Opening school doors for girls and disadvantaged children in Bangladesh
By Steve Nettleton
NARSHINGDI, Bangladesh, 16 August 2006 – Down a warren of shanties built with corrugated steel and thatched wood, Morzina Begum and her parents live in a one-room shack, sharing a common kitchen and toilet with several other families.
Opportunity is slim in this impoverished district on the outskirts of the town of Narshingdi. Like most of their neighbours, Morzina’s family members struggle to make ends meet. Her mother stays at home, while her father cannot find regular work.
Families across Bangladesh endure this same tough economic environment; it often forces parents to arrange for their daughters to be married off in their early teens and drop out of school. Disadvantaged neighbourhoods have school enrolment rates 20 percent lower than the national average.
Progress and challenges
Despite her difficult circumstances, Morzina is determined to stay in school. “I want to get a job,” she says when asked what she will do if she can complete her studies. “I want to help my parents.”
Morzina is in fifth grade at the Kamargaon Government Primary School, which represents a success story in getting girls into class. The student body actually has higher numbers of girls than boys.
Nationwide, a similar trend has emerged. Bangladesh achieved gender parity in primary education last year, with girls’ enrolment rates at 86 percent, compared to 82 per cent of boys.
This progress, however, is not shared by all. More than 3 million children remain out of school in Bangladesh, particularly disabled and minority children and those living in urban slums. A third of primary school students drop out before fifth grade, and only about half of those who finish primary school achieve the minimum national curriculum competencies.
‘They need the opportunity’
UNICEF is working with the government to improve the quality of education, implement new teaching methods and promote initiatives to get disadvantaged children into school. It is also leading awareness campaigns for quality education and gender equality through events and the mass media, including an animated TV series featuring a girl hero named Meena.
At the same time, UNICEF has supported a groundbreaking study analyzing the educational situation of disadvantaged children in Bangladesh. The findings will inform new technical programme assistance to improve access to schooling as well as equity and quality of education.
For Morzina’s father, a good education is the key to escaping poverty.
“I want them to have better education than what I had,” he says of his children. “I want them to study twice as much as I did. They are children. They need the opportunity. Let them build their own future.”