Bangladesh has seen a rapid expansion in pre-primary education, from 895,000 children enrolled in 2010 to 2.86 million five years later. Government and civil society partners worked together to make one year of pre-primary education universally available in the country – however, significant issues remain with the quality of the education provided, and empirical evidence for its impact on child development is yet to be published.
Results & Impact
Bangladesh’s pre-primary enrolment has tripled since 2010, with the percentage of first grade students with pre-primary experience increasing from 50% in 2012 to 96.1% in 2015. According to a study of representative districts, between 2008 and 2013 net enrolment in pre-primary jumped from 10.9% to 40.4%.
Bangladesh Ministry of Primary and Mass Education (MoPME), Ministry of Women and Children Affairs (MoWCA), Bangladesh ECD Network (BEN), Save the Children, Bernard van Leer Foundation, BRAC, UNICEF, UNESCO, World Bank, Plan International
The Bangladesh ECD Network (BEN) was created as a forum for collaboration between the Bangladesh government and NGOs, which now serve around a quarter of children in pre-primary education. They worked together to create an operational framework for universal pre-primary education; a new pre-primary year for five-year-olds before they go to primary school at six. The framework, adopted in 2010 in a new National Education Policy, developed guidelines and laid out the respective roles for the government and civil society actors in scaling up the program. The scaling has consisted of two major initiatives: Pre-Primary Education (PPE) including creating a national curriculum, training materials and an additional 37,762 additional assistant teacher posts. The School Learning Improvement Plan (SLIP) working to devolve decision-making and planning on pre-primary to the grassroots level.
Infants and toddlers
Cost & Value
It costs $100 per year per child in the whole government primary school system, including pre-primary. Additionally, an initial grant totalling just $63 was given to each government primary school to prepare its pre-primary education for spending on books, toys and other materials. In 2012-13, as part of the SLIP initiative, 31,807 schools were given grants of $400, totalling $12 million overall.
The pre-primary policy has been in place since 2010.
The most significant hurdle for the pre-primary expansion has been ensuring quality. Due to a lack of resources in many cases, and little implementation of essential quality criteria, it has been difficult to reach a standard across the board so far. Meanwhile, the ages of the pre-primary children – despite the program having been designed for five-year-olds – vary a great deal, often ranging from three to six. This is partly because there is no universal birth registration system, which also makes it harder to monitor coverage. Also, because there are many NGOs and international organisations working on pre-primary, they have often lacked a coherent approach to quality implementation.
International organisations are replicating similar pre-primary programs in other developing countries, including the Philippines and Pakistan. Several other countries are attempting to scale pre-school education with mixed results, such as Ethiopia and China.
Bangladesh has rapidly expanded access to pre-primary education, with participation trebling from 895,000 to 2.86 million in five years.
Made possible by an effective collaboration between the Bangladeshi government and several NGOs, one year of pre-primary for five-year-olds has been universally available since 2010.
“Compared to five or ten years ago, there is now a recognition that pre-school is necessary; that children need to have this type of program,” said Dr Manzoor Ahmed, Chair of the Bangladesh ECD Network (BEN), which has 172 members ranging from government agencies to local and international organisations.
The BEN has been the forum for collaboration between government – predominantly the Ministries of Primary and Mass Education Primary and Mass Education (MoPME) and Women and Children Affairs (MoWCA) – and several other organisations, such as BRAC, Save the Children, and Plan International. Together they created an operational framework for scaling pre-primary, which laid out the partners’ respective roles and resulted in the new National Education Policy adopted in 2010.
As a result, the percentage of first-grade students with pre-primary experience increased from 50% in 2012 to 96.1% in 2015. According to one study of representative districts, between 2008 and 2013 net enrolment in pre-primary jumped from 10.9% to 40.4%.
The expansion has consisted of two policies: Pre-Primary Education (PPE) which has consisted of creating a national curriculum, building training materials for teachers, and hiring an additional 37,762 assistant teacher posts. Meanwhile, the School Learning Improvement Plan (SLIP) has been working to try and improve pre-primary quality, largely by devolving decision-making and planning of pre-primary to stakeholders such as community groups at the grassroots level.
The policy provided an initial grant of just $63 to each government primary school to prepare its pre-primary education, for spending on materials like books and toys. Overall it costs $100 per year per child in the whole primary system, which includes pre-primary. In 2012-13, 31,807 schools were given grants of $400 as part of the SLIP initiative, totalling $12 million overall.
With limited resources, the quality of pre-schools in Bangladesh is extremely variable. A survey by Education Watch in 2013 found that only 56% of pre-primary teachers in Bangladesh had any kind of teacher training, with 35% having been trained specifically on pre-primary education. While some schools have materials like charts, toys and drawing items, 39% of pre-primary schools had none.
“There are some positive things happening. When you have non-government organisations like BRAC, Save the Children and Plan International involved, the quality is much better,” said Ahmed. NGOs run approximately a quarter of preschools in Bangladesh, with 95% of their teachers trained in pre-primary education, far higher than the national average.
“If they try to apply some basic quality criteria, that will of course get much better results”
“The problem with the government program is that they do not apply some essential quality criteria. For example, you shouldn’t have more than 30 in a class, you need a dedicated teacher who’s trained, a suitable education space and an environment for children to play,” Ahmed said.
It’s not uncommon for classrooms to hold 60 to 70 pre-primary children, while many schools have neither teachers nor classrooms which are dedicated just to pre-primary. Also, the ages of pre-primary children vary hugely. Five-year-olds, at whom the policy is aimed, are thought to make up only around a third of the pre-primary population, with ages often ranging from three to six. This is partly because there isn’t a universal birth registration system, which also makes it harder to monitor coverage.
“If they try to apply some basic quality criteria, that will of course get much better results,” said Ahmed. Another challenge, he pointed out, is that NGOs are “not putting together a coherent strategic approach to quality implementation. They are different agencies and they don’t speak with one voice. They’re not engaged in a very effective dialogue.”
The issue of quality lagging behind coverage is a common problem in many developing countries. However, what may help quality implementation in the future in Bangladesh, and what has helped it scale up so quickly, is that “on the whole the country is fairly homogenous; it’s compact geographically and the ethnic and linguistic mix is relatively small,” said Ahmed.
“We have the service, now the challenge is to make it something that really benefits the children”
Similar pre-primary programs are being provided by international organisations in other developing countries, including the Philippines and Pakistan, while other countries are attempting to scale pre-school education with mixed results, such as Ethiopia and China. The success of the Bangladesh ECD Network in coordinating a scaling effort, though, is yet to be matched.
The key steps now, according to Ahmed, are to get empirical data on the policy’s childhood development impact, and to introduce and implement quality criteria across the board.
“We have the service, now the challenge is to make it something that really benefits the children.”
(Picture credits: Flickr/Asian Development Bank)