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Dropping out, bouncing back

© UNICEF/Naser Siddique
Learning should be fun: when there is no corporal punishment, children are more likely to attend and enjoy school.

By Sophie McNamara

JESSORE, Bangladesh, 4 October 2010: Anwar*, 12, is from, Jessore, a district town in the south of Bangladesh.  Anwar used to walk halfway to his madrasa (religious school) every day before turning around and coming home. When his parents asked why, he said he had been beaten at school. “One day I couldn’t complete the task, and the teacher beat me. So I didn’t want to go back anymore,” says Anwar. He soon dropped out, and for 2.5 years did not attend school at all.

School drop-out rates remain high in Bangladesh. While the country has made significant progress in primary school enrolment rates, only about 55 per cent of children who enrol in class one survive until class five .

Salma Khatun, a teacher at one of the local primary schools in Jessore, eventually ‘discovered’ Anwar at home last year when she was doing a child survey as part of the UNICEF-supported Second Primary Education Development Program (PEDP-II) funded by AUSAID. The school’s four teachers were assigned different parts of the school catchment and surveyed every household to collect information about all school-aged children, including out-of-school children. The teachers then drew a large catchment area map including all households, which is displayed in the head teacher’s room.

Teachers at the school pride themselves on their strong relationship with the community and parents. Many live very close to the school and regularly visit students if they have been absent or experiencing problems at school. The School Management Committee is also strong, and holds monthly meetings to discuss absenteeism and drop outs.

After identifying Anwar, Salma and other teachers visited his house many times to encourage his family to send him back to school. Anwar was eventually convinced late last year and has been attending school since January.

Anwar’s face breaks into a broad smile when he talks about his new school. “Not only do the teachers give me so much more care, I can now read and write,” says Anwar, as he proudly reads Bangla from his workbook. One year ago he could only identify the Bangla letters but could not read. Anwar is in class two, and while he is a lot older than most of his classmates, he has settled in well and has some classmates the same age as him. “It’s no problem. We’re the bosses of the class,” he jokes. Teachers say he is confident, well behaved and has a good attitude towards learning.

“Anwar is one of four students from the catchment who have enrolled here this year after dropping out” says head teacher Md Shahidul Islam. Records show that net attendance at the school was 97 per cent in June 2010, well above the 81 per cent national average. Shahidul attributes these strong results to the close ties the school has with the community.

Monday 4 October will mark the beginning of CRC Week. CRC Week celebrates the anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child - the first legally binding international convention to affirm human rights for all children - which was ratified by the Government of Bangladesh in 1990.

This year, CRC Week carries an anti-corporal punishment theme. Although the Convention on the Rights of the Child explicitly states that children must be protected from all forms of physical violence, a UNICEF survey of 4000 Bangladeshi children (aged 9-18) revealed that more than 90 per cent have witnessed physical punishment at their school. For three-quarters of the children, corporal punishment was present in the home, and one quarter of working children reported physical abuse in the workplace. In August 2010, the Government of Bangladesh issued a directive to all schools banning corporal punishment as a method of discipline.

Corporal punishment can have a devastating effect on a child’s emotional and physical health, and fear of punishment by the teacher was named by three per cent of surveyed children as a reason for dropping out of or not attending school.

*Names have been changed to protect children’s identities.

This project is funded by AusAid.

• Factsheet: Quality Primary Education (PEDP-II)
• Meena’s Blog: CRC Week 2010



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