Ideal & Reality: Bangladesh's Programme to Revolutionize Primary Schools Is Not Exactly Popular with Teachers

By Huque, Sameera | New Internationalist, August 1999 | Go to article overview

Ideal & Reality: Bangladesh's Programme to Revolutionize Primary Schools Is Not Exactly Popular with Teachers


Huque, Sameera, New Internationalist


'A flame lighting up ignorance' to some. But Bangladesh's programme to revolutionize primary schools is not exactly popular with teachers, as Sameera Huque discovers.

The sunny room, the smiling teacher, and the bright faces of over 60 children squashed into orderly rows of benches. The walls have been painted with colourful pictures of flowers and alphabets, but some of the small faces still hold a pinched look -- from no breakfast that morning. The teacher, standing in front of the expectant faces, displays and explains, questions, sings and recites; the children follow, mostly as though programmed to do so. Their hands go up, memorized answers are still warbled out, and there's the end of another class.

This is an 'IDEAL' class -- the Intensive District Approach to Education for All programme, a Government initiative in partnership with UNICEF, which is seeking to revolutionize primary education in Bangladesh and make sure 95 per cent of children are enrolled by 2001.

At the heart of IDEAL is the Multiple Ways of Teaching and Learning method, based on the work of progressive educationalist Howard Gardner. Breaking away from the traditional reliance of Bangladeshi primary schools on rote learning, the new method aims to engage different parts of a child's brain, so that a musically inclined child should learn more from songs and a visually orientated child more from pictures.

Most teachers have not responded eagerly to IDEAL and its attending reams of paperwork. They were given training in interactive teaching, including dancing and puppetry, to make learning an enjoyable experience for children. But they insist that though the ideas are good, this programme at its core is indifferent to the main problems facing primary education, which is chronically underfunded. Shyamolia School in Mymensingh, for example, has the average infrastructure of schools in rural districts: three rooms, in which 370 students are taught by two teachers and the principal, Kamaluddin Helal. 'There are so many students in each class that by the time I've called the roll and said hello, it's time to leave and go to the next class!' Mr Helal exclaimed. 'What time do I have left to teach in?'

Rehana Mazumdar teaches at the Jigatola School in Dhaka, one of the five 'pilot' schools where IDEAL was launched in 1996. This is one of the top eight government primary schools in the country, yet there are no colourful classroom walls here -- but class sections are smaller and students more confident and active. Mrs Mazumdar finds that the IDEAL methods have decreased her workload through group learning, and that the children are eager to participate. …

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