The premises of school seemed like a green carpet, neat and clean. There were drawings of different animals on the boundary walls. The walls of the school building were covered with drawings of flowers, fruits and animals along with their Bangla and English names.
There were quotes from famous people and various rhymes. There was a nice park too. Children play in the park during recess. There are multimedia classrooms as well.
The school, Charbhita Government Primary School, is located in Haripur Upazila. It was nationalised in 2013 and within just nine years the school earned the recognition of country’s best primary school this time.
State minister for primary and mass education Zakir Hossen, recognising Charbhita Primary School as the best school in the country (for 2022) handed over an award to the headmaster of the school at an event in Dhaka’s Osmani Memorial Auditorium on 12 March.
Back in 2000, Erfan Ali used to run a tea stall at Bahrampur Bazar in Bakua Union under Thakugaon’s Haripur upazila. There was a primary school right beside his shop. Irfan would deliver tea to the school twice or thrice a day.
Erfan had passed intermediate then started dreaming of becoming a teacher himself. Erfan’s father Nurul Islam, at his son's behest, donated 33 decimals of land in the village to open a school in 2001.
Erfan’s struggle for the school began. Clearing the overgrown field in Charbhita village, he built three rooms there with straw and bamboo. He then placed a signboard of Charbhita Primary School on the fence. Erfan graduated in 2008.
When the school received approval for teaching in 2011, it encouraged Erfan along with the other teachers. They relentlessly moved from house to house in search of students. And positive results followed. Finally, the school was recognised as a government primary school in 2013.
Charbhita in Haripur Upazila is a poverty stricken area. The majority of the residents belong to the lower strata of society. Many students would miss classes because of financial crises.
There were 150 students enrolled in Charbhita Primary School in 2013 also. But, only 40 to 50 of them would turn up. That worried headmaster Erfan Ali.
He kept searching for ways to motivate students to attend school and to prevent dropouts. One day he called a meeting with the school board, local dignitaries and parents. He informed them of his plan to start mid-day meal (lunch) at the school so that no student would go hungry.
Everyone agreed to the headmaster's plan. Erfan Ali then got down to work. He went from house to house telling everyone about his initiative and parents assured to support the initiative, each donating a fistful of rice.
Erfan Ali together with the villagers launched midday meal scheme at the school. It cost them Tk 30,000 to 33,000 a month. However, it was not always possible generate such funds every month in an area so remote like that.
Erfan thought of arranging for some permanent income. To keep the initiative going, the president of the school’s managing committee back then, Nurul Islam, gave the school one bigha of his land along with a six-bigha pond for temporary use.
Teachers and students together began rearing ducks in the pond and growing papayas and other vegetables on two bighas of land. The money that came from there would go the midday meal fund. Alongside that, they took up different social service related initiatives as well.
Since launching the midday meal programme, average student attendance rose up to 95 per cent. In fact, Prothom Alo published a report on this under the heading ‘Shobai Mile Midday Meal’ on 7 November 2015 also.
When the report was noticed by the then primary and mass education minister Mostafizur Rahman, he came to see the midday meal activities himself on 19 November of that year.
Following the visit, the minister donated Tk 200,000 to the school from his private funds. He also gave them assurance about quick construction of the school building.
In 2016, the mid-day meal model of this school was discussed in a coordination meeting of the Directorate of Primary Education. Later, all the primary schools in the country were sent a letter from the directorate instructing them to follow the midday meal scheme of Charbhita Government Primary School.
Teachers of the school said that the school started transforming since that incident. Slides, seesaws and such equipment were installed on the school grounds along with a park. Various educational materials were supplied in the classrooms.
Multimedia classrooms were introduced. A computer lab was opened. Computer studies are compulsory here from the third standard onwards. The school has their own solar power system as well.
A teacher of the school Rehana Khatun said, “For students who are lagging behind, we take extra classes in the evening, using solar lights.”
A day at the school
The school is located on about two acres of land. While visiting the school recently, students were found rushing to their classrooms as soon as the bell rang.
On his way to the classroom a student of Class Four, Abu Saleh, said, “Our school is very different from all other schools. The classrooms are well equipped and organised. We have a mini park equipped with games. I feel happy the moment I enter the school.”
Another student Minarul Haque said, “I had never touched a computer before. I learnt to use a computer at school.”
An information board has been placed on the wall of the school office. The board states the current number of students attending the school is 275. There are five teachers and two teachers part-time. The school has six standards including the pre-primary.
Haripur upazila’s Bakua union parishad chairman Abu Taher said there was almost no infrastructure in the school back in 2013 when it was nationalised.
Classes would be held in dilapidated sheds. Student attendance was disappointing as well. Within just a few years, that same school is now the best school in country. This was possible for coordinated efforts from all, he added.
Headmaster of the school Erfan Ali said he performs his duties with utmost care. In his words, “I have taken my job as passion while local dignitaries have supported my cause. With their help we have been able to transform a small-town primary school into the best in country.”
He said that a unified effort from local dignitaries, parents, teachers and students worked its magic behind the recognition of country’s best.
Remarking that Charbhita Primary School is an inspiration for other schools, acting education officer of Haripur upazila MA Zahib Ibn Sultan told Prothom Alo that there’s a plan to establish two schools in every cluster of the upazila following the model of that school.
When asked what the procedure of selecting the best school was, this education officer said the government evaluates a school in 15 categories including computer education, gardens, discipline, education materials and their proper application, student attendance, academic results, use of sanitary latrines and extracurricular activities.
Charbhita Government Primary School has passed almost all the steps of being selected as the best school. This evaluation is done secretly from different district and upazila-level offices.
In this way, Charbhita Government Primary School got nominated as the best school first in the district, then division and finally on the national level. Primary and Mass Education ministry does the selection of best schools.
District primary education officer Khandaker Munsur Rahman said, this school is the proof that a school from the remotest area, which was nationalised only a few years ago, can also become the best in country.