In-school strategies for improvement
Classroom: There is only one classroom for every BRAC school. Basically the classroom itself is the school. It is very different from typical and formal classrooms. The size of the classroom is 336 square feet. There is no chair or benches for the students or teacher. Students sit on the mat floor. Students sit in a U-shape line having the teacher in front. The room has enough space to split the students into five small groups for group and project activities. All the classrooms are decorated with drawings by the students, colourful posters of common flowers, animals and fishes. There are also some posters of time tables. The picture of the classrooms is similar for all BRAC primary schools wherever they are located, and they all use the classroom as a space to celebrate the work of the students.
Teacher-Student ratio: Teacher student ration in all BRAC school remains the same and it is 1:30. The classroom size and pedagogic activities are designed to fit with this ratio. If more than 30 students are found in the survey in any village or community then two schools are set up to keep the teacher student ratio constant, as the curriculum and methods are planned for group of this particular size.
Curriculum: Curriculum for BRAC schools is very innovative and practical. As most of the children in BRAC schools come from socially and economically disadvantaged groups, BRAC specially designs its primary education curriculum. BRAC primary education is four years long where as the mainstream formal primary school curriculum is designed for five years in Bangladesh. At the end of these four years, all the students of BRAC primary schools are expected to achieve all the terminal competencies set up by National Curriculum and Textbook Board (NCTB).
BRAC uses their own text books for grade I, II and III. For grade VI and V, BRAC uses text books prescribed by NCTB. The textbooks that are produced by BRAC for early grades are related to the practical life of the children so that they might feel the education interesting and related to their lives.
Pedagogic focus: The teaching style in BRAC schools is very different from formal primary schools. Student’s participation in the teaching and learning process is ensured through a range of different activities. Students are kept engaged in different types of activities in small groups or individually. Rhymes and songs are a compulsory part of daily school routine. Joyful learning environment is ensured in the classroom. Lots of low-cost, improvised and locally available materials are used to enhance concrete learning of the children.
Assessment: Unlike formal schools, there is no formal assessment through examination after every term in each grade in BRAC school. Rather continuous assessment is being done by the teacher throughout the year using small size tests and giving formative feedback. But recently government makes it compulsory to take part in the primary completion test for every student. So at the end of grade V, all students must take part into the primary completion test which is administered by Directorate of Primary Education (DPE). Currently available evidence suggests that students from BRAC schools do very well in this test.
Management Strategies for improvement
Student: The main target group of BRAC non-formal primary schools are only those children of 8-10 years old who are currently deprived of formal education. So the children who are already passing through or even crossed the age limit for primary schools but have not been enrolled in a school can be a student in BRAC school. Students who are dropped out from mainstream schools can also be students of BRAC school. 70% of the students in BRAC schools are girls.
Teacher: The relationship between teacher and students is very important in early grades. So BRAC always recruits teacher from the same village or community where the school is located. So that most of students and parents have close communication with the teacher. Ideally the teacher should be a female. As it is difficult to get female teachers from villages with high educational qualification, any female member of the village or the community having only ten years of schooling experience can apply for a teaching post in BRAC school. There is only one teacher for every school who teaches all the subjects throughout the primary schooling cycle for four years.
School: Long distances between students’ homes and school is one of the key reasons for the high dropout rate or even low enrolment rate in primary schools. In rural and hilly areas, it is really difficult for school going children to reach the school by walking. BRAC started to set up the schools inside the community so that the dropped out or left out children from mainstream formal education can easily get the access to a new type of school.
Involvement of the community: Before setting up every school, BRAC staff has to do a survey in the community to evaluate the need for the school. So naturally a good relationship is built up even before setting up the school. The room is generally hired from some person from the community. The teacher is also recruited from the local community. So from the very early stages of any school, strong relationship with the local community is maintained in BRAC schools.
Involvement of the parents: A parent’s meeting is compulsory in every month. Not only the children’s academic issues are discussed in the parent’s meeting but also different social issues such as disadvantages of early marriage, dowry and basic health issues such as dates of immunization, cleanliness etc. are also discussed in parent’s meeting. The purpose of the meeting is to ensure that parents are aware of what their children are learning at school and how to support them, but there is also an element of ‘adult learning’ for the parents themselves from these meeting.
Academic supervision and programme management: Support from academic supervision and programme management is very essential for any effective education system. There are three main units of BRAC education programme. They are field operation unit, education development unit and monitoring unit.
The field operation unit is responsible to run the programme at school level. Led by a regional manager, under every region, there are some area offices. Each area office has some branch offices under its control. Branch offices are led by branch managers. Every branch manager manages a line of 3 or 4 programme organizers (PO). Every PO is responsible for 10-12 schools. So the POs work as direct supervisors for the teachers.
The education development unit has two main jobs. One is development of the curriculum and development of teaching materials to support the curriculum. And the other is to look after the quality assurance of the education at the operation level.
The monitoring unit monitors various aspects of the programme, such as subject-wise progress of the students, teaching performance, school management issues, activities of field operations, etc. Monitoring reports are usually sent to head office and also to regional offices as that any follow action can be identified and implemented.
Also an independent Research and Evaluation Division (RED) of BRAC carries out different studies on BRAC education programme and shares their findings with the education programme management.
Staff development: Staff development is very important part of school improvement strategies in BRAC. As most of the teachers have only ten years of schooling experience and they have to teach all the subjects up to grade five, they need strong support from BRAC for their capacity development.
Teacher training is one of the strategies for developing the capacity of the teachers. There are two types of training for the BRAC teachers-
1. Basic training (compulsory for all new teachers) for 15 days
2. Refresher training (for 1 day, every month)
In the basic training teachers are trained about pedagogical issues and in the refresher training teachers usually share their problems and difficulties with BRAC programme staffs and get the problems solved by them.
Programme Organizers (PO) are the direct supervisors of the teachers in BRAC system. There are several in service trainings for the POs as well-
a) Basic teacher training
b) Operation management course
c) Master trainer training
Also generic skill and financial management training are designed for the branch managers, area managers and regional managers.
BRAC sees itself as a learning organization. It has developed the education system through its long experiences and practical work in the field. Different innovations and effective strategies that BRAC introduced and implemented in its education program have really made BRAC primary education as one of the most successful and effective primary education schemes in Bangladesh. The state owned formal primary education system can take some of the examples from BRAC primary education’s strategy such as maintaining low teacher-student ratio, similarities of every school in terms of physical structures and facilities, close involvement with the local community, regular parents meeting, strong support and development mechanism for teachers, supportive supervision system. BRAC has made its education programme successful with very low operation cost with these effective strategies. So it can be expected that adaptation of some of the effective strategies from BRAC primary education would also make the government primary education to raise its standard. [End]
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TOUFIQ HASAN:Post-graduate student, University of Manchester, United Kingdom.