Home education project reaches children in remote parts of Bangladesh
UNICEF delivers pioneering initiative to provide home education in a remote part of Bangladesh
A UNICEF-supported home learning initiative in the remote south-eastern Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) of Bangladesh has made significant progress in offsetting the effects of a country-wide education lockdown implemented because of COVID-19.
Normally early learning and pre-school activities in the area, predominantly inhabited by a wide variety of indigenous people groups, are carried out in one of about 4,300 Community – or Para – Centres that are located in the three districts that comprise the CHT.
But the arrival of the COVID-19 has meant that these centres have been indefinitely closed, leaving children in the CHT no alternative but to study at home mostly without electricity and without the benefits of modern technology such as TV and the Internet. They are missing out on holistic development that is an essential part of their pre-school preparations.
Sneha Chakma–from Rangamati district –is one of 1,500 children aged between three and five in the CHT who have recently been supplied with a home-based learning pack.
Sneha said she would prefer to be at the Para Centre with her friends and teachers.
“But at least we’re now able to draw, read, write and play more at home,” she added.
The learning packs contain two months’ worth of curriculum that provide advice to parents on how to engage children at home with meaningful learning activities.
“The curriculum has been adapted and modified from the existing Para Centres’ module which is already familiar to children,” said UNICEF-Chittagong Field Office Education Officer Afroza Yasmin.
“The content is simple and geared specifically towards the children. It can be used at home by parents with minimum support from the Para Centres.
“The learning calendar, which also includes some basic learning materials, helps children and their families cope with COVID-19 by having a special focus on the prevention of infection.”
Disrupted learning activities
The learning-at-home package is especially designed for children in hard-to-reach areas, Ms Yasmin said, prioritizing a daily routine of children’s activities, including rhymes and songs, which are designed to aid learning at home.
The aim is ultimately to expand the programme to the 53,000 boys and girls who live in the three CHT districts with the support from Government and other partners.
As UNICEF Bangladesh Chittagong Chief of Field Office Madhuri Banerjee explains, the initiative fully conforms with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals because of its emphasis on equal access to good quality early childhood education and development.
“Our aim is to support the most vulnerable children so that they are ready for lifelong learning in future,” Ms Banerjee said. “We are also advocating for strengthening of early childhood education for all children in the CHT both in an emergency and a non-emergency context.”
So far children and parents who have received the package are enthusiastic about it, said Sustainable Social Services (SSS) Project Manager Jan E Alam. SSS are implementing the project with support from UNICEF. Both organisations share the same objective in wanting to keep any disruption to pre-school activities to a minimum.
“From now onwards home-based learning will definitely play an important role in children’s continuous holistic development,” he said.
Parents such as father and mother Romel and Shaymoli Chakma have also welcomed the initiative when questioned by researchers on behalf of UNICEF.
“We were very happy and proud to get the chance to support our child at home,” said Romel. “We never thought we would be so involved in her learning."
“But it hasn’t been easy for us during the lockdown. We are earning less than before. We are socially distanced and more isolated.
“If the Centres remain closed, we fear it will severely affect our child’s future. She won’t be able to get enrolled in Grade One next year.”
‘Not afraid of the virus’
Teachers meanwhile such as Debo Lokhi Chakma, 27, are hailing the success of the programme.
“While it was a bit difficult in the beginning to implement, parents have responded positively when they see that it is so helpful for their children,” she said.
Ms Chakma added that she is taking all the necessary precautions that she knows of.
“We are like a big family,” she said, “and I take good precautions before I go close to the family. I maintain physical distancing, wear a mask and wash my hands frequently.
“This initiative may not be perfect, but it covers the essentials of reading, writing and arithmetic and at least goes some way towards ensuring that children are engaged in learning.
“At the same time it enables us teachers to check on their progress every week.”