Bangladesh is a poor, densely populated country of about 160 million people whose per capita income is far below the South Asian average. Education is key to expanding their opportunities, but primary school enrollments remain a problem. One-third of Bangladeshi children drop out before completing elementary school, and about three million school-age children haven’t even entered the system. The ranks of nonenrollees and dropouts include street children, children whose families have migrated from the countryside to the city, and children living in remote and poor rural areas that have very limited access to education. In other words, attracting disadvantaged children to formal primary schools has long proved to be a daunting challenge.
The Reaching Out-of-School Children Project was launched in 2004 to incentivize underserved youth to pursue educational opportunities in alternative learning centers, with the aim of eventually integrating them as students into the formal school system. The project blended formal coursework with innovative teaching methods and support systems. Children and their families were compensated for direct and indirect schooling costs, and parents and the community were engaged in Learning Center oversight to cultivate a better learning environment. The project targets the 60 poorest subdistricts or upazilas—where poverty is not only high but primary school enrollment is low. By building a sense of local ownership through citizen participation and management, the project integrates learning centers into the community fabric, making them more sustainable and accountable for performance.
Some 500,000 formerly out-of-school children are now receiving primary education in about 15,000 Ananda Schools (Learning Centers).
-High completion levels. More than 90 percent of students who enrolled in 2005 completed grade five in 2009.
-Consistently high attendance. Ananda students attend, on average, 90 percent of school days.
-Actively engaged communities. Community members are deeply involved in establishing and managing learning centers, with support from government and NGOs specializing in education.
-A second chance for working children. About 50 specialized Shishu Kallyan Trust (Child Welfare Trust) schools with average enrollments of 100 pupils have been set up to test how to meet the needs of children forced out of the primary school system because of the need to earn income.
-Comprehensive training. All teachers and key members of community committees have been fully trained on how to run their learning centers.
-An entryway to secondary schooling. Early estimates show close to 60 percent of Learning Center graduates and 80 percent of Shishu Kallyan Trust graduates have moved on to formal secondary education.
Total cost of the Reaching Out-of-School Children Project is US$62.8 million, of which IDA provided US$51 million in grants.
The Swiss Development Corporation provided US$6 million and the Government of Bangladesh contributed US$5.8 million.
Success in 60 pilot upazilas has set the stage for scaling up the project to educate the millions of school-age children who have not yet been reached throughout the country. The Government of Bangladesh is currently developing a plan to do just that.