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14 September, 2018 00:00 00 AM
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Actual Literacy

By Bipul K Debnath
Actual Literacy

Kulo Rani Das is a maid working in the capital’s Gopibagh area. The 47-year-old woman knows how to write her name, but she cannot write a complete sentence. She even faces difficulty in reading anything written. “I was born in a poor family at Joydeb village (in Sadullahpur upazila of Gaibandha district). So, I did not have the opportunity to get a formal education. After getting married, my husband and I went to a non-formal education centre and learned Bangla and English alphabets and some basic mathematical calculations. But we could not continue going there. Gradually, we forgot the lessons we were taught. I can now write my name only, which is helping me for various purposes.”

The adult literacy rate in Bangladesh is officially 72.9 percent now. It means most people in this country of 166 million should be able to write a personal letter and express their own views in writing. But when we meet people in general, like migrant workers who come to the city to provide different services, we find many of them cannot even write their own name.

Gopal Chandra Das, Kulo Rani’s husband, is a hawker. The 56-year-old has to use his thumbprint whenever his signature is required for any kind of registration. “Though I took part in an adult literacy programme, I have forgotten everything. Now, I cannot read or write. I take help from others to understand written papers. I can do basic calculation in my head,” Das said.

The couple has three sons and one daughter. They have completed their primary schooling, but they did not go for any further education. “Like many other people in our village, we think that paying a huge amount of money for institutional education is a fruitless investment and waste of time. So, it is enough to get a basic education,” explained Kulo Rani Das.

“It is a common practice in our society that girls wait for getting married. On the other hand, boys engage in different work, like catching fish in the haor (wetland), growing rice in paddy fields, making handicrafts for selling, and other odd jobs to add to the family income,” she added.

Regarding this type of mindset of the people, Khairul Islam, an education officer at Pirganj upazila in Rangpur district, told this correspondent over the phone: “I was posted at Sadullahpur upazila for three years when I visited many villages and encouraged people to get an education. They have realised the importance of education. Now, the attitude of parents in the area to send their children to school is changing. But still, there are some people who have an outdated outlook and prefer their children to earn money rather than going to school.”

Habib Miah is a driver’s assistant on a truck that carries goods from Rajshahi to Dhaka. Miah now wants to be a driver. For that, he needs to pass a written driving test. “My ustad (boss) has taught me how to drive the truck and other heavy vehicles. So, now I am trying to get a proper driving licence. But I cannot do so because I don’t have any educational qualification.”

Miah went to primary school, but he did not get a chance to continue his education further. The 32-year-old said he now faces difficulty in reading simple sentences even in Bangla. “It has been a long time since I attended primary school. I left school in class four. Now, I can write my name only,” Miah said. “This shortcoming hampers my life in many ways. It there is any option to go back to school and get a certificate for passing class eight at least, I will definitely do that,” he added.

Didar Hossain, 20, is a house painter who paints walls and ceilings of buildings in the capital. “I have come to the city from Bhola, and I never attended school. As I was growing up, I learned about painting work from my uncle. Though I do not have a formal education, I am earning 25,000 to 30,000 taka per month,” he said.  With some sort of professional certification, skilled workers like Hossain could get better jobs or even open their own businesses.   

The Bureau of Non-Formal Education (BNFE) was established in 2005 under the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education (MOPME). The bureau is working throughout the country to increase literacy at the national level by providing education to adults and out-of-school children.

About its mandate, Tapan Kumar Ghosh, director general of BNFE, said: “We can teach people, but we cannot give them certificates. So, those who are coming to us to get a basic education are not getting any certification right now. To remedy this, we have sent a proposal to the ministry (MOPME) to establish a separate board for non-formal education, so the learners can get certificates and use them for further education or professional purpose.”

According to Bangladesh Literacy Survey 2010 of Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), the literacy rate among people (aged 7 and above) who can write a letter for communication is 54.19 percent in rural areas and 68.4 percent in urban areas. So, there is a 14.21 percent gap between rural and urban literacy rates. The highest literacy rate, 82.17 percent, is among the 15 to 19 age group, the survey says.   

Quazi Faruque Ahmed, a professor and member of National Education Policy 2010 Implementation Committee, told The Weekend Independent: “We have to come out of the traditional literacy concept. There are many ways to become literate with the advancement of technology. Now, people can learn numbers and alphabets by using their mobile phone. So, the time has come to link up literacy with skill development. Our teachers should welcome the new techniques and update the old pedagogic methods. Besides, talented professionals should be recruited to teach in primary schools.”

“Campaign for literacy should be taken as a social movement. Most professional organisations are working in their own interest. But if they think of development at the grassroots level, then that would be better,” the educationist suggested. “We can see that most of our working-class people remain illiterate. So, the first duty of labour organisations should be to educate their members. And in reality, women lag behind men in terms of attaining literacy, and there is a huge gap between rural and urban literacy rates, which should be minimised.”

“We see some spontaneous initiatives to provide education for urban working children, street children and slum inhabitants. We do not consider the importance of adult literacy. There is a common thinking in our country that learning after the age of 40 is meaningless,” Ahmed added.

Istiak Ali, 40, is a rickshaw-puller who works around Motijheel commercial area in the capital. “I was born in a remote village in Thakurgaon district. Like many other people of my locality, I did not go to school. I did not even attend any mass education programme. But my only son, who is a student of class nine, has taught me how to write my name and make simple sentences. Though I could not go to school, I want my son to become well educated,” Ali said.

Free and compulsory primary education for children aged 6 to 10 years was introduced under the Compulsory Primary Education Act-1990. Nearly three decades later, many young adults and children still cannot read or write adequately, even if they did get a chance to attend primary school for a few years. Most of them are unable to retain what they learned in school, as the lessons did not go into much depth, and sometimes, they were even taught the wrong things by poorly qualified teachers, experts say.

Bangladesh needs to think deeply about the quality of education now being imparted in schools and bring it up to international standards, so our young generation can compete fairly in the globalised job market. It is necessary to think more about the ever-growing digital world and offer them appropriate literacy and technical skills. In fact, the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education observed World Literacy Day on September 8 this year with the theme, ‘literacy and skills development’.

Mostafizur Rahman, minister for primary and mass education, said: “Bangladesh has made significant progress in terms of adult literacy. According to key findings of BBS in a 2017 report, the adult literacy rate is now 72.9 percent for people aged 15 and above in our country. So, 27.10 percent of the people are still illiterate. Now, the challenge is to educate these people. We started a programme named Basic Literacy Project (BLP) in 2015 in 250 upazilas of 64 districts to teach 45 lakh (4.5 million) people. Through this project, learners will be provided post-literacy and skills development training, as well as family planning services, from the grassroots to national levels. The BNFE is working on this five-year project.”

“Through this BLP programme, we are providing skill-based education so that people can read, write, do basic mathematics and become self-reliant. That will create employment opportunities and improve living standards. We are also offering stipends to bring all children to school,” the minister added.

Ghosh, the Bureau of Non-Formal Education DG, added: “Besides BLP, we have another project named Second Chance Education (SCE) for out-of-school children, aged 8 to 14 years, through which we will provide education to one lakh (100,000) children. We will start the second phase of this project on July 1, 2019, for another nine lakh (900,000) children.”

Now, there is some confusion regarding how one should define literacy. A person who is literate is capable of reading, writing and calculating, and has the ability to sign his or her name in the mother tongue. But the definition has gone through many updates over the years. The Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) in its reports defines a person who can write a simple letter as literate. But according to UNESCO (United Nation Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation), literacy incorporates three things: reading, writing and doing simple arithmetic. That is also an internationally accepted definition of literacy.

But what is the importance of literacy? According to UNESCO, literacy empowers people, enables them to participate fully in society and contributes to improving livelihoods. It is also a driver for sustainable development as it enables greater participation in the labour market; improved child and family health and nutrition; reduces poverty and expands life opportunities. 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.

When it comes to ensuring education for all, there are different types of challenges that we need to work on, but those must be tackled in a planned way. In fact, by 2030, it is possible for both men and women in our country to achieve actual literacy, experts believe. n

Photos: File, Internet.

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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