Muhammad Ibrahim Sobhan

Ashoka Fellow
Dhaka, Bangladesh
Fellow Since 1989


This profile was prepared when Muhammad Ibrahim Sobhan was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1989.
The New Idea
Ibrahim is using appropriate, economically viable technology as a means of making education attractive to the children of the very poor and to their parents. He hopes this low cost, effective educational alternative will ultimately also prove as attractive to government and become a part of the country's formal system.

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 locally usable technology. For the very young it might be candle- or soap-making or managing a tree nursery. For somewhat older children it might be technical drawing, poultry science, or repair and maintenance of diesel pumps.

As soon as possible, the students start earning. Thus on a typical afternoon small groups of Ibrahim’s engine maintenance students will be out in the fields taking apart and repairing their clients’ diesel irrigation pumps. For products like soap that are more readily sold through the market, Ibrahim has developed brand names and marketing arrangements shared by his growing number of youthful producers.

Having thus engaged his students (and won their parents’ respect for the usefulness of what they are learning), Ibrahim goes on. One skill leads to another, and they all quickly give these young people powerful, tangible reasons to learn to read, write, and calculate. It takes Ibrahim typically three years to produce literate, technically productive graduates. And he is able to do so at very significantly less cost per child than the relatively ineffectual (especially for children like these) official schools.

Having demonstrated the idea, Ibrahim is now working to institutionalize and spread it. For each twenty basic schools (each with roughly fifty students) he is establishing a Rural Technology Centre 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 is building 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.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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