MOHAMMAD MUNTASIM TANVIR
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).