Illiteracy-free Digital Bangladesh!
A nation can achieve balanced growth and development if its government has the commitment and makes the effort to meet at least the basic needs of the people, which are food, shelter, clothing, healthcare and education. Non-availability or shortage of any one of the needs has an adverse impact on the others, and that results in imbalanced growth. Among the basic needs, education is extremely important.
Literacy is the first stage in the process of education and acquiring knowledge. Unfortunately, even in the digital era, and when the government has already started working for Digital Bangladesh, literacy is still misunderstood by many as the ability to sign one's name. Literarily, literacy means the ability to read and write. But during the past two decades, the dimension of literacy has become wider. According to Unesco, literacy is the ability to understand what one reads and writes in one's mother tongue and the ability to keep day-to-day accounts related to household income and expenditure. Therefore, all basic human needs can be secured through literacy and development of education and knowledge.
Illiteracy is the main problem of human society, and is deeply rooted in the vicious circle of other basic problems. Illiteracy deprives human beings of the light of knowledge, keeps them ignorant and unaware of basic human needs and rights, denies access to information and information technology and socio-economic opportunities, and does not provide the scope for being equal even in the eyes of the law. Therefore, illiteracy is a great injustice and denial of fundamental human rights. Due to illiteracy, many people were deceived of their paternal properties by putting their thumbprints on false deeds. Therefore, illiteracy is the biggest cause of ignorance, poverty, deprivation and incivility.
The Mass Literacy Program in Bangladesh got momentum as national movement during the early 1980s. But, unfortunately, due to sudden discontinuation of the program because of the change of governments, the attained literacy skills relapsed. The literacy program was dropped by the then military government in 1982. After six years of discontinuation (upto 1987) the government revived the program experimentally under the title Mass Education Program (MEP) in the beginning of 1988, and it was upgraded to a full pledged Directorate of Non-formal Education (DNFE) under the Mass Education Division of the Ministry of Education by the then new democratic government in the early 1990s.
The government also mobilised Unicef, UNDP and the World Bank to be active partners in expanding the MEP alongside non-formal primary education under the General Education Project (GEP) of the Ministry of Education during the first half of the 1990s. The World Bank administered international donations for the program under GEP were discontinued for unknown reasons, although GEP was the only project implemented by selected national leading NGO's that was successful.
During 1996-2001, the then government, which was also headed by the present prime minister, kept DNFE and established a separate building for it at Tejgaon, with financial assistance from Asian Development Bank to operate literacy, post-literacy and continuing programs. Hundreds of NGOs from all over the country worked in the programs in partnership with the government. At that time, the literacy rate was claimed to be 65%.
But the government of 2001-2006 did not keep up with the ongoing programs properly and all programs were dropped. Even the functioning of the directorate itself was stopped. Why? Discontinuation of such human development programs for the poor and unlettered population was a great injustice to the people, forcing them to remain illiterate and dependent.
The present government, for the sake of materialising its commitment for an "Illiteracy-free Digital Bangladesh," should immediately revive the DNPE and continue virtual education alongside computer literacy and basic information technology for the literate populations lacking functional knowledge of English. The educational and technological skills attained by them through these continuous non-formal programs will at least ensure basic human needs for the ill-fated deprived millions, and will also ensure their active participation in the national movement for an illiteracy-free Digital Bangladesh by 2021 -- as envisioned by the present government.