It is disheartening to know that the government's literacy campaign targeting people aged 15 and above has been consistently failing to deliver results, despite several deadline extensions. According to a report by The Daily Star published on World Literacy Day, the government project in this regard has failed to meet its target for the third consecutive year. More than 21 lakh people in the target age group are still functionally illiterate, although the project was supposed to provide literacy skills to 45 lakh people in 64 districts by June 2018. Three deadlines had to be renewed to bridge the gap, and there is still no guarantee that it can be done in time. The excuse given by the officials—coronavirus-induced shocks—is totally unconvincing as the pandemic is a recent phenomenon that doesn't account for all the poor planning and lack of efficiency bedevilling this project since its undertaking in 2014.
The importance of adult literacy cannot be overestimated. Before coming to power in 2008, the ruling Awami League recognised this by pledging, in its election manifesto, to achieve 100 percent literacy in the country by 2014. The literacy rate then was 48.8 percent among those aged 15 and above. Twelve years later, that rate stands at only 74.7 percent. The gap between the target set and the reality can be explained by a lack of strong commitment at the policy level. This is reflected in the way formal, degree-based education is still promoted as the panacea for all our socioeconomic problems including poverty, disregarding other means of education including vocational training and adult literacy programmes. Adult literacy projects undertaken by previous governments were also marred by the same lack of vision as well as allegations of irregularities, corruption and poor planning. The consequences of this could be profound, experts say, as adults with poor literacy skills not only suffer economically; they are also more likely to have shorter life expectancy, be socially isolated and lack self-esteem. They are also unable to help their children with schoolwork, thus reinforcing a cycle of illiteracy and intergenerational poverty. A large section of society will remain cut off from the opportunity to lead a healthy life unless the government undertakes targeted, sustained and well-planned interventions to eradicate adult illiteracy.
There is no denying the impact of coronavirus on all existing projects and their future. We may have to face its repercussions for at least several years. The adult illiteracy campaign is no exception. However, there can be no excuse for lack of vision, inefficiencies and consistent failures, especially given their far-reaching effects on the wider society. Those at the government's literacy project must understand this.