DHAKA, Bangladesh — Before 2008, the overall rate of primary school completion in Bangladesh was 50 percent. The rate of secondary school completion was even lower, at just 30 percent. Although the national data was discouraging, an even more problematic trend emerged when socioeconomic status was factored in. While 75 percent of middle and high-income students were enrolled in school, less than 40 percent of children from poorer families were in school.
As of March 2014, the overall completion rates of both primary and secondary school had improved substantially. The secondary school graduation rate sprung to 46 percent, which was a drastic increase from 30 percent in the years leading up to 2008. At a socioeconomic level, changes in educational trends were also promising. While the percentage of secondary school enrollees who came from poorer families was just 30 percent in 2008, by 2012 that share had risen to 38 percent.
The drastic improvements in school enrollment in Bangladesh, especially among its most poverty-stricken children, are the result of the Secondary Education Quality and Access Enhancement Project. The World Bank’s International Development Association developed the project in conjunction with the Bangladeshi government. Since 2008, IDA has donated $130 million to SEQAEP.
The project has two major goals. First, it aims to ensure that low-income Bangladeshi families, particularly those living in remote areas, are able to send their children to school. Second, SEQAEP wants to improve the quality of secondary education in Bangladesh by introducing standardized teaching methods.
SEQAEP uses stipends as a means of both encouraging enrollment among Bangladesh’s poorest families and of incentivizing high performance for all students and teachers. Stipends are based on the individual student’s grades and range from $15 to $40 per year. In order to receive their stipends, students must pass their final exams each term, maintain a high rate of attendance year round and complete Grade 10 before getting married.
While the stipends have proved largely successful at encouraging enrollment, in order to increase the quality of secondary education available to poor students, SEQAEP has also introduced standardization measures. Teachers now receive training in both English and mathematics, and students may take Secondary School Certificate exams, which are internationally recognized as a valid form of assessment.
Since its inception in 2008, SEQAEP has helped 2.3 million Bangladeshi students. Both overall secondary school enrollment and the share of poor children in secondary schools have increased as a result of the stipends. The number of students taking internationally recognized SCC exams rose by over 17 percent to 220,000, while almost a million students have benefited from reading habits development programs.
With its successes over the last six years, SEQAEP has no plans to stop its support of education in Bangladesh. In February 2014 the Bangladeshi government signed a $265 million deal with the International Development Association to continue their joint support of the program. With this grant, the International Development Association and the government of Bangladesh hope to expand SEQAEP even further. Ultimately, the project will give 4.5 million Bangladeshi students living in remote, poverty-stricken conditions the ability to access high quality secondary education.