‘Child-to-child’ programme fosters early learning for pre-schoolers in Bangladesh
By Casey McCarthy
LALMONIRHAT, Bangladesh, 14 July 2009 – In the sticky heat of early afternoon, the children of the Haribhanga Dargarpar Government Primary School – set amidst the lush green rice paddies of Sadar sub-district – are bent over their school desks, drawing.
The class is an unusual mix: 10-year-old students who are already in the fifth grade and 5-year-olds who have never before been to school.
The children have been brought together to take part in an innovative peer-education programme called ‘Getting Ready for School: A Child-to-Child Approach’, designed to educate young children the year before they are eligible to enrol in primary school.
In the programme, students from the fifth grade are paired with two eligible pre-school-aged children to act as facilitators and peer-educators.
“The children are good students, they learn quickly and practice all the time,” says youth facilitator Momotaj, 10. “I love to teach, so it also benefits me. I’d like to go to university and become a doctor.”
The child-to-child programme is held once a week during the school year, under the supervision of a teacher.
The children receive Early Learning Kits filled with activities to foster the skills of early literacy and numeracy. Activities include the use of pictures, games, rhymes and songs to encourage children to experiment with common everyday objects, solve problems and draw conclusions.
In total, more than 1,280 students are part of this innovative pilot endeavour. Less than 20 per cent of children in Bangladesh attend pre-primary school; some 90 per cent are enrolled in primary school.
Launched in March, the programme is being piloted in 30 schools in six upazilas, or local sub-districts, which were chosen for their high level of drop-outs and low school completion rates. The UNICEF-supported initiative is being implemented in collaboration with the Directorate of Primary Education, under the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education, and is also supported by the Australian Government.
The programme is part of a global initiative in partnership with UK's Child-to-Child Trust, which is also being piloted in China, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Tajikistan and Yemen.
'I love to teach'
Momotaj meets with her teacher once each week to review the previous class and plan for the next one. Her 'students' are Bipul and Nahid, both five years of age. The trio gets together every day to discuss what they have learned.
“I expect Bipul will be well educated now,” said his mother, Bedana Begum. “Every day, he is taking time to learn something and he can express his opinions and interests. His concentration is better now and he takes very good care of his school books.”
The child-to-child approach is a new and cost-effective way to deliver early learning opportunities for those who cannot afford formal pre-schools. It can allow children to participate effectively in age-appropriate learning activities that will, in turn, improve their cognitive, linguistic, emotional and social development.
Looking to the future
When the first phase of the child-to-child programme ends in December, Bipul and his classmates will be ready to start first grade. Meanwhile, teachers will be busy selecting the second group of young children to begin their year-long journey of preparation for primary school.
“Pre-school learning is an important component of early childhood development, which prepares children for primary school, decreases drop-out rates and increases learning achievements in the long term,” said UNICEF Education Officer Sari Korkalainen.