The Bengali poet Golam Mostofa writes, “ Future fathers lie sleeping in every child.” Children can be powerful agents of social and economic change if they are trained and brought up infusing them with social and economic values in their school life. Social thinkers and educators have been exploring newer ideas and thoughts to enrich our children in school with social values and teachings. A new concept is known as ‘ Aflatoun’ has emerged in the literature of education to make the school children responsible, proactive and socially conscious citizens who can contribute to breaking the poverty cycle and improve their own quality of life. The word ‘ Aflatoun’ is of Arabic origin and to refers to ‘ the explorer, a person who thinks, explores, investigates and acts. It also refers to Plato, known for his ideas and ethics, citizenship, social justice, respect, conservation, friendship and love for fellowmen. ( source: www.natcco.coop/index.php)
The Aflatoun program provides children and youth with the budding blocks of life and empowers them to make a positive change in their lives. It balances personal and social awareness with practical planning, saving and entrepreneurial skills. Aflatoun is delivered by a network of partners which ensures that the program is adapted to local culture and requirements and is supposed at local levels. With a view to ensuring that the message of Aflatoun is passed on to all children everywhere the partnership is established and the local implementing partners are selected for the network based on their work with children and their connections within the country.
In establishing partnership special attention is given to those organizations which work for developing the situation of education as education is the prime factor to bring change in the society. A curriculum is developed focusing on personal understanding and exploration, understanding and exploring rights and responsibilities, the concept of saving and spending, learning how to plan and budget, skills that make them aware that they have choices and control over how they can use their resources and demonstrate and practice their learning through social and financial micro-enterprises where they collaborate as a team and discover how they can make the local community a safer, healthier and fairer environment. BRAC is the second-largest partner of Aflatoun and has developed an Aflatoun curriculum of BRAC for children aged 6-14 years and for grades one to eight. The child’s interdependence with family, neighbourhood and community and money as a means of satisfying some needs are also focused in the curriculum.
Self-exploration through understanding, feelings, financial ethics and transparency, environmental preservation are other factors that are incorporated in the curriculum. Responsible behaviour and citizenship, developing pride, collective action, and organizational skills are taught to the members of Aflatoun. The Aflatouns students become aware of their responsibilities, income, expenditure and saving, democratic values and leadership, fulfilment of needs and well being of the society.
Both Aflatoun and BRAC are striving to empower children. BRAC Education Program launched Aflatoun as a pilot project in 2008 in BRAC Primary schools, BRAC Adolescent Clubs and secondary schools where BRAC works for capacity building of teachers and bringing about a positive change in the overall scenario of the school environment. In 1002 BRAC Primary schools, 20 BRAC Adolescent Clubs and 250 secondary schools Aflatoun activities have been introduced reaching 81914 students.
The students of these institutions are now more aware of their rights and responsibilities and social issues They have learnt the importance of saving and they are now saving even if it’s small, they can prioritize where to spend, they are learning to utilize used materials, they are cost-conscious now, are investigating their savings in buying hens, ducks and goats as assets, their analytical ability has developed. Hidde Van der Veer, Executive Director, Aflaoun (International) says, “Money is just a tool main objective is to develop the habit of the students to grow up socially with financial awareness.” Bernice Raldan, Program Manager, Asia, Aflaoun Secretariat said, “ In 82 countries it is going on. Bangladesh is the second-largest country to continue the program whereas India is the largest one to see the program of Aflatoun.”
Her lively presentation in the BRAC Centre on November 29, 2011, gathered many national and international eminent personalities belonging to education, co-operatives, banking and social development sectors. Shamim Yusuf, Senior Sector Specialist, BRAC Education Program and the Master Trainer of Aflatoun- Asia shared his experience in the said international stakeholders meeting and I was fortunate enough to be there. My interest to learn more about Aflatoun and its impact has got further momentum participating and coming in contact with the Aflatoun headquarters people. Many developing countries have started incorporating it in their curriculum to derive actual benefit from education.
As Aflatoun’s dream is the reduction of poverty with the help of socially and financially empowered children, the Bangladesh context aptly fits it. The Aflatoun program originated in India in 1991 but it started witnessing its success in 2005 when Jhe Ashok fellow Jeroo Billimoria, president and founder of the Aflatoun project made it familiar with different parts of the globe. In order to internalize the concept of Aflatoun interested personalities established a secretariat in Amsterdam. Now it deals with developing the financial and social skills of students as well in dealing with adversities but also prepare them for better planning the economic life ahead of them.
Financial ethics are explored and children learn the importance of balancing finical skills with the judgment to use these skills responsibly. Aflatoun is grounded in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child ( 1990). Financial empowerment hinges not only on constructive personal values systems but also on specific, practical skills. Financial empowerment is achieved when children use their saving and spending skills to maximize their life choices. Through managing community or entrepreneur enterprises children begin to see how they can have a positive impact on their community which is one of the basic objectives of education. To save the slanting quality of education of Bangladesh Aflatoun program can play a significant game.