It is natural for a child to dream about a bright future. But there are many stories to tell when a child like Shaheenara says ìI want to be educated to end the miseries of life.
Shaheenara is a domestic worker at Pachlaish area of Chittagong district. She doesnít like her job at all because the employers beat her almost everyday. ìThey even beat me if I donít play with their childî Shaheenara complains in tears.
For Shaheenara Basic Education for Hard To Reach (HTR) Urban Children Programme is a source of respite, freedom and inspiration. She said her most favourite time now is the time that she passes in the classroom of HTR at Sundabi Para centre at Pachalais.
Samaj Unnayan Kendra (SUK), a Non Government Organisation runs this centre which one of the hundreds being implemented under a government programme.
Education ministry took up the project in 1998 with the financial support from UNICEF the government of Sweden and DFID. The project was designed to meet the educational needs of the working children. The government is executing the programme through different Non-Government Organisations in six urban areas.
The teachers at these learning centres play a vital role in the success of this programme. They not only teach the students by creating friendly atmosphere but also make frequent visits to the homes of their students to monitor their progress and to communicate with their families. At times they also visit the workplace of the students to maintain the communication link with the employers.
A teacher at the Sundabi centre, Nileema Bhattachariya said that she had to work very hard to convince the Shaheenaraís employers to let her come to the centre. ìI had to go almost daily for a month together to convince her employers and her mother to allow the girl to join this education programme,î she said.
When asked what she would want to become when she will grow up, a confident Shaheenara said ìI want to become educated thatís all. I believe that it will bring an end to my present life of sufferings.î
The opportunity for education for Shaheenara is like opening up a window to the brighter side of her life. Her teacher at the center said Shaheenara sometimes even doesnít listen to the restrictions of coming to the centre. ì She has developed a confidence that this school will work as her door step to become self-reliant in life, Ms Bhattachariya said
Same is the case with Jesmin who works at a local a hotel along with her father. She said she wanted to become a doctor in life. Actually while talking to the children one would feel that HTR project has certainly created a spark of light inside them. It has created a firm believe among these working children that the society has a willingness to offer them something better and their guardians would continue to create more facilities for them to become somebody in life.
Jesmin confidently said that she feels her parents would continue her education if she can end her learning at the HTR school. The children indeed are showing very big signs of change even by having such limited chance of education. It is infusing a stream of consciousness among these working children who would otherwise had a very low self esteem living in hazardous working atmosphere.
Ten-year old Shaheen said that he could now sign his name and read Bangla.ì You know if you give thumb print instead of knowing how to sign your name your properties could be cheated away from youî, he said.
Shaheen seems to have developed a kind of strong dislike against corrupt practices and corrupt people. He said he wants to be in police and send all criminals to jail to remove corruption from the society.
Hashu Akhtar at 12-year old of Kuttuli area of Chittagong is now a student of class five. She was a domestic worker when she started her studies in the first batch of the HTR programme. Her guardians admitted her in the primary school after she wanted to continue her education at the end of her learning at the HTR centre. ìMy mother started working to support my education plans. All of my family members now give morale support to continue my education,î she said.
When asked what she would do if she is married right now and had to give up education plans, Hashu Akthar replies ìThey can not marry me before I am eighteen.
The project is successful in creating demand for education among the students of the HTR learning centre. Mohammad Jamaluddin who was also a batch mate of Akhtar couldnít continue his studies at primary school because he had to work in a yarn factory to support his family.
I have a pay raise after I completed my learning at the HTR centre in 2000. But I do not want to continue my job rather I would like to enrol myself in a primary school. My father is planning to change my job place to enable me to receive my education in a school.
The HTR Project was developed against the backdrop of the mounting child labour debate in the country - triggered by the threat of enforcement of Harkin Bill. The lessons from the much talked-about project for child garment workers in Bangladesh - which started in 1995, the year of the conclusion of the Memorandum of Understanding between UNICEF, ILO and BGMEA (Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association) - were used to develop this project.
The project was in fact developed after some lessons were learned that pulling out children from work without providing them with viable options can prove counter-productive, actively listening to and involving children and their families is critical for proper understanding of the socio-economic context and for developing effective programmes for them. It is also found that the assumption that children released from exploitative work will return to study proved contrary to reality.
So the HTR Project focuses on an "earn and learn" strategy. It is trying to build on the strengths that the working children already possess. There are a lot of things children can learn through working that are not taught within the confines of a classroom. To disregard the knowledge that a child gains from work and to assume that she or he knows nothing for not being in school, is to further undermine that child's self-esteem and self-confidence.
The project aims to ensure access, equity and quality education to these working children. Quality non-formal education can help prepare working children for broader options available to them so that they can make their choices regarding their future - to access further education, to gain access to appropriate skill training and work or to negotiate for better conditions in their present work.
It is also trying to provide a child-friendly environment where interactive learning takes place. By coming to these learning centers, children get an opportunity to mix with their peers and get peer support, and meet teachers who are not punitive in their ways. These interactions help children to gain self-confidence.
The main features of this project in brief are to provide a safe and supportive environment for the children to facilitate their movement out of hazardous jobs (if they desire), to strengthen the capacity of Government, NGOs and civil society to deliver quality education to working children and to motivate civil society to undertake initiatives to enable working children access to protection and development opportunities
The project runs a two-year course, two hours a day, six days a week. At the end of the course children achieve an equivalency of grade 3 and can be admitted to mainstream education. During the two hours, the child stays away from (hazardous) work and instead spends it in an enjoyable environment where they gain knowledge of life skills; health care; their rights; ways of identifying and coping with hazardous work situations; as well as other relevant issues.
|Source: The New Nation, April 25, 2002|
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