Saturday, 10 December, 2022

Are We Doing Enough to Bring Back Dropout Students?

Arifur Rahaman & Ridwana Nahrin

Raju – a sixth-grader student from the Moghbazar area stopped going to school in 2021 after the end of the second lockdown in March. Though his family was financially crashed amidst the pandemic, they were eager to send their children to school. Yet, Raju joined a nearby hotel as a waiter and later became a labourer in a workshop. He may never return to school as a year already passed since he left school.

Likewise, the pandemic resulting in the subsequent prolonged school closure has escalated a sharp rise in the school dropout rate in the country. Even before the pandemic set in, Bangladesh was struggling with a high dropout rate across primary and secondary education levels. According to Bangladesh Bureau of Educational Information and Statistics (BANBEIS) data, the dropout rate is the highest in secondary education (37.6%). Corresponding figures for primary and upper secondary levels are 34.8% and 19.6% respectively.

The dropout rates further spiked due to the pandemic. The steady increase in the number of school dropouts has plunged Bangladesh back into a number of societal issues, namely child marriage and child labour. A survey by Save the Children International has revealed that almost 10 million children across the globe may never come back to school premises once the ongoing pandemic ends. It has also depicted that children in 12 countries are at a high risk of school dropout evermore whereas 28 countries are at moderate or high risk of dropout, and Bangladesh is listed among those.

During school closures, the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education (MoPME) and the Ministry of Education (MoE), worked with stakeholders to provide a range of opportunities for the continuity of learning to reach as many learners as possible. Many initiatives are on the move from the government, to keep the students on track. Bangladesh government started telecasting high school level classes through “Shangshad Television” which is normally dedicated to telecasting the national assembly. However, it is estimated that more than 23 million households do not have access to TV whereas TV is a popular recreation medium for households and has become a source of education nowadays.

More than 200 classes in math, Bangla, English, and social science were broadcasted by radio for primary educational levels. These lessons, in line with the National Curriculum, were developed with the association of UNESCO. They started broadcasting in August 2020 through the state-run Bangladesh Betar and 16 community radio stations. Although household ownership of radio is low, less than 1% throughout the country, over 90% of households have access to mobile phones which can play radio programs. Lessons were uploaded onto various online platforms, such as YouTube, Google Classroom and Zoom so that students could watch and re-watch them in their feasible time. More than 75,000 online classes were delivered using social media and education portals. Many teachers, with the support of A2i, took the initiative to record lessons themselves and post them on social media platforms, setting up Facebook pages for these lessons at division, district, and sub-district levels.

Edu Hub was set up which gathered 25,000 pieces of content from all over Bangladesh, which was made accessible to teachers and students with the appropriate devices and facilities. In addition, the government has plans to develop a national mobile education platform through IVR (Interactive Voice Response) with toll-free calls. The process is underway to make it live for students. This technology can be accessed from non-smart phones as well, which means that it could potentially reach 95% of households with a device, including the 14 million children who receive stipend payments through their mobiles.

These initiatives potentially opened up opportunities for increased numbers of learners; although in households where there is only one mobile phone, access for students is likely to be limited. The National Response and Recovery Plan, developed by the Government, and strongly supported by UNICEF, outlines the areas that need addressing when schools reopen, to ensure that all children, including the most marginalized, return to school as soon as possible.

Despite all the initiatives by the government to reduce the dropout and continue the teaching and learning practices, some students like Raju still dropped out of school. In this regard, some interventions might be helpful for out-of-the-school children and students who are at risk of dropout.

Firstly, for impoverished students, a special incentive can be provided to prevent them from joining the workforce for money. The selection process for this incentive must be rational and limited to deserving candidates. A big no to child marriage and strict enforcement of law regarding this is a very timely need to prevent female students from dropout. Female students should also be granted a special stipend that may encourage them to join the school. Existing laws and policies regarding children i.e., child labour must be implemented. School infrastructures must be gender sensitive and inclusive for all. The capacity of the teachers can be enhanced by sufficient training along with preparing a flexible curriculum. Various interventions that were launched earlier, such as, the Mid-day meal can be re-launched after a thorough evaluation. Parents-teacher association should also be activated systematically. In the case of already dropped out students, vocational training can be provided which will be accessible for all.

However, in all these steps from government, community coordination is a must. Else, the question still remains- are we doing enough?


The writers are Research Associate and Assistant Program Coordinator respectively at South Asian Institute for Social Transformation (SAIST Foundation), Panthapath, Dhaka