The literacy rate in Bangladesh has remained almost the same – around 75% – during the past few years and the country needs to provide education to one-quarter of its population in the next eight years to achieve 100% literacy rate, one of the most vital Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The immensity of the required task can be delineated by citing the fact that the country has managed to increase literacy rate by only 16% in the past 12 years. As a result, 4.2 crore people are still illiterate in the country, according to the Primary and Mass Education Ministry.
In its 2008 election manifesto, the ruling Awami League pledged to achieve 100% literacy by 2014. The target was echoed in the National Education Policy 2010 and the government's Sixth Five-Year Plan, but educationists think that the government measures in this regard are inadequate.
According to ministry data, the literacy rate was 74.70% in 2019. Then it increased to 75.6% in 2020 and remained the same for the next year. However, it has dropped to 74.66% this year, according to the Population and Housing Census 2022.
The literacy rate in the urban areas is 81.28% and in rural areas it is 71.56%.
The rate is higher among the males – 76.56%, while among the female population it is 72.82%.
Dhaka division has the highest literacy rate – 78.09% and Mymensingh has the lowest – 67.09%.
Professor Emeritus of Brac University Dr Manzoor Ahmed told The Business Standard that literacy is a fundamental issue and it is related to the SDGs, but the government does not put emphasis on it.
"The government has achieved almost 100% enrollment at primary level. However, we do not see any effective government measure to achieve 100% literacy for people of all ages. I would urge the government to identify the illiterate population and provide them education," he said.
KM Enamul Haque, deputy director of Campaign for Popular Education (CAMPE), told TBS that literacy can be attained by formal education and adult literacy programmes, but the country depends mainly on formal education.
As a result, literacy rate is increasing with the increase in school enrolment and reduction in dropout rates. But the lack of adult literacy programmes remain missing.
Under these circumstances, the Primary and Mass Education Ministry is going to celebrate the International Literacy Day 2022 today with the theme: Transforming Literacy Learning Spaces.
The Bangladesh Non-Formal Education Bureau will organise a discussion programme in the capital on this occasion.
Globally, at least 773 million youth and adults still cannot read and write and 250 million children are failing to acquire basic literacy skills. This results in an exclusion of low-literate and low-skilled youth and adults from full participation in their communities and societies, according to Unesco.
Unesco recommends building strong foundations through early childhood care and education, providing quality basic education for all children, scaling-up functional literacy levels for youth and adults who lack basic literacy skills, and developing literate environments.
Literacy is most commonly defined as the ability to read and write. But according to Unesco, beyond its conventional concept as a set of reading, writing and counting skills, literacy is now understood as a means of identification, understanding, interpretation, creation, and communication in an increasingly digital, text-mediated, information-rich and fast-changing world.
Literacy is also a driver for sustainable development in that it enables greater participation in the labour market; improved child and family health and nutrition; reduces poverty and expands life opportunities, it says.
Government measures for increasing literacy
The government is working hard to achieve 100% literacy by 2030, said Md Aminul Islam Khan, senior secretary of Primary and Mass Education Ministry, at a press conference at the Secretariat yesterday.
In the press conference, Md Zakir Hossain, state minister for Primary and Mass Education Ministry, said they provided education to 44.60 lakh in the last two years through the Bangladesh Non-Formal Education Bureau's programmes.
"We are also working to provide education to the children – who have not been going to schools – under the Primary Education Development Programme-4," said Md Zakir Hossain.
"We will empower the Bangladesh Non-Formal Education Bureau so that they can work independently. We will also train the illiterate people across the country to develop them as skilled manpower," the state minister said.
Md Nuruzzaman Sharif, acting director general of Bangladesh Non-Formal Education Bureau, said the organisation is running a project which will end in June next year. It is currently dependent on NGOs for running its programmes, but soon it will handle everything with its own manpower.
"We will appoint at least three persons at each upazila with a view to increasing literacy rate. We also put emphasis on achieving the SDG," he added.