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     Volume 2 Issue 24| June 13, 2010|


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The higher the cost
the better the school?

Introducing the prime campus alternative

By Dr. William Engels

ON August 31, 2008 Prime Campus, an English medium school in Sector 6, Uttara, Dhaka, was formally launched by Prime Bank Foundation as an alternative to the expensive English primary school that is the norm in Bangladesh. The Foundation is a not-for-profit subsidiary of Prime Bank Limited responsible for designing and implementing Corporate Social Responsibility projects. In establishing a school of comparable quality to the big name institutions, yet with much lower admission (Tk. 8,000) and tuition (Tk. 1,000-1,200) fees, the Foundation has taken the initial step of its plan to make quality English medium schooling more accessible to the people. The next step is to establish other schools on the Prime Campus model in Bangladesh. If more children can enjoy the educational advantages now available to relatively few, the general level of education and English proficiency in the country will rise, with enormous dividends for its social and economic development.

The key to its claim to offering quality education is Prime Campus' interactive, child-centered teaching method based on up-to-date educational theory and practice. Typically, schools in Bangladesh take the old-fashioned “banking” approach to educationto borrow one educational theorist's analogy. Students are like safes for depositing as much information, like money, as possible and for withdrawing as needed. As passive receptacles of facts, they face a great deal of pressure as they are forced to memorize and then recall a lot of information for exams. Instead, at Prime Campus students are viewed as mentally inquisitive human beings who already know a great deal by the time they first enter school. The role of the teacher, then, is to engage the student intellectually, bringing about a fruitful interplay between the students' prior knowledge and the new information being taught. For example, students are frequently asked questions and invited to relate what they are learning to their experience.

At the same time, the teaching method at Prime Campus is child-centered in that it gives priority to the nature and developmental stages of children. Children are seen as naturally eager to learn, yet in danger of losing this quality if unduly pressured. While the curriculum is based on that designed for taking the University of Cambridge 0 and A-Level exams, the lessons are taught at a pace appropriate to the children's stage of development. For example, writing is not taught until KG. Prime Campus teachers avoid using the word “exam” because of the anxiety it causes students; instead, short “tests” are administered, often without the students knowing they are taking them. There are regular opportunities for creative work, especially drawing, and for group play. Homework is kept at a moderate level and home tutoring strictly prohibited (parents must sign an agreement not to provide coaching or private tuition). All of these practices and policies help insure that the learning experience is fresh and enjoyable so that the child's innate desire to learn is kept alive.

How does this interactive method constitute a quality education? In general, it is beneficial for the child's development. This was the message given by Dr. Jena Hamadani, Head of the Child Development Unit at ICDDR, B., in a presentation entitled “Factors Affecting Children's Development” hosted by Prime Campus last April 9th. Among practices interfering with child development, Dr. Jena identified forcing children “to do things that are not age appropriate.” She warned that students can even lose their ability to learn if unduly pressured.

There are also several specific benefits to this system. First, the students learn the subject matter more efficiently for it is in the interaction of the student's knowledge and the teacher's information that true learning takes place. Knowledge merely passed one way, from teacher to student, is not truly acquired. Second, by de-emphasizing rote memorization and emphasizing active, exploratory learning, Prime Campus' pedagogy develops students' thinking and problem solving skills. They are able to question, put ideas together, and use their imagination and creativity. The groundwork is therefore laid for effectiveness as a student on the secondary and college level and as a worker in the community. Third, students are encouraged to be self-motivated learners and to make learning a lifelong endeavor. If they find studying in school an enjoyable experience, they are likely to continue to be eager learners.

Prime Campus' teaching method is a result of on-going collaboration with BACHA, an established quality English medium school in Dhaka founded and operated by two American missionary educators. Srs. Miriam Perlewitz and Joan Westhues, M. M. have provided practical advice, teacher training, and other crucial support since the inception of Prime Campus in 2008. Currently three Prime Campus trainees are attending the recently opened Teacher Training Center at BACHA. The interactive methodology has been given further impetus during the past two years by Prime Campus' Principal, William C. Engels, an American with a Ph. D. in English literature (1998) and over ten years of experience teaching college level English.

The school strives to teach not only academic subjects but values such as honesty, self-reliance, and considerateness toward others. The maximum number of students per teacher is set at twenty-five, though it has usually been in the range of nine to sixteen students.

Approaching the beginning of its third year, Prime Campus has consistently delivered quality instruction on the Nursery and KG level and, in its second year, Class 1 as well. One new class is being added each session. The enrollment increased 144%, from 25 to 61, between the first and second years. Of the 25 enrolled at the end of the first year, 24 sought re-admission in the second year. Must parents enroll their child in an expensive school if he or she is to receive a good English medium education? The parents of Prime Campus students apparently don't think so.

These now include a British couple, who enrolled their daughters Ellen and Naomi upon coming to Dhaka in late April. On the recommendation of a British colleague who knew the Principal, the parents sent a query and found the description of the school's education program appealing. “We are really impressed that the school has . . . a strong ethical ethos,” the mother wrote back. Recently asked about her reasons for choosing Prime Campus and her impressions of the school, she informed the Principal that she “liked the fact of small classes” and the way “you encourage them [students] to do drawing” and “to use their own brain.” She also mentioned that “the children are friendly.” “If there were another family coming with this age children, I would definitely recommend Prime Campus,” she added.

The myth that equates a school's quality with its fees ought to be dispelled. It is time more parents knew that there are schools established from other motives than making money and that high-grade English medium education need not cost them an arm and a leg.

For further information about Prime Campus or admission inquiries for Nursery, KG, Class 1 and Class 2 for the August 2010 session, call 8912040, 01674884854 or visit House 7, Road 13, Sector 6, Uttara, Dhaka.

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