An increasing literacy rate is one of the successes the ruling Awami League government likes to trumpet. They claim that the country’s literacy rate was 51 per cent when they took over in 2009 and now that has jumped to 74 per cent. But what they fail to mention that the government is lagging far behind in fulfilling its electoral pledges.
In their election manifesto before the 2009 polls, Awami League pledged to root out illiteracy from the country by 2014. Today is 10 September 2019. They have been in power for 10 consecutive years. Why has the pledge not been implemented all these years?
According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, the present literacy rate stands at 73.9 per cent. That means, more than a quarter of the people in the country are still steeped in illiteracy. However, research carried out by non-government organisations show that the actual literacy rate is 57 per cent and it is increasing by just one per cent or even less every year. If this trend continues, it will take another 30 years to make the country free from illiteracy. But Bangladesh is committed to ensuring 100 per cent literacy by 2030 as per the SDGs of the United Nations.
The state minister for primary and mass education has expressed dissatisfaction over the slow increase in literacy rate. But people have the right to know what steps he has taken in the last eight months to address that challenge.
The statistics prove that there is a huge gap between the words and the actions of the government in relation to the education sector. At the same time, the huge difference between the results of the government survey and that of the NGOs cannot be ignored either.
According to BBS, a person is literate when he is able to read and write his name. But according to international definition, literacy is the ability to comprehend while reading, to interpret both orally and different method of writing, to communicate and to count. According to experts, if anyone studies up to fifth grade, he can be considered literate, although a survey of Campaign for Mass Education (CAMPE) shows that many students who have passed the fifth grade cannot meet the minimum qualifications of being literate. Then what is the point of increasing the literacy rate only on paper?
The government does not want to admit the strong link between poverty and illiteracy. The rates of our illiteracy and poverty are very close. Government data shows that 26 per cent of the population are illiterate while 22 per cent people are poor. A man who has to work hard to meet his family’s daily needs, sends his child to work to make some extra money instead of sending him to a school. The government must come forward to ensure education for the children of these poor families.
The previous governments had taken numerous projects to increase the literacy rate and spent billions of taka on this. However, those projects do not seem to have been successful. At the end of 2019, policymakers are now thinking of providing lunch and clothes to keep the children in the classroom.
They have started implementing this project on a pilot basis in some areas and it looks like a good initiative. But to make it a success, local people should also be involved because only government participation is not enough. To make the country free from illiteracy, a realistic, sustainable and integrated initiative is required, as is its proper implementation.