Yasmin, Rosie Nilufar (2017). 'Early lessons and insights: How catch-up education impacts learning and wellbeing—an appraisal of slum children in Bangladesh' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Cape Town 2017.


Bangladesh is a small, lower middle-income country in South Asia. It has one of the largest primary education systems in the world with more than 18 million children (WB, 2013). More than 50% of children enroll in government schools (GOB, 2013) and the rest of the children enroll in other twelve types of primary schools, including NGOs’ schools such as BRAC (Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee) primary schools. Currently, one in every three children drops out before completing primary education (UNDP, 2013).


BRAC provides second chance or catch-up education for very poor, excluded and disadvantaged children who have never enrolled or dropped out of primary schools. BRAC primary schools are single-teacher (paraprofessionals and 97% are female) and single-classroom schools that have 33 children, where 65% of children are girls. BRAC schools have been found to outperform government schools in relation to participation, learning achievements and cost-effectiveness (WB, 2013; GOB, 2013; Ahmad & Haque, 2011). In this project, I investigate how slum children (27) of grade five of an urban BRAC school and their teacher, parents and program personnel of BRAC appraise the contributions that the BRAC school makes to children’s learning and well-being.


This study applies the capability approach developed by Amartya Sen (1999, 2009) as the conceptual framework. Unlike, utility-based or quantitative and input-output based economic analysis to measure learning achievements and wellbeing, Sen’s (1999) capability model evaluates human development from the perspective of effective and real freedom of choices or opportunities in relation to what people really want to do or to be. This idea is useful in providing an organic look that encompasses participants’ reality and genuine perceptions, and critical and complex scenario of schools that comprises issues such as poverty, inequality, gender, participation, discrimination, and such other organic and real-life matters that influence children’s learning and wellbeing (Kelly, 2012; Dejaeghere & Lee, 2011).


In my project, I use participatory ethnographic and narrative methodologies. I apply the sociological image of children where children are viewed as social actors and agents, as citizens who can express their own perspectives about their lives in school and family (Einarsdóttir, 2007; Kotsanas, Smith & MacNaughton, 2014; Aubrey & Dahl, 2006), who have the right to be heard (Art. 12 of UNCRC, 1989) and who can speak for themselves if the appropriate methods are used. I use children’s photographs as ‘stimulus or prompt;’ drawings and picture voices followed by individual semi-structured interviews and the use of magic wands while interviewing 27 children (19 girls and 8 boys); ‘member’s data check’; ranking (based on three scales- most important, important and less important) and group discussions; and five follow-up in-depth interviews with five children (three girls and two boys). This presentation provides the findings of part of the project: how the children perceive their own capabilities and potential, both in terms of learning and wellbeing gained and flourished (or inhibited) through the catch-up education provided by the urban slum BRAC school.


One of the early key findings of this study is that, the school impacts on both of children’s capability expansion and some deprivations. A total of fifteen capabilities are experienced by the children where the school plays a part in it. Ten of the capabilities have been identified by all children (27) of the school. In terms of importance, chronologically, these capabilities are education; to be an ideal human being/to be ‘a human being a human being should be’; aesthetics; friendship; teamwork and discipline; health & hygiene; play, fun and leisure; safety and bodily integrity; helping others; and love and care, and freedom from rebuke and punishment. Five other capabilities such as the ability to participate in co-curricular activities; awareness about the environment; living in harmony; being kind to the animal; and religious education are identified by a varying number of children. Second, while capabilities are converted in certain achievements, the process is found to be dependent partly on the decisions made by the adults such as parents or guardians and the teacher of the school. Third, capability deprivations such as poverty and safety issues tend to influence children’s resilience which again impacts on children’s capabilities and functions in both positive and negative ways. Finally, children are often found to make independent, rational, and responsible choices, which, from their perspectives, they have reason to value for their learning and wellbeing.


It is expected that the findings will have implications for those aiming to provide effective education for the most disadvantaged children, particularly in the developing country contexts.

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