Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina outlined her Government’s commitment to eradicate illiteracy and create job opportunities for girls during a meeting with UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova on September 8, 2014 in the National Parliament.
Earlier in the day, the Prime Minister and the Director-General jointly awarded UNESCO’s literacy prizes and inaugurated a conference on girls’ and women’s literacy and education, which led to the adoption of the Dhaka Declaration the same day.
The Prime Minister expressed confidence that ‘a targeted vision’ was the key to progress, stating that her aim was to increase the literacy rate from 66% to 80% in four years. She detailed measures that have changed mentalities towards girls’ education and shared her efforts to promote women in leadership positions, including in government, academia, the judiciary, banking, the police, navy and army.
‘Only education can make Bangladesh poverty free,’ said the Prime Minister, thanking UNESCO for its steady support. ‘When a woman is educated, she can get a job, stand up for herself and have a voice in the family and community.’
The Director-General expressed her admiration for Bangladesh’s educational progress, ‘an inspiring example of what can be done with political will, resources and the right policies.’ She thanked the Prime Minister for her support to UNESCO in pushing an agenda that puts human dignity at the centre of development and pledged to continue working closely with Bangladesh in achieving its priorities.
Ms Bokova also drew attention to the potential for more dynamic cooperation in the area of tangible and intangible heritage, notably through job creation and sustainable tourism projects. She highlighted also joint work in disaster risk preparedness, informing the Prime Minister about the Indian ocean-wide tsunami exercise on 9 September to test capacity and response times of stakeholders in 24 countries, including Bangladesh.
In a separate meeting with Ms Bokova, Dr Nurul Islam Nahid, Minister of Education and Chair of the Bangladesh National Commission for UNESCO, asserted that "the number one challenge is improving quality and this means quality teachers," noting that all families, including the poorest, are sending their children to school, with some 11 million receiving stipends. Half the students in school today are first generation leaners, and there has been national buy-in for the Government’s Education Policy adopted in 2010. Teacher training remains ‘a very big task’, with low salaries and lack of resources standing as obstacles. Increasing enrolment in technical and vocational education and training – currently at 8% – is another priority, in order to equip youth with the right knowledge and skills.
The Director-General praised the highly positive educational trends in Bangladesh and pledged continued support, noting that education quality and skills acquisition are challenges facing countries across the board. Ms Bokova also expressed support to Bangladesh in its efforts to establish an International Mother Language Institute in Dhaka as a UNESCO Category 2 Centre serving the region and beyond.
Meeting the same day with the Minister of Cultural Affairs Asaduzzaman Noor, the Director-General recalled Bangladesh’s leadership in promoting cultural diversity and expressed UNESCO’s readiness to work more closely to tap the potential of the country’s vibrant crafts and culture as a source of income and an enabler of sustainable development and tourism.
In this context, the Minister said that Bangladesh is organizing a Conference with the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) in 2016 focusing on cultural heritage, and prior to that the Asian Art Biennale in December 2015. Archaeology features among the Ministry’s priorities, with excavations underway in four Buddhist sites, dating from the 7th to 11th centuries, and a mapping exercise about to start.
The Director-General welcomed the fact that the World Heritage site of Paharpur, which she visited in 2012, would benefit from assistance to involve local communities in safeguarding efforts, through training in conservation techniques and the acquisition of traditional knowledge to produce terracotta plaques for restoration purposes.
The Director-General also reviewed the country’s development challenges in a meeting with the United Nations Country Team, and pledged UNESCO’s full support to work jointly to set the right policies and support the Government in areas ranging from education and skills and disaster risk reduction, to the advancement of women and the promotion of culture as an enabler of development.
Throughout the day, the Director-General was accompanied by Ambassador Shahidul Islam, Permanent Delegate of Bangladesh to UNESCO.