Partnering with 81 Schools in 2014

VAB has developed and is implementing an innovative low-cost program to address the challenges facing poor students, ill-trained teachers, disadvantaged schools and underprivileged communities in rural Bangladesh. From its inception, VAB focused on rural high schools as the change agents in rural education. With the high schools, VAB develops partnerships instead of conventional donor-donee relationships. Over the years it had partnerships with more than 100 rural schools. In 2014, VAB is partnering with 81 institutions of secondary education in 41 sub-districts (called “upazilas” in Bangladesh) in 26 districts of Bangladesh. (There are 64 districts in Bangladesh.) 

VAB’s program of quality secondary education in rural Bangladesh consists of four sets of empowerment measures - student empowerment, teacher empowerment, school empowerment and community empowerment. These measures constitute a significant contribution to the holistic approach to education with its learner-centered and gender sensitive features and also encouraging stakeholder ownership of the improvement process.

Student Empowerment Measures

A series of measures are undertaken to enable the students acquire excellence in learning, especially science, mathematics, language and communication, at the same time developing all- rounded capability.

Leadership, teamwork and work ethics are in-built in the student initiated activities through clubs for debate, cultural activities and sports. Reading habits are developed through participatory discussions in book clubs. Debates, cultural programs, project presentations and a host of associated student activities enhance the cognitive and creative skills as well as the language and communication skills of the students. Students are trained by the teachers to participate in competitions in math, science, computer and general knowledge. Students selected for national competitions are also mentored and trained in camps or workshops. A significant feature in all student activities is the transfer of responsibility of the activities from the teachers to the students; the students are the drivers of the activities with the teachers acting primarily as guide and mentor. Details are presented below for the seven measures:


VAB initiated its mission in 2000 in Bangladesh with a scholarship project for poor rural students in order to spread high school education among them. The students are listed in order of merit and the poor students amongst those are selected. Those students obtaining financial assistance from other sources and those who come from families with better financial condition are not considered for the scholarships. VAB staff often interviews the students, their parents and members of the community and, in some cases, visit their homes in order to ensure eligibility. The scholarship is aimed at covering the key educational expenses of an awardee, taking into account assistance provided by other sources including government sources (such as textbooks). The scholarship includes tuition fee (when it is not covered by other sources) and all other fees such as session fee (a fee taken by the school to cover various amenities), exam fee, etc. (handed over by VAB to the school authorities instead of the students) and in-kind as school supplies such as pens, papers and science instruments for the year.

Typically, the total value of the scholarship per student comes to Tk. 2,500 (about $32.50). Each year in each school, an initial number of twenty five to thirty students are chosen for scholarship depending on the number of total students in the school.

The scholarship materials are often given in a special ceremony attended by local and government dignitaries. This enhances community contact of the schools and draws the community to look into the welfare of the schools and of the scholars. This also showcases the importance of high school education.

Science Competition

Science teaching in the rural (non-metropolitan) areas of Bangladesh is losing ground to Arts and Commerce. Several reasons are cited, the most important being the perceived market demand for Commerce graduates.  Limited research, teaching and business facilities for absorbing science graduates are othr reasons. Additionally, Arts is regarded as an easier option. There is a general apathy to science education, science learning is not considered interesting, and besides, science is seen as a “hard” subject, not easy to learn, more importantly difficult to score high marks compared to effort required. At the institutional level, science teaching is discouraged because of costly investment in labs and separate lab rooms.

Science Fair aims to bring fun into science teaching and learning by taking science out of textbooks and into the hands and minds of the students themselves. The students would learn by doing, while enjoying doing “projects” in a competitive environment. The “fair” part of the activity would generate general interest for science not only among the students but also among non-science students and the community.

The students in a school forms a Science Club (see below) and one of its functions is organizing science fairs for internal and external competitions. The members of the Science Club are guided and mentored by the teachers and by the volunteers from VAB and organizations connected with VAB. One of the major goals is to participate in regional and then national science fairs held annually in the country.

Mathematics Competition

Using arithmetic skills to do addition, subtraction, multiplication and division has become a thing of the past with the most widespread use of electronic calculators in Bangladesh. Even the humblest village grocer uses a small hand calculator. However, interest for things mathematical, let alone enthusiasm or love for math is very uncommon. Yet, mathematics is about problem solving through the use of logic, something utterly essential in science and engineering, and necessary in any problem solving situation in life, where objective creativity and ingenuity leads to doable solutions.

Since 2001 Bangladesh is a participant in the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO), the world championship mathematics competition for high school students. The participants are drawn through regional and national competitions, but in effect the district level is the lowest level of participating schools. VAB would is spreading the spirit of the Math Olympiad down to the upazila level.

Computer and ICT

VAB has a program to equip a computer lab with four computers, a printer and Internet access (see under “School Empowerment Programs”). While the provision of hardware and software falls under “School Empowerment”, “Student Empowerment” is designed to be achieved by giving special training to students enrolled in the subject of “Computer”. The special training will use the VAB’s practice oriented module.

Language, Communication Skills, Leadership and Teamwork

Rural students are acutely disadvantaged in language and communication skills. Teachers’ training is carried out to improve the teaching of language and communication (see below). Participation in Math Competitions, Science Fairs and General Knowledge Competition enhances the knowledge base and exposure of the rural students to global developments. The capability of the students will be greatly enhanced if all these activities, both at the planning and the implementation stages, are carried out by the students. A number of student clubs are instituted to undertake the student programs:

  • Math and Science Club
  • Books and Library Club
  • Cultural and Debating Club

The Math and Science Club organizes participation in Math Competitions and Science Fairs. The Book and Library Club promotes reading books and setting up sessions for discussion on books read. This Club may also promote General Knowledge Competitions. The Cultural and Debating Club organizes cultural and debating programs for the students.

The clubs are guided and mentored by the teachers. A novel approach is adopted to set the clubs in motion. VAB volunteer team is sent out to the schools with the purpose of setting up the clubs at the schools. The Headmaster is the Chief Advisor of all the clubs, with one teacher associated with every club as an advisor. The clubs are student-centered and are run by the students, with the advisor acting as mentor. The club organizers are trained by the volunteers from VAB and the participating VAB partners. The clubs have a plan for year round activities that VAB monitors and evaluates.

Training for Club Operation

Training is provided by VAB and partner organization volunteers for effectively running the clubs with an action plan.

Performance Award for Students and Clubs

The best performers in competitions and club success are recognized through awards and citations.

Teacher Empowerment Measures

Teacher Empowerment Measures include teachers’ training, performance awards for teachers, professional day for teachers, headmasters’ seminars and best performance school awards.

The teachers of the rural schools face difficulties in respect of subject knowledge, teaching techniques and teaching tools. The situation is made worse by an environment not conducive to quality education, the culture of rote learning and the absence of the exercise of accountability. The teachers’ knowledge of subjects, especially the subjects of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) are upgraded as is their ability to use problem-solving methodologies. The teachers are also trained in mentorship - developing the ability to transfer the responsibility of student activities to the students themselves. This transfer of responsibility engages and motivates the students to accomplish activities they would not ordinarily undertake.

Teachers are trained, in particular, in one of four subject areas: Mathematics, Science, Language and Computer Skills. Computer skill training is conducted differently and is tailored to the needs of each school.
Every year, for each of the three subjects - Mathematics, Science, and Language - two teachers are picked from each school to attend a 5-7 day training session at the VAB Training Center located at the VAB headquarters in Dhaka. Training sessions for the three subjects are conducted during different weeks. The two teachers from each school for each topic attend separate classes. One class has curriculum for teaching senior students, the other has curriculum for teaching junior students.

Instructors are teachers that are drawn from high quality urban schools. VAB has used this system all through. The instructors enjoy the experience and the teachers learn quickly from their peers who have faced many of the same issues. After selecting instructors, VAB and the instructors meet to work out the curriculum and determine needed equipment and supplies.

Teachers Training in Mathematics
The curriculum for the Mathematics training courses has the following elements:

  • Subject content
  • Pedagogical content
  • ICT in math instruction (e.g., the Khan Academy approach)
  • Instruction on mentoring students for math competitions

Teachers Training in Science
The science curricula in the teachers’ training courses have the following elements.

  • Subject content
  • Pedagogical content
  • ICT in science instruction (e.g., the Khan Academy approach)
  • Demonstration of science experiments
  • Instruction on mentoring students for science fair projects

Teachers Training in Language and Communication
The curricula in the teachers’ training courses have the following elements.

  • Subject content
  • Pedagogical content
  • Spoken English
  • Communication skills

Teachers Training in Computer
Two- to three -day on-site computer training is conducted by a roving VAB computer trainer. The curriculum is dynamic to be tailored to the needs of each school. The training is imparted to all the teachers, with a minimum target of five teachers. The immediate scope of the training is the day to day application of the computer and the Internet. Two teachers at each school are trained sufficiently to upkeep the computer facilities.

Teacher Support
Most rural schools have an insufficient number of teachers - often more than 50 students per class. The schools enlisted for government support obtain the salaries of a specified number of teachers from the government. Often the schools hire additional teachers with very minor compensation. Some of them who promise to be successful teachers may be provided some additional support under this VAB measure.

Professional Day for Teachers
The VAB approach is not only to offer training but also to work towards developing a quality environment that is sustainable. This is done by a multi-pronged approach – engaging the teachers in the quality improvement process and promoting ownership by the teachers as the primary step.
Professional day is a one- or two-day workshop to stimulate the teachers to thrash out ideas for the improvement of the quality of education. The workshop also includes representatives from the students, the school management committee members and the community. They are asked to draw up plans with time line and budget for the recommendations they make for the improvement of the quality of education. The workshop is conducted by internal or external facilitators and the duration is one or two days.

Performance Award
VAB also offers performance based reward for the teachers with the verifiable indicators of student performance in respective areas. The expectation is that a reward and recognition will be a motivating factor, perhaps more effective than financial incentives.

School Empowerment Measures

Upgrading of science, computer and vocational labs and the library fall in this category. Some assistance in infrastructure upgrading may be provided under this category. Schools may be encouraged to have a scheme of contributing to an endowment that in the future can provide a steady stream of funding for improvement projects. Details of each of the following programs are given.

Science Labs
Science equipment for Physics, Chemistry and Biology Labs: 

  • Equipment for Physics includes vernier scales, slide calipers, screw gauges, balances, thermometers, pendulums, mirrors, lenses, prisms, voltmeters, ammeters, rheostats, etc.
  • Equipment for Chemistry includes test tubes, flasks, condensers, funnels, measuring cylinders, pipettes, glass jars, weighing bottles, chemical balances, etc.
  • Equipment for Biology includes simple microscopes, compound microscopes, specimen jars, dissection boxes, dissection trays, etc.
  • Equipment placement and storage facilities.

The equipment is adequate to carry out all the required experiments in the Secondary School Certificate (SSC) curriculum for a batch of thirty two students in one class. Group work of four students in each group in the class is assumed.

Computer Lab
VAB has a program to equip a computer lab with four computers, a printer and Internet access.
The school normally has a number of students in Class IX and Class X taking computer as a subject in their SSC curriculum, although the school may lack a Computer Lab and the equipment. The computer teachers follow the SSC curriculum based on books alone. The thrust of the VAB Activity is to provide a well-equipped Lab and also to go beyond this curriculum to give training to these students using the VAB’s practice oriented module. This imparts employment-worthy skills to the students.

A weak link in the pursuit of knowledge in schools is the virtual absence of library in most schools. In many cases, there is no room available to set up a library.
The VAB activity is to provide books free of cost. VAB encourages the school and the community to establish and upgrade the library. facilities.

Infrastructure Support
The rural schools suffer from adequate infrastructure both in quantity and quality.
The VAB activity is to mobilize as much support as possible and at the same time, to encourage the school and the community to contribute to the development of infrastructure.

Endowment Fund
Too often, the improvement process in education in Bangladesh, particularly rural education, lasts only as long as the funds for improvement programs are provided, usually by external sources. What is needed in this context is that improvement becomes a culture for long-lasting change, which in turn requires a steady source of income for improvement programs. The earning of an endowment fund can provide the means for executing improvement programs over a longer term. The program on the “School Endowment Fund” has been created thus to enhance sustainability of the improvement process.

Community Empowerment Measures

Community Empowerment Measures are an innovative set of activities to ignite the interest of rural communities in education, and include projects to link the communities with the schools through parent-teacher meetings and alumni contacts. Schools are encouraged to develop relationships with the community through voluntary societal work by the students guided by the teachers. The successful linkages with the community is the key to sustainability of continual improvement.

The following activities are described below.

Parents - Teachers Meeting
Practically all schools hold one or more parents-teachers meeting in a year.

Alumni Link
Alumni in schools in Bangladesh are a largely unutilized resource for the development of the schools.
VAB attempts to find out from the school and the community the whereabouts of successful alumni. It then encourages both the alumni and the school/community to develop links with among them and devise ways and means of support of the school from the alumni.

Societal Work
Link with the community is a natural phenomenon in the rural school; the challenge is how to engage the community actively with the development of the school.
The VAB activity is to organize voluntary projects to be executed by the students under the guidance of the teachers for accomplishing certain societal goals, such as clean-up, sanitation, women’s safety and security, women’s empowerment, etc.

Approaching the Community
The members of the community generally will be favorable to the idea of helping the school in its development. The VAB activity is to be a catalyst and a guide in mobilizing community support for the school.

Volunteers Training Program

VAB relies heavily on volunteers to implement its educational programs. About 30 motivated volunteer interns operated and monitored VAB programs. They are recruited from universities and colleges in Dhaka. VAB provides them with a real-life experience in rural Bangladesh. After 2 days of training in practical research methods, interviewing techniques, accounting procedures, and a day of fieldwork, each intern is assigned one or two schools for a year. Interns monitor and research the education progress of scholarship holders and of the schools in general and distribute equipment and funds. Internship in VAB has proven to be valuable addition to the resume of volunteers.

Emergency Programs 2000-2014

In addition to above education and computer literacy activities VAB supports ad-hoc activities in response to natural disasters. During hurricane Sidr, for example, VAB leveraged its donor base to raise funds on behalf of relief activities. Likewise, following 2013 Savar accident, VAB collaborated with four tech companies based in Bangladesh to raise a total of net $11,704 from 64 donors, using VAB’s Portal. The fund was distributed to victims and their families. The four tech companies are: Fortuna Group, G&R Technologies Ltd., Magnito Digital and Portonics Ltd.