Academic and leadership experience: Bangladesh secondary education

EducationPamelia Khaled: Currently I’m working as the President of the newly founded Volunteers Association for Bangladesh Canada (VAB-Canada), which is a chapter of parent VAB-USA. This charitable organization was originally founded in the USA in 1998, under the leadership of Dr. ATR Rahman, with the mission to empower the disadvantaged youth in rural Bangladesh by providing them with quality education and training.

Since its establishment in the USA, VAB has been helping high school students through mentoring, tutoring, scholarships, computer literacy, and teacher training. It has so far offered scholarships in 63 high schools in 17 districts in Bangladesh and has assisted 6,962 students with textbooks, exercise books, tuition fees, school uniforms and other educational materials. Through its teachers training programme, it has provided training to a total of 666 teachers in subjects like Science, Mathematics, English and computer literacy. VAB has tutored 7,478 students for terminal exam in Grade VIII and 7,054 examinees for final high school exams after Grade X. Under its school improvement program, VAB provided computers and accessories to 27 schools, science lab equipment to 21 schools and library books to 13 schools.  To assist very needy successful high school graduates to pursue higher studies, VAB has also offered 871 college scholarships since 2005.

My educational background and work experience from Bangladesh and I have keen interest in social issues of Bangladesh including multiculturalism, pedagogy dialogue, urban poor, gender, education and women’s employment from a comparative perspective. I am currently a doctoral candidate at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, Curriculum, Teaching, and Learning department, Curriculum Studies and Teacher Development Studies program at the University of Toronto. My doctoral research aims to explore the curriculum issues of madrassa and secular education systems and the cultural, structural and political processes in Bangladesh secondary education with the purposes of identifying key weaknesses in terms of quality and equity.

My interest in human development in Bangladesh attracted me to VAB. My fieldwork with the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) Education Programme in 2009 exposed me to the diverse challenges of both quality and equity in the education system of Bangladesh. During my internship with BRAC Education department, I gathered a wealth of information on issues relating to quality and access to education in both the government primary education and BRAC education systems there. Upon learning about its various programs in rural Bangladesh, especially the promotion of quality education and teacher development, my interest in VAB activities began to grow.

Motivated by VAB’s accomplishments in educational development in Bangladesh, I initiated the Canadian chapter of VAB with the same objectives. The Canadian Chapter of Volunteers Association for Bangladesh (VAB-C) was founded on May 9, 2012 in Toronto, Canada, under my leadership in collaboration with like-minded Bangladeshi Canadian professionals who are concerned about Bangladesh’s educational progress. VAB-C is also committed to supporting the primary and secondary education of disadvantaged students, facilitating the professional development of teachers and reducing social and economic disparities. It is my hope that the success of the “high quality” brand in VAB schools will benefit generations of students and will create a self-propelling force for schools to continue with the brand on their own. Though VABC is my brain child, however, to foster this young organization requires collaboration: solidarity and assistance from individual, groups, different communities and institutions.

As a Chapter, VAB-C is working hard with the parent organization. It fully complies with all the guidelines and directives of the parent organization which has been working for twelve years with the rural schools in Bangladesh. VAB- USA has also undertaken extensive discussions with headmasters, teachers and management committee members of the schools to arrive at strategies for the most effective utilization of the VAB resources.

VAB-C is eager to promote especially two of VAB goals: Student Empowerment Projects and School Empowerment Projects.

The School Empowerment Project supports upgrading Science Laboratory, Library, Computer Laboratory, and Vocational Laboratory. Student Empowerment Projects supports, Poor Student Scholarship, Merit Award, Tutoring, Participation in competitions, games, literary and cultural activities, National Olympiads on Science, Mathematics and Computers and Lectures by persons held in high esteem by the youth of Bangladesh.

VAB policy dictates that the sponsored schools come up with a Five Year Plan of Improvement. This plan is formulated in consultation with all stake holders – school board, parents and VAB management – and is then used for project evaluation. The distinctive features of the VAB strategy are that the schools own the projects and provide part of the funding for the projects. This ensures commitment and accountability while providing a sound basis for continuing with the improvement projects beyond five years without assistance from VAB.

In Bangladesh, VAB works as a government registered International NGO. It operates under the umbrella of VAB -USA. As an international NGO, VAB thus is able to raise and channel funds from all sources, both inside and outside of Bangladesh.

Why the initiative is important and how it might contribute to the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education community in Toronto, Canada and to Bangladesh Secondary education and education in general? This could be an important question to any readers.

Some of us may know the provision of secondary education has expanded in Bangladesh over time and the Ministry of Education has taken a number of initiatives to improve the secondary education system, including quality improvement project, teacher training and school monitoring. However, secondary education is facing challenges of delivering quality education and enhancing relevance of curriculum.

A high degree of inequality exists in secondary education in Bangladesh. All types of secondary educational institutions lack basic minimum requirements for quality education. The high school dropout rate in rural Bangladesh is still very high, which is 65 per cent.

VAB, since 2003, began to offer intensive training to teachers in the schools under its guidance in Science, Math, English and Computer by organising a three-day workshop yearly during Ramadan vacation for each group of teachers in each subject. So far 600 teachers have been trained. VAB is providing a three-month intensive tutoring to SSC examinees in high schools Volunteers Association for Bangladesh (VAB) claims the dropout rate in a rural VAB high school was reduced by 9 per cent on an average, in some schools by 50 per cent. Extraordinary Performances by VAB Schools and VAB Students in 2013 SSC Exam: VAB assisted 57 rural high schools this year have scored a 90.04% pass rate in the SSC Examination. Out of 268 VAB scholarship recipients, 255 representing 95% passed the Exam with 85% receiving  Grade “A-”or higher.

The main objectives for  my doctoral research is to explore the cultural, structural and political processes that shape the current Bangladeshi secondary education system, to identify the key weaknesses in this system in terms of quality and equity, and to characterize the significant obstacles to overcoming such weaknesses. I planned to make a comparative study between government and madrasa secondary education in Bangladesh.

During my study, I will investigate a few institutions under both general and madrasa streams. There is a dearth of some vital information about the streams necessary for curriculum and teacher development policy making, especially from comparative perspective. Therefore, my research questions are related to equivalence in curriculum between the two streams, testing the attainment of learning objectives to identify the quality of graduates produced by the institutions, and prospects of those graduates in the employment sector in Bangladesh.

Comparative education is an interdisciplinary field; the instrumental side of comparative research observes at the human capital, national education system, cross national studies of school effectiveness and ethnographic case studies of schools and classrooms illustration. The goal of comparative education, my PhD research concepts and the objectives of my charity organization are overlapping.  The initiative I have taken to establish this charity organization it has significance from the different perspectives: gathering information for my PhD research components, community development, understanding educational development field, as well as introducing myself to comparativists approach. These all areas are important to learn about the concept of   cross cultural studies.

Thus, my PhD research topic, current activities of this charity organization, and my experience in the educational development field will contribute substantially to the OISE, University of Toronto community and Comparative Education field and Bangladesh secondary education in broad-spectrum.

The writer is Doctoral Candidate in Curriculum Studies and Teacher Development
Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE)
Assistant, University of Toronto

Founder-President Volunteer Association for Bangladesh Canada (VAB-Canada)

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