SAIST Foundation's "Speak Up" Initiative against Sexual Harassment in Bangladesh

Sexual harassment involves unwelcome advances, comments, or conduct of a sexual nature that creates a hostile or intimidating environment for the victim. In Bangladesh, this problem can happen in various settings, such as workplaces, educational institutions, public spaces, and even in online platforms. In 2021, a study by the Bangladesh National Women Lawyers' Association (BNWLA) revealed that approximately 87% of women have experienced sexual harassment in public transportation. Similarly, another study by ActionAid Bangladesh (2020) reported that 72% of female workers in the ready-made garment (RMG) industry have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. Additionally, Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) report in 2017 documented that 68% of students in higher education institutions have exposed to some form of sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment is a deeply concerning issue affecting individuals across the globe, and Bangladesh is no exception. The SAIST Foundation, a non-profit research organization in Bangladesh, has taken a proactive stance in addressing sexual harassment as part of preventing absenteeism among school students. SAIST survey, among around 500 secondary school students, found that 10% of students from the treatment group and 7% of students from the control group reported experiencing different forms of sexual harassment. This result suggests that sexual harassment is a significant problem in the secondary schools. Surprisingly, among the harassed group of students, 96% in the treatment group and 100% in the control group were female. Female students experienced harassment mostly (70%) on their way to school or when they returned from school to home. More than half of the students from the treatment group reported that they experienced harassment at least once or twice, while the rest experienced it quite often. Regarding the type of harassment, most of the students in the treatment group reported that they were followed from a close area (55.17%), people caste bad looks at them (34.48%), or passed bad comments on their dress or appearance (24.14%). 67.86% of the students in the treatment group sometimes talked to their parents about it, while one-third of them (32.14%) did nothing as it becomes a daily phenomenon. Among the harassed students in the treatment group, 17.50% reported that they thought of dropping school due to the incidents.

SAIST foundation conducted anti-harassment sessions for more than 200 students in the intervention schools to create awareness among students. . The initiative empowers students to become advocates against sexual harassment. It encourages them to report incidents, creating a culture where victims are heard and supported. SAIST has conducted the sessions as part of the study “Effectiveness and Scalability of Programs for Children Who Are Out of School and At Risk of Dropping Out in Bangladesh”, funded by the Global Partnership for Education’s (GPE) Knowledge and Innovation Exchange (KIX) and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC).

As sexual harassment is a grave issue in Bangladesh, impacting women and girls in various aspects of their lives and educational attainment, SAIST Foundation's "Speak Up" initiative is a commendable effort to combat sexual harassment by educating students and encouraging them to report incidents.

Battling Bullying in Bangladesh: SAIST Foundation's Anti-Bullying Initiatives for School Students to Prevent Absenteeism

Bullying is a pervasive issue affecting the well-being and development of children and adolescents worldwide. In Bangladesh, it is a matter of serious concern, with adverse consequences for its victims. This write-up articulated the problem of bullying in Bangladesh highlighting the critical role of the SAIST Foundation in conducting anti-bullying sessions for school students to prevent absenteeism.

Bullying is characterized by repeated aggressive behavior with the intent to harm, intimidate, or establish dominance over another individual. In Bangladesh, bullying can manifest in various forms, including physical, verbal, relational, and, increasingly, cyberbullying. However, schools and online spaces are prominent settings where bullying occurs. To comprehend the scope of bullying in Bangladesh, it's crucial to refer to available research and surveys. A 2018 study by Plan International Bangladesh reported that a staggering 85% of children and adolescents in the country had experienced some form of bullying or violence in their schools. According to the 2019 Global School-based Student Health Survey (GSHS), 30% of students in Bangladesh reported being bullied on school property in the past 30 days. In 2021, UNICEF Bangladesh’s report on protecting children in the digital age indicated that 51% of adolescents aged 13-17 had experienced online harassment, indicating the growing concern about cyberbullying.

The SAIST Foundation, an emerging nonprofit organization in Bangladesh, has been actively working to combat bullying and create a safer environment for students as part of the study “Effectiveness and Scalability of Programs for Children Who Are Out of School and At Risk of Dropping Out in Bangladesh”, funded by the Global Partnership for Education’s (GPE) Knowledge and Innovation Exchange (KIX) and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC). As part of the study, SAIST has conducted anti-bullying sessions for more than 300 students in primary and high schools in Dhaka City, Bangladesh.

By addressing bullying collectively and raising awareness, we can work towards creating a future where children and adolescents in Bangladesh can pursue their education in a safe and nurturing environment, free from the fear of bullying and its detrimental effects on their well-being and development. The SAIST Foundation's efforts stand as a beacon of hope in the battle against bullying in Bangladesh.

Menstrual Hygiene among the Adolescent Girl: How SAIST Foundation is Making Differences

SAIST Foundation, a non-profit organization, working towards preventing absenteeism, and promoting the well-being and education of school students in marginalized communities conducting a longitudinal study on “Effectiveness and Scalability of students who are out of school and at risk of dropping out in Bangladesh”, supported by IDRC and GPE KIX. To prevent absenteeism due to menstrual issues and hygiene management in schools, SAIST Foundation recently organized a series of comprehensive menstrual hygiene sessions for school girls in the study areas. These sessions aimed to address the critical issue of menstrual health and hygiene among adolescent girls, as well as to encourage them to continue schooling overcoming the barricades.

From the baseline study among 295 secondary school going students, 87.42% of female students are menstruating, about 45% miss school at least for the first 2 days of the monthly cycle in general, and around 10% of girls prefer not to attend classes for the whole menstruating days. Importantly, most girls explained their absences because of discomfort, sickness, shyness, or to avoid embarrassing mishaps in class. Even though many girls knew menstruation is a normal physiological process, they lacked knowledge of the menstrual cycle and basic menstrual hygiene.Consequently, they felt shy, scared, embarrassed, and considered menstruation as a taboo. Furthermore, 36% of them considered menstruation is not a normal physiological process. Surprisingly more than half of them perceivedthat the source of menstrual blood is the abdomen, whereas only 15% knew this information correctly. However, the majority of the female students answered correctly the question regarding the duration and cycle of menstruation, while one-fifth of them still possessed poor menstrual knowledge.

From June to August 2023, menstrual hygiene sessions were conducted with the aim of providing a safe and inclusive learning environment to offer essential knowledge about menstrual hygiene management among female students. The sessions covered various aspects, including menstrual cycle education, proper sanitary product usage, hygiene practices, and the importance of self-care during menstruation. The sessions were conducted by experienced public health professionals and educators specializing in women's health to ensure that the information imparted was accurate and evidence based. To make the sessions effective and fruitful, both theoretical discussion and practical demonstrations, with hands-on training were incorporated. At the end of every session, the foundation also distributed menstrual hygiene kits to ensure that each participating girl had access to safe and effective menstrual hygiene products.

More than 129 girls from grade six to nine of the secondary schools attended the sessions. Participating students, teachers, and school staff provided overwhelmingly positive feedback. Additionally, these sessions were appreciated by the school committees as a crucial step towards breaking the stigma revolving menstruation and promoting gender equality in education. Hence, the SAIST Foundation with their research and innovation division is continuously working for the development of health and wellbeing as well as ensuring sustainable inclusive education for marginal population.

SAIST Foundation's Initiative to Improve Nutrition and Basic Hygiene among School Students for Preventing Absenteeism

Bangladesh, a densely populated South Asian nation, faces significant challenges in ensuring adequate nutrition and basic hygiene for its citizens. High population density, limited resources, and various socioeconomic factors made the situation dire . Malnutrition remains a critical issue in Bangladesh, with around 31% of children under the age of five experiencing stunted growth, and 36% underweight, according to the World Food Programme (WFP) statistics. These conditions can have lifelong impacts on physical and cognitive development. Additionally, many Bangladeshis lack essential micronutrients like iron and vitamin A. For example, the Bangladesh Demographic and Health Survey (BDHS) reported that 21% of women of reproductive age are anemic from these micronutrients. Poor access to nutrient-dense foods, particularly for marginalized communities, is a major risk factor to malnutrition in Bangladesh. Additionally, unsafe food handling and a lack of awareness regarding food safety and hygiene practices are common issues, contributing to illnesses and the spread of diseases, especially among school-going students.

SAIST Foundation, a non-profit research organization dedicated to improving public health in Bangladesh, recognizes the importance of addressing nutrition and basic hygiene issues, particularly among school students as part of the study “Effectiveness and Scalability of Programs for Children Who Are Out of School and At Risk of Dropping Out in Bangladesh”, funded by the Global Partnership for Education’s (GPE) Knowledge and Innovation Exchange (KIX) and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC).

As part of the study, during the baseline survey among selected primary and secondary school students, the majority of students reported not having basic, and nutritious foods regularly. For example, about 70% of students reported not eating fruits daily and about 25% of students on average do not have vegetables daily both in the treatment and control groups. However, some students reported unhealthy eating practices, such as, consuming carbonated drinks at least one time per day (15 to 20% of students). On average 45% of students from all the schools have outside food on a regular basis.

The consumption of non-nutritious and outside foods has been linked to several adverse health outcomes, including an increased risk of absenteeism, and reduced academic performance among school-going students. Eating foods that are high in sugar, fat, and salt but low in nutrients can lead to poor health outcomes such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Studies found that students who regularly consume unhealthy foods have higher rates of absenteeism and lower academic performance compared to students who consume healthy foods.

SAIST conducted nutrition and basic hygiene sessions for about 500 students in the study schools to strengthen students’ knowledge, and alter their unhealthy food choosing behaviors with adopting better hygiene practices. Informative sessions on the importance of a balanced diet, including fruits, vegetables, and proteins were conductedto combat malnutrition. In addition, hands-on workshops to teach proper handwashing techniques and the importance of clean water sources and sanitation were also conducted. At the end of the sessions, students were provided with healthy snacks and hygiene kits.

Absenteeism – The New Post-Pandemic Dilemma and Its Remedies

Globally, COVID-19 has caused unexpected, and long-term school closures for almost two years resulting in an increased rate of absenteeism. . Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, the education of 37 million children in Bangladesh has been interrupted due to school closures. Children, especially from lower-middle income families are more likely to miss out on school, even after the pandemic.

Under an ongoing project of IDRC and KIX, titled Effectiveness and Scalability of Programs for Children who are Out of School and At Risk of Dropping Out in Nepal, Bhutan, and Bangladesh, SAIST Foundation is working with the children who are remaining long-term absent in classes and therefore, at the risk of dropping out. Thus, an alarming percentage of absence data has been collected from schools in research areas , as well as data from participants’ Baseline survey. During the pandemic, educational authorities, school-teachers, and communities along withfamilies tried to respond and cope with the situation to continue children’s studies. But post-pandemic period has brought more challenges and the difficulties. Already there was enough learning gap, moreover, cases of absenteeism reflected a number of problems that were faced by students as well as their families. For instance, migration to villages or other areas caused students to be admitted to new schools in the middle of the year. Sometimes, children are unable to cope with a new place and school and drop the year. Other significant factors for absenteeism include staying at home to look after younger siblings, getting married, having financial issues in the family, etc. Teachers from the Treatment area have reported that, whenever they notice a student to be absent for a long term, first they call his/her guardian. Teachers go for monthly home visits whenever they need to talk to parents to motivate them to send their children to school or to enquire about the reasons for which students are not attending school regularly. However, the question arises - are these steps enough to bring back a student to school? What more can be done to ensure students’ regular attendance? Seems not. There needs to be a constant tracking system, perhaps an SMS alert for the parents who will receive texts from school authorities. . Additionally, to fill the learning gap after school care or extra classes in schools have also become a must for those who are missing out on the studies in class.

SAIST Foundation, in line with teachers, is trying to contribute to this sector, to ensure regular attendance of the students who have a higher percentage of absenteeism in class. Under the IDRC project, two Science and Math Fairs have already been arranged in the schools of the Treatment areas, to motivate children to come to school as well as learn science and math in a fun way. Furthermore, 2/3 teachers from each school in the Treatment areas have been appointed to track down the absentees and contact them personally. For doing these, teachers are being provided with monetary support (mobile bills) and a list of absentees so that the school can provide constant support for the absent students. Additionally, an attendance-based reward system is also being administered by SAIST, in the schools of Treatment areas 1 and 2. Within this system, an attendance card is given to each participant. The student himself/herself will track and mark the number of days on which he/she attended classes for a whole month. After that, the number of attendance will be matched with the teacher’s register book and if he/she succeeds in attending the classes for a whole month, he/she will be rewarded. This monitoring will be done by the class teachers with the help of the learning influencers from SAIST. In addition, the learning influencers will also be helping the subject teachers out, with the class lectures in Science and Math, to make video content and upload those in the school’s personal YouTube channel. Undoubtedly, this will help a student not to miss out on a lecture, even when he/she is absent in class.

Nevertheless, this global epidemic has resulted in massive educational losses despite all efforts. So, the school authorities, as well as the government must think about a consistent system of tracking out each student and providing them with the necessary care to fulfill this loss.

The Hidden Barrier to Education: Exploring the Link between Menstrual Hygiene and School Absence in Bangladesh

Over the years, the government of Bangladesh has taken many initiatives and interventions to encourage girls to return to school. However, hardly any attention is paid to absenteeism that occurs during a girl's menstruation period every month. After COVID-19 pandemic schools have restarted with extra classes to cover up the learning gaps and it is high time to address the menstrual health and hygiene-related taboos, raise awareness, and provide facilities to ensure proper learning outcomes and presence at school.

According to a study “Menstrual hygiene practices and school absenteeism among adolescent girls in Bangladesh” in many lower-income communities, 41% of adolescent girls who reach menarche are missing classes an average of 2.8 days in every menstruation cycle due to the lack of knowledge, proper facilities and menstrual management support at school.

In an ongoing baseline survey of a project of IDRC and KIX, titled Effectiveness and Scalability of Programs for Children who are Out of School and At Risk of Dropping Out in Nepal, Bhutan, and Bangladesh, it is found that among 295 secondary school students, 87.42% students are menstruating and about 45% students are being absent from school for at least the first 2 days of the monthly cycle in general and about 10% girls prefer not to attend school for the whole menstruating days. Most girls explain their absences as a result of discomfort, sickness, shyness, or to avoid embarrassing mishaps in class. Despite the fact that many girls know menstruation is a normal physiological process, they lack knowledge of the menstrual cycle and basic menstrual hygiene. The majority of adolescent girls do not have prior knowledge about menstruation, and they feel shy, scared, embarrassed, and consider it taboo. 36% of them think that menstruation is not a normal physiological process. About 55% answered that, the source of menstrual blood is abdomen, whereas only 15% could answer it correctly. Regarding the duration and cycle majority of the students answered correctly. But a considerable number of students (19.67%) think that the duration is of 3-4 days, which explains their lack of menstrual knowledge.

One of the study schools even lacks separate toilets for female students, and other schools lack hygiene materials and available services for students. The toilets at some schools have open baskets in the common area where the students can dispose of their menstrual pads, but students do not feel comfortable disposing of their pads in those spaces. While collecting data, a few girls mentioned that they were advised not to dispose of pads in the bins. It is alarming that because of the lack of privacy and the ineffective management system, above 95% girls do not change their pads during long school hours. Because of the tendency to avoid the school toilets during periods, there is a tendency for students to be absent from school. The schools do not have a proper disposal system for sanitary pads, so girls who have to change them during school hours dispose of them in toilet pans, in open spaces such as drains, or carry the used pads back to their homes until they can dispose of them.

The fact that most girls are using sanitary pads is an encouraging sign. However, some girls still use old or new clothes or tissue, which should be cleaned and dried properly to prevent urinary tract infections. Above 80% of the students use sanitary napkin, while around 7% of the students still use old clothes. Typically, sanitary pads must be changed every 3 to 6 hours, depending on the flow, to avoid irritation and health risks. There is also the issue of sanitary pads not being eco-friendly, and the possibility of infection being spread if they are thrown into the environment if they are not disposed of correctly. Another significant issue that came to light in the survey is that many girls avoid fish, eggs, and sour fruits during their periods. However, a balanced diet is actually very crucial for the effective management of Pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms.

Menstrual hygiene knowledge and practice are crucial for maintaining good health and preventing absenteeism among girls and women. Menstruation is a natural process, but a lack of knowledge and inadequate menstrual hygiene practices can lead to several health problems and negatively impact academic performance. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), poor menstrual hygiene can lead to vaginal infections, urinary tract infections, and cervical cancer (WHO, 2015). In addition, girls who do not have access to sanitary products may be more likely to use unhygienic materials, such as cloth or paper, which can further increase the risk of infection.

To conclude, girls' school absence is increased by negative attitudes, incorrect beliefs about menstruation, and inadequate school facilities. Bangladeshi girls hardly talk about their periods freely, despite the fact that they are an important part of the transition from girlhood into womanhood. This is critically imperative to end period stigma and to prevent girls from dropping out of school because of it. In addition, male students and teachers are needed to be more sensitive and knowledgeable about menstrual hygiene to create a healthy and encouraging environment in schools.

Alarming Ascendence of Online Gaming among the School Children in Bangladesh

Online gaming has been increasing at an alarming rate among the school children in Bangladesh since the outbreak of COVID-19. The pandemic has forced many schools to close and shift to online learning, leaving students with more free time on their hands. This, coupled with the accessibility of smartphones and internet, has led to a surge in the number of children engaging in online gaming.

According to a study conducted by the Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services (BASIS), the number of online gamers in Bangladesh has increased by 20% since the pandemic began. The study also found that 70% of these gamers are school-aged children.

Another study by the Bangladesh Computer Council (BCC) found that the average daily time spent on gaming by school children has increased by 30% during the pandemic. The BCC also reported that the majority of these children are playing multiplayer online games, such as PUBG and Free Fire.

The increase in online gaming has raised concerns about the impact on the academic performance of school children. A survey conducted by the Bangladesh Open University found that 30% of students who play online games regularly are struggling with their studies. The survey also found that these students are more likely to experience symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Despite the negative effects, many parents in Bangladesh are not aware of the risks of excessive online gaming. A survey conducted by the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) found that only 20% of parents in Bangladesh have set limits on their children's online gaming.

In the baseline survey of an ongoing project of IDRC and KIX, titled Effectiveness and Scalability of Programs for Children who are Out of School and At Risk of Dropping Out in Nepal, Bhutan, and Bangladesh, alarming facts have been discovered. Fahim, a student of class 7 from Control School 1, in his interview, said that his mother does not allow him to play outside. Instead, she bought him a mobile phone. To quote him “Mom does not want me to play or go outside. So, I asked her to buy me a phone to play games.” According to him, he spends 5-6 hours playing Free Fire. One of the enumerators, while interviewing a female participant of class 3, has seen her elder brother (11-13years), started playing free fire just after waking up in the morning.

Participants, especially boys are found to sleep late at night, when asked about their sleep routine. When asked what they do at the nighttime, almost half of them replied that they play games at night. Each match takes 20-30 minutes to play. And playing only one match can never satisfy the teenagers nowadays. Sohel, another participant of class 8 from Treatment School 1 in his interview said that, in one sitting he plays 4 or 5 matches at a time.

So, it means, if a person is playing at least 3 matches at a time before sleeping, he is spending 1.30 hours straight, which can make it harder to fall asleep, eventually reducing the quality of sleep and also the amount of deep-stage sleep.

Safin, from Control School 2, provided the enumerators with the fact, his classmate, encouraged him to download the game PUBG to play with him. He now prefers online games more than playing outside.

Nevertheless, online games have reduced the interest of children to play outside. It made them more confined inside the walls of their room, more precisely inside the blue screen of the online gaming world. Most of the parents, however, are unaware of this fact. To some extent, some of them feel relieved that their children are safe inside the house, as they are working outside, and their children remain alone at home most of the time. So, they might be thinking that, playing games inside house is safer than going outside, considering the current situation of the safety and securities.

In conclusion, online gaming has become alarmingly popular among school children in Bangladesh since the outbreak of COVID-19. This trend is driven by the increased availability of smartphones and internet access, as well as the closure of schools due to the pandemic. While online gaming can be a fun and entertaining activity, excessive gaming can have negative effects on academic performance, mental health, and overall well-being of children. It is important for parents and educators to be aware of this trend and take steps to set limits on children's online gaming.

Juvenile Gang on Rise: Where is the young generation headed?

In recent years, Bangladesh has seen a disturbing trend of increasing teenage gang activity among school children. This trend has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced many schools to close and shift to online learning, leaving students with more free time on their hands.

According to a report by the Bangladesh Police, the number of teenage gangs in the country has increased by 40% since the pandemic began. The report also states that these gangs are becoming increasingly violent, with a rise in the number of assaults and robberies committed by teenage gang members.

Another study conducted by the Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies (BIPSS) found that the majority of teenage gang members in Bangladesh come from low-income families and have a history of truancy or dropping out of school. The study also found that these children are more likely to have experienced trauma or abuse in their lives.

In an ongoing baseline survey of a project of IDRC and KIX, titled Effectiveness and Scalability of Programs for Children who are Out of School and At Risk of Dropping Out in Nepal, Bhutan, and Bangladesh, teenage gang related activities of school going children have been observed. In one area, an incident has been reported that took place within the school campus. A boy of class 7 was beaten near to death by a group of his classmates and left unconscious inside the school lift. This incident went up to filing a complaint, police came in the school and the guardians were furious.

While collecting data, mother of a student, expressed her concerns regarding the safety, security of their children as well as the degrading environment of both school and nearby localities. She shared the fact that his son fell into bad company and did a lot of damage to his studies. He used to hang out with a group of boys, who took drugs. These boys would hang out in someone’s house, where the parents are working, and they are out the whole day. They would take drugs, smoke inside the house in a housing area under the control area 1. Later on, her son was brave enough to tell everything to police and the group was caught red-handed by the police. Yet his mother is now worried about the security of his son and the other children.

Two police incidents in one area, related to the same school students reflects the fact that, the increase in teenage gang activity has raised concerns about the impact on the safety and well-being of both the children involved and their communities. The Bangladesh Police have reported that teenage gangs are often involved in drug trafficking, extortion, and prostitution, which can lead to serious social problems. Additionally, children who are involved in gangs are at a higher risk of being exposed to violence and crime, which can have long-term effects on their mental health and well-being.

The government of Bangladesh has taken some steps to address this issue by increasing police patrols in areas known for gang activity and providing social services to at-risk youth. However, more needs to be done to address the root causes of this trend, such as poverty and lack of access to education and social services.

In conclusion, the alarmingly increasing trend of teenage gang activity among school children in Bangladesh after COVID-19 is a cause for concern. This trend is driven by factors such as poverty, lack of access to education, and trauma or abuse. It is important for the government, parents and educators to be aware of this trend and take steps to prevent children from getting involved in gangs, by providing them with the necessary support and resources.

Scaling Science for Education and Necessity of Scalability: The Case of Meena Cartoon

Scaling refers to the expansion or improvement of a program by the use of innovative and practical techniques. With the passage of time and changes in national and global context new challenges arise. In order to face these challenges, it is essential for practitioners and professionals e.g. researchers, students, evaluators, and policymakers to adopt new and innovative approaches; scaling is one of such strategies. A question that might arise is “why scaling science is necessary for education?” Meena cartoon, for instance, created by a team of UNICEF in early 1990s, is a popular educational TV program where the importance of primary education for all, why girls should be enrolled on schools, etc. issues were shown.

It helped in many ways ensuring primary education for all along with many other learnings for children. Now that the goal of universal primary education has been achieved, several new problems have arisen in the education sectors which need proper attention. For instance, the magnitude of drop-out students is still very high in the South Asian region. So the creators of Meena Cartoon can consider to modify their contents or prepare new ones with advanced technologies. These contents can introduce the programs which the government is offering for the out-of-school and at-risk dropping out students, such as after-school programs, non-formal education programs, enrolment campaigns, financial support to families, programs for disabled children etc. Nowadays, almost every household has access to a television and there is a good chance that it will be helpful for the dropout students and students who are out of school. So, scaling science for education is crucial to come up with innovative ideas that can help to build effective educational initiatives. As we do not need every school and every teacher to ‘reinvent the wheel’, all we need to do is to scale up the locally effective education innovations that already exist. Scalability in the education sector can also ensure effective learning and a wide range of robust, replicable outcomes.

Understanding the urgency of scaling up the current educational interventions, South Asian Institute for Social Transformation (SAIST) with the support of GPE KIX and IDRC (International Development Research Center), is focusing on teachers’ ICT based skill development in the study areas to make the in-class lessons more enjoyable and effective for the students. SAIST is also focusing on different pedagogical interventions that will induce fun learning for the students.

Are We Doing Enough to Bring Back Dropout Students?

Raju – a sixth-grader student from the Moghbazar area, stopped going to school in 2021 after the end of the second lockdown in March. Though his family was financially crashed amidst the pandemic, they were eager to send their child to school. Yet, Raju joined a nearby hotel as a waiter and later became a laborer in a workshop. He may never return to school as a year already passed since he left school. Likewise, the pandemic resulting in the subsequent prolonged school closure has escalated a sharp rise in the school dropout rate in the country. Even before the pandemic set in, Bangladesh was struggling with a high dropout rate across primary and secondary education levels.

According to Bangladesh Bureau of Educational Information and Statistics (BANBEIS) data, the dropout rate is the highest in secondary education (37.6%). Corresponding figures for primary and upper secondary levels are 34.8% and 19.6% respectively. The dropout rates further spiked due to the pandemic. The steady increase in the number of school dropouts has plunged Bangladesh back into a number of societal issues, namely child marriage and child labour. A survey by Save the Children International has revealed that almost 10 million children across the globe may never come back to school premises once the ongoing pandemic ends. It has also depicted that children in 12 countries are at a high risk of school dropout evermore whereas 28 countries are at moderate or high risk of dropout, and Bangladesh is listed among those.

During school closures, the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education (MoPME) and the Ministry of Education (MoE), worked with stakeholders to provide a range of opportunities for the continuity of learning to reach as many learners as possible. Many initiatives are on the move from the government, to keep the students on track. Bangladesh government started telecasting high school level classes through “Shangshad Television” which is normally dedicated to telecasting the national assembly. However, it is estimated that more than 23 million households do not have access to TV whereas TV is a popular recreation medium for households and has become a source of education nowadays.

More than 200 classes in math, Bangla, English, and social science were broadcasted by radio for primary educational levels. These lessons, in line with the National Curriculum, were developed with the association of UNESCO. They started broadcasting in August 2020 through the state-run Bangladesh Betar and 16 community radio stations. Although household ownership of radio is low, less than 1% throughout the country, over 90% of households have access to mobile phones which can play radio programs. Lessons were uploaded onto various online platforms, such as YouTube, Google Classroom and Zoom so that students could watch and re-watch them in their feasible time. More than 75,000 online classes were delivered using social media and education portals. Many teachers, with the support of A2i, took the initiative to record lessons themselves and post them on social media platforms, setting up Facebook pages for these lessons at division, district, and sub-district levels.

Edu Hub was set up which gathered 25,000 pieces of content from all over Bangladesh, which was made accessible to teachers and students with the appropriate devices and facilities. In addition, the government has plans to develop a national mobile education platform through IVR (Interactive Voice Response) with toll-free calls. The process is underway to make it live for students. This technology can be accessed from non-smart phones as well, which means that it could potentially reach 95% of households with a device, including the 14 million children who receive stipend payments through their mobiles.

These initiatives potentially opened up opportunities for increased numbers of learners; although in households where there is only one mobile phone, access for students is likely to be limited. The National Response and Recovery Plan, developed by the Government, and strongly supported by UNICEF, outlines the areas that need addressing when schools reopen, to ensure that all children, including the most marginalized, return to school as soon as possible.

Despite all the initiatives by the government to reduce the dropout and continue the teaching and learning practices, some students like Raju still dropped out of school. In this regard, some interventions might be helpful for out-of-the-school children and students who are at risk of dropout.

Firstly, for impoverished students, a special incentive can be provided to prevent them from joining the workforce for money. The selection process for this incentive must be rational and limited to deserving candidates. A big no to child marriage and strict enforcement of law regarding this is a very timely need to prevent female students from dropout. Female students should also be granted a special stipend that may encourage them to join the school. Existing laws and policies regarding children i.e., child labor must be implemented. School infrastructures must be gender sensitive and inclusive for all. The capacity of the teachers can be enhanced by sufficient training along with preparing a flexible curriculum. Various interventions that were launched earlier, such as, the Mid-day meal can be re-launched after a thorough evaluation. Parents-teacher association should also be activated systematically. In the case of already dropped out students, vocational training can be provided which will be accessible for all. Last but not the least, these existing interventions should be scaled up through education based research to cope with the changes of the current world.

South Asian Institute for Social Transformation (SAIST), a research institute is currently working on such activity, titled “Effectiveness and Scalability of Programs for Children who are Out of School and At Risk of Dropping Out in Nepal, Bhutan, and Bangladesh”, in consortium with the School of Arts, Kathmandu University in Nepal, and Paro College of Education, Royal University of Bhutan with the support of GPE KIX and International Development Research Center (IDRC). During this 31 months long project, SAIST is working towards addressing the scopes of scalability in the school based interventions to prevent dropouts and at risk of dropouts in the selected urban slums adjacent government primary and secondary schools of Dhaka City, Bangladesh.

However, in all these steps from government and other non-government organizations, community coordination is a must. Else, the question still remains- are we doing enough?

Landscape of Urban Research in Dhaka city

With a large population and few natural resources, a developing country like Bangladesh already faces many challenges. Since 1950, Dhaka has expanded from a small town to a massive metropolis with a 33.1% urbanization rate. The city currently has 16 million inhabitants as per latest statistics of BBS, and it is anticipated that, by 2035, there will be 31.2 million people living there.

Dhaka has started to experience a number of problems due to its expanding population and uneven urbanization, such as a high concentration of urban poverty, traffic jams, inadequate waste management, water logging, and inadequate public spaces. In the same way that it has produced several issues, it has also given rise to a variety of opportunities for urban studies.

The provision of healthcare facilities, sanitation and hygiene, food security and nutrition, maternal, neonatal, and child nutrition, as well as the prevention of non-communicable illnesses and newly emerging and reemerging infections, are all under crisis in the urban health sector. Only roughly 3.06 doctors are present per 10,000 inhabitants, which is a very low proportion. Lack of equitable and high-quality educational access, a dearth of technical education, and high educational costs are the long-term issues of Dhaka's education system. Effective and equitable education service delivery is nevertheless hampered by urban poverty and spatially uneven service distribution. Five million children are not in school, largely because of poverty. Not only Dhaka, but all cities in the country, are afflicted by issues such as a lack of economic dynamism, governance failure, severe infrastructure and service shortages, insufficient land administration, vast slums, and social upheaval.

As a result, the urban research sector must address social issues, sustainability challenges, the provision of inclusive services, and gender-responsive urban services. Government organizations, national research institutions, INGOs, NGOs, public and private universities, and donor organizations all work on various urban problems in an effort to develop sustainable policies and, as a result, find solutions to these issues. Bangladesh also needs to increase the scope of its urban studies to contribute in the creation of sustainable cities.

Child marriage as a precondition to school dropout in Bangladesh

The highest rates of child marriage among girls in South Asia were seen in Bangladesh and Nepal. Both Nepal and Bangladesh have a direct connection between secondary school completion and child marriage when it comes to educational achievement according to a UNICEF report in 2019. The report indicates that efforts to prevent child marriage have advanced more rapidly over the past ten years, particularly in South Asia, but they are still moving far more slowly than is necessary to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of ending child marriage by 2030. Many research on education and child marriage repeatedly demonstrates that having more education is generally linked to later marriage and childbirth across a variety of circumstances. A report by Human Rights Watch shows that in Bangladesh, women with primary, secondary, and higher education were, respectively, 24 percent, 72 percent, and 94 percent less likely to marry at a young age than women with no formal education supports the association between lack of or poor education and child marriage.

A study found that programs and policies for education should prioritize keeping girls in school until the ages of 13 or 14, when they may be switching from primary to secondary schooling and are most at danger of child marriage.

In Bangladesh, parents worry that keeping their girls in school would make it harder for them to find suitable spouses and that education and marriage were seen as a trade-off for their daughters. Several underlying issues, such as poverty, gender norms, and others, have an effect on this process.

Preventing child marriage requires co-ordination of multiple stakeholders along with government in taking various initiatives and scaling up existing education system to prevent the dropouts. Creation of readily available digital marriage records across the country as evidence of marriage. At the primary and secondary levels, free education must be guaranteed. All students must get a uniform education, and the required measures should be made to identify the problems and implement the right corrective measures.

“Okkhor Hok Shakti” (Let letters be the strength): A workshop conducted by SAIST to reduce the reading and writing gaps for children

Due to its comprehensive nature, teaching constantly needs consistency from every angle. The Covid-19 induced lockdown, which has been in effect since March 2020, has hampered the learning process for children. For almost a year, teachers and students were unable to attend classes in person. Another factor is that during this time, many female students were married off due to the lengthy school closure. Parents were uncertain whether or not the schools will reopen. As a result, many male students were forced to work in order to support their families in crisis.

Following the Covid-19 lockdown, teachers faced a lot of difficulties providing the children with proper education. Students have almost completely lost how to accurately read and write. Students found it difficult to adapt to the new syllabus and study materials upon returning to school due to a long study break. This caused a considerable gap in education which has been addressed by the government and other stakeholders in many ways. Still, such learning loss and gap affect children many of the children are struggling to return to school. Some of the students might still attend school despite the adversities but are on the verge of dropping out due to many pressures.

Keeping this in mind, SAIST organized a teacher’s training program with students in the Dhaka Uddan area, Mohammadpur, Dhaka to reduce the learning gap in reading and writing capacities. A day-long workshop addressing the reading and writing capacities which were named “Okkhor Hok Shakti” (Let letters be the strength) took place on 24 May 2022. 30 students and teachers joined the workshop. “Knowledge mobilization in the Dhaka Uddan area was engaging and productive”, said the participants.