Another friend of mine, Sarah Kelley, grew up in Bangladesh as well, though she had a very different experience from Sadman. Kelley, a pre-med biology junior, moved to Gainesville from Bangladesh with her older brother Shane in August.
Kelley grew up a 40-acre campus of a Christian hospital in Bangladesh’s rural southeastern region. Her family served as missionaries at the base.
There was a Bengali medium school on the base, but Kelley attended a small English medium school for missionary children. A group from kindergarten through grade 3 may have consisted of around 15 to 20 students, the numbers dwindling with age.
Sometimes Kelley’s mother taught the group of students, sometimes other mothers taught. By high school, Kelley was taking classes mostly online through an independent study program.
Kelley had many friends who attended the Bengali medium school on the base. She often got a feel for the methods of the school when she passed by. From her observation, much of the teachings were based on oral instruction. The teachers would say something and have the students repeat it back to them.
The schools in her area are working on changing that, Kelley said. They have seen that the learning-by-rote method is not very efficient, and they are working toward more exercises in critical thinking.
The school goes up to grade 10, after which students are tested for two years of “college” (the American equivalent of 11th and 12th grades) and then can apply to attend a university.
Some of Kelley’s female friends would attend the school through 10th grade then get a job or marry. Other students were encouraged by their families to continue in their education.
“Bengali students are very studious,” Kelley said. “There’s a lot of family honor associated with grades and school.”
She described it as thought to be a “gateway” to a better life for many Bengali families.
In an article by the Khaleej Times, an English newspaper based in Dubai, the writer points out how empowered women in Bangladesh have been and are becoming. The article lists women’s development projects such as microlending as a positive endeavor to life widows and single mothers out of poverty.
The Khaleej Times says men still outnumber women in Bangladeshi universities, but the number of women enrolling is steadily increasing.
It is a hopeful prospect in a nation that ranks 146th out of 187 countries on an index that measures human development. (The list is compiled by the United Nations Development Programme, according to the Khaleej Times).
And according to UNICEF, 77 percent of females ages 15-24 can read (2005-2010). The number is 74 percent for males the same age. From 2007 to 2010 primary school enrollment rates are very high (in the 80s and 90s percentages) but secondary school enrollment rates are considerably less (hovering between 40 and 43 percent for males and females respectively).
But enough statistics. There are improvements that can be made, like in any education system, but I think Bangladesh is heading in the right direction, especially in terms of empowering women in an atmosphere surrounded by gender hardships.
A big thank-you to Sarah Kelley for letting me interview her!