Education and the Urban Poor in Dhaka, Bangladesh


During the 1990s and early 2000s, Bangladesh experienced strong urban economic growth, a reduction in poverty rates, and rapid growth in primary school enrolments. Amongst many factors, these changes are linked to Bangladesh’s growing involvement in the global economy, especially in the form of garment factories, and conscious efforts by its government to increase enrolments through its primary education plans. This paper describes the results from research in the slums of Dhaka. Although nominally richer and geographically closer to urban job markets than those in rural areas, people in the slums of Dhaka have greater difficulty accessing schooling, and have questionable rewards to look forward to at the end of it. The study draws on the theory of rates of return to education, but also looks beyond that to consider the factors that impede households from accessing the financial and other rewards that supposedly accrue from education. In particular, social connections play an important role in getting jobs and realizing other opportunities; and, unsurprisingly, gender plays a decisive role in deciding boys’ and girls’ futures. Although the research uncovered some potential routes through which schooling could reduce poverty, these were not realistically attainable in many cases. The paper considers these results in the light of human and social capital theories and ideas about the reproduction of social class through schooling.


10th UKFIET conference, Oxford, 14-17 September 2009. 12 pp. (powerpoint) and 24 pp. (full paper)

Published 1 January 2009