Equity and Diversity for Primary School Indigenous Children in Bangladesh

Author: MD Rabiul Islam

Islam, MD Rabiul, 2017 Equity and Diversity for Primary School Indigenous Children in Bangladesh, Flinders University, School of Education

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There is increasing concern among national as well as international development policy makers that indigenous children in Bangladesh continue to receive a less than optimal primary education. Issues such as low enrolment at school, poor attendance, lower achievement levels and higher dropout rates distinguish indigenous children’s education from mainstream children in Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), located in the south-eastern corner of Bangladesh where the majority of indigenous people in Bangladesh live. In order to gain deeper insight into why indigenous students experience ongoing educational disadvantage there is a need to move beyond the accumulated facts and figures generated by quantitative research and more closely examine reasons for these issues at the school level. To achieve this, the research undertaken for this thesis is a qualitative study that focuses on teacher-student interactions and relationships, peer interactions, school leadership and management, and policy-practice connections related to the implementation of equity and diversity principles at the schools. This study specifically focuses on supports and limits in achieving equity and diversity through the way teachers and students engage in the teaching-learning process, the relevance of centrally developed curriculum and teaching materials, the effectiveness of professional development, and the role of local level school governance and management in CHT schools.

The case study methodology drew upon a range of ethnographic techniques including participant and non-participant observation, interview, focus group discussion, children’s stories and photos, field notes, and document collection. Four CHT schools were purposively selected and participants involved in the research included class teachers, students, head teachers, and School Management Committee members at each school as well as academic supervisors, teacher educators and subject specialists with connections to those schools. Fieldwork was undertaken during October-December 2013.

The study found that the principles of equity and diversity are not well embedded in CHT schools. Participant and non-participant observations together with participants’ perceptions provided evidence that indigenous students in the CHT schools are disadvantaged in several ways in their school, through ethnocentrism, discrimination, harassment, blaming and being stereotyped. All these practices are unsupportive of equity and diversity principles.

Firstly, in most classrooms teachers interacted less with indigenous than with mainstream students citing indigenous students’ language difficulties as a barrier to communicating and learning. Secondly, the relationship between indigenous and mainstream students does not reflect or respect diversity. Thirdly, centrally organised teacher development programs, curriculum, and teaching materials privilege mainstream students’ life styles and socio-cultural contexts. Besides this, school level management policies do not address indigenous children’s equity and diversity issues at the local level. Rather, school management is hierarchical and centrally controlled. Finally, there was no evidence that teachers adapted methods and materials for teaching in ethnically diverse classrooms.

Some positive initiatives regarding indigenous education development were observed at schools in CHT. Among these, the provision of accommodation for rural indigenous students at school or in nearby schools has overcome geographical constraints. Further, District level management authorities in CHT now have some autonomy to recruit indigenous teachers according to their local needs.

Keywords: Case study research, Chittagong Hill Tracts, equity and diversity, Indigenous children

Subject: Education thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2017
School: School of Education
Supervisor: Professor Rosalind Murray-Harvey