Home to 157 million people living in a land crisscrossed by the waters of the enormous Ganga-Brahmaputra delta, Bangladesh is the world’s most densely populated country.* While 47 million people still live in poverty and are extremely vulnerable during frequent floods and cyclones, the country has registered remarkable successes between 1990 and 2010—reducing poverty by a third, achieving gender parity in primary and secondary education, and cutting its maternal mortality rate by 40 percent.
The World Bank Group has supported development in Bangladesh since 1972, including by financing its groundbreaking conditional cash transfer program that helped get millions of girls into school in the early 1990s, and contributing to the country’s stellar results in increasing female literacy. It continues to support education at all levels, with a new investment in primary education this week of $400 million.
This latest credit from the World Bank Group adds new resources to the country’s third Primary Education Development program, which is supported by nine development partners including the Asian Development Bank and the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DfID). The new funds will help Bangladesh build on its recent gains, and approach new milestones on the road to inclusive education and better learning outcomes for children.
“Bangladesh’s effort to ensure better learning for the 19 million children in its primary schools is critical to ensuring the nation’s future. The third Primary Education Development program is making an important contribution through helping to improve access, equity, and the learning environment and also through establishing an effective assessment system,” said Johannes Zutt, World Bank Group Country Director, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan.
Investing in children early, based on global evidence
Across the developing world, from Jamaica in the Caribbean to Mozambique in Sub-Saharan Africa, there is growing evidence that early childhood development programs help prepare children to learn better when they enter primary school and to earn more as adults. For children from disadvantaged backgrounds, these programs can go a long way towards level the playing field when they enter school.
Bangladesh’s recent effort to deliver a year of publicly-funded pre-primary education at public schools is highly significant in a context where children from the poorest families tend to enter primary school at a disadvantage. But even as the program expands rapidly, maintaining its quality is not easy.
To keep up the momentum, World Bank Group funding for the third Primary Education Development program is tied to achieving a number of pre-agreed targets. One of these is the rollout of the preschool year—with trained teachers and the right teaching materials—in 75 percent of the country’s 37,000 government primary schools. Partnership, especially with NGOs, is critical.
"The government and NGOs are working together to support quality pre-primary education throughout Bangladesh. NGOs with a history of work in preprimary education have contributed to developing the national curriculum and implementation guidelines, and they are now able to support pre-primary provision within the framework of the government system," said Elizabeth Pearce, Education Sector Director, Save the Children in Bangladesh.
Save the Children is an international NGO that works with hard-to-reach or disadvantaged families, communities and regions in Bangladesh.
Training teachers to improve learning outcomes for children
In 2011, as part of its national primary education strategy and plan, Bangladesh defined professional competencies and standards for teachers and committed to improving training for teachers who are already in service in primary schools, with the introduction of a new Diploma in Education.
Another important indicator that the disbursement of World Bank Group funds is linked to is the number of primary teacher training institutes offering the diploma, with the goal being 60 institutes by 2018, when the program closes. Eventually, the goal is to provide pre-service training as well.