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Child-friendly classes and parent meetings boost attendance at a new early learning centre

© Kathryn Seymour/2008/UNICEF Bangladesh
Ripon watches as his friend rules lines on his slate. “My little brother, Umon (4) learns from me when I get home,” says Ripon. “I teach him everything that I learn at school.”
Rangpur, Bangladesh, August 21: The pre-primary class at Shabchas school is divided into four groups: the bananas, the guavas, the mangos and the jack-fruits.  Ten boys and nineteen girls sit in four tight circles on a colorful jute mat, under drawings of their fruit name-sakes. Each of these fruits is commonplace in this remote rural corner of northern Bangladesh.

Shabchas pre-primary has been open for only six months. The school is run by BRAC who is the implementing partner for about 20 per cent of UNICEF’s 5,414 early learning centres in Bangladesh. Over 135,000 children currently attend the centres. These children now face a more promising future because their early learning experience provides a strong foundation for future success in education.

The UNICEF schools are located in some of the most disadvantaged communities in Bangladesh: in remote rural areas like Shabchas and in urban slums.

Playful learning for young leaders

Six-year-old Rabeya is the leader of the banana group. “My favourite classes are reading and writing, but dancing is what I am really best at,” says Rabeya. “I really like being the leader of our group because I get to lead all the dances, the singing and our dramas.” Of the seven children in each group, each child takes a turn as leader over the course of the year.

Student leaders have several jobs: they introduce their group to visitors in the classroom and they arrive at school a half hour before the morning exercise session to make sure that everyone in their group comes on time. If someone does not turn up, the group leader runs to the absent child’s house to find out why.

Rabeya doesn’t normally need to run off after roll-call, because she walks to school with five or six other children. “My house is the farthest, so I yell out when I pass my classmates’ houses and they run out to join me. We all love coming to school.”

A new teacher for a new school

Following the morning exercise drill which lasts about fifteen minutes, the children have a free-play period. After this, lessons in counting and the alphabet are intermixed with stories, drama, dance, music and art classes.

“When the children draw, their hands are free and so their minds are free,” says Razia Begum, the pre-primary teacher at Shabchas school. “Before coming to the school, many of the children had never done a drawing. They didn’t have any opportunities for recreation at home because their families are so poor.”

“I think that dancing, singing songs and drawing are very important,” continues Razia.  “Since coming to the pre-primary classes, the children have changed so much. They are now much more outgoing and are very interested in enrolling in primary school.”

Before school opened, Razia spent two weeks at UNICEF-funded teacher orientation training. Razia also attends a one-day refresher course every month. UNICEF also supplies teacher salaries, rent for classroom buildings, and teaching and learning supplies.

Involved parents keep children in school

Rabeya’s teacher is not the only one to have noticed the change. Her mother Anwara is very pleased with her daughter’s progress. “Rabeya has more knowledge than before and she is much happier. There was nothing for our young children before this. They stayed at home and had nothing to do. Everybody in our village likes the new school because the teacher has been looking after our children so well. After she finishes at the pre-primary school, we will definitely enroll Rabeya at the government primary school.”

Anwara is also very pleased that she is able to remain involved in her daughter’s new life. “The teacher advises us to drop by the school from time to time to find out what is going on. She also suggests that we make time every day to see to our children’s school things and speak to them about what happened at school. That way Rabeya remembers what she learnt during the day.”

“Every month there is a parent meeting that we can go to at the school,” continues Anwara. “At the first meeting, before school opened, the teacher explained the school hours to us and why it was important to send our children to school. We can bring any problems we have to the meetings.”

According to Mr Joytish Chandaroy, area manager for BRAC’s early learning programmes, the parent meetings serve another important purpose. “When the school opened in January, there were often three or four children absent every day, and that number increased during the harvest when the children went to work in the fields,” he says. “So, we went to the parent meeting and spoke about the problems of child labour and the importance of education. Now that the parents are informed, there are only occasional absences from school and these are usually because the child is sick.”



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