In Memory of Mohammad Ibrahim Sobham

The global community of Ashoka deeply mourns the loss of fellow Ibrahim Sobham. His visionary concept of “putting young people in charge” became a model in later years for the Youth Venture idea and Ashoka’s work transforming the youth years.

Ibrahim, the first Ashoka fellow elected from Bangladesh in 1987, founded the “Association for School Based Education” (ASBE) whose mission is to improve rural primary education for Bangladeshi children attending government, non government and community schools.   He used appropriate, economically viable technology as a means of making education attractive to the children of the poor and their parents.  As soon as children arrived at his day schools they are engaged in mastering a locally usable skill or technology. For younger children that may be candle making or soap making or planting trees; for older children that might be technical drawing, poultry science, or repair and maintenance of diesel pumps.  His schools, which are all day schools, are designed for and accept only the children of the countryside’s very poor. As soon as they arrive it engages them in mastering a a locally usable skill or technology.  

Having thus engaged his students (and won their parents’ respect for the usefulness of what they are learning), Ibrahim went on to other skills. One skill leads to another, and they all quickly give these young people powerful, tangible reasons to learn to read, write, and calculate.  It took Ibrahim typically three years to produce literate, technically productive graduates at significantly less cost per child than the more ineffective official schools. 

Ibrahim created a model that was institutionalized and spread.  For each twenty basic schools (each with roughly fifty students) he  established a Rural Technology Center to deal with older children, to provide training in more complex technologies, and to provide continuing backup and support to the basic schools. At the Center he built a small group to manage the system, to handle cross-cutting functions such as product marketing, and to develop promising new appropriate, practical technologies the schools can use.

Sobhan observed that the Bangladeshi educational system placed the primary burdens of education (homework and tutors) on families who had neither the time nor the money properly to invest in their children’s education. His work eliminated this problem by scrapping homework, cutting the number of classes in half, and lengthening class time from thirty to sixty minutes. This ensured that students received new lessons and evaluation while at school, rather than at home.  Impressively, he introduced a program in which young girls taught their mothers to read and he assigned advanced learners in groups that he created to teach their peers who might be struggling.

Since the ASBE’s founding in 1978, enrollment at its schools rose by 45%, outpacing the national rate of 6%. Based on Sobhan’s success, in the mid-1990s, the government advised that the program be implemented nationally.  In 1995, ASBE expanded internationally to Brazil.

"Ibrahim’s extraordinarily creative and successful way of putting young people in charge from first grade onward in many different ways led to a 44-percent increase in enrollments and a halving of the dropout rate in rural Bangladeshi schools." said Ashoka Founder and CEO Bill Drayton.

Ibrahim was a physicist whose interest in and flare for popularizing science and technology goes back to his school days when he founded Bijnan Shamuyki, still the country’s leading popular science magazine. Later he also played a role in launching and leading Bangladesh’s science club movement.   

We offer our condolences to Ibrahim’s family, friends and community in Bangladesh.