What is the best method to educate the children of RMG workers?
In a recent interview, Rubana Huq, our renowned RMG personality said, “Our workers have already been sending their children to schools. We are breeding a generation of literate kids. So, the hope lies in those young minds. The opportunities will depend on our effort to train those youths.”
She was talking about the great potential of social transformation the RMG sector has to offer. It is very encouraging indeed. But I would like to differ with this very successful entrepreneur and enlightened person on this note of optimism.
My experience says a vast majority of the RMG workers are sending their children to very low quality schools or madrasas. These institutions are not producing the kind of literate kids we can count on.
There are many critics who complain that RMG workers are paid low in our country, and are being deprived and exploited. But they cannot get more than what they make anywhere else with their level of education and skill. If we are really concerned about their welfare, education of their children is an issue has far-reaching implication.
RMG workers have many concerns. So how are they handling their children’s education? One would find a large number of madrasas springing up at locations close to the habitat of RMG workers. Is this a happy trend?
The conditions in madrasas are usually quite harsh for young learners. Children have to rise very early in the morning. Rooms do not have enough ventilation. They survive on meagre meals. Overall health and hygiene aspects are not properly looked after. There is no scope for them to play any games and have some fun in the afternoon. They sleep huddled on the rough floor with at best a light quilt.
The young boarders and their mothers are aware of the harsh conditions. Many think that this is just normal and indispensable for their education and upbringing and just endure this. But why are the RMG workers enlisting their children to madrasas and not schools? Has anybody mulled over this question?
Madrasas provide full-time schooling; an RMG worker can leave her children early in the morning as she heads out for the day’s work and collect them on her way home in the evening. This takes away a lot of their worries and helps them concentrate on their work.
In addition, some of them have a strong motivation to make their sons and daughters a Hafiz of the Holy Book, where they memorize the Qur’an in its entirety. There are students in the country who have achieved this very difficult feat and at the same excelled in other professions too. Another reason of existence of large number of madrasas is the fact that charity is easy for them to obtain, which is not the case for schools.
So our schools are losing out to madrasas and there are implications of this. Many madrasas only concentrate on theological studies; they do not help children develop reading, writing, and speaking skills which are very essential. The environment in general in such institutions is anything but child friendly.
Can bodies like BGMEA, BKMEA, BEPZA, labour welfare organizations, and factory owners play a role? BGMEA is already running a reputed university. Can they not sponsor a few schools of good standard to fulfil the requirement of children of RMG workers? Can our Board of Education play a role?
I would suggest organizing a monitoring team with a proper check list who would go around and inspect schools and madrasas where predominantly RMG workers send their children.
The check list could include living conditions, safety and security aspects, health and hygiene, arrangements for games and sports, and practice tests in math, Bangla, English, and other subjects. They can also discuss with parents, teachers, and students to find out any cases of abuse the children are exposed to. They can identify and recommend measures to school or madrasa authorities for corrective measures.
These are not too optimistic to be achieved provided the concerned bodies agree and are determined to provide the required support. To make some kind of affiliation, the authorities I talked about may give a nominal donation to institutions so that they develop a kind of affiliation and a sense of obligation.
Can we think of a blended institution, meaning a madrasa and school being run under the same administration at the same compound? This will give us scope for effective monitoring and the same time an option for the parents to select.
Brig Gen Qazi Abidus Samad (retd) takes care of HR and Admin in a multinational RMG organization.