Bangladesh women lagging behind in adult literacy: UNESCO report

The literacy rate among women in Bangladesh’s rural and urban populations is significantly lower than men, according to a new study by The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

UNESCO revealed the findings in its 4th Global Report on Adult Learning and Education (GRALE) based on data submitted by 159 countries.

According to the report published on Thursday, 58% of urban and 40% of rural males above 60 years of age in Bangladesh are literate, while the rate is only 24% among urban and 12% among rural females over 60.

However, the disparity has been addressed in newer generations, with literacy rates at 80% and 74% amongst urban and rural boys aged 10-14, while 83% of urban and 81% of rural girls from the age group literate, the report noted.

Community learning centres (CLCs) in Asia have played an essential role in providing the rural population with appropriate Adult Learning and Education opportunities with Bangladesh, Bhutan, Indonesia, Nepal, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam all significantly increasing the number of CLCs. This has dramatically increased the number of rural learners in literacy, life skills and various vocational programmes, the report noted.

While women’s participation in ALE is growing, they tend to engage less in programmes for professional development. This constitutes a concern for their participation in the labour market.

The report calls for a sea change in approach, backed by adequate investment, to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to access and benefit from adult learning and education and that its full contribution to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is realised.

“We urge governments and the international community to join our efforts and take action to ensure that no one — no matter who they are, where they live or what challenges they face — is left behind where the universal right to education is concerned,’’ said UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay.

Globally, the progress in participation in adult learning and education is insufficient, said the report. In almost one-third of countries, fewer than five per cent of adults aged 15 and above participate in education and learning programmes.

Disadvantaged groups in particular are often deprived of their right to education while adults with disabilities, older adults, refugees and migrants, and minority groups are also among those losing out, according to the report.

UNESCO also called for more investment in adult learning and education (ALE) as spending in light of a decrease in spending in this area over the last 10 years. Nearly a fifth of member states reported spending less than 0.5 percent of education budget on ALE and a further 14 percent reported spending less than 1 percent.

The report stresses the need to increase national investment in ALE, reduce participation costs, raise awareness of benefits and improve data collection and monitoring, particularly for disadvantaged groups.

"In addition, by ensuring that donor countries respect their aid obligations to developing countries, we can make ALE a key lever in empowering and enabling adults, as learners, workers, parents, and active citizens," added Azoulay.

The UNESCO Global Report on Adult Learning and Education (GRALE) monitors whether UNESCO Member States are putting their international commitments on adult learning and education into practice. The report provides an overview of the latest data and evidence on ALE, highlights good practice, and focuses attention on Member States’ commitments to improve ALE.