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The Voice of the Poor: Insights about the Poverty, Education, Development and Their Inter Relationship

Voice of the poor. Photo source: Youtube

Voice of the poor. Photo source: Youtube

MOHAMMAD TAREQUE RAHMAN wrote about Voice of the Poor


We have come to such a time while the importance of quality education is entirely recognized. The government and the other bodies are working to improve the situation. While it’s the question of quality, it depends on various aspects, which need to identify. For any problem definition it’s very important to go through the problem for a very clear picture. Several stakeholders have already identified the barriers towards quality education but we believe that it’s very important to listen the people who are in the vulnerable position. We the researcher thought that it’s very important to find out how the poorer community people relate different variables (which has identified as the barriers) towards education or quality education. We believe that the poor people have different point of view to relate the problems for which they are getting behind day by day. For example we all know that for ill health condition many students dropped out from the schooling but the researchers were very curious to know how far this problem could be resistible and when that ill health child got dropped. The researchers had the intention in mind to explore whether this (ill health) was only the reason to be deducted from the schooling, virtually dropped out or other aspects motivated the circumstances to take that solid decision.

Study procedure

This study includes the children, parents, community people, village head, and teachers. We approached differently towards different stakeholders. We wanted to get an in-depth result and for this purpose we had to plan different tools such as interview to the parents, interview to the teachers, in some cases FGD, observations etc. we always were concerned about their privacy and consent of using the information’s for our purpose. We were very keen to point out different dimensions of problems and tried to facilitate sometimes to help them (different people and students) speaking out their inner hidden feeling.

As we had to collect some in-depth information so we supposed to be intimate to them. We built a very worm environment in all the cases so that the villagers feel free to talk with us. Sometimes we had to make the conversation to their own interest and somehow later we had to relate that with our concern. We conducted some FGDs with the village mothers, with the village people who were in leadership role, with the students as well. We conducted some informal discussion in the village bazaar (in some tea stall or in grocery shops). We tried for triangulation approach to make the result more valid and reliable. We tried to get in touch of all the family members of a family and in the next we tried to ask their neighbors about them to judge some crucial information. It’s not that there were no difference (between the family and the neighbor’s information) but as it is said that the poor speak the same voice, we found this true in them. Along with this we tried to get examples (information, each family gave) to the informal conversations and FGDs for clearing the concepts and to make them valid. We cross-checked the information with our observations too so that we could get a clear idea of why they think they cant get quality education and how they think that, they can achieve quality education? We sometimes raised some common issues what we thought could be a barrier towards quality education and later the different participants followed that and shared their experience and thoughts. Sometimes we lead the participants by questioning, following their answer in various issues. As we didn’t ask them only about the problems they face but we also asked them what could be the solution of each problem they face so by this the participants felt honored and inspired to answer from their true understanding and confidence.

We the researcher thought that sometimes it could be a better idea to communicate with the roadside people mainly with the children. The idea was that while we would talk with roadside people (passer by of a village or working in the field or gossiping in roadside shop) they would tell the truth as they would think that we the researcher wouldn’t identify them later. So they wouldn’t need to be responsible for their opinions. This technique worked as we found one passer-by told us some information while we found him telling different interviewing in his home. We emphasized the children to observe and for informal walking conversation because we wanted to know exactly, what the children tend to do in the roads not getting in the school. We were keen to observe their work or playing pattern so that we could have an idea why they are not going to the school but playing in the roadside.


The roadside children

While we were approaching inside the village we found some of the boys beside the road in a different role.  Some were as fisherman, some were rakhal(who take care of the cattle or sheep).  Kamal who was fishing with a gamsa*1 in the roadside drowned paddy field told us he doesn’t like to go to school as he likes to play here in the roadside with his other friends who don’t go to the school too. According to kamal, “school a jaiya ki hoibo? amra to ar biddan hobona!!” (What would be done going to school? We are not going to be learned people!!) In the Same way jakir who was grazing some sheep said,” school amar ekdom bhallagena. Sarera khali mair dey. Ekbar amare mair diya jor anay felsilo” (I don’t like to go to school at all. The teachers always tend to beat. Once I got fever by beaten up). But to learn something, are all the responsibilities go to the students shoulder?  “Ami gotomashe 4/5 din jabot jore bhugsi ar schooleo jaite pari nai ,ami taile kemne pora parum ? kintu sar amare pora pari nai deikhkha  emon mair dilo je jor bhalo hoiya jawar pore amar abar jor aailo.” Said Jakir.  (I couldn’t go to the school last month for 4/5 days for fever so how could I able to learn the lessons given by the teacher? But the teacher beat me so badly that after recovered from the fever I got sick again). Its not that these children like their present task very much but comparatively they like to be with their goats or sheep or cattle then being inside the classroom for getting bored or beatings. According to them, their parents are poor and they cannot afford their kids education. Its not that the children didn’t enrol to the school but in maximum cases the children were found irregular. We got examples that some of the children don’t even go to the school for 10/15 days.

Jafor was saying that it was far better to be with the sheep rather then inside the class as all his friends tease calling total (who have the difficulty to speak). The children added that some of their friends stopped going to school just because of the bad behavior by the teachers and sometimes by the fellow mates. But was that the only reason? We encouraged Kamal to say something more that responded that children like him wouldn’t go to school because they wouldn’t be learned men. Kamal was quite straight to speak sharp and according to him while they need to be busy with household work or domestic animal rearing or farming or need to help their father to their agricultural work then reasonable they cant be regular in the class and they fail to study properly. Claiming them as bad student, teachers beat them for not learning the lessons, while they shouldn’t be responsible for this irregularity. Rashed (may be a 14/15 years age) who was silent completely suddenly started crying and saying-

“amar maay onno barite sharadin kam kore ar amare amar chudu baidare sharadin rakte oy. Ami to mashe 15/16 din schoolei ashte parina. Kintu keu heida bujhlona. Ami porikhkhay result kharap korsi deikha shobai bollo ami naki kharap satro ..amare dia poralekha hoibona. Her laiga may amar poralekha bondho koira dibar chay.”

A mother in common

We decided to go to zakirs house. Zakir wasn’t willing to guide us towards his house but he pointed the way we could go to his home. Zakir’s home isn’t big and it has a very small yard. There were a kid of 2/3 years of age was playing with a small sheep. He was covered with mud and water. No one has the attention to look after him. The entire yard was urinated by the sheep. Zakir’s mother Ferdousi didn’t have enough time to talk with us so she was doing her household task and talking with us. According to Zakir’s mother, education can’t provide anything (being angry). It’s the wastage of time.

“Poralekha shikhkha teka kamaite onek boro biddan hoite hoy. Amar polay ki ar oto boro biddan hoite parbo? Amra gorib manush . dui bela khaitei pai na to eeto poralekha kemne koramu polare. Tarcheye van chalano e bhalo. Nogod kamai hoibo”

Her dream is to get Zakir to be a driver (local van is popular over there). She dreams that Zakir would have his own Van and that’s how she thinks the success of life. Being a mother she is worried about her child as she also told us about the last time beatings that Zakir got from the school. She was planning to get her child off from the school as he wasn’t doing well in the class and she was much disturbed by the workloads as well. Being the only person in the family it’s quite tough to handle the entire household task and the young child along with the pets. The researchers were very keen to identify why then she still got her child attached to the school while her dream was making him a van puller? The question was very straight to her and answer was unexpected.

She said that-
janina, kintu ken jani poladar school bondho koira dite shahosh paina. Kemon jani kharap lage. Poristhitir karone oyto polare vaner driver banaite chai kintu abar chinta kori ehono to poladar kase duida rasta khola ase- hoy biddan oibo naile van chalaibo kintu lehapora bondo koira dile to onno kono rasta kholai thakbona. Polar to ar boro manush howar kono shujog e thakbona

According to her, Zakir’s father don’t have enough time to think of all this as he get back home in the late night (9 pm is late night over there). Being very tired he prefers to get his meal and like to go to bed. He works as a day laborer.

Mariam: living with hope

Mariam a typical Bengali poor woman has two kids. Her daughter Aleya reads in class twelve in the district college and her son Masud 11 years of age go to BRAC primary school. According to Mariam she was the poorer of the poorest. She lost her husband a year before. Now she works as a household servant nearby. Her husband left a piece of land where she stays with her two children. She got some support (a cow) from an NGO and now she is trying to raise her own source of income. She has got a cow and 3 goats. She has also got some hens and ducks. With her all effort now she is improving from the hardest poverty. Aleya is good in her study and she tries to help her mother in various ways. Mariam said-

My daughter is very helpful. She is poor but a very smart girl. She helps me to take care of my young son and besides this she helps me to rear my domestic animals. I am determined to educate all of my children. I couldn’t study at all but I want my children would study a lot and that’s how I would fulfill my dream of being educated. I always tell about this dream to my children so that from the very beginning they can get this (about my dream) in their heart. My first priority is to live and then my second priority is their education. I know it very well that; my today’s toil would bring a good result one day. But I am very much worried about the school, as I know my daughter is not getting proper teaching there. I know the school don’t have any quality and the teachers are not regular in the class. They even don’t have any headache about this school. While it’s the class time I saw the children climbing the trees nearby the school building. But I am planning to shift my daughter to another school in the next village. Though it would be far enough for her to walk but I have the confidence she would show the patience. This is true that I have got a great help from ……NGO but what’s the benefit? If my daughter couldn’t get proper education from the school then in future she would also need to look for help from the NGO’s and years after years we would remain poor.

Frustration and hope: the two opposite side of the same coin

It is widely known that exceptions can’t be examples. While we the researcher got two different dimensions of poverty and education from Ferdousi and Mariam one of us (researcher) tend to say that Mariam is an exception and he was quite right in terms of availability like her (mariam) mentality and thoughts. It was true that we really did not find another example like Mariam. It was very tough to take this in our argument as it was an acceptation but I was very keen to find out in which sense Mariam is different then Ferdousi? I wanted to know what could make Mariam so strong that she became an exception.

We the researcher had a long discussion among us about these two cases. There were many arguments we did try to show in favor of Mariam and sometimes against her. It wasn’t far different between the economical conditions of two families. Both Ferdousi and Mariam were in greater poverty. Mariam, as she is poor, got a cow as help from one of the NGO but she lost her husband and Ferdousi didn’t get any help from any NGO but she has her husband. More or less as we visited and talked with them the condition of poverty was similar between them. But there were far difference in thinking. Ferdousi was the common example of maximum household where poverty is causing of loosing hope. Ferdousi was interested to think the present while Mariam was interested to think the future. If Jakir(son of Ferdousi) could join any job rather then going for school then it could decrease the poverty a bit for Ferdousi. On the other hand Mariam thought in a different manner. According to her she would suffer however its needed now but she wouldn’t let her children’s future be ruined up. What she do all the time let her children listened her unfulfilled dream so that she can let them aware about their responsibilities. She believes that one day her children would be a learned person and then their poverty would go away but unfortunately Ferdousi was in doubt whether her children would be a learned man at last and earn lots of money. Ferdousi was also de motivated for her son’s bad performance while Aleya’s(Mariam’s daughter) performance was ok (not too good and not too bad). It was very clear that Mariam was very alert about the school and her children’s study though she wasn’t literate but she at least made sure that her children studied regularly but Ferdousi even didn’t know her son’s roll number in the class. She wasn’t very alert about the time and task with what her son was passing. Ferdousi sent her husband few times in the school while her child did badly in the school performance and after getting back from the school he betted Jakir. Mariam always went to the school while Aleya was very young and now she go to the BRAC school regularly to meet the teacher to know her son’s progress and when needed she give punishment and inspiration to her son.

Aleya, as she is poor, do some tuition and save that money as Mariam Knows that in recent future Aleya would need the money for her future studies. Along with this Mariam is also trying to save 20-tk perday for her daughters’ upcoming study. Mariam still do hard work and she gets help from her children as well rearing the household animals. Aleya helps her younger brother in study. Jakir gets sick now and then and for this purpose Ferdousi need to spend money and sometimes she can’t give proper treatment to her son for the lacking of money. As Jakir was absent for sometimes the teachers told Ferdousi’s husband that Jakir wasn’t doing well in the class as well as in the exams. This inspired a lot to think Ferdousi to take off Jakir from study. This seemed one of us (researcher) that Fersousi was in bad luck as her son was suffering illness now and then but this was also true that Mariam’s house and her yard were found much neat and clean then Ferdousi’s one.

In both the case there were extreme poverty but Mariam was gaining hope and confidence and Ferdousi was loosing those. The question is was there, any space of poverty that lead Ferdousi to get her child off from school or for Mariam some favor, to get her daughter carry on her studies? We the researcher didn’t find any positive answer for that question.

Dealing with thoughts

We had a very common and exceptional case in our hand but we wanted to reach a common understanding of poverty, quality education, development and their inter relationship. From the two examples we had two specific insights while still there was a lacking of developmental thoughts. We wanted to know specifically, their thoughts about the ways of moving out from this crisis. Moreover we left to know from the fathers about these issues. So we wanted to have some thoughts from the fathers, mothers (though we had Ferdousi and Mariam), from the teachers. We selected such an area which was entirely poor by all its nature so whoever the stakeholders we questioned they represented the poor people.

Fathers’ common agenda

We tried to collect some fathers to discuss the issues and we arranged it in a tea stall in the Village bazaar. We easily collected Ramzan mia(the Van driver), Hashmat( the carpenter), Idris molla( the Rickshaw puller), Arzot ali( the day labourer) and some others like them. We had the FGD at noon as at that time we could get maximum opportunity to get the men. It was after the lunchtime and some of the respondents were having tea after their lunch and some of them came to join by their interest.

It was time to rest a little bit and they didn’t have any problem to talk with us. We took time to get mix with them asking about the village, their occupation and in some extent giving them our identity. In relation with other informal question our first formal question to them was how’s life? Aito choila jaitese, allah bhaloi rakhse, and goriber ar thaka were the answers (with a big sigh). We gave floor to the last man (Idris) to talk for more. According to him he lives on hand to mouth. Whatever his income is doesn’t cover three times food properly so he never thinks of savings and his children education. But surprisingly he has got two son and daughter and both of them went to the school. The daughter left the school while she was in class three and the son is still carrying his studies and he is in class one. It was quite interesting that as he never thinks of his children education then how come he is sending his children to the schools? When the question was asked to him he simply said when my daughter could help her mother in household task I just took her off from school and my son is going to the school because he is still not capable to earn something for the family so its better to get him in the school until he gets capable to earn money. Moreover for my children I don’t need to spend money.

We the researcher were being asked a question while discussing that and the question is-

Suppose your (researcher) grand father and father were illiterate and they were very poor. Reasonably you borned poor and you remain illiterate. As you know without being a learned man your son can’t earn quite a good amount of money so that your poverty get reduced. But you can run your family a bit well if you get some extra money from your son’s toil so why would you give your son to the school?

As there is a common belief in our country that sometimes educated people also don’t get job and remain workless and become the burden to the family so it was almost impossible for us to find out the answer of their question. Late we came to know that not all the children finish their primary education, some of them who don’t get dropped out but get virtually excluded and don’t perform well in the class as well as in the final exam. Some of them don’t go to school regularly and very few of them study properly. In this point it’s quite understandable; why having a good enrollment rate we don’t gate a good rate of primary graduate. This continues towards secondary education as well.

In reply of the question who takes the decision to get off the child from School in maximum time? One of them said it’s the father who takes the decision sometimes all alone or sometimes consulting with other family members (mother, grand father or grand mother). But who ever is taking the decision they don’t loose much time to take it. They feel sorry but it doesn’t remain for long.

Kono bap ki chay tar chele rickshawala hok ba kamla hok? Kintu ki ar kora? amago kopale ja lekha thakbo tai to oibo. Gorib goribi..goriber kono unnoti nai. Ami ekjon rickshawala ar ami na chaileo amar polare rickshawalai hoite oibo ar naile borojor ……(big sigh)

In that situation we the researcher don’t thought it could be a good idea to ask about their perception of quality education for their children while they were struggling for meaningful access to school and education for becoming a primary graduate at first. Finally we asked them in which way to develop their situation then? According to their opinion the following quotation could be summarized-

Suppose ami ricksha chalai. Ami chinta kori amar pola boro hoye onek bhalo chakri korbo ar amar obosthat unnoti hoibo kintu ami polare thik moto pora lekha shikhaite parina boila amar pola o boro hoya ricksha chalay ar amar motoi gorib thaika jay. Taile ki ar unnoyon hoibo bolen?

The peculiarity of development

Mr. Ahmedullah Master (former head teacher of a primary school) is well recognized as a thoughtful person in that village. By the way to talk with the villagers we came to hear this name quite a lot of time for different issues as for reference. Though development is much complicated idea still for the educators and stakeholders so we the researchers thought Mr. Ahmedullah could be an expert to follow up on the thoughts of development of the villagers, both the way in poverty reduction and quality education.

According to him development is a complex idea for its different dimension. He said, “Development depends on various variables. You would be developed while at least your two variables simultaneously would start developing. So that if one fails you dont be dropped out entirely from the journey. As for example if a poor family needs to be developed then it needs to develop two ways all together. This could be like developing economically and along with this it needs the education in it.” He also added that thinking development is never a good idea while it’s important to think sustainable development. If a family somehow gets some financial help from outside then one of the variable would run while the children also need to get a easy access for education to make the development sustainable. That’s how it can fulfill the two-way development process what would be better called sustainable development.

Though the speech was about the development and education but we the researcher wanted to be more specific about the villager’s issues. So we wanted to have some examples about his previous opinions. It seemed like he was almost ready to relate the above speech with some relevant examples. According to him, there are some developmental organizations works for the poor to raise their quality of life and education for their children but they (the developmental organizations) always think development is a very specific thing while development is a cluster of developed things. As for example many NGO’s give support to the villagers by giving some financial sources (cows, small shops, goats, hens etc) for empowering woman. Their strategy is to empower woman so that the woman would empower the family and the sources (cows, small shops, goats, hens etc) would be their (women) weapon to struggle against poverty. Some NGO’s give support to the school for better quality education and some school give support the children such as give them breakfast or money or uniforms or snacks or other stuffs. These are entirely ok as from their part but to develop the villagers but it needs a sustainable development and this means a cluster of development.

In response of the question how a cluster of development could be done he said, “A poor family needs some help to raise their extra financial source but along with this the family also need its children to get some help from the school as early stated. It is also important to give support to the schools so that the teachers can teach quality education. This should go on for the time until the financial source could add some extra money to the family so that, that money could meet the other expense of its children’s education. But this doesn’t go such a way. Different organizations thinks differently and also take different measures what entirely cant change the situation towards sustainable development.

Finally we asked him is that all how you think can change the situation. Replying the question he said,” Not at all. He added that the most important thing is to change the mind. This means the poor people need to think in a different way however they think now. As for example people need to have the desire to change the situation and then they need to work hard. He said that there are lots of examples we have such, many times a poor household head is not regular at his work. Whatever he earns in a single day if he can survive two days with that then he doesn’t like to go for work in the second day. If this go such a way then none of the support can be supportive for them.

To conclude his speech Mr. Ahmedullah said that the way we are dealing development to the poor people, wouldn’t let them be independent ever. Different organization would make plans sitting in Dhaka and then they would come to the poor people to administer the plan but this is how it can be. He also said that,

Daridrota holo AIDS er moto. AIDS hole jemon hajarta rog basha badhe temni doridrota o onekguli shomoshsha niye manush ke tariye beray. Daridrotar AIDS theke bachte hole ekta ekta shomoshsha shomadhan korle cholbena . ekshathe shobgulo rog( shomoshsha) niramoy korlei daridrotar AIDS theke mukti pawa jabe.


Two different NGO’s are serving, particularly to the poor, in the village. One is giving support to the very poor people such as cows and goats etc and another is giving support directly to the students by giving them breakfast and uniforms and also the study materials. But the problem is the general category students don’t get chance to that school where the support is provided because they take the admission test and coming from the very poor family the children basically doesn’t get chance as they are not getting quality education in their present school. So who ever the poor children are still leaving behind from the school support but many of their mothers are getting support (cows or goats) from another NGO. But they are such poor people that they can’t save some money for their children but need to use the extra money for having three times food at least. We found such examples as like before getting any support the family had to eat once in a day properly and another time some muri (dry rice) or kind of these stuffs. But after getting the support from the NGO they can have three times food but still can’t think of sending their children to the school for further study.

Families were found aware to get their female children married and that’s why they like to save some money from the very beginning rather then wasting money sending them school while any sort of educational cost is a matter for them. Their strong belief is that they can’t lead their children’s education for a longer time because of the cost, so they prefer to get their children into the school until they are not capable to engage any income generating task or household task. Probably that’s why it was found almost all the children enrolled into the school but after two or third grade many of them dropped out some of them are not regular and some of them are virtually excluded (who gets into the class but cant concentrate to the study). Now it’s really funny listening that government is operating a very big project named TQI (Teachers Quality Improvement) while in that area we have found in a school a primary teacher needs to lead a class of over 100 students. We the researchers had a question from that teacher-

amader quality improve koire ki hoibo? bachchago age boshte to dite hoibo class a. tarpor na amra bhalo koira poramu. Bachcharao boshbar parena ar amra 10 din cholar moto beton paina. Tahole  education, unnoyon aishob ashbo koththaika?

Now if this is the question then can we be sure that the government and the NGO’s who are working there to improve the situation are going to be successful?


After our independence it’s the education always got the priority in the national budget. Along with this in every year we receive the maximum money from different donor agencies for educational development. Moreover lots of developmental organizations do have their own program to spread quality education. But still our achievement is a high rate of enrollment and gender balance.

From the decade of 90 it was emphasized quality education rather then only increasing quantity. We have passed a long time but still we are struggling with meaningful access towards education. Still, quality education is like dream to achieve. It’s high time to think that whether it matches the achievement that we supposed to achieve or not? If the answer is not then its important to think about including those poor people for whom we are thinking. And it’s also important to redesign the entire development planning. Villagers might not have a vast idea about economics and other issues that are related with educational development but still the thoughts and insights of the villagers might be useful for future planning.

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