Awards 2004 Specially Commended: The Centre for Mass Education in Science

Specially Commended: The Centre for Mass Education in Science

Receiving the award

Ever wondered how they make ballpoint pens? Pupils at some rural schools in Bangladesh make them as part of their education and sell them for threepence each.

Many village girls are married as young as 12 or 13 and spend the rest of their lives in poverty-stricken household drudgery. The Centre for Mass Education in Science (CMES) helps them to escape this fate by getting some education and becoming a family asset by earning some money.

One girl writes: "My teacher trained me in candlemaking, chalk making and tie-dying. For the first time in my life, I earned something through selling products made by myself. My father's joy knew no bounds when I handed him my first earning of 100 taka (1)."

CMES was founded by Muhammad Ibrahim, a physics professor at Dhaka . While still at school, he started a popular science magazine which became a vibrant national monthly. This led him, in 1978, to set up CMES which now runs 500 'basic' schools and 20 rural training centres. These give a second chance to 15,000 boys and girls who dropped out of school because they are poor and did not see its relevance.

Finding that many girls did not benefit, CMES started another programme, offering credit to set up small businesses. Girls make clothes and snacks, mill spices, run shops, farm fish. Some are village photographers. CMES encourages them to form associations and take the lead in improving their villages, perhaps by building a bridge or a road. This programme for 11,000 young women now helps 6,000 young men, too.

The Centre for Mass Education in Science

CMES basic schools do not look like schools, more like workshops or farms, on premises given by local people. They employ young school-leavers, graduates, artisans and CMES school graduates as teachers. They seek to impart literacy in an innovative and participatory way. They teach good health practices which pupils can use in the neighbourhood.

Activities such as ballpoint-pen making demonstrate practical science. The filled pens are put in four old Ovaltine tins, hanging from the ends of two crossed rods. An electric motor rotates the rods and tins at high speed. Centrifugal force causes the tins to fly out sideways, pushing the ink down into the pens and releasing any air.

Muhammad Ibrahim says: "This is second-chance education which also addresses the pupils' livelihood needs. They have the satisfaction of making a whole product, which many of their friends can't. And technology is demystified."

Soapmaking with palm oil and caustic soda teaches some elementary chemistry. CMES schools also make clothes, do woodwork, keep bees, make compost with worms, and even generate solar energy. CMES researches and develops suitable techniques.

Muhammad Ibrahim has devised a sophisticated process for growing mushrooms in sheds. The mushroom growers learn the need for cleanliness. They use pressure cookers to sterilise the growing material - sawdust and wheat bran. CMES provides mushroom seedlings in the form of tissue cultures. It is an introduction to microbiology. Rural training centres provide an introduction to computers, too, enabling pupils to offer local computer services.

Dr Ibrahim comments: "We have given a new meaning to education for many young people. For them it is no longer just memorising, passing examinations, getting a certificate and moving on to the next stage, with results unrelated to their life and livelihood. In our basic school system, it is learning for doing. Our graduates can create their self-employment or find employment because they have worked as well as learnt at school. Education and work were not compartmentalised here. Rather, one reinforced the other.

A new youth leadership has been created irrespective of gender which has affected society. There has been a sharp drop in child marriages."

For the future, Muhammad Ibrahim is seeking to improve CMES's interplay with the market. He realises that its expansion requires money from others than donors. So CMES wants to share costs with local employers and offer fee-earning services. It has placed some students as apprentices with local enterprises "We want to establish a close working collaboration with the private sector in all possible ways."

The judges say

We found the CMES's commitment to high educational standards and its involvement to encourage girls to be educated was very admirable. CMES should be congratulated on its contribution to socio-economic development especially in such rural parts of Bangladesh . We are confident that its inspirational work will expand further as CMES has very clearly made a difference to a substantial proportion of the disadvantaged population of the region.

"It shows how training gives opportunity and helping youngsters train for careers impacts on society and health"

Centre for Mass Education in Science,
House #828, Road #19,(Old), Dhanmondi R/A, Dhaka - 1209, Bangladesh
tel +880-2-8111898; fax +880 2-8013559