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Promoting Quality Education and the Use of SATs: Nilphamari DPF Educates Citizens on their Rights

Updated: Dec 6, 2022

District Facilitator and DPF members of Nilphamary District
District Facilitator and DPF members of Nilphamary District

Nilphamari has always been afflicted with monga, a near famine situation stemming from the lack of employment in rural areas. Poverty is a constant in this region, and along with that, comes child labour. For many families, the prospect of their children earning 200 taka per day seems more profitable than having them attend school. Moreover, since anyone can start working in the Export Processing Zone (EPZ) after the age of twelve or thirteen, children, especially female children, are joining the sector at an alarming rate. As a result, the quality and volume of education have become vulnerable in Nilphamari. For this reason, Nilphamari District Policy Forum (DPF) decided to focus its work on quality education.

District Policy Forums are Platform for Dialogue’s (P4D) newest initiative that works to strengthen civil society and government accountability mechanisms in Bangladesh by using four key Social Accountability Tools (SATs) – Citizen’s Charter (CC), Right to Information (RTI), National Integrity Strategy (NIS), and Grievance Redress System (GRS). Funded by the European Union in partnership with the Government of Bangladesh's Cabinet Division, P4D formed 12 DPFs in 12 of the country’s districts focusing on three crucial issues – quality education, child marriage, and health care in the community clinics. DPFs aim to bring together both local government representatives and community leaders for a more collaborative and unified approach toward community development using the key SATs. The DPF members were selected based on certain criteria including experience and influence at the district level. Nilphamari District Facilitator, Shahidul Islam, selected Golam Mostafa as the forum's president because he is already working in the education sector. Other influential people such as journalists, CSO members, and MAP members were also invited to be in the forum so that they can continue to have a positive impact on the local community.

In addition to focusing on quality education, the Nilphamari DPF has been campaigning to raise awareness about the key SATs and how the public can benefit from them. The district policy forum held a number of events including a dialogue meeting and capacity-building event to orient members on the four key SATs. After attending the meeting, Farhana Yesmin, a DPF member and a university teacher, decided that it was time to implement what she learned at her college. Along with the principal, she decided to appoint an Information Officer so that students, guardians, and teachers could have easy access to all kinds of information.

With Masum Sarkar’s appointment as the Information Officer, a number of people now come to him to inquire about all kinds of information regarding the college including admission fees, exam fees, and how exactly these sums are spent or decided upon. According to Yesmin, this is a great example of putting the Right to Information into practice. She thinks this little step will yield rich dividends in the long run.

Salma Akter, DPF member talks about how she used her learning of SAT in installing complaint boxes in different schools of Nilphamari.
Salma Akter, DPF member talks about how she used her learning of SAT in installing complaint boxes in different schools of Nilphamari.

Salma Akter, another DPF member has been working to spread what she learned about the tools and their practical use. She began spreading information on the importance of GRS in education to the principals and teachers of different schools. After that, the head teacher of Kokoi High School in Borogacha, Ganapati Roy took the initiative to install a complaint box. At first, there were no complaints coming in as the students were a bit scared to raise their voices against the teachers or the school committee. Then, one day in the assembly, Ganapati Roy renamed the box to ‘suggestion box’, and since then, there has been a constant flow of suggestions coming in. The box is opened once every two months, and the suggestions are read aloud in the presence of the student forum members. Konika, a member of the student forum, said that the forum constantly encourages students to be active in raising their voices. As a result, problems like lack of proper sanitation, poor facilities, or inadequate lessons were solved promptly.

Golam Mostafa, Nilphamari Model College Principal and DPF President, has also installed a complaint box in his school, but students are still not motivated enough to come forward. However, he remains hopeful about this new initiative. He believes that if he could actually spread knowledge of the SATs among the students, then they would be more aware of their rights and responsibilities and become vocal by making use of the complaint box. He said, “if the school management committee is strengthened, a good number of problems can be solved. And to do so, we need to familiarise the committee members with the SATs as well.”

The purpose of these tools is to ensure accountability throughout the system, which is what should be reinforced by officials at all levels, says Monju Sarkar. Despite being a member of the Nilphamari Kachari Government Primary School management committee, Monju was not sure about her duties before the DPF’s intervention.

Kokoi Borogacha P.C. High School

Common situations like this are clear examples that such responsibility often requires citizen oversight and checks and balances. Journalist Md. Shish Rahman thinks that the SATs provide that very opportunity. “These tools help people raise their voices whenever they see something wrong. If that happens at schools, the management committee members will, in turn, become more aware of their responsibilities too.”

Md. Azaharul Islam, the ADC (General) of Nilphamari, said,

“knowledge is power. The more people know about the social accountability tools, the more conscious they will be about their rights. And if the people are aware, the administration is bound to deliver quality service.”
Md. Enamul Haque Sarkar, UEO, Nilphamari.
Md. Enamul Haque Sarkar, UEO, Nilphamari.

Upazila Education Officer, Md. Enamul Hoque Sarkar, said

“the tools are actually making changes. They are slow but there are certain changes. For instance, teachers are becoming more receptive to suggestions and complaints they receive in the complaint box because they also know about GRS and RTI.”

Akhteruzzaman, a DPF member and managing director of an NGO named CADAM, believes that working with SATs and implementing them to ensure quality education has opened up a new path of activism for citizens and a common platform for the local administration.

“Gradually, people are becoming more conscious and informed. These small initiatives are bound to bring changes. We are hopeful about improving the quality of education in our district. Thanks to the DPF, we now know how to do it,” concluded a confident Akhteruzzaman.
“The more people know about the social accountability tools the more they will be conscious about their rights,” says Md. Azaharul Islam, ADC general, Nilphamari.
“The more people know about the social accountability tools the more they will be conscious about their rights,” says Md. Azaharul Islam, ADC general, Nilphamari.

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.

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