Sunday March 24, 2019

Bicycles may soon provide solution to Bangladesh’s education crisis


Dhaka: Bangladesh is turning to bicycles to help girls in rural areas complete their education.

Nationwide, 1.5 million girls drop out of school or have never enrolled and the number increases annually, according to U.N. Figures. Poor parents marry their daughters off because they cannot afford to continue their education past grade 8 – about two-thirds of all girls in Bangladesh marry before their 18th birthdays, according to Girls Not Brides.

Analysts point to bicycles as a positive approach to stemming the dropout rate for girls who face long commutes to and from school.

One Bangladeshi girl, a grade 11 student, says her friends could have stayed in school had they acquired bikes.

“I was inspired by the NGO girls who travel in remote areas with bicycles. My father gave me this bicycle to shuttle between school and my residence. Many people rebuked my parents for allowing me to use it, but now it is nothing new to them. I enjoy cycling to school,” Tahmina, 16, a student at Niamatpur High School and College, told BenarNews.

She rides three kilometers (1.8 miles) from her village home to Niamatpur, a sub-district of Naogaon, a district in western Bangladesh.

“Poverty forced many of my friends to quit their studies after completing grade eight. Their parents could not provide transportation costs to their daughters. They are mothers now. If they got bicycles for free, they could have been very good students,” Tahmina added.

Bangladeshi girls also face a gender challenge in schooling because parents in poor families tend to prioritize the education of sons over daughters, according to an educator.

“Many parents have to stop sending their girls to the schools and colleges as they cannot afford transportation costs. Poor parents even borrow money to send their sons to schools and colleges, but they do not do so in the case of their daughters. Instead, the girls are married off,” Salahuddin Ahmed, a senior teacher at the Benipur Government Primary School in Niamatpur, told BenarNews.

Banks chip in

Now, the country’s commercial banks are getting involved in the effort to help educate girls.

Bangladesh’s central bank is asking commercial banks and financial firms to donate bicycles to the poor girls in rural areas. Last week, the Central Bank of Bangladesh issued a circular calling on banks and other firms to give bicycles to the schoolgirls and college-age girls for free through their annual corporate social responsibility (CSR) funds.

“Yes, we have received the central bank request. My bank, Mutual Trust Bank, has already distributed 1,000 bicycles to girls in northern Kurigram and Lalmonirhat districts,” Anis A. Khan, president of the Bankers’ Association of Bangladesh and managing director of the Mutual Trust Bank, told BenarNews.

In Bangladesh, 47 commercial banks fund CSR projects each year, along with other financial institutions.

Rasheda K. Choudhury, executive director of the non-governmental organization Campaign for Popular Education, welcomed the bankers’ efforts.

“Girls outnumber boys in primary enrollment, but a significant number of the girls drop out at the secondary stage. Most of the 40 percent of students who drop out at the secondary level are girls,” Choudhury told BenarNews.

“So, providing free bicycles will encourage girls to continue the education, provided the families allow them,” she said.

Choudhury added that the authorities should provide cycles to at least five girls in a locality so they can travel to school together.

Changing times

Ahmed the educator said girls from several local villages in Niamatpur use bicycles to go to school and college.

“Watching girls coming to school on cycles was unthinkable some 20 years ago. But now people have come out of their conservative mindset. So, if the poor families are given bicycles free of cost, they would be interested in continuing their daughters’ education,” he said.

In the far northern district of Panchagarh, more girls are riding bikes compared with boys, Mohammad Salahuddin, an associate professor at Amlahar Degree College in Panchagarh, told BenarNews.

“The school-going girls have started using bicycles as their parents cannot afford the transportation cost. The girls come to schools located five to 10 kilometers [3.1 to 6.2miles] from their villages by riding bicycles. This is a big achievement for us,” he told BenarNews.

“Bicycles have given them the freedom to travel from home to school,” he said.

Published with permission from BenarNews

Next Story

Kenyan girls pedal towards a better future

Kenyan girls take a step ahead towards their future


Kakamega and Kisumu, Kenya, September 2, 2016: In Western Kenya, poverty has put girls at risk of becoming pregnant and dropping out of school. But a program in the region seeks to empower the girls by giving them transportation, in the form of bicycles. For VOA, Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kakamega and Kisumu, Kenya.

Loise Luseno, student, Kenya (VOA)
Loise Luseno, student, Kenya (VOA)

Loise Luseno, a local resident of Kenya talks of how she herself had to drop out of school last year because of lack of conveyance facilities. Their society anyway isn’t very supportive of girl education and this problem of commutation hampers their fututre furthermore. Her parents are just subistence farmers who earn $30 per month, barely enough for food, school fees and transportation.

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She also speaks of how teenage girls drop out of school because of their pregnancy as a common phenomena and how the motorbike riders in her area treat these girls when they’re seen walking to school. “They normally stop us on the road, when we’re on legs. They told us they would carry us. When they carry us, they start disturbing us to drop out of school which is not good.”

Manufacturing of the bicycles, at World Bicycle Relief (VOA)
Manufacturing of the bicycles, at World Bicycle Relief (VOA)

Ainea Ambulwa her school teacher, also a member of a part of the Bicycle Supervisor Committee and ensures that the girls maintain the bikes’ good condition. He states that the recurring poverty is a big challenge. When these girls or their family members use these bikes to carry heavy loads of items, they break and they can’t afford to service them.

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The World bicycle Relief, based in Chicago, USA, manufactures bicycles and distributes them to another charity called World Vision. In 2015, the group set up a production plant in Kenya. The cost of production of a single buffalo bicycle costs around $180, but with the help of donors, they have distributed more than 7000 bicycles countrywide, most of their recipients being girls. The owner, Peter Wechuli says, these bikes have certainly improved the girls’ lives but  the 100 kilometres distance of Kisumu from the plant remains a problem with limited resources but they aim to make the lives of these girls better for a brighter future.

This bicycle usage will not help the girls to complete their education, but also transport them into a better future as a better human being (VOA)