The stipends provide fee-free secondary schooling and a payment to all girls in school, except in the largest urban areas. According to the latest global monitoring report from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), Bangladesh is now one of only three low-income nations where girls outnumber boys (usually this is only the case in middle- or high-income countries). The higher number of girls has evolved since stipends were first introduced in the early 1990s; in 1992, 25% of girls were enrolled at secondary school but by 2005 this had risen to 60%.
A similar programme is now seen as necessary for boys from poorer households. In 2008, the stipend programme was therefore extended to include boys from poorer families, though currently this only operates in around a quarter of the country. Poverty is the main barrier to boys staying on in school, as many youngsters drop out to find work and help support their families.
Another development in education concerns the provision of pre-schools. Currently, few children in Bangladesh attend pre-school – only around one in six. In rural Bangladesh, a local non-governmental organisation has now set up 1,800 pre-schools and kitted them out with improved learning materials. Early research from these nurseries indicates how the participating children have gone on to perform better in literacy and mathematics by the second grade of primary.
The government of Bangladesh is also looking at improving vocational training for older children in schools and widening this for girls. Currently, girls account for only a fifth of technical and vocational enrolments (despite their higher numbers in secondary education). Officials want to increase this enrolment to 60% by 2020, as well as to expand vocational options in both the public and private sector. As part of this strategy, poor and marginalised groups will be particularly targeted.
Finally, the country is taking steps to try to ensure the safety of children in school. Earlier this month, millions of pupils took part in a nationwide earthquake drill. This drill was the largest in the country’s history and was timed to coincide with the International Day of Disaster Risk Reduction. Speaking to IRIN, the Bangladeshi secretary of the Ministry of Education spoke of the importance of children learning how to protect themselves in the event of an earthquake and learning the “discipline...important during any emergency”.