Academic journal article Journal of Health Population and Nutrition

Review of the Bangladesh Female Secondary School Stipend Project Using a Social Exclusion Framework

Academic journal article Journal of Health Population and Nutrition

Review of the Bangladesh Female Secondary School Stipend Project Using a Social Exclusion Framework

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Secondary education is an important goal in development, providing opportunities for active participation in the global knowledge economy, civic skills, and social cohesion (1). As an intervention, increasing access to secondary education has great potential to counter social exclusion for girls, whose traditional gender responsibilities have kept them from full economic and social participation. The Female Secondary School Stipend Project (FSP) in Bangladesh was established in 1982 to increase the enrollment of girls in secondary schools, thereby delaying marriage and childbearing. The Bangladesh Association for Community Education (BACE), a national non-governmental organization (NGO), initiated and implemented the project, and it was then scaled up with technical and financial support of international actors.

This analysis examined the intervention through the lens of social exclusion to assess whether the scheme has increased girls' capabilities and their levels of participation in society. The social exclusion framework entails an examination of barriers to inclusion, and an analysis of the extent to which the policy in question has overcome these barriers (2). This paper argues that the programme is a partial success at best and suggests a stronger programmatic emphasis on capabilities rather than just enrollment figures. Such an emphasis, achieved through transformation of the curriculum, would improve the ability of the programme to achieve its goals of delayed fertility and greater female participation in development. A focus on capabilities would mean a stronger contribution of girls' school enrollment (target 4) to the greater Millennium Development Goal (MDG): promote gender equality and empower women (goal 3). The absence of such a focus represents a missed opportunity and signals inefficiency and inefficacy within the programme.

BACKGROUND

Bangladesh has made impressive strides in a relatively short time in terms of achieving gender parity at both primary and secondary levels. The country has now surpassed target 4: Eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary school of the gender-related MDG 3 (Promote gender equality and empower women). It should be noted here that the broader goal of promoting gender equality and empowering women has certainly not been achieved, and the target 4 does not necessarily indicate progress towards the larger goal--especially as it focuses on enrollment rather than educational outcomes.

Educational attainment for women in Bangladesh was once among the lowest in the world. The 1991 census indicated that only 20% of women were literate, with a rate of 14% in rural areas. The enrollment rate in primary schools for girls was 64% in 1990 compared to 74% for boys. The gender disparity was even more stark in secondary education, in which only 33% of enrolled students and 29% of graduates were girls (Table 1).

The figures for the first decades of the 21st century are vastly different: in the primary sector, gender parity in enrollment has been achieved, and in 2002, the secondary sector enrollment of girls exceeded the enrollment of boys at 53% (Table 1) (3,4). A number of policy interventions are credited for this dramatic change, including the Food for Education Programme sponsored by World Food Programme, the rise in non-formal education pushed by NGOs, and the increase in formal sector employment opportunities for women that require secondary education, especially the garment sector. In addition, one of the most accredited drivers of this change is the Female Secondary School Stipend Project (FSP). Launched nationally in 1994 and funded by the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, and the governments of Norway and Bangladesh, the project pays tuition-fees and provides monthly stipends for unmarried rural girls up to class 10 who attend recognized institutions, remain unmarried, maintain at least 75% attendance, and secure at least 45% marks in the annual examinations (a pass requires 35%). …

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