Bangladesh is a developing country with a huge number of population living within its 148,460 square km of land area. Around 60% of its population who reside in rural areas are mostly deprived of quality education compared to the urban population. A lion’s share of rural population cannot afford three square meals for their family members let alone bear the educational expenses for their school-going children. Every year a good number of rural youths are dropping out of school and engage in cheap manual labour to support their poverty-stricken families. Those who manage ways to carry on their education are deprived of modern amenities to get proficiency in Linguistics, Science, and Mathematics.
In rural areas, a very few educational institutions own a library with a well-trained librarian and sufficient reading materials. Therefore, students have no other credible choices to know the whole universe and the happenings of the concurrent world. Their knowledge gets restricted to the periphery of textbooks, guidebooks, and lecture sheets prescribed by the teachers and house tutors. Here comes the impetus for establishing Public Libraries in rural areas to spread lifelong teaching and learning initiatives among the rural youth to make them information-literate and conscious citizens of the state to take on the challenges of the 21st century and beyond.
After the outbreak of the Coronavirus Pandemic in 2020, a massive setback due to the closure of educational institutions for a long time is demonstrating the grimmest picture of derailing and detaching from the mainstream ways of life among the young generation. Since all the educational programmes were made available through online platforms, a good number of juveniles who are mainly students of secondary and higher secondary echelons had to buy mobile phones in the name of attending online classes and other education-oriented purposes. The availability of 3G, 4G, or high-speed broadband internet connectivity to some extent has opened up the horizon of a little bit of wonderful, but a bizarre world to rural youngsters.
A major portion of youngsters has been observed immersed in playing video games, spending time on social media, and doing other silly tasks instead of paying proper attention to their assignments and homework. The poverty-afflicted parents who could not afford their children’s mobile devices and other facilities for online classes stopped sending their kids to school because their daily income got pegged down during the pandemic. Being dropped out of school, many students are now suffering from frustration and desperation. This horrendous state may mislead them and imperil them to commit illegal and inconsiderate activities. Here comes the necessity of establishing a library to give these youth the last hope to stand strong on the verge of darkness and destruction.
Public libraries are the hub of educational transcendence and cultural orientation that stimulate a greater number of population to participate in development activities, improve their quality of life and instigate their skills and competencies to become the agents for change to form a knowledge-based society in the rural areas of Bangladesh. Young generations can exploit the blessing of books, non-books, and ICTs through rural public libraries and contribute to spreading knowledge and information to other members of the rural communities.
Since the dawn of human civilisation, libraries have acted as a significant impulsion in the development of a progressive nation. The growth and advancement of libraries and information centres are essential for establishing a knowledge-based society that will enhance the progress of a progressive civilisation and strengthen human resources. With the help of books, non-books, journals, magazines, periodicals, and ICT facilities housed in a well-organised library building, Bangladesh, which has a majority of young people, can open up new horizons for the underprivileged rural youth. The phone-addicted, dropped-out youth, and other children can develop reading habits if there is a public library in the centre of each hamlet.
Libraries are social and cultural institutions that convert human labour into knowledge and skills that help people carry out their social obligations and responsibilities more effectively and precisely. The kingdom of knowledge and wisdom is accessible to a substantial portion of the young generations in rural areas who are aimlessly leading a chaotic life filled with confusion and depression in order to engage in constructive and development activities. They can gather knowledge about Politics, Economics, Science, Technology, and other academic disciplines to present themselves as the nation's future leaders. In addition, rural libraries will play crucial roles in developing the decision-making and problem-solving modus operandi of the villagers and enable them to act according to the rules and regulations of the state as law-abiding citizens.
The success of Digital Bangladesh and Vision-41 will be ineffective if we keep our rural youths aloof from their rights to access information superhighways and the universe of knowledge. Last but not least, rural public libraries will alleviate the digital divide between cities and villages to a great extent and introduce a culture of knowledge gathering and sharing among the rural population to form an enlightened society.
Aktarul Islam, a researcher