Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me express my heartfelt thanks and deep gratitude to you for giving me the opportunity to address this august forum. I am honored to be here with all the distinguished participants. It is an opportunity to share with you my views world on adult literacy, which is of crucial importance for the community at present.
Nearly nine hundred million populations predominantly belonging to developing nations are illiterate. With technology advancing steadily they find themselves in an increasingly disadvantageous position. The gap between the literate and the illiterate in a developing society is likely to grow wider in future. The Human Development Centre has recently termed South Asia as the poorest, the most illiterate. The most malnourished, the least gender-sensitive and the most deprived region in the world. This region has a very low female literacy rate. It is time now for the world community to make a concerted effort to eradicate illiteracy, which, is one of the main causes of disparity in the global family.
Adult literacy covers all aspects of continuing education. In modem industrialized societies, continuing education has become an accepted phenomenon. In this system more than one third of the population participate every year in organized educational activities. The educational scenario in these countries shows that adult learners now exceed the total population of students in primary and secondary schools.
It has been universally recognized that basic education is one of the prime factors in economic, social and political development. Empirical studies indicate a strong and positive relationship between investments in basic education and changes in economic productivity. Education also has a relationship with health and social well-being. The growth of democracy and the conservation of environment. A recent study found that farmers with only four years of education are 9 per cent more productive than farmers with no education. Literacy gains of 20 to 30 per cent can boost a nation's GDP by é to 8 per cent and improve nutritional status significantly.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
May I take the liberty to recall that the first international conference on adult education nearly fifty years ago laid stress on international cooperation in adult education. Later, three other conferences held in Montreal, Tokyo and Paris addressed issues relating to adult, non-formal and continuing education. These conferences addressed a very wide range of issues, including the goals of achieving universal literacy, establishing a framework for international cooperation, creating a genuine spirit of democracy, increasing learning opportunities for all age-groups, promoting gender equality and contributing to sustainable development.
The policy guidelines of these conferences, however, stimulated uneven initiatives by different national governments. South Asia has a literacy rate of 48 per cent compared to 77 per cent in the rest of the developing world. Its share of the world's total illiterate population is 4é per cent which is twice as high as its share of the world's total population. There are more children out of school in South Asia than in the rest of the, world. The Arab States and the Sub-Saharan region have a slightly better performance in this regard, with literacy rate of 55 per cent and 53 per cent respectively. However, the East Asian countries have by now achieved a high literacy rate of 9é per cent. This level of literacy was achieved through the sustained implementation of forward-looking national action plans stimulated by policy prescriptions in various international fora. This achievement is a source of inspiration for nations languishing in poverty and illiteracy.
The concept of adult education is not new in Bangladesh. After the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971 our great leader, the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman felt the utmost necessity of education for national development and prosperity. Despite many other pressing concerns, he accorded high priority on education and said, "Education would be our first and foremost tool for national development.' He recognized the need for establishing a uniform, mass-oriented and universal system of education and extending free and-compulsory education to all children.
This noble goal was enshrined in the constitution of Bangladesh. During his tenure of office the primary education system was brought under government funding despite severe resource constraints. His government established 11 thousand new primary schools, appointed about 50 thousand teachers and made primary education compulsory.
Besides, over 150 thousand primary school teachers were given the status of government employees. Some incentives like arrangements for meals for primary students, free education for female students up to class VIII, and the free supply of books, pencils and papers were undertaken to encourage children to attend school. During this period, in Education Commission was formed with an eminent educationist Dr. Qudrat-e-Khuda as its Chairman to give the traditional colonial system of education a modern, scientific, professional and technical nature. This commission recommended the establishment of one adult education centre in each village and the use of social institutions as education centers.
The commission also recommended eradication of illiteracy in the shortest possible time through a social movement ensuring participation of people of all walks of life. But it is a matter of great regret that the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was assassinated on the 15th August, 1975 by a group of traitors and conspirators. With his brutal killing the whole process of development in our country was shattered and disrupted and the people were deprived of their rights of franchise. This was followed by a period marked by coups, killings, exploitation and oppression. The people were neglected and their life became unbearable under poverty, illiteracy, terrorism and tyranny. Against the backdrop of these tragic developments we launched a mass movement in order to create awareness among the people about their right to food and franchise.
After a long and arduous struggle the common people of the country emerged victorious. Through an election under a neutral caretaker government we were able to establish their right of franchise. The people gave my party a clear mandate through a free and fair election to run the country and we assumed the responsibility. Of the government on June 23, 1996. Now, it is our firm conviction that the change of power should be through ballots, not bullets.
After establishing the people's right of franchise we have been making relentless efforts to establish people's right to food through alleviation of poverty. We consider education at all levels as one of the major factors of poverty alleviation. We are committed to eradicate illiteracy from our country within the next 10 years. Our government formed the National Committee to frame an Education Policy which would submit its report soon. Besides a constitutional obligation, Bangladesh is committed to attain its universal literacy objectives in international fora such as World Conference on Education for All, World Summit for Children and E-9 Summit. In the backdrop of the aforesaid commitments, the expansion of education has been emphasized to build a development oriented and skilled human resource base capable of facing the challenges of the twenty first century. We are also committed to the structural reforms in the field of literacy that must accompany our drive for eradication of poverty through education and empowerment of the people.
Recognizing the fact that the formal education system alone. Cannot eradicate illiteracy from society. It was thought necessary to embark upon a Comprehensive Non-Formal Education Program (NFE). Bangladesh has adopted forward-looking strategies to keep pace with the very fast changing. Global order. Our governments aim is to develop the nation's human resources, equip it with the necessary technical and professional skills needed to support a process of sustainable development. In order to strengthen the institutional and monitoring capacity of Non Formal Education our Government has established a National Council for Primary and Mass Education with the Head of the Government as the Chairperson. Right from the ministry down to literacy centers, 9 types of committees have been organized to ensure people's participation at every level.
I would like to share with you some of our experiences in Integrated Non-Formal Education Program and other ongoing literacy programs. A successful literacy Program depends on awareness in the target-group along with availability of education opportunities. If properly motivated, targeted people may, come forward to participate in program implementation. This enabling environment can be transformed into a full-fledged literacy movement, which is termed in our country as total literacy movement ((TLM). This approach has enabled complete eradication of illiteracy in two districts and four thanas (sub-districts) already.
We further observe that empowerment of Women can be accelerated through greater participation of women learners in literacy activities. Adult literacy programs in our country comprises at least 50 per cent female literacy centers. Recent program evaluations revealed that female learners are better performers compared to their male counterparts, in learning endeavors. The female community is becoming more and more aware about its rights, and its responsibilities.
Nearly 50 years have elapsed since the holding of the first international conference on literacy. But pervasive illiteracy is yet to be stamped out in some areas tithe world. It should no longer be viewed as a problem of any individual nation or area. It should rather be viewed as a challenge for mankind. Nations which are still struggling need to have a massive people's movement for both the literate and the non-literate so that literacy programs are extensively spread all over the country. Also, for developing countries concerns like equal access to technology, information. and their cost, their impact on present and future educational systems are particularly important and should be taken into account. We are aware that technology is shifting the focus from teaching to learning from classrooms, to lifelong learning in communities. Countries coping with millions of non-literate adults need assistance so that they can provide these target group with literacy and consequently lead them to improve.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
May I now urge the world community to forge concerted efforts to address the following issues in order that the curse of illiteracy can be removed from the face of the earth as early as possible.
Creating awareness of learning needs among target-groups through extensive social mobilization. Intensifying the struggle against illiteracy through the alliance of government and non-government agencies. Seeking cooperation of countries which have demonstrated -remarkable achievement in the field of adult education. Linking formal and non-formal education under the perspective of life-long learning. Ensuring high quality of adult and continuing education p. w a s through mutual sharing of ideas and resources. Prioritizing women's literacy and enhancing the scope for their employment. Linking functional education, skill development, income-generating activities, micro credit approaches with continuing education programs. Ensuring that the highest priority is given to adult education programs both by the respective Governments as well as aid agencies.
I believe that these efforts through international cooperation will bring forth a prosperous world community one in which even the poorer developing nations can begin to share in the new growth possibilities opened up by recent technological advances. In this new age of ideas and dominance of intellectual capital, we must ensure that our people have the education and skills to tap the emerging information and communication technologies. Today all of us must work to forge a structure of cooperation to usher in a global community completely free of illiteracy and thereby create an environment for effectively coping with the challenges and taking advantage of the new opportunities of the coming millennium.
I thank you all once again for inviting me to this conference and patiently listening to my statement.
Joi Bangla Joi Bangabandhu May Bangladesh live forever Khoda Hafez