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Going bananas for a more engaged school community

© UNICEF/2010/Naser Siddique
Children at the Sualock Para Government Primary School in Bandarban are performing better at school thanks to nutritious snacks provided by their onsite banana plantation.

By Sophie McNamara

BANDARBAN, Bangladesh, May 2010:
Bananas may not be the first thing that come to mind when thinking about quality education, but an onsite banana grove at a school in Bandarban, south-east Bangladesh, has made a huge difference to the school community.

Bandarban is in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, a historically disadvantaged area of Bangladesh with a large indigenous population who live in mountainous terrain that makes access difficult.

Students at the Sualock Para Government Primary School in Bandarban come from a wide geographic area, many from poor families, and most cannot go home at lunch time. Until recently, teachers noticed that many students were unable to concentrate on their studies because they were hungry. The school also had other limitations that were hindering student performance such as a lack of ceiling fans and broken furniture.

Helping schools help themselves

The Second Primary Education Development Programme (PEDP-II), funded by the Government of Bangladesh and 11 other development partners including UNICEF, is helping schools like Sualock address their needs.

An important part of the project is the decentralisation of school management through the use of School Level Improvement Plans (SLIPs). The process begins when head teachers and others receive training on developing a SLIP. A school-level committee consisting of students, parents and staff then identifies activities that would benefit their school and develops a detailed budget and plan. The committee usually raises funds from the local community to supplement the 20,000 taka (300USD) grant that the Government provides to implement their SLIP.

© UNICEF/2010/Naser Siddique
Students tend to the banana grove behind their school building, made possible by funding provided as part of School Level Improvement Plans (SLIPs).

Bananas for education

At the Sualock school, the head teacher, Mrs Lalthan Zual, thought students’ concentration would improve if they could have a snack at school. However, the SLIP funds would not stretch to buying food for the students every day.

Instead, the school took the innovative decision to purchase 60 banana plants, and plant them behind the school building.  Within a year, the plants were producing enough fruit for the students to have bananas several times a week. “We told students if they come to school every day, they will get bananas to eat,” says Mrs Zual. Susantakumar Amu, a student in Grade 5 agrees that bananas are an incentive to go to school. “I like to get fruit when I go to school,” he says.

In addition to the banana grove, the SLIP Committee plans to plant mango and papaya trees. They have also made sure that neighbours are aware of the school’s plans. “As most people in the community know about our banana orchard, they know that they should not steal from it because they would be taking fruit from the children,” says Mrs Zual.

Other improvements carried out under the SLIP included painting the school, repairing furniture and blackboards, installing electric fans in the classrooms and repairing doors and windows. The SLIP was also used to fund an annual sports day, six monthly mothers’ meetings and annual guardian meetings.

Improving community engagement

The SLIP process not only helps schools fix their problems, it also engages the community to develop a sense of ownership in school decision making and management.
The real impact of Sualock Para GPS’s SLIP is not only in the repaired furniture, or in the pleasant grove of banana trees, but in the newfound initiative of the wider community.

“Before, the community could not see what they could do, but since some funds were provided, the community is involved, and they have more ideas about what they can do to help the school and our students,” says Mrs Zual.

Factsheet: Quality Primary Education
Photo essay: Education Programmes



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