Located between India and Myanmar, Bangladesh became a nation in 1971 after a bloody war of independence that separated it from Pakistan. The fledgling country has seen its share of natural disasters and famines, as well as political turmoil and military coups, but since 1991, when a system of parliamentary democracy was established, it has experienced relative stability and economic progress. Home to 140 million residents, Bangladesh is the most densely-populated country in the world and also one of its poorest and least developed. Although per capita GDP has more than doubled since 1975, the country remains 147th out of 179 countries on the Human Development Index.

Poverty in Bangladesh is in decline, having fallen 20 percent since 1990. Most of this economic growth has been fueled by industrialization in Dhaka and other urban centers, where foreign investors can capitalize on the country’s large, hardworking labor pool and low wages.

Population 158 million
Land area 147,570 Km2
National language of instruction Bengali
Launch of operations 2008
Room to Read office Dhaka
Regions where we work Brahmanbaria,
Sirajganj, Natore, Dhaka

Educational Landscape

The Government of Bangladesh has made primary education a high priority since passing the Primary Education Compulsory Act in 1990, which made education through 5th grade mandatory and free for all students. Nonetheless, Bangladesh still faces many educational challenges.

It has one of the largest primary education systems in the world, with an estimated 18 million primary school aged children (ages 6 to 10 years). Because of this, the student to teacher ratio in government primary school is 59:1, which is challenging for students and teachers alike, and school hours are limited to four hours per day. Access to resources can also be a problem, with no formal library system in the country’s schools.

As a result of these and other factors, school completion rates and academic achievement in Bangladesh remain low, with 56% of all students dropping out before secondary school.

As in many other developing countries, educational access is particularly poor in rural areas, where schools are few and far between and children are expected to work to contribute to family income. This divide is reflected in the stark contrast between literacy rates in rural and urban areas—a nearly 30% difference.

For girls in Bangladesh, the barriers to education are even greater than those of their male peers, with cultural norms and early marriage often preventing young women from fulfilling their academic potential.

Programs and Results

Room to Read Bangladesh was officially established in 2008, and program operations launched one year later. 

Initially, our operations in Bangladesh included School Libraries, Girls’ Education and Book Publishing in the Bengali language. In 2011 our team also introduced Reading & Writing Instruction and School Construction. Our key NGO partners in the country include SHARP and EC Bangladesh.

Cumulative results
Libraries established 545
Book titles published 60
School construction projects 56
Girls' Education participants 1,439

Results updated annually

Meet our local staff:
Zaki Hasan, Country Director

Zaki Hasan was Room to Read’s founding country director in Bangladesh, and says he was initially drawn to the organization for our commitment to building local capacity. His career in international development has focused almost exclusively on education, including work with Save the Children, ActionAid and Helen Keller International.

Having been a part of the Room to Read family for several years, Zaki’s favorite part of his job is the opportunity it provides to innovate and interact with education experts from around the world. When he’s not wearing his country director hat, Zaki can usually be found spending time with his two children or writing articles about various social issues.

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