DHAKA, Feb. 27 (Xinhua) -- A new study shows Bangladesh primary education stipend program has increased geographical coverage, enrollment, attendance and gender parity in primary education.
The findings of the study, titled "Bangladesh Primary Education Stipends: Achievements and Challenges," were released Thursday.
The study also showed that reducing dropout rates and improving class performance require immediate attention by policymakers.
While praising Bangladesh for making impressive progress in increasing enrollment in primary education and achieving gender parity in both primary and secondary education, UNICEF, which extended support to conduct the study, also admitted that problems remain.
"Out of school children; children dropping out before completing primary education; children from urban poor areas and ethnic minority groups; and the quality of education are interlinked and remain critical concerns," says Pascal Villeneuve, UNICEF representative in Bangladesh.
"Investment in the stipend program needs to be increased and made more effective for ensuring child sensitive social protection and in bridging the divide in primary education," he said.
While sustaining the Primary Education Stipend Program (PESP), the study called for increasing the stipend amount for children in higher grades to cover increasing education costs and reduce dropout rates.
The report recommended reviewing the policy of providing partial stipend to a second child within the family enrolled in primary education as the cost burden applies for all children. It also highlighted the need to review policy to consider how best the stipend program could ensure access to schooling for urban poor children.
In Bangladesh, primary education is free. However, families spend 4,788 taka (about 61 U.S. dollars) excluding snacks annually for a primary student of grade four and five. The cost burden for schooling remains a challenge for children from disadvantaged families.
Usually, according to UNICEF, the dropout rate increases at grades four and five as the opportunity cost for children involved in education from poor households is much higher than the stipend money provided by the government.
It said the study was conducted with the aim of taking a broader look at the efficacy of PESP in relation to its goals of enhanced educational participation by poorer children and the related reduction in child labor.
Introduced in 2002-2003, UNICEF in a statement also said that the initiative is fully financed by the government of Bangladesh.
It said the PESP reached 7.8 million children and covers six categories of schools: government primary schools; registered non- government primary schools; community schools; satellite schools; non-government organization run primary schools approved by the government; and madrashas (religious schools) recognized by the government with a minimum of 100 students.
The monetary value of the primary stipend has remained unchanged at 100 taka (about 1.29 U.S. dollars) per month since the scheme was introduced in 2002-2003, it added.
The amount of the stipend is the same for grade one students and students in the higher grades of four and five. Additionally, the primary stipend for families with multiple children enrolled in primary grades is only 25 percent higher than that for a family with a single schoolchild.