Low cost, high expectations

February 18, 2013 by

In session at a BRAC Primary School in the Korail slum of Dhaka, Bangladesh.

In session at a BRAC Primary School in the Korail slum of Dhaka, Bangladesh. (Photo: Oscar Abello/BRAC)

The conditions into which a child is born affects not only her future opportunity, but also her position in society.

Poverty itself can limit society’s expectations of the child’s ability to perform well in school, constantly reminding her of the miniscule chance she has to overcome adversity and poverty.

In Bangladesh, BRAC has raised those expectations among the hardest-to-reach children. Recent results from the national Primary School Certificate examination, required for secondary school admittance, has shown BRAC primary school students outperforming their peers, with a pass rate of 99.93 percent, compared to the national pass rate of 97.35 percent. 

Those results are consistent with BRAC’s original goal when it started its non-formal primary education program back in 1985, which was to mainstream the hardest-to-reach children into formal government secondary schools. With a drop-out rate of only six percent, 93 percent of BRAC primary school students successfully integrate into government-run secondary schools. How has BRAC achieved such positive results?

By adapting low-cost solutions—radically low-cost.

In Bangladesh, BRAC can educate a child for roughly USD 32 a year. That’s just 32 US dollars for a one-room school, a BRAC-trained teacher, and basic didactic materials—for a full academic school year. Beyond the provision of essential infrastructure, critical student-centered pedagogy has been a crucial, if not most important, component of BRAC’s success.

BRAC’s Founder and Chairperson, Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, shaped both his personal perspective and organizational philosophy on the ideas of Paulo Freire. As Freire argued in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, the oppressed must overcome mental oppression first to begin undermining other, more outward forms of oppression.

Unlearning traditional education and relearning what education is in Freire’s conception has been the key for BRAC and its partners. Understanding the mental and physical complexities of poverty and oppression, in addition to radically low-cost solutions, has allowed BRAC to pioneer an education model with proven impact. Today, BRAC’s education programs are expanding beyond Bangladesh, to Afghanistan, South Sudan, Pakistan, Uganda and most recently the Philippines, while continuing to adapt to the demands of changing societal and global contexts.

The provision of quality education, not just access, must move to the forefront of the development discourse. For that to happen, we must first unlearn and relearn what a quality education actually is.