Ending Illiteracy in Bangladesh: 9 projects done in 30yrs, still one in four illiterate

One in four Bangladeshis is illiterate despite the fact that at least Tk 4,232 crore have been spent by successive governments since 1991 to wipe out illiteracy.

The non-formal education authorities have completed nine projects in this regard over the last three decades. Another scheme, which is now underway, has seen 85 percent progress till June this year.

Officials and education rights activists blame the lack of a comprehensive approach to address the issue, coordination among the project authorities, and poor planning and irregularities in projects for so many people still being illiterate.

Officials said they have completed the projects also with an aim to carry out post-literacy and education training programmes so that the people can have income-generating skills.  

Under the projects, non-formal education was provided to primary school dropouts and also to those children who never went to school.

“Many of the projects lacked proper planning,” said Tariq Ahsan, a professor at the Institute of Education and Research of Dhaka University.

He said that most of the projects were based on theoretical knowledge and the beneficiaries were not educated properly on how to implement their knowledge in practical life.

“As a result, they forget what they have learnt and they can hardly sustain their literacy skills,” Tariq told The Daily Star.

The literacy rate in Bangladesh stood at 35.3 percent in 1991 among the people aged 15 and above.

According to the Bangladesh Sample Vital Statistics-2022 of the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, 76.8 percent of Bangladeshis aged seven and above are literate. The figure is 74.4 percent among those aged 15 and above.

Against this backdrop, the country is observing the International Literacy Day today.

The Bureau of Non-Formal Education (BNFE), formerly known as the directorate of non-formal education, implemented the nine projects spending Tk 2,912 crore, according to BNFE officials, EFA Progress Report of Bangladesh-2012, and Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Division of the planning ministry.

It has also spent another Tk 1,320 crore till June this year for implementing the ongoing project titled Out of School Children Programme as Second Chance Education. The scheme aims to provide non-formal education to 9 lakh children who are either school dropouts or have never attended school.

Rasheda K Choudhury, executive director of Campaign for Popular Education (CAMPE), said the authorities concerned are trying to cut illiteracy only through implementing projects, but they should adopt a holistic approach.

With NGOs implementing most of the projects, questions have arisen over their selection, and several media outlets have run reports on irregularities in the selection process, she added.

Rasheda also criticised lack of monitoring of the projects.

Projects taken up over the years never targeted all the illiterate population, said KM Enamul Hoque, advocacy adviser of Adult Education and Lifelong Learning in the Asia South Pacific.

He said literacy can be attained in two ways — formal education and literacy projects. The country’s focus had always been on formal education, with adult literacy getting less priority, he added.

BNFE Director Nuruzzaman Sharif said many students still remain out of school and primary school dropouts are quite high. And that’s why so many people are still illiterate.

Asked about lack of planning and coordination among the authorities concerned, Nuruzzaman said there might be some deficiencies.

He said that they are devising a five-year programme titled Non-Formal Education Development Programme aiming to cut illiteracy significantly.

Primary and Mass Education Secretary Farid Ahmed claimed that there is no lacking in planning.

“I can’t make any comments about the allegations of corruption and irregularities in the projects without knowing about the matter fully,” he told this correspondent.

The secretary said the government is no more interested in implementing projects through NGOs.

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