UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) in 1965 declared September 8 as International Literacy Day (ILD). Since 1966 the day has been observed worldwide among its member countries. On the day the international organisation reminds the global community of the importance of literacy in the society. The theme of the day this year is : Literacy and sustainable societies. Literacy is not just about educating; it is a unique and powerful tool to eradicate poverty and a strong means for social and human progress. The focus of literacy lies in acquiring basic education for all, eradicating poverty, reducing infant mortality, simmering down population growth, reaching gender equality and ensuring constant development, peace and democracy. A literate person is one who being realised can read and write at least a short statement relevant to routine life, and capable of analytical understanding of men's condition in the world. To quote the UNESCO Director General - Literacy is much more than an educational policy---it is the ultimate investment in the future and the first step towards all the new forms of literacy required in the twenty-first century. We wish to see a century where every child is able to read and use this skill to gain autonomy. As such for over 40 years the UNESCO has been celebrating ILD by reminding the international community of that literacy is a human right and the foundation of all learning.
Date reveals that in 2011 87 per cent of female youths had basic literacy skills compared to 92 per cent of males. More than half of countries have youth literacy rates ranging 95 per cent to higher. Despite these gains 774 million adults (15 years and older) still cannot read or write, two thirds of them (493 millin) are women. Among youth, 123 millions are illiterate of which 76 millions are females. Even though the size of the global illiterate population is shrinking, the female proportion has remained virtually steady at 63-64 per cent.
According to the UNESCO's Global Monitoring Report on Education for All (2006), South and West Asia have the lowest regional adult literacy rate (54.6 per cent), followed by sub-Saharan African nations (59.5 per cent) and the Arab States (62.7 per cent). Countries with the lowest literacy rates in the world are Burkina Faso (12.8 per cent), Niger (14.4 per cent), Mali(19 per cent). The report shows a clear connection between illiteracy and countries with severe poverty, and between literacy and prejudice against women.
Realising the importance of literacy governments of the world have chalked out various programmes on a greater scale in collaboration with various agencies of the United Nations. These are--- i) Education for all, ii) Millennium Development Goals, iii) UN literacy decade, and iv) UN decade of education for constant development. Although these programmes have become successful, still a good section of country's population is non-literate worldwide and as such, many things remain to do on the part of governments, different agencies, NGOs and individuals for successful implementation of the literacy programmes for sustainable development.
With a surface area of 147598 square kilometres Bangladesh is the eighth most populous country in the world. There is an average of 964.42 people in every square kilometre of land, and in terms of density alone it is in the ninth position. One estimate predicts that population will be nearly 200 million by 2020 with 40 per cent under the age of 15 years of age. The number is likely to be 220 million by 2050. As no development work can be achieved keeping mass people illiterate, as such, Government of Bangladesh has given priority on mass education for making the people of the country as worthy citizens befitting the needs of the century. Accordingly it has achieved appreciable targets of MDGs in expansion of primary and secondary education, reduction in many aspects of women's empowerment and gender disparity, eradication of hunger and environmental sustainability, reduction of maternal, infant and child mortality.
As per the 2012 report on MDGs Bangladesh has made progress towards increasing equitable access in education (Net Enrolment Rate: 98.7 per cent; girls 99.4 per cent, boys: 97.2 per cent), reduction of dropouts, improvement in completion of the cycle, and implementation of a number of quality enhancement measures in primary education. It further reveals that Bangladesh has already achieved gender parity in primary and secondary enrolment. Initiatives have been taken to introduce preschool education to prepare the children for formal schooling. The government is in the process of implementing a comprehensive National Education Policy (2010) to achieve its objectives. The policy provides Bangladesh's intention to ensure all citizens with a quality education. The policy also aims to reduce regional and gender based disparities in education and has a section on women's education. Bangladesh, like all other modern countries, wants to educate all women to unleash their potential so that they can become confident citizens contributing to social and economic development. The Constitution of Bangladesh has provision for free and compulsory primary education too. The challenges under MDGs included attaining the targets of primary education completion rate and the adult literacy rate. A large part of the physically and mentally retarded children remains out of the schooling system.
Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) survey report reveals that the literacy rate of the population aged above 15 reached 59.82 per cent and the literacy of women is 55.71 per cent. According to the BBS the literacy rate has been increased substantially (11.75 per cent) and this has been possible due to government's untiring efforts to implement the plan of literacy programme. The government's project for launching Fundamental Literacy Project in as much as 64 districts will help provide fundamental literacy knowledge to 4.5 million illiterate people of ages 15 to 45.
The government has taken various efforts so that our literacy programme becomes reality oriented. We must need skilled manpower to boost up our economy. Our labour force needs training so that they can earn and send double amount of remittance to our country. One report shows that there is already a new record of inward remittance in the recently ended financial year July 2014 to june 2015. The news is a matter of pride and pleasure for all of us. Not only in remittance but also in various other sectors we can maximise our growth trend by imparting training to our manpower. Creating skilled manpower through training is also related to literacy programme for improvement of quality of life. With this end in view the government has given priority on expanding Information and Communication Technology (ICT) among all sectors of the country.
We have already earned appreciable targets in GDP. We need further growth in GDP and GNP and we also wish our GDH (Gross Domestic Happiness) flourish further. This is possible through such learing that it can ensure morality for sustainable development. We are fortunate, as we believe that we have the opportunity to acquire education to eradicate poverty from the society and build a strong mechanism for our social and human progress which is the basic requirement of GDH. We must acquire education that can help us avoid all odds and accept the best for the welfare of the people. We must hate drug and help others lead a healthy life. Facts reveal that around 210 million people or 4.8 per cent of population aged 15-64 took illicit substances at least once in 2010. The government has become signatory of various international treaties to combat drug and taken a lot of measures to address the drug related problems for the health and welfare of the people.
Nothing to deny that obstacles are there on the way to eradicate illiteracy. We have obstacles concerning enrolment in primary education. These include poverty, gender, environmental factors, school distance, parent's attitude etc. Some parts of the country like haor and char areas are lagging behind the national rate. Many areas remain under water during flood and the rainy season. Environmental factors and natural calamities act as obstacles for some parts of the country. Nevertheless, obstacles cannot and should not stand on our journey towards mass education. Various NGOs, social workers and philanthropic institutions, and individuals are working with the government to address the problems. We have to work hard for further progress. The role of family is also vital.
ILD is an opportunity for us to work with fresh vow with the international community. We wish our literacy programme be successful with the united efforts of all for sustainable development.
M A Jabbar, Executive Secretary of ADHUNIK, national anti-tobacco organisation of Bangladesh, writes on health and environment issues