It is good news that adult literacy rate in the country rose to a 12-year high of 72.3 percent in 2016. Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) prepared the report titled “Sample Vital Registration System (SVRS)” in which it said in 2004 the rate was 51.6 percent. And from 2004 to 2015, the average yearly increase in the literacy rate among people aged above 15 was between 0.2 and 3.3 percentage points. But from 2015 to 2016, this rate rose by 7.7 percentage points, which shows a significant increase.
However, there is confusion regarding how we should define literacy. The BBS, in its report, defined that if a person can write a simple letter, she/he will be considered literate. This clearly contradicts with the definition given by the UNESCO which declares that literacy incorporates three things -- reading, writing and doing simple arithmetic. This is also a globally accepted definition of literacy. Then why have these guidelines of UNESCO not been followed in preparing this report?
There is no doubt that Bangladesh has made significant progress in terms of adult literacy, which could only be possible due to the various initiatives taken by government and non-government organisations. But as the report mentions, women lagged behind men in terms of attaining literacy and the rural-urban gap was also big. So now the challenge for the government would be to reduce these gaps by widening the reach of education programmes for adults, more specifically for women, in rural areas. In addition, the government must ensure the quality of these programmes, which should be aimed at providing skills that will be in tune with universal standards of literacy, create employment opportunities and improve living standards.