Only a robust school library system can help us build a Digital Bangladesh
Bangladesh celebrates National Library Day on February 5 under the theme, “Let’s read books in libraries and develop enlightened minds.” In fact, libraries are enlightening, and the role of libraries in their many forms around the globe share a common purpose: To enhance learning and promote a literate society.
Since independence, Bangladesh has established a number of diverse libraries. However, the overall attainment of 21st century goals for a well-functioning library and information system is not encouraging. Specifically, the development of school libraries and creating qualified school library professionals have been slow due to a lack of governmental and non-governmental initiatives.
According to the National Education Policy 2010, the broader strategic aim of the library program is “to enrich the library collection with adequate books and journals at all levels and bring libraries under digital systems gradually.” In the same policy, librarians have been mentioned as the centre of learning in the educational institute.
With the country moving towards a digital future, it is essential that school libraries also evolve. According to BANBEIS (Bangladesh Bureau of Educational Information and Statistics) in 2017, 76.65% of secondary schools have internet connection and 76.01% of schools have multimedia facilities. Therefore, with ICT and multimedia lab facilities in schools, Bangladesh is availed with numerous opportunities to develop digital school libraries and promote e-book use nationwide.
Although, the government’s stated motive in chapter 20 of the National Education Policy is to give students more operationalized and convenient ways to acquire increasing knowledge, students have almost no access to digital libraries in schools.
In Bangladesh, the official title for the school librarian post is an assistant librarian and it is a block post. It means having similar or superior qualifications as subject or specialist teachers; school librarians do not have the opportunity to be promoted. The government and the relevant authorities need to consider the dignity and social status of library professionals by formulating appropriate and equitable policies for all school professionals.
There should be a national authority to recruit school librarians, for example, the Non-government Teachers’ Registration and Certification Authority (NTRCA). It is strongly proposed that the position title for school librarians as “library teacher” be similar to other specialists such as “physical education teacher” and “religion teacher.”
The importance of school libraries is not overstated as cruxes of knowledge for young minds. School libraries are, in fact, an almost necessary and complementary element to any robust education system, and it is good that this fact is finally being acknowledged in the National Education Policy of Bangladesh.
One of the significant returns on investment of having school libraries and librarians in Bangladesh would be, among others, sustainable textbook management. It has been reported that in 2019, the government provided over 350 million copies of textbooks to over 40 million students from pre-primary to 10th grade. If Bangladesh can ensure robust school libraries and pro-active librarianship in primary and secondary schools, then 80-90% of those distributed books can be reused for at least three to five years. It will save millions of taka every year, and obviously, reduce environmental damage to produce papers.
The process is as simple as A-B-C. At the beginning of the year, textbooks will be distributed from the library of each school, and students will return the books through the library at the end of the year. An open access school library management database (many of them are freely available) would suffice for qualified school librarians to perform all the procedures.
In Bangladesh, we should promote a culture of reading in schools by developing school libraries. Human capital development starts on the first day a child arrives at kindergarten and, according to global data, a 10% increase in the number of students who are able to read results in a 0.3% rise in a country’s gross domestic product.
School library-based reading promotion through “Developing the Reading Habits” project and observing National Library Day are the first steps of progression towards nudging Bangladesh’s education towards the dream of building a Digital Bangladesh. The next step is to secure adequate high-quality library facilities that work in harmony with the education system.
There is a strong need to undertake more robust research, discussion, and strategies for building a functioning school library system in Bangladesh. The possibility is endless, and the risks of not doing so are too high to disregard.
Zakir Hossain is an IB Teacher-Librarian and IASL Director for International Schools, working at ICS Inter-Community School Zurich, Switzerland.