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Revolutionizing education: Stepping into the classroom

Published : Thursday, 12 October, 2017 at 12:00 AM Count : 571
Shahriar Mithun

Here, I am sharing a story of two friends, Shumi and Shanta. Shumi -- a ten-year-old, playful, talkative, exciting and always smiling -- reads in class three who loves dancing. Her friend Shanta is quite opposite -- always quiet and introvert.
In spite of having differences in their individual characteristics, both of them have something in common. They both read in government primary school (GPS) and lives in a low income community of Dhaka city. Shumi and Shanta are studying at grade 3 and they have lack in their study arena. They do not have the basic numeracy and literacy skills which they are supposed to perform in their grades.
Moreover, they have difficulties in reading English, and even Bangla too. It seems that basic mathematics concepts like addition and subtraction often give these children a hard time in the classroom. One important factor is that both of their attendance rates in the school are quite satisfactory. So, the question is in spite of being present in the school, why there competency level is very much low?
You may think who I am and what I have to do with all these. Right now, I am working as a fellow at Teach For Bangladesh (TFB), a Bangladeshi non-profit organisation established in 2012, which is actively working to provide a quality education to the under-privileged children. It is a member of a global network of local organizations, called Teach For All, that are working to eradicate education inequity in many countries with a shared vision of high quality education for all children.
When it comes to education, Bangladesh's key success in recent years lies in enrolment. As a result of government policy and non-profit involvement, nowadays, nearly 98 percent of children now go to school at the primary level. With 163 million people, Bangladesh has one of the largest public education systems in the world and there is glaring disparity in the quality of education available to our children.
Only a handful of institutions in Bangladesh are equipped to provide high quality education for small group of students. These schools are often private institutions located in the urban areas of the upper class. Nationwide, the rest of the students get into the overcrowded classrooms where learning and memorizing is the common practice. These schools hardly emphasis on critical thinking, collaboration and other skills the modern economy demands.
To accommodate the sheer number of students, the school day has been divided into shifts, reducing contact hours of student-teacher interaction. Some classrooms in Dhaka still have nearly a hundred and twenty children, despite a government mandate to cap students at thirty per class. Meanwhile, teachers are not well-trained, given little compensation and professional development, and are working in institutions that are under-resourced. Generally, the quality of education at these institutions is poor.
The results are disastrous for the children, especially poor children. In contrast to affluent peers, poor children fall behind in an ever widening gap with vast societal and economic consequences. One-third of the graduates from primary school in Bangladesh lack basic literacy skills like reading and writing and only 25 to 44 percent of students between grade 5 and 8 have sound knowledge about English, Bangla and Math.
TFB's flagship programme is its Fellowship, an internationally-recognized leadership development programme for fresh university graduates and young professionals that prepare them to lead system change in education, starting with a two-year full-time teaching commitment to the country's underprivileged students.
So, when I was selected for the fellowship programme, I was very excited and nervous as well. I was told that I have to go through forty day long residential training. Once accepted, Fellows attend a mandatory residential pre-service training called Winter Academy where they begin their training as teachers. In the winter academy, the trainings on classroom basics and management techniques to use in the classroom are provided. Moreover, aspects outside the classrooms like community and various stakeholders are also included.
Fellows are then placed as full-time teachers in high-need schools at the beginning of academic year. Currently, the programme has 70 Fellows in classrooms across 26 schools in Dhaka teaching more than five thousands children. Within the classrooms and communities the Fellows expand the educational opportunity of their students while developing their own capacity as the leaders.
They receive training on professional development from coaches, while also pursuing a postgraduate diploma in education leadership from BRAC University. At the same time, they are engaged with the community in which their schools are located, visiting homes and community members, learning about the challenges and constraints that prevent children's access to quality education.
 I was assigned to teach at Chalaband Government Primary School, located few kilometres away from the Hazrat Shah Jalal International Airport. I hope you all still remember Shumi and Shanta, of whom I mentioned earlier. I am assigned as their class teacher.
It is kind of a block teaching where I teach them all subjects. This way allows me to have more contact hours with all of the students, also helps me to build a deep personal relationship and understand their perspective. So, as I found about individual differences of Shumi and Shanta, it was obvious that their learning style would differ too. Just like them, all the other students also have their differences and preferences.
In order to ensure quality and equal contact hours, in the classroom, most often activity based teaching is followed, so that they can learn from peers and doing the activity. More concrete objects are used to teach them various concepts of Math, followed by the pictorial and abstract form. This helps them to understand the concepts clearly. In English, emphasized are given on speaking and writing. Students are encouraged and often do presentation, group and pair sharing. It tends that children often learn better when they teach others and get involved in the activity. These pedagogy are often absent in a conventional GPS classrooms.
In order to engage the students, I tried to maintain joy factors in classroom by playing different types of games. Students often suggest different games, I would often tell that, if you finish your work then we will play these games. All the other fellows of TFB tend to do the same. To track students' progress, weekly and monthly assessments are taken along with their terminal exams.
The head teacher of Chalaband GPS, Sarowar Jahan shares, "It is quite fascinating how young individuals like them are giving their best effort to teach these children, and they are always excited to try new methods and techniques in the classroom and doing experiments."
Regarding what the students think, one of my students' named Nasir shares, "Now, I love the classes and feel coming to school not because of what I learn, but because I can play various kinds of games, and most importantly when I get the opportunity to sing on every Thursday as part of our weekly fun time."
After two years, Fellows exit the programme with a commitment to fight education equity for the rest of their lives. Equipped with the root-knowledge of inequity and a rare set of skills to lead change, alumni of the programme are well-positioned for high-impact careers in the public, corporate and development sectors of Bangladesh.
Since 2007, Bangladesh has been experiencing a demographic dividend -- there are more people of working age in our country than the privileged ones. For most economies, this is a time for increased investment in education and growth. For accelerated economic growth to occur, however, there must be adequate human capital development. And in order to ensure benefits from this boom, we must provide an excellent education to every child.
The TFB Fellowship works on leadership and human capital development among the university graduates and children like Shumi and Shanta in low-income schools, thereby expanding life opportunities for both.
Alumni and students leave the programme with the leadership and critical thinking skills that enable them to contribute in the modern economy while driving long-term change towards educational equity in Bangladesh. By building leadership where it is most needed during a period of a major labour advantage, the TFB Fellowship contributes towards transforming the future of Bangladesh.

The writer is a TFB Fellow

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