The Economist on August 17, 1974 wrote, "Bangladesh has to be the unluckiest corner of the world. As if the 1970 cyclone, the 1971 war and the 1973 oil crises had not done enough to wreck its subsistence economy, along came the 1974 floods to finish the job. The estimated death toll from the inundation of nearly two-thirds of the country is not dramatic by Bangladesh's own appalling standards-fewer than 3,000 lives lost compared with 150,000 in 1970-although many more will die from cholera, typhoid and lack of food. But, to an economy that is already virtually bankrupt... this latest disaster might be the final straw." Surprisingly, newly born Bangladesh was introduced to the world by huge number of western media, including Sunday Times, New Statesman, The Guardian, Washington Post, New York Times, Daily Telegraph as a worst kind of land for human abode which has nothing but terrorism, corruption and unsuccessful records. The Economist among them was very much critical, exaggerated at regular intervals on different political, non-political issues accusing the then government at the top of their voices. It left no stone unturned to reshape the hard-earned independence at pre '75 rules of AL. All the newspapers explicitly stood against Bangladesh and prompted to popularize the dictum: it is a country of 'bottomless basket' in which no alms can take hold of.
Alternatively, this very picture has changed diametrically to an almost opposite turn after forty years. Now, Bangladesh is introduced to the world communities by Professor Amartya Sen as thus: "Bangladesh has come a long way in the last four decades. ?Few observers at that time expected Bangladesh to make rapid social progress in the next few decades. .. Today Bangladesh is still one of the poorest countries in the world, and large sections of its population continue to lack many of the bare essentials of good living. And yet Bangladesh has made rapid progress in some crucial aspects of living standards, particularly in the last twenty years-overtaking India in terms of many social indicators in spite of its slower economic growth." Professor Sen has identified some important statistics about the role of female in the attainment of this progress. He shows that the ratio of female to male in primary school enrolment in Bangladesh is 104:100, while India has a 100 per cent ratio; in secondary education in Bangladesh the ratio is 113:100 and in India the same is 92:100. Female literacy rate between 15 and 24 age group is 78 per cent in Bangladesh; alternatively, India has 74 per cent. In contrast with some major points Bangladesh is now ahead of India and, of course, of many South Asian countries.
How Bangladesh has made astounding development within this span of time? Unquestionably, this has been possible for having a comprehensive plan to remove illiteracy and poverty from the society. Societal development depends on divergent agendas, however education is deemed to be the first one because of its intrinsic values. With the advent of new atmosphere, Bangladesh could comprehend this reality that education should be the basic pillar for her existence and foremost condition for all development. Correctly, education or at least literacy is essentially intertwined with developing factors which has got the ability to change the phenomena. It has been argued that no nation can substantially make progress without having a large scale educational environment. United Nations Cultural and Scientific Organization (UNESCO) very wittingly has made this plan to introduce 'Literacy and Sustainable Societies' as the theme for International Literacy Day this year. Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, in her message on this day says, "New technologies, including mobile telephones, also offer fresh opportunities for literacy for all. We must invest more, and I appeal to all Members States and all our partners to redouble our efforts - political and financial - to ensure that literacy is fully recognized as one of the most powerful accelerators of sustainable development. The future starts with the alphabet and opportunity to remember a simple truth: literacy not only changes lives it saves them.' The connotation of this theme is much more important than any other else due to two important factors: first, education changes lives; second, it also helps save oneself. The power of education is multifarious; it not only helps create opportunities for men but it has wide range of compatibility with the advanced lives. Educated mother can ensure good health for her child, becomes the cause of better understandability within the family itself, and plays pivotal role in family welfare. It is rather a serious social parochialism for a country like Bangladesh that female education cannot be allowed within this societal context. Many fathers were not willing to send their daughter to school even for elementary education. In addition, they did not think it to be profitable. This orthodox stance has been proven un-glorified. Present Bangladesh has had a remarkable success in convincing those fathers very timely.
More importantly, UNESCO and the government of Bangladesh have jointly organized an international conference in Dhaka on Girls' and Women's Literacy Education: Foundation for Sustainable Development. In addition to this, an award ceremony, 'UNESCO Literacy Prizes' was also arranged in this connection.
A pertinent question may arise here: How education can ensure sustainable development within the context of a society like Bangladesh? Bangladesh, meanwhile, has achieved some remarkable successes in gender equality, women's empowerment, poverty eradication, addressing climate change and ameliorating socio- economic conditions as well. Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in his historical message said, "Literacy is key lever of change and a practical tool of empowerment on each of the three main pillars of sustainable development: economic development, social development, and environmental protection." The principal target of Millennium Development Goal (MDG) is to reduce poverty. Bangladesh also aims at achieving the status of a middle income country by 2041. It depends on design and execution of some holistic as well as pragmatic approaches to attain hundred per cent literacy rate. Indeed, education is the key factor that can solve all social stagnant related to our lives and societies. Bangladesh has been constantly focusing on education and giving the priority to enhance educational purview. Primary or elementary education has been getting special treatment of non-government organizations (NGO) for long time in Bangladesh with the help of the development partners.
In fact, Bangladesh has come across a long way; however, it remains to be long to go further. It needs to remember that literacy is not adequate for quality education; it only ensures the minimum consciousness. But, to address the challenge on a large scale for new global order, Bangladesh needs a comprehensive pragmatic strategy to cope with the challenges ahead.
Siddhartha ShankarJjoarder is Chairperson and Associate Professor, Dept of Philosophy, Jagannath University. E-mail: [email protected]