When it comes to primary education, there are many reasons to be optimistic. Enrollment has jumped across the world, and more children are in school than ever before. In the last decade, the number of out-of-school children has fallen by half, from 102 million in 2000 to 57 million in 2011.
But is showing up to school enough?
According to UNESCO’s Education for All Global Monitoring Report, almost one quarter of the youth in the developing world cannot read a sentence. In countries with large youth populations, this can leave behind a crippling ‘legacy of illiteracy’. Despite almost universal primary enrollment in India – 97 percent – half of second grade students cannot read a full sentence, and almost a quarter cannot even recognize letters.
Reading is a foundational skill. Children who do not learn to read in the primary grades are less likely to benefit from further schooling. Poor readers struggle to develop writing skills and absorb content in other areas. More worryingly, learning gaps hit disadvantaged populations the hardest, limiting their economic opportunities. In Bangladesh, only one in three of the poorest quartile is literate, compared to almost nine out of ten in the richest.
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Minara Begum is a very special lady in Amtoli Upazila of Barguna district, well known for her courage and hard work. Her determination to lift herself out of extreme poverty to a stable financial position has drawn the attention of many people in the locality. Her strength and resilience is evident in how she survived the devastating cyclone ‘Sidr’, which hit the coast of Bangladesh in 2007, and rebuilt her life afterwards.
Minara’s life had never been easy. Her first husband divorced her for not being able to bear children and her second husband was too ill to earn much. So she had to take up most of the burden of the family. With money she had received from her first husband, Minara bought a cow and slowly she was able to increase her livestock up to nine, which she sold in order to buy land. But misfortune struck her when cyclone Sidr destroyed her standing crops and smashed the roof of her house, which fell on her husband. Since then her husband has been suffering from back pain, unable to work as a day laborer in the field and has become totally dependent on Minara’s income.
Cyclone Sidr left Minara in a hopeless state - she had lost everything she had worked so hard for. She had no clothes; she could afford only one meal a day. Fortunately, she was selected as a beneficiary of the Livestock subcomponent of the Emergency Cyclone Recovery and Restoration Project (ECRRP) in 2010 and given training in the Livestock Farmers’ Field School (L-FFS). She received a livestock package of ten ducks, poultry feed and an improved poultry shed. At the time of delivery of the package, she had no livestock and the yearly income of her family was only Tk. 12,000 ($150) mostly from her wages as a day laborer. She had only 40 decimals of land, including her homestead.
Migrant workers sent $6.77 billion home to Bangladesh in July-December, down 8.41% from the same time a year ago. For the first time in recent memory, Bangladesh has experienced a decline in remittances in the first half of the fiscal year.
There are four factors that can potentially account for the decline in remittances: the stock of Bangladeshi migrants abroad, earnings per migrant worker, their average propensity to save, and their average propensity to remit money home out of those savings.
The standard refrain appears to be that the flow of remittance has declined because the stock of Bangladeshi migrants abroad is not growing like it used to. This is because of two reasons. First, Bangladesh is failing to send more workers abroad to traditional markets and exploring new markets. Only 450,000 migrants managed oversees jobs in 2013, down by more than 33% from 680,000 in 2012. Second, the number of migrant workers returning to Bangladesh has also increased because the government could not resolve problems related to the legal status of Bangladeshi migrant labors in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait through diplomatic channels. Unfortunately, there is no reliable time series on the annual number of migrant returnees from abroad.
Is that the full story? I doubt it although it is generally assumed that the current migrant workers are sending money home as per their maximum capacities and have little capacity to increase the flow.