High priority, grim reality | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, September 08, 2010 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, September 08, 2010

High priority, grim reality

Half the nation remains illiterate for poor planning, allocation, project-oriented approach; govt still eyes total literacy by 2014


Inadequate budgetary allocations for education, poor planning and irregularities have left almost half the country's population illiterate although governments in the last 39 years talked about giving utmost priority to the sector.
As the country observes International Literacy Day today, around 3.73 crore people between 11 and 45 years old are illiterate in Bangladesh, says non-formal education mapping report 2009.
The country marks this year's literacy day through events on the theme "Literacy and women's empowerment".
When Bangladesh became independent in 1971, the literacy rate was abysmal, 16.8 percent. Ever since, successive governments have allocated the highest budget to this sector but failed to bring any significant results.
As of 2009, the country's literacy rate has come up to 53 percent, says a Ministry of Primary and Mass Education report.
Against this backdrop, the government is launching two mega projects Basic Literacy and Continuing Education (BLCE) project-1 and 2 at a cost of around Tk 3,000 crore to fulfil its election pledge of eradicating illiteracy. The Bureau of Non-Formal Education (BNFE) under the primary and mass education ministry will implement the projects.
BNFE sources said the projects aim at providing basic and life-skills based education to the people who never enrolled in or dropped out from primary schools.
The BLCE-1 would be implemented in 61 districts with Tk 2,912 crore while the BLCE-2 in three hilly districts at a cost of Tk 50 crore.
Educationists, however, are quite sceptical about achieving the target by 2014 through these projects. They cited the example of failure of a previous similar project Total Literacy Movement (TLM).
The TLM was introduced in 1996 by the then Awami League government, but the BNP government cancelled in 2003 bringing allegations of irregularities and mismanagement.
State Minister for primary and mass education Motahar Hossain, however, said TLM was a success as it had pushed up literacy rate to 63 in 2002. As the BNP government had shut it down, the literacy rate fell.
He yesterday said, "Lack of budgetary allocations and longstanding shortcomings in the education system are responsible for the low rate of literacy."
The sector has been receiving budgetary allocation of around 2.5 percent of the GDP whereas Nepal allocates around 16 percent in this sector, he said, adding that with this allocation it is tough to implement literacy programmes properly.
Despite such scepticism, the government believes that the two projects would be able to eradicate illiteracy if all the stakeholders cooperated.
Officials concerned said the projects would be implemented in three phases through some selected non-government organisations while the deputy district commissioners would monitor those.
Around 1.16 crore people between 15 to 25 years will be given basic literacy course while 1.45 lakh technical education, said the officials.
Rezaul Quader, director general of BNFE, said the projects would start from January next and the field level activities would begin from June 2011.
"The projects are now awaiting approval of the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council," he said, adding that the government would primarily fund the projects although it is looking for donors.
Rasheda K Choudhury, former education adviser to a caretaker government, said all the plans to improve literacy rate were not taken considering the socio-economic reality and whatever plans have been adopted only broadened the discrimination in the education system.
"The issue of literacy will have to be taken up as part of the mainstream education as it is not possible to remove the problem with project-based approach," said Rasheda, also the executive director of Campaign for Popular Education (CAMPE).
She observed that the government's activities regarding literacy became project based--which implies that the drive ends when the project life expires.
"The government needs to chalk out a long-term programme and implement it phase by phase," she said, adding that whatever steps the government takes have to be made public.
She said the central government would frame policy guideline, finance and monitor the programme but the local government bodies should deal with literacy.

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