A Unique Effort in Magura
“I have learnt to count numbers and to read and write the Bangla alphabets. I can sing songs and recite nursery rhymes”, says Mohammad Nurunnabi while playing at the Early Childhood Learning Centre (ECLC) in Kajoli village of Sreepur upazila, Magura district. Just after my arrival Nurunnabi began to recite the rhyme “Bhor holo dor kholo, khukumoni othore”.
Things were different even a year ago. Schooling was beyond the reach of Nurunnabi's poor father Mizanur Rahman, a landless farmer. It was beyond the reach of many others like him in Kajoli and neighbouring villages too. “All our thoughts were centred on how to get two square meals a day; we did not think about anything else. We felt very happy when we could feed our two children twice a day”, said Mizanur Rahman.
“One morning a gentleman named Bashir Ahmed came to our house and told me that they had set up a school and that I could send my son there”, said Nurunnabi's mother Mili Khatun.
“I thought why not. Nurunnabi would go out of the house in the morning, roam around the entire village, pick fights with other boys and get up to mischief all the time. So the way I saw it, at school he would at least be out of trouble”, Mili said. The school did not disappoint. Mili is very happy now and is sure she made the right decision at the right time.
The ECLC of Kajoli is an outcome of a research project supported by Research Initiatives Bangladesh (RIB). The research began under the banner of Child Development Research Centre (CDRC) at Kajoli, the village home of RIB chairman Dr. Shamsul Bari. The Chief Research Officer was Professor Bashir Ahmed.
The research started on the 1st of January of 2003 and since then has evolved and has been implemented throughout some 150 centres in the country, officials said. Each of these centres is called Kajoli Model ECLC.
Dr. Shamsul Bari planned to research on poor children. The main intention was to develop pre-schools for children of ultra-poor families in the villages. In the passage of time, modifications have been made as more and more establishments have mushroomed in nearly all districts of Bangladesh,” Bashir informed.
Like other ECLCs in the country at the ECLC in Kajoli, the children are taught that learning is all 'fun and games'. The centre is not school, but merely gatherings, continues Bashir.
“It is something to make the children feel comfortable so that they are not intimidated by the idea of going to school and realise that learning is fun.”, he said.
With 26 students at Kajoli ECLC, Dipali Sarkar is the lone teacher; she is known as didimoni. The centre has daily sessions for about four hours and is open six days a week. The students at the centre are taught free of cost. There are no exercise books, pens or pencils. Instead of starting with the alphabet, students learn by means of associating words with pictures.
There is a large board made of cloth with pockets in them which holds cards and contain letters, words and numbers on them which the students have to match with corresponding pictures, Dipali informed.
Apart from learning to read, write and count, the children also learn to recite nursery rhymes and poems, dance, sing songs and to tell stories, Dipali continues. The children also learn about nutrition and cleanliness, she said.
Anita Biswas of Kajoli was astonished when her five-year old daughter Antora refused to have rice from the pot because it was not covered. She also felt ashamed when Antora forced her to buy a piece of soap as she also refused to go to bathroom unless she could wash her hands with soap.
She is just one out of a pool of mothers whose children go to the ECLC in Kajoli. With 26 students at the centre and normally 26 school days a month, each mother is responsible for feeding the group once a month.
The children stay at school from 8-30 am to 12-30 pm. After lessons at the classroom and games, the students are served a nutritous meal and thus taught about nutrition.
(R) thedailystar.net 2008