Innovative programs that offer basic education to the poorest children
Research for this piece was conducted during the summer of 2003.
- In Bangladesh
Students sit on mats in one of 34,000 one-room schools run by BRAC (the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee). More than one million children of poor landless Bangladeshi farmers, most of whom are girls, are enrolled in the schools established in 1985 to educate 8- to 10-year-olds who never attended or dropped out of formal schools. With 30-33 students, the small schools are based close to villages to cut travel time, and classes run from three to four hours daily because children are needed at home to help with work.
Photo: Rafiqur Rahman/Reuters
- In Brazil
To reduce high drop-out rates and poor families' reliance on income generated when their children work, the Bolsa Escola program pays a cash stipend to households whose kids attend school regularly. A monthly subsidy of 15 reals ($5) per child, capped at 45 reals ($15), is paid directly to mothers through bank cards. To qualify, families with children between the ages of 6 and 15 -- like the family of Jefferson Narciso, who is profiled in the film -- must have incomes below half the minimum wage, be employed or actively looking for work, and ensure each child does not miss more than two days of classes per month.
Photo: Paulo Whitaker/Reuters
- In China
Project Hope, begun in 1989, aids children who have had to drop out of school due to poverty, especially in remote areas of China. The goal of this public welfare project is to allow children to return to school to complete at least an elementary education. It subsidizes the education of students, builds schools, and provides writing materials and books. As of 2002, it has received two billion yuan ($242 million) in donations from individuals, government institutions, and private companies, in China and abroad, which has helped to build more than 8,000 primary schools nationwide and benefit roughly two million children.
Photo: Guang Niu/Reuters
- In Egypt
Focusing on the underserved districts of Fayoum and Sohag, CARE, in conjunction with Egypt's Ministry of Education (MOE) and local community groups, established 38 Small Schools for 81/2- to 12-year-olds who are not enrolled or have left formal primary education. The community procures the classroom space, often donated rooms in private homes or mosques, while MOE pays the teachers' salaries, and CARE supplies the furniture. Each school has 30 students, 75 percent of whom are girls because they are often precluded from getting an education as they are needed to help at home or with agricultural work.
Photo: Norbert Schiller/AP
- In India
Classes conducted amidst the hustle and bustle of a crowded railway platform may seem outlandish, but for children in India who subsist as beggars, rag pickers, shoeshine boys, and porters at train stations, this is their only access to basic education. First started by a schoolteacher in the city of Bhubaneswar, in the state of Orissa, it brings the school to where the children are -- the train platform -- and sprinkles storytelling, singing, and dancing in with lessons in reading, writing, and arithmetic.
Photo: John McConnico/AP
- In Indonesia
The Indonesian Sunshine Children Organization (ISCO) targets the educational needs of street children. Through scholarships, from pre-school through high school, ISCO tries to prevent children from leaving school to beg on the streets to help support their families, who often live below the poverty line. The program, which has sponsored about 900 kids since its inception in 1999, maintains close ties with the children's family, teachers, and school to track their progress.
Photo: David Longstreath/AP
- In Mexico
Although education is not the sole focus of Progresa, it is one of the three facets of this government program that strives to alleviate poverty in Mexico. Under the program, families not only get cash payments when their children attend school regularly, but also receive free basic health care and a monthly food subsidy. For each child younger than 18 enrolled in grades three through nine, families receive a monthly grant starting at 75 pesos ($7) that increases as the student moves on to higher grades.
Photo: Henry Romero/Reuters
- In Nigeria
In Africa's most populous country, Nigeria, the task of ensuring the nation's nomadic people have access to basic education was taken up by the federal government through the establishment of the Commission for Nomadic Education. The migratory nature of the population and their absolute reliance on child labor are just some of the hurdles that had to be overcome. Through permanent schools, mobile classrooms, and ad-hoc classes in the open air, more than 15,000 nomadic pupils have graduated from the school system.
Photo: Jacob Silberberg/AP
- In Pakistan
UNICEF has recently begun a joint project with the Boy Scouts in the Pakistani province of Balochistan to help enroll more girls in school. Dubbed "Brothers Join Meena," after the animated character Meena created by UNICEF to tout girls' rights, it aims to improve the female literacy rate in the province, which now stands at under 10 percent. The scouts go door-to-door in villages to survey girls' school attendance and talk to the men of the household to convince them to allow their daughters to go to school. In its first year of existence, a total of about 2,500 girls were enrolled.
Photo: John McConnico/AP