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Teach for Bangladesh: Bridging the education divide

  • Published at 04:30 pm May 25th, 2013
Teach for Bangladesh: Bridging the education divide

Zahid Hossain graduated from Dhaka University’s Institutes of Education and Research. His study was mainly on education systems and teaching methods. Though he was trained to be a teacher, he does not want to go into the teaching profession.

He says that he wants to take the Bangladesh Civil Service examinations and work in the government service.

Asked why he does not like the teaching profession, he says teaching offers low salaries and few career opportunities.

“If I take an assistant teacher’s post in a government primary school, I’ll have to be in the same post till my retirement. There is no career ladder in the teaching profession.”

Like Zahid, most graduates of top universities in Bangladesh do not want to be teachers. When a graduate from a top university takes up teaching, its usually because he or she finds has no other opportunities. Many take primary teaching as a transitional profession and leave as soon as they get another opportunity. Experts have long been pointing out that this unwillingness by good graduates to take to primary teaching is having a serious impact on the quality of education in the country.

“Teach for Bangladesh” an organisation working to expand education opportunities mostly for underprivileged children, has taken the initiative to address the problem.

The organisation will recruit the best graduates from top universities and will place them in government and NGO-run primary schools so that students from lower income households will get a quality education. Officials say they will handsomely reward teachers so that talented graduates are encouraged to pursue this profession.

Maimuna Ahmad, the chief executive officer of Teach for Bangladesh says: “The goal of Teach For Bangladesh is to address the disparity that exists in education today. We want to bridge the gap. The way we are doing this is: we are recruiting the best graduates coming out from the best universities of our country-people with the most leadership potential, and we will place them in lowest income schools to teach for two years.”

Disparity is now a major problem for the education sector of Bangladesh. Authorities often neglect the government primary schools where low-income families send their children for a free education.

Some 800 students study at the city’s Nobaberbagh Government Primary School and there are only eight teachers. Schoolteachers say that it sometimes becomes quite difficult for them to conduct all the classes.

This situation is not something unique. Most government primary schools in the country have a shortage of teachers and children of low-income groups, who cannot send their children to private schools because of tuition fees, are not getting a quality education. At many private schools in the city the teacher-student ratio is 1:20 or 1:25.

Bangladesh has made significant progress in the education sector over the years but at the same time disparity has not fallen, and many think it is actually rapidly increasing.

A 2009 Unicef report clearly highlighted the disparity in the education sector. The report says that education indicators are worse in urban slums than other urban areas, and even worse than rural areas. According to the report, the net attendance ratio for pre-school education is 26% in urban areas, 22% in rural areas and only 13% in slums. Net attendance ratio in primary education is 84 percent in urban areas, 81 percent in rural areas and 65 percent in slums. The primary completion rate is 80% in urban areas, 80% in rural areas and only 48% in slums. Drop out rates for primary education is 1% in urban areas, 1% in rural areas and 8% in the slums.

Maimuna believes that the Teach for Bangladesh initiative will help to address the disparity in Bangladesh’s education sector. She said that the graduates they will recruit will work as a change agents in government primary schools across the country.

She says there will be 35 teachers in the first batch and they will work for different schools in the city for two years. She said that the organisation wants to increase the number of teachers in the classroom to 400.

Maimuna believes that the experience the graduates will earn in the programme will help them further develop their leadership qualities.

“They will have the leadership development and they will get experience and exposure that will make them competent candidates in the long term for employment in the education sector or in the development sector.”

The programme was launched in Bangladesh on May 16 and at the launching ceremony, US Ambassador to Bangladesh, Dan W Mozena said that he believes Teach for Bangladesh will help bring quality education to the children of Bangladesh. He said that his son was a volunteer at Teach for America and the experience he gathered changed his life forever. He said that the theme of the Teach for All network is: people helping people and people changing people. He said the experience of being a teacher will have a positive impact on the graduates’ lives. He enocuraged government, private organisations and donors to help the initiative.

Founder of Teach for America and CEO of Teach for All, Wendy Kopp said that one of the positive things of the Teach for All programme was that it helped to create new leadership. She believes the Teach for All network has changed the lives of many people around the world and says that the programmes are helping to lessen disparity in the education sector. Wendy believes that the programme has great potential in Bangladesh.

Zarifa Zakaria, a Dhaka University graduate who applied for a fellowship in the programme says her dream is to ensure that every child gets a quality education and that is why she has chosen to join.

In 1990, Teach For America enlisted its first group of 500 talented young leaders to address the problem of educational inequity by committing two years to teach in the United States' highest-need schools. Now the programme places more than 7,000 teachers in 35 urban and rural regions, with a growing body of research, which demonstrates that these teachers are more effective in advancing student achievement than traditionally trained teachers.

At present, the Teach For All network includes chapters in 27 countries across Europe, Asia, the Americas and the Middle East, with programs in 10-20 more countries expected to join in the next two years.

The application process is going on and graduates can apply for fellowship till June 1. Fellows will work full-time for two years in their schools. Interested graduates can visit http://www.teachforbangladesh.org/ for admission process.