Sep 20

Literacy Day Bangladesh 2014: “Terrorists” imparting literacy?

Half a century ago, in 1965, the World Conference of Ministers on the Eradication of Illiteracy, adopted the concept of functional literacy.  This concept viewed literacy as a means for development, an integral part of the development process and not just an end in itself.

Since then it has been accepted that literacy skills developed from a basic to advanced level throughout life is a part of broader development of competencies required for life and livelihood, critical thinking, participation in civic responsibility,  sustainable consumption and lifestyles, poverty reduction, and protection against disaster risks.

International Literacy Day is celebrated worldwide on 8th September every year since 1966.[1]

The theme of International Literacy Day 2014 is “Literacy and Sustainable Development”.  Literacy is one of the key elements needed to promote sustainable development, as it empowers people so that they can make the right decisions in the areas of economic growth, social development and environmental integration. Literacy is a basis for lifelong learning and plays a crucial foundational role in the creation of sustainable, prosperous and peaceful societies.[2]

Meanwhile in Bangladesh…..

The World Literacy Day this year in Bangladesh comes amid much fanfare and little if anything constructive from the side of the government, which has repeatedly prided itself on it been the catalyst of ‘unparalleled development’ in the education sector, especially in terms of children attending schools and the education of women. This can be corroborated with the fact that government spending on education (11.7% in 2014 versus average allocation of 14.1% during FY10-FY14) [3][4] has steadily declined, whereas spending on education has increased worldwide. The statistics spewed out by government controlled propaganda machinery try to look impressive, but underneath the billboards of success, lurk a myriad of problems which have remained unattended for decades and are dusted underneath the carpet every time they rise.

It cannot be denied that some success has been achieved, but saying so with authority would be foolish in face of an undeniable fact, statistics always get better when you are among the last in the pack, and studies have proved that the education system in Bangladesh is still way below par.[5][6]  A sweeping epidemic of corruption and politically affiliated maladies in the sector has in fact brought the sector onto the verge of breaking point. Contemporary student politics, long associated with a steady decay in the quality of the study environment has turned into a force of destruction in institutions, with complete patronization of the government, as is the case with the wildly unruly Awami League student organization, the Chhatra League. Rampant instances of examination paper leaks have become a regular nightmare for the populace, starting from as little as standard 5 to government service examinations.[7] But few care, and least the government or its education ministry, as the accolades from a regular stream of well-orchestrated propaganda and trumped up instances of success pile up to act as fuel for the same.

An aspect of the propaganda narrative revolves around the student organization Bangladesh Islami Chhatra Shibir, the largest Islamist student front of the country.It has been regularly labeled as the black sheep in student politics by the dominant propaganda narrative. Coupled with the extremely mysterious and prejudiced ‘Islamist’ tag, the reasoning has been regularly used as an excuse to arrest students affiliated with Shibir and put them behind bars on charges as obnoxious as suspicion of being involved with terrorist activity simply on the basis of association.

A recent boost for the dominant narrative against Shibir is the IHS Jane Report, February 2014,[8]  which solemnly identifies Bangladesh Islami Chhatra Shibir (BICS) as being one of the top terrorist organisations worldwide. More specifically, BICS was identified as the third most ferocious ‘terrorist group’ worldwide after the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (Thailand) and the Taliban. The Awami League government and its supporters, a majority of the media and rival student organisations were understandably overjoyed. The report only provided more proof of the righteousness of the security crackdown on Shibir and the larger political forces it was associated with, namely the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party.

The dominant narrative, however, is not always about spewing out news of ‘terrorist’ activities of Shibir, it is also about employing the centuries old tactic of sometimes keeping unnaturally quiet in order to let a story not in its favour to die out. The activities of Shibir on occasion of World Literacy Day were one such event, which was largely overlooked in order to maintain the status quo of the organisation being the “3rd largest terrorist group in the world”. 

Shibir celebrates International Literacy Day

Despite being shunned by a national and international media seemingly bent on identifying it as a shadowy and terrorist outfit, Bangladesh Islami Chhatra Shibir continued on with realization of its mission of “Building honest, efficient and patriotic citizenry for a prosperous Bangladesh”. It recently announced a week long Literacy Campaign programme nationwide spanning from September 1- September 7.

The campaign programme was set with the following goals in mind,

  • Every member should try to teach an illiterate person in order to attain literacy
  • Creating of temporary literacy camps in every unit/ward
  • Giving priority to street children and working class people
  • Distribution of books, notes, pencils, chalk-dusters, boards and ‘Bornomala’ (Bangla alphabet) books among street children, working class illiterate people among others
  • Giving emphasis on elderly education programs

Literacy Campaign WeekIn a marathon initiative that spanned throughout Bangladesh for a week, students associated with Chhatra Shibir clamored to impart literacy to hundreds if not thousands of people, helping to light up their lives in a way no one had ever tried to help them before. Below are pictures that purport to show a small fraction of this magnanimous initiative that spanned the length and breadth of Bangladesh.

So much for being the third largest “terrorist outfit” in the world!!!

Dhaka City

 Dhaka College

Others in Dhaka

 Youth Wave Students Society

Private University

 Shahjalal University of Science and Technology 





Others in Bangladesh


1. Daily Star, International Literacy Day 2014, Dhaka is the global epicentre for celebration

2. UNESCO, International Literacy Day 2014, Literacy and Sustainable Development

3. Dhaka Courier, June 26th, 2014, Crippling of education in the budget

4. New Age, June 2, 2014, Poor funding holds back EFA goal achievement: report

5. Dhaka Tribune, September 8th, 2014, Eradicating illiteracy by 2014 fails

6. New Age, November 3, 2013, So much for government’s commitment to quality education

7. New Age, June 11, 2014, Leaked questions, pervasive low quality education

8. IHS Jane Terrorism and Insurgency Report 2014, February 13, 2014

1 comment

  1. Say For Truth

    First of all, headline is awesome.

    The writer has put an innovative idea to establish link between Shibir activities with IHS Jane report, which had been published couple of months back.

    The differences between Shibir and other student organizations has been clarified.

    But I am still worried about the rate of drop out in Bangladesh. The student life of both male and female hampered for various causes as well.

    I think, along with the government, student organizations and different other non-government platforms will continue to play this constructive role to increase literacy in future.

    As a well wisher of Chhtrashibir, it is our duty to highlight this exceptional noble works of Shibir more and more as the organization is facing demonizing report frequently.

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