05/11/2011 - Children belonging to ethnic minorities in Bangladesh are among the country’s least literate and at the highest risk of dropping out of school.
Community leaders report that these children face discrimination in government-run schools. They are reportedly often badly treated by teachers and students from the country's largest ethnic group, Bengalis.
The ethnic minority population in Bangladesh is around 1.3 million people, about 1 percent of the country's population. Most of the 45 ethnic minority groups are concentrated in the area of the country known as Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT).
Dozens of minority groups in CHT lag behind the rest of the country in land ownership, income, employment, health and literacy. According to a survey of all household members living in CHT, more than half of them have no formal schooling.
One of the authors of the study, Rezai Karim Khondker, an economics professor, also claimed that "The rate of literacy is far lower among the ethnic minorities than it is nationally."
According to a 2009 study by the Human Development Research Centre, among the children from that region, for those who start schooling fewer than 8 percent completed primary education while 2 percent complete secondary education.
The report claimed that the biggest issue facing education for children from ethnic minorities is that they speak a different language than their teachers, who speak Bengla, and so end up dropping out of school since they cannot understand the language of instruction.
Sanjeeb Drong, general-secretary of the Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum, stated that “It is totally impossible to increase literacy rates among the ethnic minority groups if the government cannot introduce primary education in their mother tongue."
The government has attempted to form committees to carry out Bangladesh's 2010 National Education Policy, which recommended introducing primary education for ethnic minority groups in their own languages.
However, so far that has been little progress toward implementing the initiative, with the Education Ministry stating that expanding the languages of instruction will require large amounts of funding.
Poverty found among many of the ethnic minority groups is also a factor, as many families must depend on their children working to help support the family.
A recent UN study found that six out of 10 households in CHT live below the national absolute poverty line; the other four households live in extreme poverty.