By Sabine Dolan
NEW YORK, USA, 24 May 2012 – Five-year-old Shawpona lives in a slum in Dhaka, Bangladesh. In this overcrowded urban community, row after row of straw and iron shacks are squeezed tightly together. Living conditions are difficult.
|UNICEF correspondent Sabine Dolan reports on a programme that educates children living in the slums of Dhaka, Bangladesh.|
But unlike most children living here, Shawpona can escape this reality for a few hours a day, six days a week. Shawpona attends a UNICEF-supported early childhood development centre, where she learns essential skills that will help her for a lifetime.
The early years of a child’s life are crucial. Early childhood development centres provide children with the best possible start by helping them develop their thinking and boosting their language and social skills. The centres teach the basics of reading, writing and counting to prepare preschool children and their families for school enrolment and future success.
Shawpona says she likes the centre she attends, the Lalmath Pre-primary School, which teaches 26 children aged 4 to 5.
|© UNICEF Bangladesh/2011/Dolan|
|Shawpona, 5, shows a drawing at the UNICEF-supported early childhood development centre in Dhaka, Bangladesh.|
“I like to come to school because I can study, learn singing, dancing and meet my friends,” she said.
Challenges to education
In most slums in Bangladesh, access to education is limited. For those children who do attend school, repetition and drop-out rates are a challenge. Many children here work to support their families. Shawpona’s brothers, aged 8 and 7, are a case in point. They used to go to school but recently dropped out and are now working in the garment industry.
Shawpona’s father is a taxi driver, and her mother is a housewife. This morning, Shawpona says she didn’t eat breakfast because her mother was so busy she couldn’t prepare the morning meal in time.
Teachers at the centre say one of their biggest challenges is school absenteeism. Sometimes, when the children don’t show up, the teachers go to their homes and talk to their parents.
|© UNICEF Bangladesh/2011/Dolan|
|Shawpona, 5, plays with UNICEF Communication Specialist Arifa Sharmin at a UNICEF-supported early childhood development centre in Dhaka, Bangladesh.|
A strategic investment in children
In spite of these difficulties, early learning opportunities mean disadvantaged children like Shawpona are better prepared for school and more likely to complete their education. It’s a strategic and efficient way of combatting poverty and raising standards of living.
“We know that by investing in the early years, we can increase the opportunities for the most deprived children to complete primary education with improved learning achievement. As Bangladesh aspires to become a middle-income country within the next 10 years, early childhood development is a strategic investment that benefits the whole of society,” explained Nabendra Dahal, UNICEF Chief of Education in Bangladesh.
Early childhood development is one of UNICEF’s priorities, and UNICEF is working with partners to empower communities and families to invest in young children. The need is great: Teachers at the centre say about 80 per cent of the young children living in their neighbourhood have not been reached.
“As the world becomes more and more globalized, the one child we are supporting today may be supporting society even beyond Bangladesh in the future,” concluded Mr. Dahal.