THE Awami League, which has been presiding over the government for two consecutive tenures since 2009, in its manifesto before the 2008 national elections promised to eradicate illiteracy by 2014. But it has failed, worryingly, to keep the promise even four years after the deadline it envisaged as the Bangladesh Sample Vital Statistics 2017, which the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics released in June 2018, puts the combined adult literacy rate among the population of 15 years of age and more at 72.9 per cent — 75.7 per cent for male and 70.1 per cent for female — which many seek to doubt to have been inflated. The literacy rate for the population of the same age group stood, according to the BBS Literacy Assessment Survey 2008, at 48.8 per cent in 2008. The National Education Policy 2010 and the Sixth Five-Year Plan also set the 2014 deadline for the eradication of illiteracy. Such a percentage of literacy rate set against the total population of 16.27, as the 2017 Sample Vital Statistics report puts as of July 1, 2017, suggests that more than a quarter of the people of the country are still illiterate. While literacy is a right, being implicit in the right to education, it entails some other benefits, which are of prime importance, for all.
Literacy contributes to economic growth, reduces poverty, cuts down on crime, promotes democracy, increases civic engagement, enhances cultural diversity, leads to lower birth rate and, through information provision and prevents prevalence of diseases, thus helping the government to ensure an improved public health. Such an important issue, which the government has rightly talked about in its policy papers, has so far been neglected as experts seek to say that the government has largely not been serious about the target it set, which renders it to be nothing more than political rhetoric. A ranking official of the Bureau of Non-Formal Education says, as New Age reported on Saturday, that the Awami League, which made the promise before the 2008 elections has not taken any serious step in this regard. Education officials and campaigners also blame poor planning, irregularities and corruption in the projects taken up to increase the literacy rate. The Awami League-led government is reported, on assuming office in 2009, to have designed a Tk 30 billion project, but it failed to impress on donors. The last project to address illiteracy began in 1996 but it was mired in widespread allegations of corruption and irregularities, which stopped donors from supporting further such initiatives. Bureau of Non-Formal Education officials said that the government spent an estimated Tk 25 billion on illiteracy eradication and skills development initiatives between 1991 and 2012, but they could create little impact.
All this leaves the government with shoring up a number of issues — designing effective projects, stemming corruption and irregularities and executing the projects with utmost sincerity. Above all else, the government must also make literacy sustainable by creating scopes for people to remain engaged in at least basic literacy activities once they cross the bounds of illiteracy; everything will fall flat, otherwise.