In 2005, the national literacy rate in Bangladesh was 51.9 percent; in rural areas, 46.7 percent of the population is literate and in urban areas 67.9 percent.
Incidences of poverty are high among the illiterate. In 2005, estimates of literacy status by HCR, based on upper poverty line, was 54.7 percent for the illiterate and 23 percent for the literate.
Adult Literacy Rates
According to a 2006 TANGO International survey, fewer than half of the adults in the survey area were literate. Approximately 15 percent of adults can read and write or completed preparatory education; another 16 percent completed their primary education. The study, however, revealed a regional dimension to illiteracy. Illiteracy rates are highest in the Haor and Char zones, where 56 and 55 percent of the adult population, respectively, are unable to read or write. Approximately 57 percent of females and 47 percent of males can neither read nor write. These results are comparable to the national level results reported by UNICEF (2000-2004). Among household heads, the difference is even more significant; approximately three out of every four female household heads are illiterate. On the other hand, more than half of the adult population living in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, the Coastal zone and Northwest region have literacy skills.
The regional variation in grade achievement is significant. Approximately seventeen percent of adults in the Drought and Northwest regions have completed their primary education. A relatively higher percentage of adults living in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and Northwest region – more than ten percent – completed higher secondary education, compared to no more than six percent in the three other regions. Similarly, approximately six percent of adults in the Northwest region have obtained university degrees while only three percent of adults in the Coastal zone reported the same level of education.
There is a clear relationship between household socio-economic status and literacy. Almost three out of every four heads of vulnerable households are illiterate, compared to 22 percent of non-vulnerable household heads. There is also a significant regional variation in the literacy skills of household heads. Illiteracy rates of household heads are highest (58 percent) in the Char region and lowest in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (44 percent). A significantly larger proportion of female household heads (75 percent) do not have literacy skills compared to male household heads (53 percent).
Bangladesh made substantial improvements in promoting educational attendance and achievement during the past two decades. Approximately 65 percent of school-aged children (5 to 18 years) are currently enrolled and regularly attend school. Attitudes about the importance of education are changing. Most communities throughout the six zones appear pleased with improvements in the educational system, although attitudes vary according to community participation in school management and by school placement (remote schools are generally poorly attended and tend to face quality-control problems).
Access to education for girls is significantly lower in Chittagong Hill Tracts compared to the other five study regions. Socio-economic factors, as well as prevailing attitudes towards girls’ education discourage girls from attending school. In the CHT, where distances from schools are greater than in other regions of the country, parents do not feel comfortable sending their girl to a school away from the village.
Low levels of female education are also linked to female absence in community decision-making processes, which in turn helps explain other problems facing the community, such as poor health and hygiene practice, the high incidence of preventable diseases, child malnutrition, low family income, and low school attendance by girls.