Bangladesh: Pandemic crumbles adult education, literacy rate likely to slow down

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Although all non-formal education activities were implemented smoothly last year, the country’s literacy rate grew by only 0.8% than the previous year. Report Dhaka Tribune

This year, the non-formal education sector faced a massive blow as the entire structure collapsed due to the Covid-19 outbreak. Like general schools, all adult learning centers in the country remain shut.

Experts said the country’s rising trend in literacy rate was likely to witness a slow down as pandemic halted all its activities.

In such a situation, Bangladesh is set to observe International Literacy Day on Tuesday like all other countries in the world with this year’s theme “Literacy teaching and learning in the Covid-19 crisis and beyond, especially on the role of educators and changing pedagogies.”

According to Unesco Concept Note 2020, “Adult literacy and education were absent in initial education response plans, and numerous adult literacy programs in many countries that did exist in the pre-Covid-19 crisis era have been suspended. This means that many youth and adults with no or low literacy skills, who tend to face multiple disadvantages, have had limited access to life-saving information and remote learning opportunities and/or are at higher risk of losing livelihoods.”

According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) literacy report 2020, the literacy rate stood at 74.70% in last year, which was 73.91% in 2018.

On Sunday, the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education unveiled its latest data through a press conference.

State Minister of Primary and Mass Education Zakir Hossain said although the literacy rate had been increasing, Covid-19 has now interrupted educational activities and disrupted non-formal education.

He further said: “Literacy rate was only 53.5 in 2005 during the BNP-Jamaat government. Many initiatives by the present government made it possible to increase this rate.

“We have already enrolled 2.3 million adults in 134 sub-districts and the process to enroll 2.1 million in 116 sub-districts for this year is underway in order to literize them under the basic literacy program, but the initiatives have been interrupted due to Covid-19.

“But, we are considering many alternatives on how to meet the gap caused by Covid-19,” he added.

How did Covid-19 affect adult education?

According to Unesco, literacy is the ability to understand what one reads and writes in their first language and the ability to keep day-to-day accounts related to household income and expenditure.

As per the indicators, the government implemented several programs to educate five million adults through more than 100,000 learning centers across the country.

The basic literacy program under the non-formal education bureau is one of the programs, targeting to educate 4.5 million adults, aged between 15 to 45, across the country by Mujib Year 2020.

The same bureau has also implemented another program to educate one million former students, aged between 8-14, those who dropped out of school due to poverty, child labor, and geographical barriers.

Apart from these two, more programs are being implemented for adult literacy since 2010. Some local NGOs have also been working for mass literacy for more than 20 years.

The objectives of these initiatives are not only limited to educating the people, but also include building the capacity of participants to generate income, increase social dignity, and support their livelihoods.

However, all these activities remain suspended due to Covid-19 this year.

“It is generally difficult to educate the adult people in Bangladesh due to their social and economic condition. It will be more difficult during the Covid-19 or after the pandemic as people’s main priority is to survive,” Professor Dr Syed Manzoorul Islam, a literary critic, and writer, told DT.

“The programs should be revised with monetary support for the adult students to get a sustainable outcome,” he added.

Zahra Haque, assistant director (training) of the Non-Formal Education Bureau, said: “The main challenge is to keep all members of each learning center organized as Covid-19 has disrupted the process.

“However, the officials involved in the programs are trying to keep up communication with the adult members of learning centers through using different media,” he told the DT.


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