Education Policy

Education in Haor Areas: Should Distance Be the Barrier to Access Education?

FHARIA TILAT LOBA


In terms of mainstream socio-economic development initiatives, Haor area people are becoming increasingly marginalized. The national policies of Bangladesh have pledged a special attention to the disadvantaged community such as the Haor people, but they are yet to enjoy the full access to the essential services by the government. Education is the most victimized sector in this area and needs massive attention from policy players also demands innovative approaches to be implemented to ensure education for all children within proximity as well as reach goals of EFA and MDG by 2015. Recently the draft Education Act has been shared by Ministry of Education (MoE) and it is commendable that finally the long awaited demand is going to be fulfilled through this act by recognizing Education as fundamental human right of Bangladesh people.  It id praise worthy Government uploaded the draft document in MoE official home page and made it open for suggestion and recommendation before finalizing it. It is therefore high time to think about the educational demands and hear the unheard voices of such group of people those are literally ignored yet.

Haor is a wetland ecosystem or  very low lying river basin area below the level of flood plain, which is also similar to swamp land covered by water almost 6(six) months of a year starting from the monsoon. The vast majority of Bangladesh’s population depends for its survival on wetlands which cover more than half of the country’s geographical area- Sunamgonj, Hobigonj, Moulovi bazaar, Sylhet Sadar, Kishorgonj, Netrokona are some of the Haor areas. There are estimated to be 165 Unions in this area with a total area of 5,918 km2, and have a population of 3.8 million people or about 688,000 households. Fifty five percent populations are landless and the most marginalized living depends on the physical labor in agriculture field and fisheries. In haor areas the major economic sector of income and livelihood is agriculture and there is mainly mono cropping system. But the peculiar early flash floods often wash away the standing crops and people lose their harvest. Therefore, people remain unable to come out of vicious poverty cycle. Due to extreme poor communication there are no quick transportation available, poor health facilities and access as well as quality of education is other vital issues over there.

One of the major barriers in sustainable socio-economic development is lack of quality education. On the other hand, economic deprivation and social inequalities arising from their geographical isolation keep the children of Haor area away from school and education. There are a small number of schools in haor area thus, in most cases children have to attend school outside their settlement. Unlike in the rest of Bangladesh (other than the CHT) school attendance by girls is lower than that of boys. Since security is a vital concern for girl students due to poor communication system, the only reinforcement of government – stipend for girls’ attending school is not enough to overcome the difficulties.

Generally children of these areas start going to school late compared to other parts of the country, they also drop out earlier than others. The age-specific enrolment rates in Sylhet are lower for all ages compared to the national averages. 65% of children of age six are enrolled in schools in other parts of the country on an average but it is 52% in Sylhet division. Many parents are not aware at all about age of admission to school .By the age of 15 years 60% of haor areas are stayed out of school. Therefore, high dropout rate, student absenteeism, teacher absenteeism, security issues- especially for girl students, transportation – are the major issues in Haor areas. According to Education for All, 2000 quality primary education will have to be ensured for all children in Bangladesh and if we want to achieve this goal we need to take the issue of the education for these areas’ children into deep consideration.

However, despite of a number of challenges Government took significant initiatives to ensure primary education though still it is lying in policy level and grass root people are mostly deprived from education. Though geographical feature causes immense crisis in transportation and communication but in this “digital” era, distance/poor communication/unavailability of transportation should not be the excuse in terms of ensuring education for all.

It is stated in National Education policy, 2010- In the schools located in the wetlands and areas prone to frequent natural calamities, provisions will be there to change the timing of the school hours and to reschedule the holidays according to their needs. In this regard, decisions can be taken at the local level on the basis of community-based recommendations. This initiative is called flexible school calendar and different civil society network; national education coalition, rights based organizations contributed to include it in policy. So, it is evident that the alternatives are already there in policy level. Now it is time to take initiative to oversee whether it is properly being implemented or not.

Another innovative approach is initiated by NGO is the floating education boats travel down the haor areas in the town, from village to village, offering the children their first lesson. Since government primary schools of these areas are still sorely inadequate and set up in remote areas, to meet the needs of the children, these boats facilitate educational support for the haor children. But quality and standard of education can be argued since it cannot provide proper school environment.

Traditionally democratic deficit in education has been manifested in education system in our country and no undoubtedly it is the fundamental root of all other problems of access, quality and equity leading to inadequate accountability of education system. Therefore, Rights Based Approach aiming to create political space for civil society should be ensured to take part in educational decision making because effective participation of civil society in education at all level is a prerequisite for democratic, transparent and accountable practice in education as well as for quality education. On the other hand citizen participation is another important concern and community agencies like School Management Committee/Parents Teachers Association need to be truly inclusive and representative so that they can speak on communities’ behalf and where decisions will be taken in a democratic and participatory process. Thus the actual situation and contextual issue will come up with effective solutions.

Not only that, there is a great need for deepening emphasis on the democratic management of education systems, in which civil society and education community actors are guaranteed a place as active participants in decision-making on education policies and strategies with a view to the implementation and formulation of agreed national agenda i.e. National Education Policy, 2010 and PEDP3.  Strengthening civil society participation in education serves two major purposes – it has impact on the education system itself, enhancing education quality and delivery and the wider impact of creating a stronger and more informed civil society, aware of their rights as well. Those who participate in education governance can use the skills gained in this area to transform power relations and secure other human rights.

Civil society participation is critical at the Union, Upazilla, District and National levels, to influence wider education policy, planning and practice, and to ensure strong voice of marginalized people in education system. Participatory school level plan can be another way, where a civil society led Union level consolidated education plan can support School level Improvement Plan (SLIP) or Upozila Education Plan (UPEP). Local peoples’ effective participation can make a local education plan successful that can help to develop useful SLIP and UPEP those are able to address the Haor peoples as well as students needs in better way.

A more progressive redistribution of government primary education spending to the children of poorest and disadvantaged groups and a better targeting of the primary stipend program to the poorest students, are likely to help Bangladesh achieve its EFA targets. Last but not the least hiring local teachers and providing opportunities for training and professional career growth is critical to ensure the demand quality education by quality teachers. Further, building an internal incentive structure within the school system to reward performing teachers is likely to be sustainable.

Though in primary level it is really difficult to run successful distance education program but it can be implemented for particular subjects that needs lesser “one to one guidance” by establishing portable resource centre (like  Hawaii/Pacific Basin Area Health Education Center).  As a result they can complete those subjects without attending school. In this regards Institutes of Education and Research of public Universities could play important roles by experimenting different innovative education ideas, researching or replicating creative learning from other countries in those areas which could successfully address the genuine needs of the education demand of children of Haor aera. However unfortunately neither these institutes become truly the centre of generating evidence based innovative ideas nor any Government took effective initiatives to transform these institutes into international standard research hub.

These initiatives are mostly depend on decentralized education system and so far remained ignored due to highly centralized and acute bureaucracy. Consequently about six million children are out of school and engaged in income generating activities or supporting their families in household work. So, no wonder that the parents of Haor areas in Bangladesh find less value in investing in education. Particularly for the girls in these areas, the education system is yet to be improved if Bangladesh is to effectively reduce poverty and achieve MDG’s.

Finally it can be said that in this technologically advanced era while we are arguing for digitalization and globalization, geographical barrier should not be excuse for ensuring quality education for all children within Haor area. We should think about alternatives, adopt technology base intervention and apply need based solutions and to do so ensuring good governance by citizen participation and community voice is must for a transparent quality education system. So distance can be the barrier but should not be the prime excuse anymore to ensure education for all in Haor areas.


FHARIA TILAT LOBA: Deputy Manager- Education, ActionAid Bangladesh, Dhaka, Bangladesh.

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