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Literacy: Awareness is the key

A total of five censuses were conducted in 1984, 1981, 1991, 2001 and 2011. The 1974 census defined literacy as the ability to read and write simultaneously in any language
Sabuj Bhattacharjee
Literacy: Awareness is the key

Literacy is not just about reading and writing. It is about respect, opportunity and development.

Education and knowledge are necessary means of living a better life in the world. Today, illiteracy is a major obstacle to the overall development of the country. World Literacy Day is celebrated every year on September 8 as National and International Day. The purpose of celebrating this day is to make people aware of literacy and to show the importance of education in society. The tradition of celebrating International Literacy Day on September 8 was started by UNESCO on November 1, 1985. Literacy Day is celebrated every year with new themes and goals. In order to eradicate global illiteracy, UNESCO decided in 1985 that no country would be illiterate by 1990. The campaign was launched in 1995 among the countries lagging behind, including Bangladesh. This day sends a message for literacy around the world. Its purpose is to make knowledge easily available to the people.

The main purpose of celebrating this day is to spread the message of education to all sections of society. At present, education is given special priority among the five basic needs of food, clothing, education, housing and medicine. Only educated citizens of a country can be aware of their responsibilities and rights and exercise them properly. So education is very important from a social point of view. Only educated people can understand and apply their responsibilities to society. Most of the population of the country lives in rural areas where there is still a low level of education.

Lots of campaigns have been conducted or are being conducted in our country from time to time on education like primary education campaigns and adult education campaigns. It is possible to get rid of bad habits and superstitions through education. In Bangladesh, two types of campaigns are run in the name of education and literacy; one is regular education in schools and colleges, called formal education, and the other is non-formal education, which has taken a leading role in their education. After independence, our country had a huge number of illiterate people, but the government's efforts related to education have significantly increased the rate of education, today Bangladesh is moving towards educating every one of its citizens. However, despite such strenuous efforts, there are some areas of the country which are regularly battling illiteracy, more efforts are needed here. According to statistics, Bangladesh has a lower literacy rate than in other countries. Literacy is not limited to acquiring knowledge of books; the main goal of literacy is to make people aware of their rights and duties. Literacy helps to alleviate poverty, improve the mindset of the individual by eliminating gender inequality, and eliminates corruption and terrorism. Today, the rate of education in Bangladesh has improved, but it is still far from its goal.

A closer look at history reveals that the literacy rate in British India was 5.8% in 1901, and 40 years later in 1941, it increased to 13.9%. In 1941, the literacy rate in undivided Bengal was 16.1%. Towards the end of British rule, the need for mass literacy was felt. In 1939-40, the literacy movement in Bengal became very popular with the call 'Shikhi Ekjan, Shekhai Arek Jane' and night schools for adults were introduced in Bengal. The issue of adult education was discussed in the newly established 'Rural Reconstruction' department of the provincial government. The adult education curriculum under this department included agriculture, animal husbandry and public health programmes, and the required number of staff were employed to monitor these activities. The programme was disrupted when World War II broke out. The Department of Poly Restructuring was abolished and gradually disappeared due to the inability of the local public to run adult education centres without government support.

Two censuses were conducted in Pakistan in 1947-1971, one in 1951 and the other in 1971. People who were able to read the printed letters of any language were classified as 'literate' in the first census. According to this definition, East Pakistan had a literacy rate of 24.8% of the population aged 5 years and above and 21.1% of the total population. A person who can understand a small description of daily life in any language is considered to be a signature in the 1971 census. According to the census, 21.5% of the population aged 5 and above and 16.7% of the total population were literate. The education policy of the government of Pakistan was indifferent towards illiterate adults and the government did not pay any attention to universal primary education. Some enthusiastic people in East Bengal took some initial initiatives on adult education. HGS Beaver played a significant role in this in the fifties. Beaver was an officer in the Indian Civil Service, and after his retirement, he devoted himself to the cause of eradicating illiteracy from East Bengal. He revived the adult education movement. He produced booklets and charts on the Lubbock model and set up a literacy centre in 1956. Later, with the help of Abdul Hasnat Ismail and a few others, he formed an 'Adult Education Cooperative Society'. However, after he died in 1972, the movement came to a standstill.

The first nationally important initiative to eradicate illiteracy in East Pakistan was taken under the 'Rural Agriculture and Industrial Development' (V-AED) programme. Under this, adult education centres were set up in rural areas. Shortly afterward, in 1959, the work of this programme was entrusted to the Bangladesh Rural Development Academy established in Comilla. Later in 1963, the East Pakistan government set up a separate adult education branch in the office of the Director of Education. An ideal pilot project was undertaken through this branch in 1984 and its implementation started in four police stations in four districts at the initial stage. At a later stage, four more police stations were included in the programme. Until the independence of Bangladesh in 1971, these eight police stations were in operation as project areas.

A total of five censuses were conducted in 1984, 1981, 1991, 2001 and 2011. The 1974 census defined literacy as the ability to read and write simultaneously in any language. This definition eliminates the errors that existed in the definitions adopted in the previous censuses of the Pakistan period and became consistent with the definitions invented by UNESCO. According to the 1981 census definition, persons aged five years and above who can write a letter in any language are included as literate. Even in the 1991 census, the ability to write a letter in any language was considered a definite definition of literacy, but it was only for individuals aged seven and over. Changes in the definition of literacy during different censuses have affected the literacy rate at different times. The literacy rate for people of all ages rose from 18% in 1971 to 24.9% in the 1991 census year. The literacy rate of the population aged 6 years and above increased from 26.7% in 1984 to 32.4% in 1991 and 45.3% in 2001. In each census, the literacy rate of males was higher than that of females. However, the female literacy rate increased from 16.4% in 1984 to 25.5% in 1991 and 40.6% in 2001. Literacy rates vary considerably between urban and rural areas during the census years, in all years the literacy rate was comparatively higher in urban areas than in rural areas.

Education leads people to the mental development of mankind and continuous national development. The greatest curse of any country is the illiteracy of its people. If there is any difference between man and beast, it is education. Until the majority of the country's population becomes literate, it will be impossible to overcome social problems such as poverty, prejudice, gender inequality, population growth. Although the government has taken many meaningful steps in this direction, meaningful results have not been seen due to some internal obstacles.

We need to give more priority to primary education because when a tree is irrigated from its roots, the tree develops. The contribution of the younger generation is much greater because the true meaning of literacy can only be understood by inspiring the younger generation. International Literacy Day is celebrated to promote human development and human rights in society. Like food, literacy is important for success and survival which is crucial for poverty alleviation, reduction of child mortality, control of population growth, the achievement of gender equality, etc.

The writer is a journalist.

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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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