Updated: Dec 6, 2022
Patuakhali District has a large youth population. With over 1,000 schools across the district, quality education was the clear policy issue to focus on for the Patuakhali District Policy Forum (DPF). Afroza Akbar, one of the Patuakhali DPF founding members and Director of Adorsho Manob Sheba Shongsta, said,
“we chose to work on quality education because there are many educational institutions in Patuakhali District; to be precise, 209 high schools and 1,234 primary schools. However, there is a major lack of coordination and communication among the administrators, teachers, students, and even parents. There’s a huge scope to develop the standard of education here. We chose this issue as a challenge to ensure good governance and accountability in local education.”
District Policy Forums (DPFs) are Platforms for Dialogue’s (P4D) newest initiative that works to strengthen civil society and government accountability mechanisms in Bangladesh using four key Social Accountability Tools (SATs) – the Citizen’s Charter (CC), Right to Information (RTI), National Integrity Strategy (NIS), and Grievance Redress System (GRS). A European Union-funded project in cooperation with the Government of Bangladesh’s Cabinet Division, P4D has formed 12 DPFs in 12 of the country’s districts focusing on three crucial issues – quality education, child marriage, and health care in community clinics. Each DPF aims to bring together both local government representatives and community leaders for a more collaborative and unified approach toward community development using the key SATs. Patuakhali DPF was formed at the beginning of 2021 and comprises 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 the pandemic, many activities had to be conducted online. Despite this obstacle, the DPF managed to make an impressive impact early on in its process. Md. Mohiuddin, P4D’s District Facilitator (DF) in Patuakhali, said, “our DPF has been working closely with government offices, especially with the District Education Office, to improve the quality of education in Patuakhali. With the help of District Education Officer Md. Mujibur Rahman, letters were issued to all of the district’s schools and madrasahs to gather information on child marriage, improve computer lab facilities, and create separate toilets for male and female students.”
Md. Mohiuddin said, “Patuakhali DPF has directly visited 6 secondary schools, 5 primary schools, and 3 madrasahs. To date, the DPF has been able to re-activate the dysfunctional school committees of 20 schools.”
Mohuiddin was the centre of the process in selecting potential DPF members like Afroza Akbar. Mohiuddin said, “focusing on the seven required criteria and four desired criteria, we selected our DPF members first. After that, M. Nurul Islam (Former Principal of Patuakhali Government College) helped us in drafting our position paper to find out the causes and effects behind the dropping quality of education in our district.”
Each DPF member has been active in identifying gaps in the local education system. They used different approaches like group discussions, seminars, and training for community members, teachers, students, and parents all focused on improving the quality of education in Patuakhali. The DPF members also lobbied local government officials to issue letters on various crucial issues and circulate them among local schools to solve various problems as efficiently as possible. For example, District Education Officer, Md. Mujibur Rahman, issued a letter to the principals of different schools and colleges on how to properly use computer labs, especially during Covid waves. All of these activities have created momentum to develop Patuakhali’s education sector.
Md Bashiruddin, Headmaster of Khasherhat High School, said, “the schools re-opened on 12 September 2021 after a long break due to the pandemic. However, schools were again closed on 20 January 2022, fearing the spread of a new variant. The Patuakhali DPF carried out some fantastic activities, but we couldn’t really make the most of those activities as neither the students nor their guardians were coming to school. Nonetheless, the results were still laudable. Our students had never received any training on child protection before. Patuakhali DPF organised a child protection training here in this school along with some others in the area.”
The headmaster added, “the number of official visits to schools here from the District Education Office has significantly increased over the course of DPF’s work because of the promotion of Social Accountability Tools.”
Md Abul Bashar, a School Management Committee (SMC) member of Khasherhat High School, said, “the DPF has organised several rallies and seminars at our school which have been extremely helpful in raising awareness not just among students but all the people in general. They contacted us first in September 2021, and since then, they organised several meetings with us, the teachers, the students, and the guardians. They organised an anti-narcotics rally which was praised by everyone. I feel that the quality of education in our school and in our locality in a broader sense will keep getting better if the DPF can continue its activities for a longer period of time,” he added.
Thanking the P4D Project and DPF, Shila Rani Das, Deputy Director of the Department of Social Services in Patuakhali, said,
“people-oriented education has been highly encouraged by the Platforms for Dialogue (P4D) project, which shows how fruitful public-private partnerships can be. If there is no collaboration between government and non-government organisations, development is nearly impossible.”
Shirin Sultana, Deputy Director of the Department of Women Affairs, said,
“we are quite impressed with the DPF’s effort to combine the strength of all stakeholders. I have attended a number of programmes both online and offline. Their sense of enthusiasm and participation help us find gaps and work accordingly to fill the void.”
Patuakhali DPF President Md. Aminul Islam Shiraj said,
“I think we have done a great service to our community. We are trying our best to meet the challenges faced in the education sector, especially during the pandemic.”
Md. Delwar, an active DPF member, highlighted a significant development due to their activities. “We have ensured separate toilets for male and female students in 30-35% schools of Patuakhali district. We will ensure 100% of schools as soon as possible.”
According to District Education Officer, Md. Mujibur Rahman, the DPF has been able to revitalise the SMCs as well.
“The SMCs now hold meetings much more frequently, but this project won’t be there forever. But, we are quite hopeful that with some set rules and new regulations, that these meetings will be held regularly and the concerned parties will be held responsible.”
Md. Aminul Islam Sheraj, President of Patuakhali DPF said,
“we have created a fund for our DPF to ensure its sustainability. Members are contributing, and we plan to proceed with formal registration of our DPF as a non-profit organisation. Our DPF will continue current efforts to promote quality education, like monitoring monthly meetings of the SMC and PTA and ensuring the proper functioning of both committees, as well as working on the school sanitation system. We will also continue to support bridging local schools with District Education Offices."
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.