Under the Basic Literacy Project undertaken in 2014 and being implemented by the Bureau of Non-Formal Education (BNFE), the target was to provide literacy skills to 45 lakh people aged 15 and above in 64 districts by June 2018.
BNFE officials have blamed the coronavirus pandemic for their latest failure.
“We had completed all preparatory work. Then came coronavirus and it [pandemic] is still continuing. As a result, we could not complete the project,” BNFE Director General Tapan Kumar Ghosh told The Daily Star.
The bureau, meanwhile, got another extension till June 2021 — having earlier got an extension till June 2020 — to provide basic skills of reading, writing and calculating in their first language. But there are doubts over the timely completion of the project this time too.
Experts did not accept BNFE’s claims and pointed instead to a lack of efficiency and proper planning as major reasons for missing one deadline after another.
“Blaming the Covid-19 crisis for missing the deadline yet again is a lame excuse,” said Manzoor Ahmed, professor emeritus at Brac University.
Against this backdrop, the country today observes International Literacy Day with the theme “Literacy teaching and learning in the Covid-19 crisis and beyond”.
Literacy is attained in two ways — formal education and adult literacy programmes — and the country’s focus has always been on formal education, with adult literacy programmes getting less priority. Moreover, the projects undertaken by successive governments on eradicating illiteracy were marred by allegations of irregularities, corruption and poor planning.
Before coming to power in 2008, the ruling Awami League in its election manifesto pledged to achieve 100 percent literacy in the country by 2014. The literacy rate was then 48.8 percent among those aged 15 and above, according to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics Literacy Assessment Survey.
The National Education Policy 2010, framed by the AL-led government in 2009, also set a similar target in the same timeframe.
Twelve years later, the literacy rate for the age group stands at 74.7 percent, according to the Sample Vital Registration System 2019 launched on June 30 by BBS.
BASIC LITERACY PROJECT
The project’s courses were supposed to be integrated with life skills that are necessary or desirable for full participation in everyday life.
According to Unicef, life skills are the psychosocial abilities for adaptive and positive behaviour that enable individuals to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life.
The Tk 453-crore project suffered setbacks for fund crisis, and so deviated from the original plan and had to drop the life skills component.
“To provide life skills knowledge to the beneficiaries, we required around Tk 2,000 crore,” said a BNFE official wishing not to be named.
However, the government plans to impart life skills to the beneficiaries in future, he said.
Under the project, the target was to set up 75,000 learning centres with 1,50,000 teachers and distribute over 96.36 lakh books among the 45 lakh beneficiaries in 250 upazilas. One NGO for each upazila, selected by the government, would run the learning centres.
According to officials, till 2019, they provided basic literacy to 23.6 lakh beneficiaries in 136 upazilas. They planned to make the remaining 21.4 lakh beneficiaries of 114 upazilas literate by June 2020.
The BNFE DG said they planned to hold the inauguration of the second phase on March 28 and begin the learning at all centres from April.
He even cast a shadow on the project’s completion by the extended June 2021 deadline as the Covid-19 situation still shows no sign of abating any time soon.
“A beneficiary gets six months of learning. If we cannot start classes by December this year it will be hard for us to complete the course by June next year,” Tapan said.
Speaking on the design of the project, Prof Manzoor, also a former senior adviser at BRAC University’s Institute of Educational Development, said six months of classes will not be enough to impart sustainable literacy.
“One size doesn’t fit all. Someone will need six months and someone else 12 months to attain sustainable literacy skills. We will need experience implementing NGOs, follow-ups and strong independent evaluation to get the desired results,” he said.
The BNFE DG, however, disagreed.
“I don’t think there is any problem with the project design,” he said.