In Bangladesh, Shariatpur is one of the lowest performing districts in primary education, standing near the bottom at 62 out of 64 districts based on dropout rates (BBS, 2012). It is also one of the most flood affected areas and has a high number of extreme poor. Concern Worldwide (Irish-based International Humanitarian Organization) has implemented a 3-year project from January 2013 to December 2015 namely “Digital School Library for Extreme Poor Children” with 10 schools in 2 Upazillas reached approximately 1000 children and developed a knowledge base society working with CBOs (Community-Based Organizations). The main aim of the project was to attract the extreme poor children to school and improve their education in a sustainable way through training and learning by the innovative approach of a digital school library. The author was appointed as a library consultant of that project. It was an amazing experience of the author that he had to face many challenges to get the attention because the extreme poor children were not interested at all to learn anything. They were very much fond of watching TV (television), moving here and there unnecessarily, playing in a group at riverside and jumping over the river for nothing. To attract them towards school, author in association with the research team made and presented some educational short videos namely, “Mina Cartoon (2015)” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dahl8UII3n4&list) and “School for river erosion-affected children and sex workers children etc). These worked and inspired to bring them back to school. They become interested to visit the school library frequently for gathering knowledge. The author had to strive hard to develop the capacity of the School Management Committees (SMCs) and the Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs) through need based training with the help of an innovative approach of a school library, for example, he had to develop some digital learning resources including annual plans to get out-of-school-children into school. As a result of learning and training through digital school libraries, it has been seen that by the end of the project: (a) Improved pass rate; (b) Increased enrolment rate; (c) Increased retention rates; (d) Increased involvement of the SMCs and PTAs in development and implementation of School Level Improvement Plans; and (e) The poorest children and their parents got a good idea on Equality, Right Based Approach (RBA), HIV and AIDS and on their Rights and Entitlements. Thus school based small digital libraries have turned into integral part in their lives. The basic aim of the paper is to share the author’s experience on how the digital school library project demonstrated access to primary school for the poorest and out-of-school children. Some interesting case studies will also be discussed in this paper.
Primary education in Bangladesh is compulsory by law and according to the constitution the government is responsible to provide education (Directorate of Primary Education, 2008). While Bangladesh has made significant progress in gross enrolment rates and gender parity, drop-out rates remain significantly high resulting in low completion rates. More worryingly, available evidence suggests major weaknesses in classroom achievement and a growing quality divide between rural and urban schools (Unicef, 2009). Specific sub-groups of the poor also suffer from a lack of access to school facilities. The overriding challenge is to ensure quality improvements in the formal primary schools where the bulk of the children are The Daily Star (2015). The study is framed within the national plans of the government to support the move towards education for all. It intends to share the author’s experience on how the innovative approach of a library demonstrated quality of education for the poorest and out-of-school children and ensuring that they come to school and stay in school (improving access). The study has chosen Shariatpur district as it is one of the lowest performing districts in primary education, standing near the bottom at 62 out of 64 districts with regards to rate of attendance, scholarship and drop outs. It is also one of the most flood affected and poverty prone areas in the country. The literacy rate is 38.9% (BBS, 2012). Overall gross and net intake (entry to class I) in the formal primary education system in 2012 were found to be 105 and 94%. Overall gross and net enrolment rates in primary education in Shariatpur district in 2012 were found to be 102 and 95%, respectively. The baseline study conducted for Concern Worldwide in 2012 in two Upazillas (Bhedaragonj and Gosairat) showed a gross enrolment rate of 94.64% and a net enrolment rate of 92.53% (Concern Worldwide, 2012).
Since the independence of Bangladesh in 1971, there are many government and non-government organizations have been working for eradication of illiteracy in different ways but the Installation of exceptional school library was a concept of Concern Worldwide (one of the Irish-Based Humanitarian Organizations), Bangladesh. There is no doubt about the fact that development is a product of education and education is a process through which people are formally and informally learned to acquire knowledge and skills. So the roles of libraries and librarians in the concept of eradication of illiteracy and capacity building of the people can never be overemphasized if it serves in innovative way by breaking the tradition (Ogunsola, 2011). It is already proved that library and information services have been transformed from passive to active and support to action-oriented. The study namely “Digital School Libraries for Extreme Poor Children” has been designed to attract the extreme poor children to school and improve their education in a sustainable way through training and learning by the innovative approach of a school library. It tries to extricate the clue why the low attendance and drop-out rates of these two Upazillas remain significantly high and what initiatives have libraries taken to reduce this? The paper intends to share the experience of the author. It will explain how the library attract the children to school based on their interest and what are the learning’s they learned from the library which changes their beliefs, attitudes, practices, behaviour and made them an important part of the community.
The purpose of the study
The purpose of the study was to change the lives of the extreme poor children in a sustainable way by the installation of a digital school library in every school of remote rural areas in Bangladesh. Achieved outcomes of the study would be shared with the relevant bodies of the Government Organizations (GOs), Non-Government Organizations (NGOs), Policy Makers of the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education in Bangladesh. Its lessons learnt (best practices) should be treated as a “Role Model in Developing Strategy for Eradication of Illiteracy in Bangladesh” and the organizations who have been working for changing lives of the extreme poor children since long can adopt this model for the sustainable development of other marginalised people.
The present study is different from other research in the following aspects: It has to:
1. Work through community people by educating them disseminating proactive information;
2. Develop modules with a view to capacity building among Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs), particularly female members, and building the capacity of the poorest mothers in addition to SMC development;
3. Develop advocacy on information literacy which play an important role at the local, district and national levels by the help of the libraries;
Description of the study
Traditional approach always brings as usual result for attracting extreme poor children towards school in Bangladesh which is not satisfactory. Keeping it in mind, CWW (Concern Worldwide) (2012), thought to install an exceptional school library at the corner room of the school by which poor children would be interested to come to school. It was a 3-year project from January 2013 to December 2015 with 10 schools (100 from each school) in 2 Upazillas namely Bedorgonj and Gosairhat (5 school from each upazila) where approximately 1000 children’s and their parents need and demand in relation with schooling would be addressed. The libraries have been installed in each school with some attractive collections especially need based learning AVMs (Audio Visual Materials). Libraries installed by the project at the corner room because the room had been found useless and occasionally these were used for discussion purposes only with teachers. The rest of the time these were kept vacant. During baseline survey it has been observed that except sleeping time, most of the poor children preferred to stay outside of their home for a long time. They were very much interested in watching Hindi movie, action film, Bengali action movie, etc., rather than other games and going to school. The project decided to bring them back to the school utilizing the corner room as a library (the most attractive place for the children). This paper will share how the library acted as learning and training centre by collecting need based learning materials, providing right information for attracting the children towards school, creating awareness about their rights, educating about basic rights and allowing them to access resources. The project sanctioned many IT equipment for the children such as 5 PC (Desktop) internet connections, necessary furniture, video games, DVD players with CD-ROMs, eBooks on history, attractive video documentaries, multimedia projector, illustrative text books, story books, books on religions, cartoons, posters, sound systems, music collections and so on.
Extreme poor people in Bangladesh are trapped in a vicious cycle, denied access to basic services and subjected to varied forms of discrimination while their children are treated as social burden. Before launching the digital school library project, the study assessed relevant early projects data of some NGOs which were operated for changing livelihoods through microcredit. But it found no major changes. The study realised that they have a very potential role in country’s economy and keeping them far behind from the mainstreaming, it is really tough to achieve sustainable economic development. During the period of developing concept note for changing lives of the extreme poor, the research team have observed that except sleeping time, most of the children preferred to stay outside of the home for playing. Most of the children were very much interested in watching TV in the shop/market/local elites home/club/where they get opportunity to watch it instead of going to school. They preferred Hindi movie, action film, Bengali action movie, etc., rather than other games and going to school. It was the main cause to utilize the corner room of the school as a library from where they will get the necessary learning and training on selective dissemination of information services for changing their attitude, aptitude and even behavioral changes to cope with the society. Keeping it in mind, the study thought to introduce a digital school library approach by breaking the tradition.
The main objective of the study is to share the ideas of the author how a digital school library creates awareness and changes the attitude of the extreme poor people and improves the enrolment rates of their children through training and learning. Besides this, the study will explain how at the end of the project it has achieved the followings outcomes: (a) Improved pass rate on a standardized test for the poorest children rising to 60 from 10%; (b) Increased enrolment rate to 90% (from 40%); (c) Increased retention rates to 55% (from 30%); (d) 50% of SMCs and PTAs involved in development and implementation of School Level Improvement Plans; and (e) The poorest children and their parents got a good idea on Equality, Right based approach (RBA), HIV and AIDS and on their rights and entitlements.
10 primary schools under Shariatpur district, of which 5 from Bedergonj Upazilla and 5 from Gosahirhat upazilla were selected based on school type and accessibility. Schools were identified as accessible, if round the year access was easy; or inaccessible where the access was complicated in the flooding periods. Several methods were undertaken to collect quantitative and qualitative information like KII (Key Informants Information), FGD (Focus Group Discussion) AI, (Appreciative Inquiry), Personal Interviews etc. Secondary data on the planned outputs, activities, and how these contribute to the purpose of the project was collected through intensive review of the project documents and other supplementary documents as available in the Office of the Concern Worldwide and partner NGOs. In addition the government statistics were collected at the central level. The detailed sampling plan of the schools, learners, teachers, SMC and PTA members, project staff, parent’s community, volunteer teachers, poor mothers, related government officials etc. were developed in consultation with the Concern Worldwide Officials. Primary data was collected through meeting, field visit, interview, focus group discussions (FGDs). Learning achievement of the children of selected classes was also assessed through administering appropriate tests. The data have been collected by a team of 20 members from January to June 2013 (Tables 1-7).
Survey of the study
Digital library initiatives
With a view to create knowledge base society through installation of an exceptional digital school library, it was the challenge to the author and the library team to introduce the research methodology by which poor children’s internal potentiality can be explored because it was the first task for the author to achieve project objective. The library committee formed different groups on different stakeholders based on their age and organized workshop where
they felt very comfortable to speak about themselves. At the beginning of the project, it was needed to introduce the project with the poor people in the project location. The study has applied appreciative inquiry method (AI) for hearing their voice in the form of a story and consulted several times with teachers, SMCs, PTA, community people, and extreme poor people about the service pattern which helped them to change their attitude. In their story, they explained about their identity, level of education, reasons for existing situation, personal liking, unlinking, interest of works, skills, dream, ambition, future plan, etc. Most of the parents expressed that getting education for their children is very important. As they have already spent their life with poverty, so in their life they have no any ambition, but they felt that education for their children can change the lives of their next generation. “We wish to live from hand-to-mouth and want to educate our children” said Rumana, a mother of the extreme poor children. “Poverty made us disable in every steps of our life. Now we want change and want to live like other people in the society”, said another Rahim Mia, a father of the girl. When asked about the future plan, most of them did not have any. Mothers are very much interested to send their children to school. Based on the story, the author has analyzed their dream with a view to explore their potentiality. By applying AI (appreciative Inquiry) method and consultation techniques, their needs have been assessed that helped to explore the internal potentiality which will lead them for changing attitude and behavior. From AI and Consultation techniques, their needs have been assessed that helped to prepare the beneficiary profile.
Demand for learning resources
Based on the statement of the extreme poor people, SMC, PTAs, Community peoples, local elite, UNO (Upzilla Nirbahi Officer) and the children as well, plans have been developed in search of alternative ways to educate them for creating awareness and changing attitude and aptitude. Special emphasis has been given on collecting and developing best-suited reading materials for the children and the selective dissemination of information (SDI) services for their parents. Service standards for the poor children were also the priority task to the author. For attracting dropout children, some motivating lessons have been shared through videos and other AVMs (audio-visual materials) like TV, radio, illustrative materials, text books, graphics, charts, cartoons, posters, playing equipment, etc. These have boosted up them. The most of the dropout children have preferred the following things AVMs (audio-visual materials) like TV, radio, illustrative materials, national text books, graphics, charts, cartoons, posters, playing equipment like Skipping, Ludu, Carom, Chess, Ring throw etc. Their parents and SMCs eagerly desired attractive learning resources for the library. To stimulate the children, some educational videos namely Mina Cartoon, Sisimpur (the popular Bengali cartoon for children) and schooling of river erosion affected children and pavement dwellers children, etc. were presented. These also inspired the children to go to school. They become interested to visit the library frequently for gathering knowledge. Thus, the need-based learning resources have been developed and some were collected to create interest among the children to go to school.
Digital resource development
It was full of audio-visual materials which prime motto is to create awareness among the extreme poor people for changing attitudes through counselling and encouraging them for sending their children to school. All the audio and video documentaries have been prepared by the research team incorporating suggestions and opinions of the community people of the project areas, SMSc, PTAs. UNO, volunteer teachers, elites of the community, community experts, legal experts and so on about the basic rights and encourage them for changing their attitude and traditional beliefs. The service pattern of this library was different than traditional one. Based on the demand of the target population, its collection was also different and extra ordinary. Most of the services provided here through AVMs. Some are through pictorial learning materials using illustrative reading materials for easy understanding of the beneficiaries. Service provided through AVMs are very effective than books and other printed materials. Keeping this in mind, the author was interested to start mind-mapping on writing script and preparing short video documentaries for involving them into library project. The language used as subtitles in these documentaries was in Bengali (Mother Language). Therefore, it was possible to all to understand the videos very easily. The videos were edited by Sound and Vision (a professional Videographer) as there was a service contract with them. The finance and the technical support of making short documentaries were provided by the project in which the research team were mainly responsible to research on digital resource development. Thus, the digital school library became accessible and attractive to all the extreme people and their children as well with its digital collections. Realizing their level of education, the author has adopted suitable approach to get the extreme poor parents connected with the digital library that included formal training through workshop, group meeting, practical demonstration of IGAs, short tour (just bring them out from one school to another) for introducing other school libraries, cultural events, religious festival, picnic, spot visit, inspirational activities like indoor games competition, e.g., ludu, daba, keram, playing cards, etc., outdoor competition for their children, e.g., football match, cricket match etc.
Besides the inspirational activities, for the extreme poor people, author has developed different training e-Resources in local language and through CD-ROMs, the services were displayed. Some training modules have been revised for providing life skills training complemented by psychosocial support in reviewing existing life skills modules and adapted these to the specific context and needs of extreme poor people. Project people have also been trained up in these revised modules. These modules focused on enabling children to be self-responsible in ways that result inpositive relationships with respect for others. The library project has helped children to develop positive assertiveness skills to protect themselves from drugs, violence, harassment, and other threats. As another form of psychosocial support, the library project has piloted legal-aid assistance for those extreme poor people who are deprived from their basic rights. To create awareness among community people, library project launched two basic anticipatory information services namely “School e colo jobon goro” (come to school and build your life) and “Jiboner Janno Tathho (information for life)” which contain information related to health and hygiene, population control, respect others, religious knowledge, social norms and values, dignity of labor, roles and responsibilities of a citizen, work in group, value of education, childcare, hand-wash, saving environment from pollution, cleanliness and other social issues.
Some videos were educational but funny to attract the children to go to school. The key messages of these videos were everything is free in school including books, pens, khatas (writing material), dries milk, playing instruments and so on. They could not believe that all are free for them. Thus they become interested to go to school. Due to illiteracy, most of the extreme poor children preferred visual materials instead of printed sources. Keeping it in mind, the author has designed different digital posters which conveyed messages about their rights, health and safety measures, food and nutrition issues, behavior change issues etc. For example, one wall poster for “shikha amar odhikar” (means Education is my right) demonstrated issues about the basic rights of citizen, another poster on “protibar paiykhnar por saban die hath dhowa shasther jonno valo” (means Washing hand is good for health every time after using toilet). Here, it is needed to mention that due to aforesaid reasons, these collections were not look like the traditional ones.
Learning achievement of the students
Tests were administered to class II and class IV children in the 10 sample schools to assess the achievement level of the children and see if there is a change over the course of the project. A detailed analysis of the data is given Table 8.
As can be seen from the Table 8, there were dramatic improvements in the library project schools. The Class II results show that during Project Completion Report 60% has been surpassed the target from 10% that is specified in the outcome. The class IV results improved dramatically more in project schools. When the study look at the pass rates of the students in the sample schools (School Records, 2005) earlier than the inception of the project 2006-08, the study did not see a clear trend of improvement, but after launching the library project the pass rates have been relatively higher.
Children’s learning achievement is supported by the library both inside and outside of the classroom. They are trained and guided on effective learning and teaching techniques. Learning achievement is also supported through the development of teaching aids (flash cards, learning toys, etc). Increased awareness of parents about quality issues is expected to lead to greater demand and on-going support for quality education. This work is coordinated by the library committee and the Community Mobilizers (CMs) working closely with the SMC and PTA. Mothers and youths are also encouraged to start library work for the poorest children. The school library project acknowledges exemplary volunteer work through award ceremonies, publications and other initiatives.
Volunteer teachers, SMCs, PTAs and other group members have been trained on classroom observation and active teaching and materials development activities using need based training modules developed over the course of the project. The library team had developed pictorial observation sheets for non-literate mothers as well which is a great initiative to motivate them.
Activities under the advocacy aspect of the outcome are projected to begin during the last 6 months of the project. It is important to begin the introduction of activities such as homework groups, peer to peer support, classroom support volunteers, classroom observation, active teaching techniques, materials development etc. at the local and national level, soon because it is a very long process melting the iceberg of a huge system like the primary education system of Bangladesh.
Improved access to services
During the final evaluation of the project, it has been found that 95% of the poor people in two upazillas received medical services (consultancy, check-up, medicine, counselling, and others). These arrangements assisted them in accessing health services. Stakeholders in two research locations unanimously agreed that poor people and their children can access to services has increased significantly as a result of the library project interventions. Access to government services has been increased in all project locations through linkages with local school library committee Primary School enrolment rate have been increased by 50% which never thought before launching the library project. Increased enrolment rates were achieved by raising awareness of the importance of educating their children. Access to legal aid also increased significantly through project interventions.
The sample consisted of 10 schools out of 101 in the two project area upazillas under Shariatpur districts. Questions may be arisen about the representativeness of the survey. But the research team has valid reason to select these 10 schools based on its type and accessibility.
Though 6 months is a very good time to do the actual field work and collect the data. But the research team had to face severe challenges for the first three months of data collection due to disastrous weather. It was the rainy season when extreme poor people had to shift their houses with belongings due to flood and river erosion. So, the team could not organize the initial workshop with the stakeholders and beneficiaries to develop the tools which could indicate the representatives from all of the parents, teachers, local elites, project staffs, students and others related with the project. Even development of the questions were done by a small group and then shared in a small scale with the project staff and CBO members for feedback due to this disaster. It was also very difficult to check and cross check the accuracy of all the data as people were moving to the safe locations preventing themselves from flood, river erosion and water logging.
The competency tests had been taken of class II and IV students only on two subjects (Bangla and Math) whereas the baseline tested four subjects (Bangla, Maths, Social Studies and Science). It had made a bit complication to compare the data with the baseline information. There were several issues with collecting the data for a variety of reasons. Some of the information forms even in the 10 schools investigated in the Mid-Term Review at June 2014 (MTR) were not completed. 6 out of the 10 schools had a complete set of quantitative information and the remaining 4 project schools had partial complete set. This reaffirms the issue that the research team was very clear about the data what they have collected from the field. They also had a very common understanding of what it is and what it is for.
1. Produce the innovative training modules and prepare the activity plan in new context;
2. Liability of newness
3. No specific research on it
4. Limited resources
5. Make them aware about library services
6. Social and religious influences
7. Time constraint
The study expected to achieve the positive results because:
1. Bangladesh has demonstrated its commitment to achieve EFA (Education for All) goals and visible progress has been made in this regard (BANBEIS, 2012). A good number of the vulnerable and disadvantaged children, that is, children with disabilities, street children, children from hard to reach areas and ethnic communities including children with extreme poor socio-economic condition are still out of the education system. Some of them got the opportunities, but could not continue (Choudhury and Rahman, 2015).
2. Though girls are doing better than the boys in primary level, the frustration is that the percentage of girls completed primary education is not equally seen in the secondary level education. Poverty, early marriage, unawareness of guardians, misapprehension of religion, lack of communication, eve teasing and violence against girls are among the reasons of their lagging behind (Nath and Chowdhury, 2008).
3. Bangladesh aspires to be a middle income country within the next decade, which makes it an imperative that the vicious cycle or chain of deficiencies in education, skills, productivity, employment and income opportunities is broken. But major challenges remains in respect of skills and capacities for rewarding life and livelihood including improving the quality of primary and secondary education (ADB, 2008). The Bureau of Non-Formal Education under the Ministries of Primary and Mass Education has to go a long way to be an effective agency for delivering non-formal education and promoting inclusive functional and sustainable literacy.
Taking into account the above mentioned causes, the study installed an innovative approach of a digital library at school instead of a traditional one for eradication of illiteracy and expected the innovative outcomes. It has been observed that since 40 years traditional approach brought as usual result in this regard.
The study results are very important considering the country context of the project. During baseline survey, it has been found that low attendance and dropout rates were very high in the two project areas but after the inception of the innovative library project these were significantly reduced. Besides these, the pass rates, enrolment rates, retention rates of the extreme poor children have been increased (Official records, 2015). Dramatic changes have been taking place in the behavior of the extreme poor people as long as they connected with library project. The extreme poor people are now more conscious about their rights and entitlements than before. It was the immediate results which have been achieved through the installation of digital library project. These outcomes are visible not only to the community people even to all who are working on primary education sector in Bangladesh as well. The long term results would be a milestone, no doubt, but it needs “impact analysis” which should be done after five years (In 2020) of the successful completion of the project. The study team felt that the installation of a digital school library project did well on relevance, effectiveness, efficiency, sustainability and correlations. It targeted to the poorest and most vulnerable girls for participating fully in education (primarily through the awareness raising training by the library at school) remains extremely important and relevant. It was effective at executing the intended activities to support the objectives of the project. Considering the number of beneficiaries and the size of the budget it was very efficient. Qualitative information shows change in behaviour of community people/parents and teachers. The accent of the project is around mobilizing the local population to support education for all and the information from the interviews are very positive and bodes well for the sustainability of the outcomes. Considering the correlations of the project it can be said that it will help to the relevant bodies and organizations for creating knowledge based society if they adopt this approach in remote rural areas of Bangladesh for eradication of illiteracy. But it needs countrywide massive advocacy.