Fourteen-year-old Nira in the Sonaray village of northern Nilphamari Sadar could not take her class eight final examination because her family married her in the middle of the school year.
The teen was good at math and dreamed of becoming a school teacher. But Nira is now trying to manage work at Uttara Export Processing Zone, one of eight export processing zones in Bangladesh, to support her husband, a daily wager.
“It was becoming hard to survive with the solo income of my mother, a house servant, as my father, in his late fifties could not earn enough to support our four-member family. So, they decided to marry me off to ensure my better living,” she told Anadolu Agency.
Nira is among 481,000 students who dropped out of school, according to a report by the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education (DSHE).
The report said of the total — at least 10% were female victims of child marriage and 16% of males joined the income-earning sector as child laborers.
Poverty, disparity push dropout rates
Nira said her family could not afford a smartphone, laptop, or television, in addition to her regular tuition expense because the family’s income was cut during the coronavirus pandemic. It disrupted her distance learning during the 18 straight months of school closings in Bangladesh, she said.
Government data shows that 57% of students did not attend online classes and 79% did not participate in television classes during the pandemic.
Sixty-two percent of rural households lost income and 42% faced job losses during the pandemic, while a government stimulus hardly helped, according to a study by the Asian Development Bank and Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies.
Former Director General of DSHE Syed Md Golam Faruk said the child marriage rate in Sonaray is nearly double of those in towns or cities. And child labor has doubled among poor families in the cities compared to rural areas.
“There is similar discrimination between rich and poor families. Children in poor families face a disparity or lack of accessibility in the learning process and to secure quality education,” he told Anadolu Agency.
Low- and middle-income countries and children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds have been the hardest hit by the pandemic, according to UNICEF.
There are 20,294 secondary schools in Bangladesh and DSHE collected data from 11,679 institutions. The real number would be alarming if all the educational institutions were counted in the survey, said experts.
The “real situation would be more serious than that shown by the DSHE as they hardly cover half of the total schools and students,” according to SyedaTahmina Akhter, professor at the Institute of Education and Research at the University of Dhaka.
Dropout rates have increased for different reasons. Apart from poverty, the existing poor education system or distance learning method could not keep students in school during the pandemic, said Akhter.
Government preparing framework to bring back students to schools
Deputy Director of Monitoring and Evaluation Section at DSHE Salina Zaman said her agency conducted the survey to assess the situation created by the pandemic and take necessary measures to address the situation for improvement.
“The absence of students in the annual examination could be temporary. We can say the real dropout rate if we can collect the 2022 data and analysis,” she said.
DSHE sent the data with recommendations to the Education Ministry last month but has not yet received a response.
“We have plans to bring them who were absent in the final examination in 2021. We forwarded the recommendation to the higher authority to bring back students who were victims of child marriage or child labor,” said Zaman.
Plans and a framework remain in the primary stage, she said, and the agency will start implementing the recommendations once the Education Ministry approves the measures.