storybooks and library in a child’s life to enhance literacy skills, a seminar, jointly organized by Directorate of Primary Education (DPE) and International NGO Room to Read Bangladesh (RtR-BD) titled “Role of children’s storybooks and library in developing reading skills and habit” was held in February, this year.
Together with the Directorate of Primary Education (DPE), NGOs such as Save the children, Room to Read and even civilian-initiatives are working endlessly in order to bridge the gap. This week, Weekend Tribune had the opportunity to explore the avenues of enhancing the age appropriate competency of children’s education by reading various types of supplementary books.
Where the problem lies
Kamal lives in a small house with only one bedroom, along with five other members of his family behind a government colony in the capital. The 17 year-old is currently studying in class eight, whereas many others of the same age are attending college. “Even though I am a high school student I still find difficulties in reading fluently, no matter what language the text is written in,” said Kamal, who is about to sit for his Junior School Certificate exam this year.
Ranajit Majumdar, assistant head master of Amader Pathshala a social initiative school for quality education of underprivileged children at Mirpur in the capital said, “We often get students who come to enroll in class six, but actually possess the competency level of students in class one.”
Working with underprivileged children for more than nine years, he believes this situation is the result of many problems. Children who are deprived from most of their basic needs often end up enrolling in school, much later than they should have. Moreover, those who actually continue with their education face plenty of challenges. The most alarming one is family support. “This sort of scenario is not uncommon – a child in one family is studying, while another family member is watching television or may be a fight breaks out between neighbours and he or she has to go on studying surrounded by such a situation,” says Ranajit.
“It’s true that students learn from their classes but they learn even more their surroundings. Activities outside the classroom, most importantly those that introduce them with age-appropriate supplementary books can play a huge role in eliminating the gap in performance of a student according to his or her appropriate school and class,” said Ranajit.
Besides providing students with special facilities and access to different kind of books, interactive communication to achieve expected competency among students according to their age and grade building a strong positive relationship between teachers and students is highly required, according to Ranajit. “Positive reinforcement by the teachers towards weak students is the key to building their confidence levels,” he added.
Children who are deprived from most of their basic needs often end up enrolling in school, much later than they should have
Raising concern towards the current state, Ram Chandra Das, Joint Secretary, Directorate of Primary Education said, “Only textbooks should not be at the heart of education, they are not enough. Besides textbooks, children should also become familiarized with different types of storybooks,” he added.
Ranajit Majumdar is planning to open a reading room and library for the students of Amader Pathshala. “We are supporting a very few children from our end, and are incapable of lending our support to the rest. However, government should take more suitable initiatives to bridge such gap as soon as possible,” he said.
Shaila Sultana, Program Manager, Manabik Shahajya Sangstha (MSS) said, “the actual scenario is much worse. From what can be seen or observed, for poverty-stricken communities, there always will be hardship. However, we have to work hard so that they can pursue their education in the proper way.”
“First of all It is highly unlikely the government will be able to create real improvement all on its arm to. NGOs’ and many civilian-initiatives are playing a key role by supporting the government on achieving success in quality education and lifelong learning,” she added.
Around 30 children were gathered in a class room on the first floor of a two storied tin shed building at Rayerbazar. Sitting on a rug, all of them were eagerly waiting to hear a story. Like all the other days, taking a book from the shelf Khadija Begum, instructor of Shishuder Jonno program, would read to them a story about the journey of a crow.
Khadija’s story telling was spiced with interactive activities like a dramatic tone, asking lots of questions about the core topic to the students and acquainting the children with different substances in the story like colours and shapes.
We are supporting a very few children from our end, and are incapable of lending our support to the rest. However, government should take more suitable initiatives to bridge such gap as soon as possible
Shishuder Jonno (For the children) is an integrated child development program funded as well technically supported by Save the Children and implemented by Manabik Shahajya Sangstha (MSS) is an initiative to nurture children living with deprivation from their basic needs. With the aim of supporting these children by providing age-appropriate care and development services in education to those below 18 years, health care services and improvements in living opportunities the program has been working in Rayerbazaar and other slums in Mohammadpur of Dhaka city, successfully reaching out to around 28000 people so far.
In her three month experience Khadija observed that the reading session of the program, titled ‘Reading for children’ has encouraged children to read further. She said, “the session stimulates most children with less capacity to read and write. She noticed that the initial response to such activities is improving concentration. Also, cutting off the shyness, the reading sessions inspires children to participate more in public speaking.”
Aged between 6 and 12, children participating in ‘Reading for children’ are assessed based on a wide range of needs depending on their age. Shishuder Jonno program goes through a rigorous procedure with experts to select the books for children since the requirement of every child is different, for instance a few of them may read by spelling the words, whereas a few of them try to understand the story by watching the images.
Children with less or zero capability of reading are cared for by the teachers until they achieve competency. To reach the aim the initiative has built a good collection of books available to borrow. Talking about the approach to reading the books at home instructed by the teachers, Khadija said, “while giving the books we tell the students where they can seek assistance, such as family members or neighbours or anyone eligible of reading from the community.”
Hosneara Khondker, Program Director, Shishuder Jonno of Save the Children, said “there is no other way but to endorsement of program like Shishuder Jonno in the context of Bangladesh which is a must for the sake of the next generation’s development. And we believe cloning of such models in other urban slums has the ability to bring consequential transformation in our society. ”