Jibon is 12 years old and works at a fish market in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. He lives alone with his mother, who works in a garment factory.
The little money Jibon makes is essential for the survival of his family. For this reason, Jibon dropped out of school after only the second grade. In all likelihood, he will never have the opportunity to go back to school.
“I don’t have a father. My mother has to work, but her income is not enough for me to go to school,” Jibon says. “Yes, I want to go to school, but I cannot, because we don’t have enough money.”
Jibon shares the same fate with millions of children in South Asia. According to a recent study on out-of-school children published by UNICEF and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics under the Global Out-of-School Children Initiative, 17 million children of primary-school age and 9.9 million children of lower secondary-school age are out of school in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka – placing South Asia as the region with the second-highest number of out-of-school children in the world.
Better data, better policy
Poverty, gender, social and cultural norms, disabilities, conflict, natural disasters and inefficient education policies – all of these are factors keeping children out of school or pushing them to drop out early.
“If we believe that South Asia can be a prosperous part of the world where every child can contribute when they grew up, then learning is of importance,” says Karin Hulshof, Regional Director of the UNICEF Regional Office for South Asia.
The goal of the Out-of-School Children Initiative is to gather data about who out-of-school children are and what socio-cultural barriers are keeping them out of school, and then to use the data to design policies that make education for all a reality.
“Without accurate data, we cannot have good policies and good interventions that help to make sure that children realize their right to education,” explains Friedrich Huebler, Programme Specialist at the UNESCO Institute for Statistics.
Governments in the region are starting to expand and strengthen alternative pathways to education for children. For example, in Bangladesh, local authorities are working with organizations such as BRAC, an international development NGO based in Bangladesh, which is targeting disadvantaged students left behind or pushed out from the formal education system. BRAC schools are free of charge and mostly situated in low-income neighbourhoods.
An opportunity to learn
“We have to realize that, particularly in developing countries, it is just difficult, if not impossible, for the government to reach all the children and bring them back to school and provide them good quality education” says Safiqul Islam, Director of the BRAC Education Program.
Ten-year old Mithila is a student in a BRAC school in Karail, one of Dhaka’s largest slums. In terms of educational opportunity, girls like Mithila are among the most disadvantaged in South Asia.
“When I see other young girls like me who still do not go to school, I tell them about this school and I ask them to come here,” Mithila says.
Thanks to the second-chance education programme in Bangladesh, thousands of children have been given an opportunity to learn – and a chance to escape the cycle of poverty.
“If we study, we can be successful in life, we can get better jobs,” says Mithila. “I want to study more to become a teacher in the future. I want to teach other poor children like me.”
Read the study on Out-of-School Children in South Asia
All photos by Matthieu Cretté
About the contributor: Matthieu Cretté was a consultant for UNICEF ROSA in 2013
Originally published on www.unicef.org on 28 January 2014.