From slums to a formal school
Dhaka, 3 October, 2011: Twelve-year-old Sultana Akter lives in Karail, one of Dhaka’s largest slums. A few years ago she was illiterate and worked every day selling flowers to passing motorists at a busy intersection near her home.
Because Sultana’s family was reliant on her income, her education options were limited. “I was not really aware of the importance of education,” says Sultana’s mother, Nasreen. “I thought that the local government primary school would be too expensive,” she says.
Millions of children live in Bangladesh’s urban slums, and the number continues to grow due to increased rural-urban migration, driven by the search for economic opportunity. Urban slums suffer from a lack of educational facilities, and many children in these areas have to work to support their families.
Sultana’s life began to change when a specialised learning centre was established near her home. The centre was part of UNICEF’s Basic Education for Hard-to-Reach Urban Working Children (BEHTRUWC) project.
The project aims to provide education to marginalised child workers who would have otherwise had no access to education at all. It is estimated that thirteen per cent of children across Bangladesh are engaged in paid or unpaid work. This is roughly equivalent to the number of children out of school.
The BEHTRUWC project provides students with minimum literacy and numeracy qualifications through free tailored classes that run for 2.5 hours each day, six days a week in the hope that the students will eventually transition from the specialised school to formal government schools. Fifteen percent of students involved in the BEHTRUWC project make such a transition.
Sultana’s mother, agreed to enrol her daughter in one of the specialised classes and Sultana completed the 40-month BEHTRUWC course in November 2009, as part of the first group of graduates, with a basic education in English, Bangla, maths and life skills.
A project review found that many graduates aspired to continue their education, so UNICEF worked with the Government of Bangladesh to determine the equivalency of the BEHTRUWC certificate with the formal primary school system. The Government issued an order that BEHTRUWC graduates were eligible to enrol in grade four of primary school.
Nasreen decided to enrol Sultana in a government primary school close to their home. The classes run for four hours each day so she has less time to sell flowers, but Nasreen says she came to value education more after Sultana’s positive experience at the learning centre. “My dreams for my daughter’s future have grown now that she is getting more education,” she says.
Sultana settled well to her new school. “I’m in the habit of going to school every day, and most of the students in my class are my neighbours, so I know them,” she says.
The transition into mainstream education has had a positive impact on Sultana’s commitment to education, and has expanded her life goals. It has also meant she is better placed to look for less hazardous and better paid work. “I want to learn a lot and go onto higher education. I would like to become a doctor!” says Sultana as her proud mother looks on.