Selected Moments of the 20th Century

A work in progress edited by Daniel Schugurensky
Department of Adult Education, Community Development and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)


BRAC begins non-formal primary education for poor children in Bangladesh

In 1985, BRAC (Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee, the world's largest non-governmental organization) initiated non-formal primary education for the unenrolled and dropout children of poor families in rural areas. Before that, BRAC had literacy programs for adults, but no educational services for children. One day, a mother enrolled in one of BRAC's adult literacy classes asked: "But what about our children? Will they have to wait until they are 18 to join your school?" That question prompted BRAC to begin a non-formal school program for children.

Like Escuela Nueva, which had started over ten years before in Colombia, the BRAC program started modestly and expanded rapidly at an impressive rate. It began with 22 schools and in less than one decade (by 1994), it had opened 34,000 schools which offered free primary education to 1.2 million children, 70 percent of whom were girls.

The driving force of the BRAC schools is Kaniz Fatema. She contends that one of the primary reasons for the success of the program is that children are treated like children. This is complemented with participatory mechanisms, a relevant curriculum, community involvement, a low teacher-student ratio (less than 33 students per class, compared with an average 73 in government schools) and a flexible schedule respectful of agricultural cycles and household chores.

The results have been astonishing. Between 1985 and 1999, a total of 1.5 million students graduated from BRAC schools. Dropout rates in BRAC schools (8 per cent) are one-quarter of those in government primary schools (32 per cent). Almost 90 per cent of the students who graduate from BRAC schools pass the admission examinations in formal schools, showing that non-formal learning is not necessarily synonymous with lower quality. Annual per student cost is $20, which is less than half of the estimated $52 in government schools. Teachers' salaries account for less than 40 per cent of costs (compared to close to 90 per cent in government schools), which is a controversial policy but clearly leaves more funds available for student books and supplies, curriculum development, teacher training, management and support at the local level.

BRAC's success in educating large numbers of poor children at a low cost earned it an international reputation. Its management system and pedagogical methods have been adopted in a number of countries in South Asia, Africa and Central America, including India, Pakistan, Zambia, Mali, Ethiopia and El Salvador.


Prepared by DS

Citation: Author (2001). Title. In Daniel Schugurensky (Ed.), History of Education: Selected Moments of the 20th Century [online]. Available:  (date accessed).

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