BRAC is the world’s largest NGO, operating programs across many sectors. In the education sector, BRAC operates 24,000 one-room primary schools serving 748,000 students and 13,100 preschools serving 362,000 students (December 2011). It also operates a university, 2,400 learning centers, and a range of other education programs.
BRAC primary schools only enroll children who have not enrolled in government schools by the age of eight, or have dropped out of government schools. Students are identified through a household survey, the results of which are cross-checked against enrolment lists in local schools. In doing so, BRAC’s aim is to target children who would otherwise not be in school and avoid duplicating the government’s efforts. The BRAC primary program lasts four years (compared to five years in government schools) after which most students transition to secondary schools.
BRAC preschools are operated as a one-year program for five-year olds. On completion of the program, students are expected to enroll in government primary schools.
Ninety-three percent of students who enroll in BRAC primary schools complete the primary program, compared to 67% of students in government schools. Of those who complete the program, 98% transition to secondary school.
The Government of Bangladesh runs a primary-leaving examination at the end of grade five. In this examination, 84% of BRAC students achieve one of the top three grades, compared to 54% of students nationally. Historically this examination has not been competency based, though now 25% of the questions are competency based.
On an independent competency-based test, BRAC students slightly outperformed their government counterparts, though these results should be interpreted in the light of the significant difference in the background and enrolment age of the two student populations.
% of students achieving all competencies
Students study Bangla, Math, English, Science, Social Studies, and Religious Studies. The language of instruction is Bangla. For minorities who do not speak Bangla, children are taught in their native language for the first two years.
BRAC develops detailed lesson plans for each day of the 276 day preschool program and the 1,104 day primary program. Lesson plans are broken into approximately 30-minute units. Each unit contains a learning objective, suggested seating arrangements for the children, teaching instructions, and an allocated time period. Teachers are expected to follow the plans, though they can adapt them if they feel this is necessary.
Lesson plans and textbooks are simple and are developed by a curriculum development unit (except textbooks for grades four and five). The Unit gets regular feedback from the field and refines the materials accordingly.
The pedagogy is outcome-focused and lively. Children undertake lots of activities and for much of the day work together in small groups. They use lots of visual aides – for instance, for math, each student has a set of straws or bamboo sticks which they use for counting practice.
The academic lessons are broken up by co-curricula activities, including songs, dances, drawing and acting. These keep the children engaged, break up the day, and achieve a range of other learning outcomes.
Classrooms are dominated by a set of simple routines which the children know well. These include different seating positions, routines for assessment, and various learning games which are employed in lessons.
There is constant formative assessment with the teacher providing short tests (e.g. two math questions) and then marking each student’s work individually several times a day. Even in a class of 30 students, it typically takes a teacher only a few minutes to check all of the work. Students stand when they have completed the question, and sit down again once their work has been checked. There is no formal assessment except for the government-run examination at the end of grade five.
BRAC uses its own books and curriculum for grades one to three (though these are based on learning outcomes established by the Government). Since the introduction of the primary-leaving examination, BRAC has used the Government curriculum and textbooks for grades four and five to ensure that students are well prepared for the examination.
Students move through the primary school as a cohort, staying with the same teacher in the same classroom for the duration of their primary schooling.
Teachers are recruited from the local community, and are all female. BRAC employs only married teachers because women normally move to a different village or area after marriage.
Teachers are expected to have completed grade ten, though in cases where a suitable teacher cannot be found, teachers with a lower level of education may be accepted. Teachers are selected through a written exam and an interview.
Teachers teach a class of 30 to 36 children.
There is a 12-day initial training for primary-school teachers (six days for preschool teachers) followed by a three-day orientation. The program focuses on basic child psychology, the BRAC program and curriculum, classroom management, and forming relationships with parents and children.
Teachers are visited by a program organizer two or three times each week, for at least 40 minutes each time. The program organizer provides coaching and mentoring. Program organizers are university graduates and, with a few exceptions, teachers cannot become program organizers. Program organizers are provided with a bicycle or motorcycle to visit schools.
There is a monthly refresher training, during which teachers review the curriculum for the following month and discuss problems and challenges from the previous month. The monthly refresher lasts up to four days each month: one day for teachers of grade one, two or three days for teachers of grades two and three, and three or four days for teachers of grades four and five. The refresher is delivered by the program organizers to groups of 10-20 teachers.
Time on task
Schools are open for a remarkable 276 days each year, covering five grades in four years. Schools are open six days a week, and close only for the monthly refresher trainings, national holidays, and one week each for Eid Al Fitr and Eid al Adha. The school day is relatively short as follows.
|Grade||School day||Total days|
|Grade 1||3.5 hours||207|
|Grade 2||3.5 hours||207|
|Grade 3||3.5 hours||207|
|Grade 4||4.5 hours||230|
|Grade 5||4.5 hours||256|
The opening and closing times of each school are decided by the parents and the local community. Each school operates a single shift only.
Teacher attendance is around 95%. When teachers are absent, a teacher from a neighboring school is expected to cover the day’s lesson (i.e. they teach their own class in the morning, and the absent teacher’s class in the afternoon).
Student attendance in 96% compared to 61% in government schools. BRAC attributes the high attendance rate to the quality of the lessons.
Schools and facilities
Schools are one-room rented buildings (or in the case of around 100 schools, boats). Schools are located in villages or slums close to where students live.
Facilities are basic with no furniture. Students sit on the floor on colorful mats. There are ceiling fans and drinking water is provided.
There is a monthly parents meeting, at which attendance is high (estimated at 80%). The meetings are used to discuss issues with the school and the deliver a life skills training program to the parents, covering topics such as children’s safety and children’s nutrition.
Schools are free and no fees are charged. BRAC receives funding from the government, donors, and business operations.
The cost of a school is as follows:
|Books and supplies||626||27%|
|Research amd evaluation||19||1%|
BRAC is organized into branches, each with around 100 schools. A branch office includes a Branch Manager, and one program organizer for every 15 schools. Each program organizer doubles as a master trainer with one or more subject specializations. Each branch should include master trainers covering the full range of subjects in the curriculum.
Branches are grouped into areas, which each area including around 10 branches (or 1,000 schools). Each branch has a quality assurance specialist responsible for training program organizers and monitoring quality.
In the past BRAC has attempted to spread elements of its programs to government primary schools, but stopped in the face of strong opposition from teacher’s associations who feared higher workload and accountability.
Ahmad, A. and Haque, I., A Study of BRAC Interventions and Mainstream Schools, 2011.
Khan, A. and Samadder, M., Beyond Dropout: A study on BRAC Primary School, 2010.
Nath, S., Competencies Achievement of BRAC School Students, 2012.
Rosenberg, T., “Where Private School Is Not a Privilege” in New York Times, 8 May 2013.
Sweetser, A., Lessons from the BRAC Non-Formal Primary Education Program, 1999.
USAID, Meeting EFA: Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee Primary Schools, 2006.