In the Media

In the Media (58)

Introduction

Ready school is an essential component of children’s school readiness. Children have to be supported by early schooling across various developmental domains, such as: physical, social-emotional, cognitive, and language-literacy, to achieve success in later academic life. At school, children must be in a safe and developmentally appropriate environment. This allows them to be successful in exploring and learning about their world. Children benefit from enriching, responsive learning experiences [1]. Providing an appropriate literacy and numeracy environment is at the core of school’s readiness because early literacy and numeracy skills are two important components of early school success.

This issue has been further explored, in this report, in the context of Bangladesh, through a classroom observation conducted in a pre-school classroom of Nobodhara School, which is a for-profit school run by BRAC University – Institute of Educational Development.

Observation Time and Setting

On  that  particular  day  of  observation,  in  the  vibrant  kindergarten  classroom  of Nobodhara school, there were 24 students present out of 30. The observation started from 8:30am and continued up to 10:45am. Although most of the students were present in the class by 8:30am, few were late and the last student arrived at 9:00am.

Physical Environment of the Classroom

The classroom was a rectangular room with two big windows and one glass door leading to a balcony allowing plenty of light and air in the class. The entire floor was covered with a carpet and had furniture for sitting, a computer on a computer table and a table right next to the board for use by the teacher. There was a board in one wall facing the direction where children were sitting. A class routine was written on the board with a marker along with the total number of children, number of children present and the date. The classroom also had lights and fans and a shelf in one corner for keeping books and materials. The detail observation of the physical environment of the class has been organized in the following sections.

Sitting arrangement: There were five round wooden tables and about thirty chairs available for the children. 5/6 children occupied one table. The tables and chairs were age appropriate. These furniture took most of the spaces in the classroom leaving little room for other activities or materials.

Play area: There was a small space in front of the board for activities or play inside the classroom. The space was very tight for having all children involved in any large group activities.

Corners: There were three corners that could have been identified during the observation. There were a book corner consisting four story books, a corner for personal belongings on two opposite walls beside the sitting areas and a corner shelf for blocks, play materials and exercise books.

Materials: There were different types of age appropriate materials available in the classroom. There were charts on the walls including charts on numbers with pictures, vegetables, alphabets, wild animals, vehicles, community helpers, healthy eating charts and cheer charts to encourage well behavior, discipline and healthy eating habit in children. However, the use of these charts could not be observed during the observation period and the charts were not hung at the eye level of the children. There were four story books available for the entire class in the book corner. There were also flash cards on words and pictures, pencils, colors, papers, chart papers, exercise books, coloring books and blocks available in the corner shelf.

Classroom Activities

The teacher started the day with some warm up activity with rhymes for about 15 minutes to engage children. Then she started a literacy activity which was more sort of a “social emotional literacy” at 9am. At first she put a picture of “happy face” on the board. Then she tried to get attention of the children by moving from table to table and asking children “are you happy? Look at the board. Are you happy?” It was an English version/medium class and the teacher was asking this question in English. However, the teacher also used Bangla very often. Few children responded to the question, but most of them were busy in settling down after the rhymes. Then she gave the children paper and color pencil to draw happy faces. After about 6 minutes she started collecting the papers. Very few, about 2/3 children could finish their drawing. But most of them could not finish their work. They started demanding their paper back so that they can finish their drawing. One particular child did not work on it at all. However, the teacher did not seem to notice it.

Immediately after collecting the sheets, the teacher took a basket and ask children, “What is it?” the children replied, “Basket”. Then she put a ball inside the basket, and started asking the children regarding the position of the ball. She asked, “Is the ball inside or outside?” Initially the children did not respond immediately. Then the teacher herself gave the answer, “the ball is inside the basket.” The teacher then took the ball out of the basket and asked children the same question. Some of the children replied it is outside the basket. After that she drew a picture of basket and ball on the board and the same questions again to children. Some children were answering enthusiastically, but some were talking among themselves and not listening. Then she initiated an interactive activity to engage the children to understand these two concepts. She brought few children at the front and made a circle with them. Then she put one child in the middle of the circle and asked, “Is he inside or outside?” The children in the circle replied “Inside”. Then she put another one outside the circle and asked the same question and the children replied accordingly. This session ended at around 9:40am and the children went for tiffin break.

During the break the children were put in line first to be taken to the washroom to wash their hands. It took about 10 minutes to organize them for this activity since the children. After coming back from the washroom, the children settled in their seat and started eating their tiffin gradually. One child did not eat her tiffin and started eating from one of her friend’s. The friend started crying and calling the teacher. The teacher found out that the kid did not take out her tiffin box from her bag. The teacher went to find the child’s bag and with the help of another kid in the class she found out the bog and gave the tiffin box to the kid whom it belonged to when it was not even 5 minutes left to the tiffin break to end.

After the break it was time for the physical education according to the routine. But the physical education teacher was delayed due to some personal problem. Therefore, to utilize this time, the teacher started “story telling” in that period. She requested the children to choose one story book from the book corner which they want to listen. The children seemed very interested to listen to the story and they picked one of the story books that they wanted to listen to. All the children came to the front close to the teacher to listen to the story. The teacher started the story by showing the picture in the cover page. She also asked questions to the children as she told the story. The children replied and asked questions in return. Although most of the children were listening to the story, a couple of them were talking among themselves. Initially the teacher tried to engage them by asking questions, but later when they were not listening she just let them do whatever they want on their own. Eventually the teacher introduced “participatory story telling” by engaging the kids to tell what happens next. Some of the children came forward and told the next part of the story.

At the end of this session the physical education teacher came in. He called the kids at the front and started asking questions regarding school behavior and discipline. Later, he engaged children in physical exercises. As the children were doing the exercises one by one and giggling away, at around 10:45am, my observation period ended.

Limitation of the Observation

Although it was a comprehensive day long observation. There were a number of limitations which are worth mentioning before going further into the analysis. The limitations were:

• It was the beginning of the session and the class started only two weeks ago. Therefore, only a few literacy and numeracy activities were started. The arrangement of materials and classroom environment were also not fully in place during that time.

• The teacher of that particular class was new. She had been recruited in this session. She only received a short orientation; the full training was yet to be received. Therefore, the classroom management has been analyzed considering the lack of experience of the teacher.

• The class did not have an assistant teacher during the observation period which further reflected in the classroom management situation in that particular class.

Analysis of Observation Data Using the School Readiness Lens

The observation data has been analyzed in terms of two important aspects of the school’s readiness: i) Children-teacher interaction, ii) Literacy and numeracy environment/activities.

i) Children-teacher interaction: The interaction between children and teacher has been observed and analyzed considering the following aspects:

Overall classroom management: The teacher was struggling in managing 24 kids all alone without any assistance from an assistant teacher. She could not pay attention to all the kids when they were engaged in drawing the “happy face”. Some children were enthusiastically doing the work, but some were not interested at all and talking among themselves, when a couple of them actually did not attempt to do anything. Overall, the classroom was noisy all along. There was a particular group of children sitting in one table which I have named as the “enthusiastic group” because they were the hyper kids and was making most of the noises. The teacher attempted but could not manage that group efficiently. She also did not attempt to redistribute their sitting arrangement and putting them in different tables. However, during the story time most of the children were engaged and participating. The teacher introduced the ‘participatory story telling’ technique which worked effectively to manage most of the children to be engaged in the activity.

• Dealing with the hyper children: In terms of dealing with the hyper children, particularly the most hyper one from the “enthusiastic group”, the teacher called her as the "leader‟ and gave her the task to make others quiet. However, there was no clear direction of how she was going to do this and there was no follow up on her task. As a result, after a few minutes the child was getting hyper again and disturbing other kids. The used to come again and tried to calm her down by calling her the “leader”.

Use of positive phrases: The teacher was very efficient in saying “very good”, “good job”, “beautiful work” and such praising phrases when some of the children were showing their work or being disciplined. The children seemed to be involved with the teacher and enthusiastically showing their work to her and also calling her when they were facing any problem.

Interaction during the snack time: During the snack time the children were putting their tiffin boxes with the help of the teacher. However, the teacher could not pay attention to all children and support them in getting prepared for the snack. As described in the observation note from classroom activity, one child did not put her tiffin out of her bag and started eating from her another kid’s tiffin which triggered a noisy situation when the other kid started complaining. The teacher also did not use the healthy eating chart during the tiffin break.

ii) Literacy and numeracy environment/activities: The literacy activities and environment has been analyzed in terms of the components of literacy that have been covered during the observation period. In the beginning of the class, the children were involved in literacy activities which were more sort of “social-emotional literacy” where the children were encouraged to recognize and label “happy face”. Emphasis on the knowledge of print was understood from the charts hung on the walls on alphabets, animals, community works etc. However, there was not any evidence of labeling the furniture or objects in the classroom, there was no calendar and no evidence on the use of the charts or other materials relevant to print knowledge. There were a few activities observed on vocabulary and language through rhymes and story-telling. During the read aloud of the story, the teacher showed the children the cover page, let children turn the page, talked about pictures, asked relevant open ended questions and finally introduced participatory story-telling, which was an effective literacy activity. Although it was an English version school, the teacher did not have effective English communication skill, and therefore, she was using Bangla most of the time.

In the observed class, the numeracy activities covered the understanding of spatial sense. The activities indicated the development of understanding of the concepts “inside” and “outside” in terms of developing the understanding of space. The use of basket and balls, and the use of making a circle and putting one inside and one outside the circle, are effective activities provided that the classroom is managed and children are engaged efficiently. There were number charts found on the wall and some flash cards and shapes available in the corner shelf.

Recommendations

The key recommendations in terms of the school’s readiness are as follows:

• Taking into consideration that the teacher is yet to receive the full training, my recommendation will focus on developing the teachers English communication skill.

• The teacher has to be trained to manage the hyper children efficiently, at the same time has to be trained to observe and support individual needs of children and on inclusiveness.

• An immediate recruitment of an assistant teacher since it is very challenging for one teacher to manage about 30 children.

• Reduce the number of children in each class for effective learning environment.

• There should be more play or open space for whole group activities and for music, drama and movement.

• There were only four story books available for the entire class. The number and variety of story books and reading materials have to be increased significantly.

• The furniture (chair, table, computer door, window etc.) could be labeled involving the children.

• The corners were not well defined and there were no materials found for dramatic play.

• The class routine was only written on the board with a black marker. The routine could have been well-structures, colorful and hung up on the wall so that the children could have identified their next activities and prepared accordingly with the support from the teacher.

• There was no clear indication of transition between the literacy and numeracy sessions. The teacher abruptly moved from one content area to another which made the children confused. There could be some warm up involving music/dance/song or relevant activities before transition to a separate content area.

• According to research findings, “rich language environments may support the development of early literacy and numeracy skills” [2]. The use of appropriate language, conversation and communication for developing literacy and numeracy skills is strongly suggested for this particular class.

Conclusion

The observation of Nobodhara pre-school has given a picture of the readiness of school in terms of literacy and numeracy environment and children-teacher interaction at the beginning of a school session which would contribute to the readiness of the child to cope and learn in the school environment. The concept of “Ready Schools” means that schools need to be ready to work with the diverse population of children that come to their doors with varying backgrounds and experiences [3]. School’s readiness must be seen as a two-way street. While children need to get ready for success in school, schools need to increase their skills in supporting all children to be successful [4]. In this regard, Nobodhara had a welcoming environment for all children irrespective of culture, ethnicity and abilities. It provided a vibrant literacy and numeracy environment and put its effort in making the classroom a joyful learning place for the children. However, there are still areas of improvement identified through the observation which has been reflected in the recommendation section. The school may take those suggestions into consideration for ensuring an age appropriate literacy and numeracy rich, at the same time joyful learning environment for all children.


[1] Bruner, C. (2011). A project of the Early Childhood Funders' Collaborative supporting state efforts to prepare our children for success. Retrieved from Build Initiative: http://www.buildinitiative.org/files/resources/Bruner Four Ovals.pdf

[2] Robin Hojnoski (2014). What do the connections between early literacy and numeracy mean in preschool? Retrieved from  http://www.schoolreadinessblog.com/

[3] Early Childhood Colorado. (2008, July ). Early Childhood Colorado Framework. Retrieved from Early Childhood Colorado - Information Clearinghouse:  http://earlychildhoodcolorado.org/inc/uploads/CO_EC_Framework.pdf

[4] Buell, M et al. (2012). Kindergarten Readiness: An Overview of Components. Delaware Early Childhood Council. Issue Brief. Volume 1. Delaware: Delaware Early Childhood Council.


RAFIATH RASHID: Senior Manager, Education Programmes, BRAC International, Dhaka, Bangladesh.

The Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED) and BRAC today signed an agreement, in connection with a strategic partnership, which will allow BRAC to acquire a lead equity stake in Industrial Promotion Development Company of Bangladesh Limited (IPDC).

Under the agreement signed today, BRAC, Ayesha Abed Foundation and RSA Capital Limited will acquire an equity stake in IPDC from AKFED and assume the role of lead managers, subject to approvals from the Bangladesh Bank and from the Bangladesh Securities and Exchange Commission.

This strategic alliance is expected to enhance IPDC's capacity for growth and for its product offering in the large, medium and small-scale industrial, retail and consumer market segments in Bangladesh.

Speaking on the occasion of the signing, the Chairperson of BRAC, Sir Fazle Hasan Abed KCMG, said: “It is an exciting opportunity for BRAC to enter into a strategic partnership with AKFED in taking IPDC to new levels of growth and expansion by providing socially responsible financial services to the people of Bangladesh. This is a common goal of both BRAC and AKFED.”

The Director of AKFED, Mr. Sultan Ali Allana, stated: “We greatly value our strategic alliance with BRAC and we remain committed to strengthening IPDC as it progresses and grows by increasing its product offering and its outreach to encompass a wider population base in Bangladesh. We hope that we will be able to expand our strategic alliance, in the coming years as we pursue common values and objectives."‎

Industrial Promotion and Development Company of Bangladesh Limited (IPDC) was the first private sector financial institution of the country.  It was established in 1981 by a distinguished group of shareholders, namely International Finance Corporation (IFC), USA, German Investment and Development Company (DEG), Germany, The Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED), Switzerland, Commonwealth Development Corporation (CDC), UK and the Government of Bangladesh.

Since its inception, IPDC has played a pivotal and pioneering role in reshaping the private sector industrialization of the country through innovative financial products and services. Today IPDC is a diversified financial institution with a wide range of products and services covering corporate finance and advisory services, middle market supply chain finance, retail wealth management and retail finances.

 

Sunday, 13 September 2015 18:00

Taking bitter pills to cure the disease

The role of research and evaluation in development of an organisation is hardly debated. Unfortunately, however, the empirics on this count are very rare.  Recently, this writer came across a document that highlights the role of research in an organisation, and assumes that history could serve as a lesson for others too.

Journal of Development Effectiveness (Routledge, 2014) draws our attention to an important but very unconventional topic such as the role of research and evaluation in fulfilling the objectives of an organisation - be it government, NGO or private. Written by Ahmed Mushtaque Raza Chowdhury, Andrew Jenkins and Marziana Mahfuz Nandita, the contents of the paper hover around an institution's commitment to transparency and accountability that is induced by internal mechanism of checks and cross-checks. While thread-baring on the issue, the authors take up the world's renowned NGO BRAC as a case study. They were possibly propelled by the notion that among national and international NGOs, only BRAC has a large fleet of researchers to support its development programmes. It also seems to drive home a point - saving lives of the teeming millions through development projects is not merely a function of the financial resources at hand; it is also of the use of human resources devoted to research and evaluation  in both pre- and post-project stages. Measurement matters in the sphere of development interventions, and imperfections in measurement could be counter-productive. There are many reputed organisations in the world which apparently neglected research and monitoring in the project life-cycle and thus were doomed to see the door.

  The beauty of BRAC lies in its four key measures of the programme covering as many as 12 or more major development areas. The programme areas include health, nutrition and population, microfinance, education, agriculture and food security, targeting the ultra-poor, water, sanitation and hygiene, social development, community empowerment, human rights, gender justice and diversity, disaster, environment and climate etc. In addition to these, social enterprises appear separately but are also being fed through constant research and monitoring.

BRAC International is another window to serve beyond the boundary of Bangladesh - in as many as 12 countries. By and large, all of these development programmes that BRAC adopt have to pass through a series of tests to get a final nod from top notches and once approved, have to face few rounds of checks and balances.

The first move towards transparency and integrity in BRAC is through monitoring and investigation carried out by a monitoring unit as part of BRAC's internal control mechanism. The unit's objective is to conduct periodic analysis, enabling the management to determine whether the key activities are being carried out as planned and whether they are having the expected outputs in relation to the target population. The second key element is financial control and monitoring, carried out by two independent departments, finance and accounts, and internal audit (in addition, BRAC is independently audited annually). The third key element is external project reviews, which is carried out by specially-recruited teams of national and international consultants, usually for mid-term and final project reviews, but sometimes also for annual reviews. A fourth key element is research and evaluation, about which we shall dwell at length in the following paragraphs.

The Research and Evaluation Division (RED) is an independent research division within the organization of BRAC. Research is integral to the NGO's development activity and has been so since inception. The founder of BRAC, Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, is reported to reckon that constant research and evaluation is instrumental in designing BRAC's pioneering interventions. It is thus no wonder that RED came into being in 1975 - almost the same time BRAC was born (1972). Over time, the division has been playing an important role in designing BRAC's development interventions, monitoring progress, documenting achievements and undertaking impact assessment studies.

According to the authors, RED has produced nearly 1,353 research reports, 350 journal articles, 274 book and book chapters, 19 theses, 55 research monographs, 111 working papers, 24 volume of Nirjash - a research compendium in the Bangla language, 174 popular articles in newsletters and newspapers. As a multidisciplinary team, its reputation has spilled over the boundary of Bangladesh, and eminent organisations of the world have developed collaborative research with RED.  "It provides an analytical basis for BRAC's programmatic decisions, fine-tuning it for better performance and making development efforts evidence-based, effective and community-sensitive". Further, RED conducts programme-driven research in agriculture, applied and reproductive health, communicable and non-communicable diseases, education, environment, extreme poverty, food security and nutrition, microfinance and social development and human rights etc. The division also caters to issues of national and international importance independently and in collaboration with reputed academic institutions and agencies. The current Vice-Chairperson, current Executive Director, the former Executive Director as well as a number of the board members of the organisation are well-known researchers in their own fields. This has provided an added impetus for RED to take the job seriously.

The prime goal of BRAC is to alleviate poverty and reduce inequality. In a broader spectrum, its goal is to ensure 'development' through the programmes it undertakes. As a unit of BRAC, the goal of RED is also to alleviate poverty through a different process. RED shows the most cost-effective mode to reach the goal in a regime of scarcity of resources. It is in fact an idea that states that however small or big every NGO or development organisation, it needs to have its own research capacity.

The process followed at BRAC is to have a portion of the budget of any project allocated for research i.e., roughly 1-2 per cent of the programme budget must be stipulated for carrying out research and evaluation in pre- and post-project phases. BRAC wants to convince other NGOs and institutions that it is important that they have something in house to measure the impact of their works.

The results of research and evaluations anywhere are very easy to appreciate but very difficult to swallow. They are like taking bitter pills to cure the disease. The choice is between rejecting bitter pills and continue with conundrum and vice versa. The mindset of the person at the top of office matters most. As head of the institution, one has to accept criticisms, suggestions and even be ready to abandon the idea if research and evaluation stand otherwise. BRAC's top notches and programme heads seem to believe in swallowing bitter pills to get rid of the pains - as reflected by their emphasis on research and evaluation. One stitch in time saves nine - research and evaluation are just that.

The writer is a Professor of Economics at Jahangirnagar University.

Adolescent girls are often forced to leave school in Africa, but a new programme is bringing the classroom to them

Brac’s ‘study club’ targets girls who have dropped out of secondary school so they can continue to receive academic tutoring.
Brac’s ‘study club’ targets girls who have dropped out of secondary school so they can continue to receive academic tutoring. Photograph: Chris Noble/Aurora Photos/Corbis

We face tremendous problems keeping girls in school as they transition through adolescence. In Sierra Leone, 30% of reported rapes take place in the school environment, and a recent ruling banned “visibly pregnant” girls from school. When the school itself becomes a hostile setting, it should come as no surprise that dropout rates shoot up.

Education programmes tend to fall short when it comes to dropouts. Brac schools have raised primary and pre-primary enrolment rates in six countries, getting 1.3 million more children into classrooms – most of whom are girls and all of whom would otherwise be left behind. But we need to think more creatively when it comes to adolescent girls who have already dropped out.

We are piloting a programme in Tanzania – where only 36% of all children go on to secondary school, mostly boys – to educate girls who have already dropped out. I recently visited the northern region, where dropout rates are highest. In Mwanza, I met a girl named Kesy. She’s just completed her primary leaving examination for grade 7. “My parents did not let me go and see my results, nor did they go to see it. I did not go back to school after that,” she told me.

Girls like Kesy drop out for a host of reasons: poverty, early pregnancy or marriage. They also face gender-based violence and harassment, parental indifference and traditions that inhibit girls’ ability to make their own decisions. I’ve even heard stories about parents bribing teachers to declare their daughters dead so they don’t have to return to school.

It is impossible for girls to return to school after they have dropped out. Catching up would require a costly course in self-study, which few can afford. We’re exploring an alternative: bringing schooling back to the girls, rather than vice versa.

Kesy is now part of a Brac “study club”, a programme that targets girls who have dropped out of secondary school or were unable to continue schooling because they failed the primary leaving examination.

We’ve set up 150 study clubs – girls-only safe spaces, situated in borrowed or rented rooms outside the school setting and within walking distance of girls’ homes. The girls, numbering about 13 per club, meet five times a week, receiving academic tutoring in the mornings and life skills education in the afternoons. Each club is led by a “community tutor”, a recent secondary school graduate from the area, who receives a small stipend.

We provide a limited number of self-teaching textbooks, which are shared among groups of three or four to save costs. We also provide educational materials such as books and pens for the girls. They are registered in, and the tutors are trained by, the government’s Institute for Adult Education (IAE), the entity charged with overseeing continuing education. Brac provides additional support through monthly refresher training for the tutors.


In Tanzania only 36% of children go to secondary school. Photograph: Graeme Robertson

To fill the community tutor positions, we drew from Brac’s existing networks of microfinance groups and livelihood programmes. We also conduct community and parent meetings to heighten awareness of the importance of keeping these girls on an educational track.

We aim for a holistic approach that will give the girls a second chance at education and make them more aware of their capabilities. The combination of education and life skills along with parental awareness will help them reach their potential.

The results so far are positive but anecdotal; an independent evaluation will determine how and whether we scale. However, the support and enthusiasm from the community and government is inspiring. The pilot now reaches 1,950 girls in five regions, operating with support from UK Aid’s Girls Education Challenge.

The idea of safe spaces for girls isn’t new to Brac. We have already recorded remarkable changes in their lives through participation in a programmes called Empowerment and Livelihood for Adolescents (ELA), which combines life skills and livelihood training with micro-loans in a girls-only club setting. These clubs operate in five countries in Africa.

In Uganda, where 70,000 girls belong to these clubs, a randomised control trial recorded a drop in pregnancy rates, a rise in self-employment and 83% fewer reports of forced sex. These were all attributed to participation in ELA clubs, which are run in partnership with the MasterCard Foundation.

But until now, we haven’t applied the safe spaces concept to academics. There are others working in this area in Tanzania, but we don’t know of anyone doing similar study clubs. Unicef, the Forum for African Women Educationalists (Fawe), Camfed and Tanzania Education Network are looking at ways to keep girls learning, with Unicef particularly concerned with keeping options open for young mothers.

Brac has committed to scaling up girls’ education and empowerment efforts, and piloting new ones like these, in at least eight countries. To do this, we look forward to learning from others as part of the Collaborative for Harnessing Ambition and Resources for Girls’ Education (Charge), which brings together 40 organisations pursuing similar goals under the umbrella of the Brookings Institution.

I can see the difference the Tanzania study clubs are already making. These girls have enthusiasm, will and ambition. Many declare they want to be teachers. We need to give them the tools they need to build their futures.

Rafiath Rashid Mithila is the senior manager of education at Brac International

Tuesday, 01 September 2015 18:00

Graduating from destitution

THE poor do not just lack money. They are also often short of basic know-how, the support of functioning institutions and faith in their own abilities. As a result, note Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in their book, “Poor Economics”, published in 2004, it takes “that much more skill, willpower and commitment” for the poor to get ahead. No wonder escaping extreme poverty—usually defined as living on less than $1.25 a day—is so hard.

Even the most successful schemes to lift (and keep) people out of dire poverty seem to work only for some people, in some places, some of the time. For example, microcredit works best for the relatively enterprising, who are rarely the very poorest. Similarly, cash transfers linked to school attendance are useful, but require a working education system. What succeeds in one country may fail elsewhere, thanks to different conditions and cultural norms. And the poorest are often the hardest to help.

This dispiriting picture makes a new paper* by Mr Banerjee, Ms Duflo and several others all the more striking. It claims to have identified an anti-poverty strategy that works consistently, based on a seven-year, six-country study of more than 10,000 poor households. The secret, the economists argue, is to hand out assets, followed by several months of cash transfers, followed by as much as two years of training and encouragement. That formula seems to have made a lasting difference to the lives of the very poorest in countries as different as Ghana, Pakistan and Peru.

BRAC, a big Bangladeshi NGO that originally came up with this approach to tackle abject poverty, calls it a “graduation programme”. Given the many problems of the poor, the logic runs, it is useless to apply a sticking plaster to one while leaving the others to fester. For example, various NGOs, including Heifer International, Oxfam and World Vision, give cows, goats or chickens to poor people in developing countries, to enable them to earn an income selling milk or eggs. But what if the recipients are so hungry that they end up eating their putative meal ticket?

BRAC’s idea was to give those in the graduation programme not just chickens but also training on how to keep them, temporary income support to help them to resist the inevitable temptation to eat them, and repeated visits from programme workers to reinforce the training and bolster participants’ confidence. The economists studied schemes along these lines run by local NGOs in Ethiopia, Ghana, Honduras, India, Pakistan and Peru. The programmes all targeted the very poor: as many as 73% of participants in India and 66% in Ethiopia lived on less than $1.25 a day.

In all six places households in the programme chose an asset, typically livestock, as a one-off gift. In addition, they received enough money to buy a kilo of rice a day for as long as a year. They were given training not just on how to exploit their chosen asset, but also on keeping themselves healthy. Lastly, the NGO provided a safe way to save money, along with encouragement to do so. Although some details, such as the type of livestock people received, or the emphasis placed on saving money, varied from country to country, the nub of all six schemes was the same.

The results were promising. At the end of the programmes, roughly two years after participants first enrolled, their monthly consumption of food had risen by around 5% relative to a control group. Household income had also risen, and fewer people reported going to bed hungry than in control households. The value of participants’ assets had increased by 15%, which suggests that they had not improved their diets by eating their chickens. Rather, each person in the programme spent an average of 17.5 more minutes a day working, mostly tending to livestock—10% more than their peers. (The impact did still vary by country, being weakest in Honduras and Peru and strongest in Ethiopia.) Even more striking, the programme had strong, lasting effects on consumption and asset values even for the poorest tenth of households it reached—the poorest of the poor.

Perhaps most important, when the researchers went back and surveyed households a year after the programme had ended, they found that people were still working, earning and eating more. Were these gains to persist even longer—as they have in Bangladesh, where another study has been able to track people an additional year down the road—the researchers reckon that the graduation programme would have benefits of between 1.33 and 4.33 times what was spent on it. (The only exception is Honduras, where it did not break even, in part because the chickens that many people chose to receive kept dying.)

Not chicken feed

The costs of the schemes, which varied from $414 per participant in India to $3,122 in Peru, look daunting. But the help is intended as a one-off, whereas many anti-poverty drives in the developing world are never-ending. That makes graduation programmes cheaper than many of the alternatives. India, for example, spends about 0.3% of GDP every year on a workfare programme that reaches about 50m households. Reaching the same number of households through a graduation programme would be a one-off cost of about 1% of GDP.

Besides, it might be possible to achieve the same effect more cheaply. For one thing, it is not clear that all the elements of the programme are necessary. A recent study of a similar scheme targeting the very poor in Uganda found that more frequent home visits bring little extra benefit. This is the most expensive part of the programme, costing twice as much on average as the direct transfers. It could perhaps be eliminated or curtailed. Even as it is, the blight of abject poverty looks a little less intractable.

 

Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, founder and chairperson of Brac, has urged a shift in focus from school enrollment to quality of learning. Credit: Brac

Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, founder and chairperson of Brac, has urged a shift in focus from school enrollment to quality of learning. Credit: Brac

Improving the quality of education on offer to children in developing nations will be a key factor in efforts to eradicate global poverty, the founder of the world’s largest non-governmental organisation said.

Investment in school systems rather than a narrow focus on enrollment numbers will be the next challenge for the global humanitarian sector, said Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, founder and chairperson of Brac.

We have been able to get children into school, but the next task is to give them high quality education. Many countries are failing to provide quality education to their children, including Bangladesh, India, Pakistan,” said Abed, who recently won the 2015 World Food Prize for his contribution to reducing poverty in his home country Bangladesh and 10 other nations.

“There are so many children going to school but not learning much. This is going to be a big challenge – how to provide quality education to children.”

Abed left a job as a senior corporate executive at Shell Oil in London after the 1971 Liberation War that led to Bangladesh’s independence from Pakistan. He began with a small relief operation in 1972 in a remote village of Bangladesh after the country was hit by a major cyclone, before founding Brac. Today, the NGO employs 110,000 people in Bangladesh and works in areas such as microfinance, education, healthcare, legal services, community empowerment and social enterprises. Worldwide, Brac has helped around 135 million people, with operations in regions including Asia, Africa and the Caribbean.

Thanks to a funding model that helps it generate revenues from its different assets and funnel them back into Brac, the organisation relies on donors for only 25 per cent of its financing needs. This allows it to follow its own agenda and test new models without necessarily seeking donor approval.

To date, Brac has educated nearly 7 million children, including helping 5 million girls to attend primary school. The organisation has also helped reduce infant and child mortality in Bangladesh to 40 in 1,000, down from 250 almost a decade ago.

“If you are looking for challenges for the future, the other is how to eradicate extreme poverty in the world so that everybody has a decent meaningful life to lead,” said Abed. “These are the next generation of challenges that we must face and win.”

Another pressing topic is developing mechanisms that help developing nations adapt to climate change, which hits poorer communities hardest, he said.

“Climate is going to bring in its wake a lot of problems, which we need to solve. We need to adapt to some of them. We also need mitigation, in other words the lifestyle has to change in a lot of the developed world to be able to cut down carbon emissions. That has to happen in the West, but in our countries we need to adapt to climate change aspects like drought, saline water, water logging, and things like that,” he added.

The world is also becoming less equitable, and there’s a need to build societies that promote equal opportunities for everyone, instead of equality of wealth, he explained.

“People should have opportunity to rise through their own hard work. These are the kind of societies we want to build. We don’t want to build a society where opportunities are reserved for a few.”

Gender equality is at the top of Abed’s list of challenges to tackle through Brac’s programmes. Describing it as “the unfinished agenda of my life”, he noted that human societies would be much happier if gender equality was achieved.

“For our own sake we need to develop equality of opportunity or all men and women, girls and boys,” he said.

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