The light of education is spreading among the children of tea garden workers in Sylhet.
Education is the backbone of a nation. However, certain regions of Sylhet used to lag far behind in the sector compared to the rest of Bangladesh. Most of the underprivileged children lacked even the basic educational facilities.
But, the situation has improved significantly in the last couple of years.
National news agency Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS) started implementing several educational projects in Sylhet since 2011, under Unicef-funded communication activities for the development of children and women programme.
The Dhaka Tribune visited one of the projects — Doldoli Tea Garden Pre-Primary School — last Wednesday, to experience the impact of the programme firsthand.
The pre-primary education centre, which is also a Shishu Bikash Kendro (centre for the development of the children) was built in January this year. The school is located on the top of a small hill, beside the Doldoli tea garden estate near Sylhet City.
The education center is a small tin-roofed hut, with carpets on the floor to provide sitting arrangement for children.
Pre-primary lessons like counting and nursery rhymes were being given to a group of energetic children aged between 4-7 years through singing and dancing.
Sumana Rani Deb, 6, daughter of tea garden workers, is a student there. Her two brothers are studying at another school.
Sumona can sing, dance and recite poems.
She happily danced with the song ‘Dol Dol Doloni, Rangamathay Chiruni’ with other students of the school when requested to perform. She also recited some poems.
Sumona is too young to decide her aim in life, but she has already set a goal. She wishes to be a teacher, to educate the underprivileged children like her.
Her parents said they did not want their children to follow in their footsteps.
Sumona’s mother Toni Das, 25, said, “It is very difficult to work in tea garden. There is no future, and no honour. We do not want our children to work here.”
Sumona’s father Liton Das, 30, said, “Our forefathers arrived in this region over a century ago, and they also worked in tea gardens. I had no choice but to work here (Doldoli Tea Garden) because I did not have the opportunity to study.
“But, I want our children to study and become educated persons. I am sending my daughter to school, hoping that she will be a teacher.”
Another underprivileged child, Anjana Das, is the daughter of tea garden worker Parno Moni Das and Dinesh Das, a woodcutter. Anjana has two siblings, a brother and a sister.
She can recite rhymes and dance.
When asked about her dream, she said, she wanted to be a doctor and take care of the tea garden workers.
Sourov Das, 6, is also a student of this school. His mother Basonti Das is a tea worker and father Mongol Das is a woodcutter.
Sourov wants to fight corruption, by growing up to become a police officer.
Sumona, Anjana and Sourov are among the 30 children that got admitted in this school this year. Seventeen of the students are girls and 13 are boys. The students will shift to government primary schools after the end of this year.
A teacher of this school, Rumi Akter Sima, told the Dhaka Tribune, “We have been teaching these children different subjects. Here, they learn about Bengali language, flowers, fruits, animals and birds. Bengali music and athletics are also taught here.”
Meanwhile, Sylhet zone Senior Manager (education) Akter Jahan said: “Around 104 pre-primary schools are offering classes in this region, including schools for children with disabilities. On average, there are about 30 students in each of these schools.”
He added: “We have a 55% quota for girls and 45% for boys in those schools. They are aged between four and seven years. The children will get admitted to nearby primary schools after finishing pre-primary school. Unicef is funding us and we teach according to the government syllabus.”
Communication for Development Officer of Unicef in Sylhet division, Syeedul Haque said majority of the children of tea garden workers lacked basic educational facilities in the region.
“There are around 132 tea gardens in Sylhet. But it not possible to build schools in every one of them, as most of them are private properties. There are plans to build around 104 pre-primary schools in 66 tea gardens with the funding of Unicef.”
Hundreds of children in various tea gardens across Sylhet are seeing a ray of hope with the help the pre-primary education programme. They now dare to dream bigger.