The Financial Express

The digital divide in virus-time education

The digital divide in virus-time education

In 1971, US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger stated Bangladesh as an International Basket Case. But with outstanding progress, Bangladesh would be an upper-middle-income country by 2031 and be a high-income and prosperous country by 2041.
The government of Bangladesh has done a commendable job in developing access to education and advancing the educational attainment rates since the country's independence in 1971. In primary education, the net enrolment rate attained 98 per cent in 2018, according to the Government of Bangladesh's 2019 Annual Sectoral Performance Report. Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics figures indicate that the adult literacy rate increased from 46 per cent in 2001 to 73 per cent in 2018. The World Bank has supported a "WIN" strategy to promote education beyond the board in South Asia with 'W' assigned for women, 'I' for ICT, and 'N' for non-state that means individuals.
Of 64 districts, the high literacy district in Bangladesh is Pirojpur. It is a riverine district located in the southern part of Bangladesh. It became a sub-division of the Barishal district in 1859 during the British rule. In March 1984, Pirojpur was upgraded to a district. The name Pirojpur carries the historical consequence of the rule of the self-governing ruler of Bengal, Firoz Shah. According to a census in 2011, the total population of Pirojpur district is 1,113,257, where 548,228 are men and 565,029 women. The sex ratio is 97. The literacy rate of Pirojpur district was 41.1 per cent in 1981, 48.2 per cent in 1991, 64.3 per cent in 2001, 64.9 per cent in 2011 and 88.7 per cent in 2020. On its north, Gopalganj and Barishal secured it, on the South is (Barguna District), on the east Jhalokathi district, and on the west is Bagerhat district.
Most Literate Districts (out of 64) Least Literate Districts (out of 64)

In Bangladesh, the adult literacy rate was 74.684 per cent in 2019 and 73.912 per cent in 2018. The adult literacy rate equals 61.016 per cent annually from 1981 to 2019. The data reached an all-time high of 74.684 per cent in 2019 and a record low of 29.227 per cent in 1981.
The literacy rate for the age group of 15-24 years was: 93.7 per cent for men and 96.1 per cent for women in 2019. And the literacy rate for those aged 65+ was: 52.5 per cent for men and 25 per cent for women in 2019, according to UNESCO. In the primary education sector, the Gross Enrolment Ratio (%) for girls was 124.99 per cent in 2020 against 114.35 per cent for boys.
In the secondary education sector, the Gross Enrolment Ratio (%) for boys was 44.4 per cent and for girls 81.49 per cent in 2020. In the Net Enrolment Rate (%), the boys accounted for 60.8 per cent and girls 74.7 per cent in 2020. In the tertiary education sector, the Gross Enrolment Ratio (%) for girls was 19.8 per cent and for boys 25.7 per cent in 2020. In 2019, the total number of illiterate persons aged 15+ was 30,004,627. Of them, 13,492,100 were men and 16,512,527 women.
According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), Pirojpur (88.7%) is the district of the highest literacy rate in Bangladesh, followed by Barguna with 87.6 per cent, Barishal 87.4 per cent, Jhalokathi 86.1 per cent and Bagerhat 84.3 per cent. On the other hand, Bandarban sees the lowest literacy rate of 53.6 per cent in Bangladesh, followed by Jamalpur with 54.6 per cent, Sherpur 62.1 per cent, Sirajganj 63.3 per cent and Manikganj 65.8 per cent. Barishal is ahead with 84.1 per cent in the division-wise adult literacy rate, followed by Khulna with 76.7 per cent, Chattogram 76.5 per cent, Sylhet 75.7 per cent, Dhaka 75.3 per cent, Rangpur 74.4 per cent, Rajshahi 72.2 per cent and Mymensingh 65.4 per cent.
There are still 24.4 per cent illiterate people in Bangladesh. The election manifesto of the incumbent government to eradicate illiteracy cannot be fulfilled, if we cannot literate the 24.4 per cent of people. The expected development in the country would not be possible with the 24.4 per cent people left behind, said Md. Zakir Hossain, state minister for Primary and Mass Education. As per the BBS report, the literacy rate stood at 74.7 per cent in 2019, 73.9 per cent in 2018, 72.9 per cent in 2017, 72.3 per cent in 2016, and 64.6 per cent in 2015. In 2021 the rate is 78 against 75.6 in 2020.
In 1971, the literacy rate was 16.8 per cent and in 2021 it was 78 per cent. The picture is a sign of the outstanding success of Bangladesh. But all 64 districts do not see an equal rate of literacy at all to date. But to achieve sustainability, it is badly needed to increase the literacy rate of a country. Bangladesh currently ranks 129th in global literacy, with 73.9 per cent of its population aged 15 years or older being literate, compared to the average of 86 per cent worldwide. The most recent data show 24 per cent of people aged 15-24 in Bangladesh have not completed primary education, and 44 per cent have not completed secondary education.
We cannot say that Bangladesh is not progressing in view of the literacy rate. But the pace is slow. And this slow process indicates that Bangladesh cannot achieve the full literacy rate before 2025 or more. Indeed, literacy is a necessary condition for social and economic development of a country. Without literacy, no one can move forward in life. And it is a universal truth for individuals and a nation.
According to current statistics, men are more literate than women both at the divisional and national levels. The general level of literacy rate for male adults stood at 78.2 per cent and for women 73 per cent. The 2020 report highlighted that illiteracy was more pervasive in Mymensingh division with 25 per cent of men and 29 per cent of women never going to school. As required, the literacy rate is significantly higher among the urban population (82.8 per cent) than in the rural population (69.8 per cent).
The Covid-19 pandemic has seriously affected the education sector in Bangladesh. The government tried its level best to overcome this situation by taking online classes. But the students who belong to remote areas have faced the unavailability of internet access. A large portion of village girls dropped out because of their financial problems and fell victim to child marriage while the urban students got the privilege of access to internet to attend classes online. This puts a big question mark on the quality of education. In the two-year period of the Covid-19 pandemic we lost our loving ones, students lost a part of their academic life and some have lost their dreams, especially the girls who dreamt of a better future.

The writer is a PhD. student of the Department of Economics at the University of Chittagong.
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