APON School Project was launched in 2008 for providing education to child labourers in Dhanmondi area. Working children, who are unable to afford a proper education, attend APON School classes which are held in a park adjacent to Dhanmondi lake. These children begin working in the streets from a very early age and are involved in anything from selling peanuts to collecting paper for recycling. They begin work in the streets in the early hours of the morning, usually on an empty stomach and carry on till late at night with very little food. After spending around ten to twelve hours under the sun, the average earning of a child is less than US$ 1 per day and with rising food prices, the situation only gets worse.
APON School classes are regularly attended by street children in a park in Dhanmondi, Dhaka. Classes are held under the shade of a tree in a park on the side of Dhanmondi lake. Most of the children attending APON School live in slums in neighbouring areas and are unable, by reason of their poor socio-economic position, to attend a regular school.
APON School classes are held thrice a week between 1 PM and 2 PM. The timing and duration of the class has been fixed with a view to accommodating as many students as possible taking into consideration the fact that most of them are child labourers.
The classes are designed to enable regular students of APON to acquire a basic knowledge of English, Bengali and Mathematics. Classes focus also on personal hygiene, etiquette and manners.
The APON School Project was set up with a view to achieving the following goals:
- Creating public awareness in the target neighbourhood regarding the importance of educating children;
- Creating a model for provision of basic education to child labourers;
- Providing basic education (English, Bengali and Mathematics) to target beneficiaries;
- Influencing the education policies of the local and national government by emphasizing on the necessity of providing basic education to child labourers;
- Engaging the local community in the provision of basic education to underprivileged children;
- Creating a network between organizations with similar aims and objectives to facilitate the provision of basic education to child labourers.
APON School commenced its journey with only 7 students in January 2008. Initially, there was a lot of skepticism and misgivings regarding the usefulness of the classes. However, APON School teachers have managed to gain the trust and faith of the guardians of the students with their sincerity, honesty, dedication and diligence. As a result, the number of students increased from only 7 to over 50 by the end of 2009.
Classes at APON are always followed by refreshments. Refreshments are in fact the principal incentive for the students to attend the classes regularly. APON School is required to spend a considerable amount of money every month to fund the refreshments.
In less than a year of the inception of the Project, our students have multiplied several times and the progress is more than evident. Most of the children can now read and write and do basic math and calculations. The School has provided the much needed recreation that these children deserve and a trip to the zoo, a boating trip, art competitions and other events have been organised for them on a regular basis. We hope to provide these children with vocational training as they grow older so as to give them greater financial independence and a better life.
In July and September 2009, APON School opened its branches in Ramna Park and Farmgate to provide basic education to child labourers in those areas. The success of the Dhanmondi Branch of APON School in 2008 and 2009 was the driving force behind the expansion of APON School. Now, classes are regularly held in as many as 9 centres in Dhaka City, including Ramna Park, Kawran Bazaar, Moghbazaar, Malibag and Uttara. The total number of students of APON School now exceeds 250.
At each of the new centre, we encountered the problem of absenteeism that we faced initially at Dhanmondi. Almost all the registered students of APON School in Ramna and Farmgate are child labourers who are currently engaged in various occupations and businesses and are earning an amount, which by their standard of living, is not insignificant. The high opportunity cost of regular attendance results in increased absenteeism, often leading to drop-outs. As in the Dhanmondi Branch, APON School authorities sought to address this problem by organizing entertainment programs and events for its students on a regular basis. APON is in the process of expanding its Education Program outside Dhaka City.