Bangladesh has made impressive progress over the past 15 years in improving the reach of its education system, enrolling more than 97% in primary school by 2015 – an increase of almost 40% since 1990. The new challenge is ensuring that those in school are learning the necessary skills; however, crowded schools are struggling to help every child learn to read.
Since last year, IREX and Save the Children have been working together to help libraries support the USAID-funded READ program. The Beyond Access Bangladesh initiative aims to make use of the country’s existing libraries to create opportunities for children and their families to gain access to more reading materials and begin to associate reading with enjoyment.
The program works with 20 libraries as a pilot. Before the Beyond Access program, almost none of these 20 libraries provided services for children. As part of Beyond Access, each library received a small set of materials for a children’s corner and four 10-inch Samsung tablets. Librarians received about a week of training on using the materials and tablets to provide complementary literacy services for children.
Here are a few of our key observations from the last six months:
Libraries are now serving as a vital community learning space.
Outside of homes and schools, there are few places for children to gather safely, and fewer still that are dedicated to supporting learning. The Beyond Access libraries in Bangladesh are creating a public space that parents trust for kids to visit after school. Many local children visit the library every day that it’s open and children often gather in groups around books, reading games, and tablets. Since December, libraries in the program are serving more than 220 children each month and many have seen double or triple numbers of children visitors during that time.
Libraries are filling the content gap.
Most children in Bangladesh only have access to textbooks at school; in addition, supplementary materials like storybooks and reading games are rare. A recent study found that more than 40% of children don’t have books other than religious texts at home. With Beyond Access, libraries are addressing this need for the first time by stocking colorful, enjoyable, child-friendly books and providing access to interactive reading games on tablets. Regular reading activities at libraries give children the chance to practice skills outside the classroom. Once they learn the games and activities, many children play them independently when they visit the library.
Together, this means results for children.
Teachers in communities where Beyond Access is working have noticed the difference that visiting the library makes for their children. One teacher in Bahubol noted how his students have become more fluent readers since the library began to offer children-centered services. Teachers have mentioned how children’s eagerness to learn has noticeably increased. “Earlier, students didn’t have anything to do after school here,” said Emran Ahmed Jaygirdar, Head Teacher of a school in Ahmednagar, in Sylhet division. “Now they come to the library to read and use the tablets. So they are spending quality time in reading, which has improved their knowledge and reading comprehension.” Parents are equally enthusiastic about the new services. While it is rare for parents to allow young children to go outside the home alone, children can freely visit the library. Parents often visit libraries in the evenings to read along with children or participate in library events.
While the initiative is still young, early results are promising. Libraries in the Beyond Access program are filling a clear demand for educational activities and content outside of schools. By mobilizing institutions that were already present in the communities with fresh ideas and resources, this joint effort is developing a new model for community engagement in children’s learning and development.