This article has been published in Enabling Education 7
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Title: Focus on Policy: Bangladesh
Author: Shohel, MMC
Publisher: EENET
Date: 2003

Focus on Policy: Bangladesh

M. Mahruf Chowdhury Shohel

Almost half of Bangladesh’s population of 130 million people lives below the poverty line. In this article Shohel outlines the Government’s plans to eradicate illiteracy through basic education. He focuses on the particular role of non-formal education as a complimentary system to that of the formal sector.

Primary education receives about half of the education sector budget in Bangladesh. Yet of the 20 million primary school aged children, four million are out of school, and another four million or more drop out because of poverty, while others complete primary school barely able to read and write. The Directorate of Non-Formal Education was established in 1995 to co-ordinate government and private initiatives to deliver basic education.

The Fifth Five-Year Plan (1997-2002) states that: “The purpose of non-formal education, besides empowering the learners with skills related to literacy, numeracy…should extend to such areas as emotional and physical well-being…and leadership skills.” It also refers to the expansion of non-formal education through mass literacy centres and by mobilising the income-generating efforts of agencies outside the Ministry of Education.

The National Education Policy 2000 states that more literacy programmes will be conducted through distance education methods, using radio, television and other mass media; and that the Directorate will be turned into an institution of continuing education and skills development.

Community based non-formal schools, with their flexible hours, are very effective for working children and for adult education. The objectives of non-formal education programmes run by non-governmental organisations are to reduce mass illiteracy; contribute to the basic education of children, especially those from the poorest families; promote the participation of girls in education; empower women; and support the government’s universal primary education programme.

After completing non-formal courses children are able to continue their education by enrolling in formal primary or high schools at the appropriate level. However the links between the formal and non-formal education system need to be more firmly established.

The rigid approach of the formal system has a great deal to learn from the innovative approach of non-formal education, which is more learner-centred and emphasises active learning. Non-formal education is complementary to the formal education system in providing basic education for under-privileged and vulnerable groups – in this way education flourishes in Bangladesh!

M. Mahruf Chowdhury Shohel is currently studying at the University of Manchester and can be contacted through EENET, or through email: or

“Non-formal education system caters to those children who cannot or do not get enrolled in primary schools, those who drop out of schools, the adolescents who relapse into illiteracy or those young and adult people who have never benefited from any schooling”. Government’s Primary and Mass Education Division