Bangladesh offers free and compulsory primary education to all school-aged children, and the government adopts various steps to make it successful as nobody would be left out-of-school. However, a still considerable number of children have been out-of-school because of dropout or have never been enrolled in school due to poverty that surfaces conflicting points between our plan and reality. In this perspective, the out-of-school children aged between eight and fourteen were brought to the school through the `Reaching Out-of-School Children’ (ROSC) project.

The project builds upon the experiences of both public schools and NGO education, blending formal education with non-formal means of delivery for children. It allows them to complete grade five and transition to secondary school and provides pre-vocational skills training to youth who have dropped out. ‘Reaching Out-of-School Children’ or ROSC started its journey in 2005, and till December 2012, it brought around 7 50,000 children to primary schools in 90 Upazilas.

In 2013 ROSC-2 started and covered 148 Upazilas, which can be said that ROSC-2 stands on the success story of ROSC-1 that provided an opportunity for receiving primary education to 780000 poor children and get them connected with school and education.

Flexible school timing was maintained to keep children in touch with education, and one teacher keeps with them from grade one to five that definitely promises deep attachment between teachers and learners even at the personal level. ROSC project has thus convinced the government to extend the non-formal system to give the light of education to those who have been out-of-schooling facilities.

Primary Education Development Project-4 under the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education set ‘Out-of-School Children Education’ objectives. Accordingly, the Bureau of Non-Formal Education (BNFE) was given the responsibility to provide primary education to ten lac children aged between eight and fourteen within the time frame from July 2018 to 2023. Out of these ten lac children, one lac under PEDP-3 started their schooling activities in 2017, which is going to end in December 2021, but the completion activities will continue till March 2022.

Currently, six districts, namely Dhaka, Chattogram, Kishorgonj, Gaibandha, Sylhet and Sunamgonj, witness this program activities through their 3332 learning centres where education is provided based on four modalities and the expenditure of the project stands at 3260 crore taka, of which eighty crore came from donors and the rest by Bangladesh government.

Four modalities followed here are (i) ABAL (Ability-Based Accelerated Learning ) Model whose duration is 45 months and every day with  2 hours 40 minutes’ break schooling takes place from  9 am to 5 pm. (ii) Multi-Grade  Model with 42 months duration with two shifts schooling from 9 am to pm every day (iii) Cohort Model-48 months course in which everyday grade one and two students get three hours schooling, grade three 3 hours 30 minutes, grade four and five get 4 hours schooling and (iv) SHIKHON Rural Model- for 48 months.

In each model, the number of learners is 25-30 who are taught by one teacher with minimum qualification SSC and NCTB textbooks are used here. The rest nine lac students are supposed to get schooling in 61 districts from January 2021. However, it has seen a sign of uncertainty.

‘Out-of-School Children Education Program’ is a laudable step on the part of the government to give the light of education to those who have been dropped out of school or have never been to school. One of the objectives of this program is to get the children enrolled in secondary school after the completion of primary education. These children basically need intensive care and support to continue their education and retain grade six schooling adjusting themselves to the new and challenging secondary school situation.

Along with their schooling, some technical education can be made available to them to support their families, ensure their safe future, and lessen the country’s unemployment problem. The huge learning loss and gap these children embraced during the Corona pandemic can be minimized by introducing a ‘bridging course’ for at least four months and a ‘remedial course’ till December 2022. The affluent families and regular students had some opportunities to keep in touch with education and books.

However, these children have been deprived of these facilities except for some ‘phone schooling’; this gap will be minimized if ‘bridging course’ and ‘remedial course’ can be introduced. All this I mean for the one lac Out-of-School children.

In this connection, the fate of nine lac children has become uncertain as the Directorate of Primary Education wants to express that this considerable number of children are currently not going without schooling. Children have either been in government primary schools or kindergartens or madrasas. This claim contains merit, but no such flawless study is available. Who will do this study? Do we have any such scientific study that will give us an accurate picture of the children who have been dropped out or have never been to school?

Moreover, Corona must have increased this number, and one can easily get this picture visiting the slums of the towns and big cities. Can we claim that we don’t have any dropped out children to give ‘second chance education’? We must have proof of that level when we claim it, i.e. a purely professional survey can claim it.

We cannot afford to agree that formal education retains every scope for mass education. We claim that around 76 per cent of people are literate in our country. It means still 24 per cent of people remain illiterate. Can we expect to do it formally if we want to bring them under the umbrella of literacy? Definitely an informal way we need to adopt. Informal education is aimless and ambiguous. But non-formal is the real hope to minimize the gap between formal and informal and make a balance between both.

So, to give and provide liberal, flexible, standard, cheap and qualitative education as per the needs of the individual, society and the country, non-formal education can be termed a practical solution to make the country free from illiteracy.

Non-formal education has purposefully and systematically been created. It has a clear-cut goal to provide education to the mass, and it is a very flexible and liberal type of education, taking the numerous differences of the individual into account. It can educate both children and adults who have been beyond the formal schooling system by imparting knowledge, developing skills, and promoting social values. However, we need to devise it appropriately.

About the author

Masum Billah

Masum Billah works as an Education Expert in the BRAC Education Program, BRAC, and President of the English Teachers' Association of Bangladesh (ETAB), Dhaka, Bangladesh.

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