Every year Bangladesh faces numerous natural calamities such as floods, river erosion, water logging, and so on, which largely affect the lives of people living in the low-lying regions of the country. “Being a part of the low-lying region, residents in Kishoreganj tend to disproportionately suffer from social problems as a result of natural calamities. One social problem is the lack of proper education. So, when Platforms for Dialogue (P4D) started working to promote the Social Accountability Tools (SATs) focusing on three social issues, we thought that working on quality education would be best suited for our area,” said Rabindranath Chowdhury, Kishoreganj District Policy Forum (DPF) President.
The DPF is an extension of P4D that is working at the district level to ensure the cooperation of local government officials and local citizens in policy discussions and to ensure that all learn about the four key social accountability tools (SATs). Kishoreganj DPF was formed on 11 April 2021 and comprises of 20 members including teachers, journalists, School Management Committee (SMC) members, local government representatives, and CSO members. As the forum was formed at the peak of pandemic, many activities had to be conducted online. Their work started on 19 May 2021, when they had a formation training and was followed by a 15-day foundation training from 27 May 2021.
Part of the DPF’s mandate is to raise awareness of the four SATs that P4D is promoting- Citizen's Charter (CC), Right to Information (RTI), Grievance Redress System (GRS), and the National Integrity Strategy (NIS). DPF members underwent a training on those tools on 15 September 2021 which was led by the Deputy Director of Local Government (DDLG) in Kishoreganj, Mohammad Habibur Rahman. He says, “people were not very aware of the SATs. Now they know where and why a Citizen’s Charter should be installed, how to file a complaint with the GRS, how to ensure their Right to Information (RTI), and how to practice the Integrity Strategy. I think everyone should know about the tools because these tools ensure good governance as well.”
One of the key concerns and reasons the DPF focused on quality education was the fact that the quality of teaching in schools was not prioritised by teachers who preferred to focus on tutoring students privately. This not only causes inequality in students’ access to education, but also poses a serious threat to the quality of classroom education. To better understand the impact of this issue, the Kishoreganj DPF made a list of five primary schools located in remote areas of the district and sent them a questionnaire in order to conduct a study on the overall situation of education at local schools. The schools included Binnagarh Government Primary School, Kallani Inclusive Primary School, Karial Government Primary School, and a few more. In the survey, initiatives taken by the school authorities were questioned focusing on any recommendations the authorities gave in their recent visits (if any in the last two months) and if those recommendations had been implemented. Another important aspect they focused on was the increasing number of coaching or private tuition centres, as students have become more coaching centre-oriented. The DPF also inquired if the SMC or the school authority took initiatives to alleviate the inequality of quality education in school classrooms.
Mir Ashraf Uddin, one of the DPF members, thinks that the coaching centres are an obstacle to achieving quality education. He says, “we want the SMC to be more active in stopping the coaching centres. We should demotivate the students to go to private tutors as well.”
Khojista Begum Jonaky, another member of the DPF says that along with coaching centres, there are other obstacles as well. “Primary school teachers are not satisfied with their salary. As a result, they are not very attentive to their job. They do not go to schools regularly, and they are more interested in private tutoring. I think they need to undergo regular job training.”
Regarding this, District Primary Education Officer, Subrata Kumar Banik says, “teachers are not always irregular, and we try to monitor the schools regularly. If there are any complaints against teachers, we try to solve them as quickly as possible.”
The DPF held a public hearing event on 29 December 2021 for community members to share their concerns about various social problems. Issues like corruption at the Land and Passport Office and old age allowance were discussed with the District Director of Social Welfare. People also raised their concerns about easy access to illicit drugs and shared them with the DD of DNC. Anjoli Rani Das, the Head Teacher of Harua Government Primary School, recommended some strategies to ensure quality education starting with categorising the problems according to each school. She says, “different areas pose different problems. So, we need to consider the specific schools and figure out the specific problems that need to be solved.”
The DPF also conducted a small survey before preparing the keynote paper for the RTI day observation, which was held on 28 September 2021. “While conducting the survey, we saw that many offices do not have a Citizen’s Charter or the charter has not been updated. We talked with those offices and later, they installed or updated their Citizen’s Charter,” says M.A. Akbar Khondokar, a DPF member and news editor at Shatabdir Kantha.
Hasina Haider Chameli, the Vice President of Kishoreganj DPF thinks their advocacy work will swell over time.
“Now, people are becoming aware of their rights. They know what services they can access, so it is not easy to fool them anymore.”
Linkon, another DPF member, says that their online platform on Facebook is very engaging. People react and comment on their posts related to SATs and quality education.
Because of the pandemic, they had to conduct all their activities via online platforms and had very little scope to do any kind of in-person work. According to the DPF members, six months is a very short time for such a project. They agreed that more time would have allowed them to work with a larger demographic and reach more people at the grassroots level. Md. Ejjaj Hussain Kajol, a DPF member says, “to ensure the correct practice of the tools, we need to be able to hold the administrative officials accountable in a more profound way. We hope, by using the tools, we will be able to ensure the quality of education in our district in the future.”
This publication was produced with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of Platforms for Dialogue and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.