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Literacy and Adult Education in Bangladesh: Concept, Trends, Status and The Future


Abstract: This paper examines the literacy scenario firmly rooted in the historical context. Secondly, it reviews the international and national policy commitments to literacy and adult education in view of evolving conceptualization of literacy, learning and education for adults. Thirdly, it examines the current understanding of literacy and AE in Bangladesh, the trends in practices and interventions ensuing from the predominant concepts. Fourthly, it attempts to anchor the Bangladeshi experience of AE within international development. Finally, it proposes an agenda for action around ALE in Bangladesh, drawing from international experiences and commitments.

I. Literacy: Historical Context and Evolving Conceptualisation
While reading and writing has been around for thousands of years, it has been the privilege of a select minority until the middle of this century. Only since the Second World War, when decolonization took place on a massive scale, literacy has been proclaimed as an inalienable right of man, and gradually universal literacy has been included on national and international agenda.

Radical expansion of formal education for children in developing countries at that time was supplemented by the provision of adult literacy to those beyond the normal school age. However, one trend from that time remains the same today – allocation to adult education rarely exceeded one percent of the total education budget, thus making it less than a priority. Literacy was seen from a strictly utilitarian perspective – as a precondition for economic development. Just as ‘schooling’ automatically meant ‘education’ for children, the synonym for ‘adult education’ was ‘literacy’ (Jennings, 1990).

UNESCO during 50’s, promoted the idea of a ‘fundamental education’, which was reflected in UNESCO’s statement in 1958, ‘a literate person is one who can, with understanding, both read and write a short simple statement on his or her everyday life’. While the international community agreed to ‘eradicate illiteracy’, the Cold War weakened the interest for a worldwide campaign for universal literacy (EFA GMR, 2006). Only a few successful but isolated national campaigns took place (e.g. Cuba in 1961).

REFLECT – Non-primer Based Approach of Adult Literacy


Generally non-formal literacy program are primer or text book dependent in Bangladesh. Primer is the book which used for adult literacy. Here the contents of primer and the learning method are determined by the respective organization. There is a little role of learners to determine what they learn and how they learn. Primer based adult literacy approaches are—

(a) Alphabetic approach
(b) Entire word approach
(c) Entire sentence approach
(d) Phonetic approach
(e) Psycho-phonetic approach
(f) Language approach
(g) Eclectic approach

Above them a non-primer based approach for adult literacy is REFLECT approach which introduced by ActionAid Bangladesh. This article mainly discuss about the non-primer based approach REFLECT. Here REFLECT approach is defined in the view of ActionAid Bangladesh because in Bangladesh it is the prominent organization which used it as their delivery approach.

REFLECT is an acronym for “Regenerated Freirean Literacy through Empowering Community Techniques”. The REFLECT concept is based on the Theory of Conscientization. A Brazilian Educator “Paulo Freire” conceptualized and pioneered this approach. “Action-Aid” then further developed this approach with its programs in 1993. First application of this innovative approach was in El Salvador (South America), Bangladesh (Asia) and Uganda.

Non-Formal Education for Achieving Adult Literacy in the E-9 Countries



In this paper, the author is going to describe the achievements and  challenges of the non-formal education for enhancing adult literacy in the nine high population (E-91) countries. More than half of the world population as well as a lion share of adult illiterates are living in the E-9 countries. Hence, the non-formal education is playing a supporting role to bolster adult literacy in these countries.

This paper focuses on the post Education for All (EFA) era on the goal of adult literacy of these countries with a special emphasis on the UNESCO’s perspectives on the issues of literacy. The paper is organized as the following. The section II, UNESCO’s perspective on Education, highlights briefly the commitment of the UNESCO for the EFA and presents some initiatives that the UNESCO has already takes in response to this. Since the concept of literacy is not static, section III, UNESCO and Literacy, discusses about the evolving concepts of UNESCO on literacy. The following section IV, Adult Literacy and E-9 Countries, addresses the status of the adult literacy in the E-9 countries. The next section V, Literacy and Non-formal Education in the E-9 Countries, illustrates the necessity of the non-formal education for providing support on adult literacy programs in the E-9 countries, followed by the section VI, Non-Formal Education in the Three E-9 Countries (Pakistan, Nigeria, Brazil), that describes the achievements and the challenges in three E-9 countries which were selected from three different continents. Lastly, the concluding section gives a gist of the whole discussion as well as mentions some areas for further study.

II. UNESCO’s Perspective on Education

UNESCO from its very beginning is considering education as a fundamental human right. Since education has got top priority in UNESCO that also reflected on their budget allocation, almost 50% of the UNESCO budget is absorbed in education. (UNESCO 2006a)

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