Universal Education Programme (UEP)

Country Profile: Bangladesh


156,595,340 (2013)

Poverty (Population living on less than 1 US$ per day)

36% (1990 – 2004)

Official language

Bengali (Bengla)

Total expenditure on education as % of GDP


Youth literacy rate (15 – 24 years, 2015, UIS estimation)

Female: 85.83%
Male: 80.61%
Both sexes: 83.18%

Adult literacy rate (15+ years, 2015, UIS estimation)

Female: 58.49%
Male: 64.57%
Both sexes: 61.55%

Statistical sources

Programme Overview

Programme TitleUniversal Education Programme (UEP)
Implementing OrganizationPROSHIKA (PROSHIKA is acronym of the words for Training, Education and Action in Bangla)
Language of InstructionBangla


PROSHIKA views illiteracy as both the cause and consequence of poverty, unemployment, social alienation, under-development and oppressive social systems in Bangladesh. In order to address the multiple challenges arising from illiteracy, PROSHIKA initiated the Universal Education Programme (UEP). UEP was first piloted in 1990. Since then, a total of 53,695 community-based adult literacy centres, 8,267 post-literacy centres or advanced literacy centres for continuing education and 22, 803 non-formal primary schools have been established across the country, and more than 2 million children, youths and adults have acquired functional literacy skills and graduated from UEP. Most of the beneficiaries are from poor rural and urban slum communities that face great difficulties in accessing education and thus in improving their social well-being and quality of life. As a result, UEP is now one of PROSHIKA’s most established and popular development programmes.

Background and Context


Bangladesh is a developing country with an economy dominated by primary industries such as agriculture. Most people live in rural areas and depend on subsistence farming. The country is characterised by socio-economic inequality including the uneven distribution of wealth, income, resources and social services such as health, education and housing. Poverty and unemployment in particular are endemic among the poor majority living in the rural areas and/or urban slums.

Similarly, despite efforts by the Government and NGOs to promote education as a vehicle for national development and the existence of laws which guarantee universal (compulsory) primary education, levels of illiteracy are still very high among poor Bangladeshis. Current estimates suggest that about 60 million Bangladeshis are illiterate, while every year about seven million children fail to attend school or drop out before completion of full course of primary cycle up to grade five. The gender disparity with regard to literacy is also high: UNESCO estimates that between 1995 and 2004, literacy rates among men and women were 54% and 41%. This disparity is partly due to long-standing cultural traditions which “segregate” against women.

High levels of illiteracy have not only been a source of poverty; they have also hindered long-term national development due to the lack of a literate workforce. It is against this background that PROSHIKA – a major human development NGO that was founded in 1976 – initiated the Universal Education Programme (UEP). UEP primarily endeavours to provide opportunities for educational and functional literacy skills training to poor and illiterate people of all ages in order to empower them to break out of the cycle of poverty and to promote national development. In light of this, the programme is being implemented extensively in the rural and urban slum areas inhabited by the vast majority of poor people. UEP is also integrated into and complemented by PROSHIKA’s other community-based poverty alleviation, social empowerment and developmental programmes such as the:


UEP is a comprehensive, intergenerational and community-based family literacy project for social development. The programme caters for the educational needs of children, out of-school youth and adults. In particular, it targets the most vulnerable social groups such as people from poor communities, ethnic minorities, women and girls. UEP is being implemented within the framework of the national Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) and therefore complements the Government’s efforts to promote national development.

In order to advance the national developmental goals enshrined in the PRSP and satisfy the various and often age-specific basic demands and needs of learners, UEP curriculum focuses on promoting the development of various, interlinked, theme-based skills among learners. These capacities centre on: family literacy (basic and advanced literacy); life skills; democratic citizenship competencies; issues of patriotism and nationalism; primary health care and nutrition; income generation; agriculture and sustainable community development; self reliance; and poverty alleviation. Such a comprehensive and integrated approach to literacy and social development is intended to empower learners to face the diverse challenges of life.

Aims and Objectives

This multi-sectoral and community-based approach to literacy training is driven by PROSHIKA’s overall vision of promoting the development of an economically productive, politically just and democratic, and environmentally conscious society. To this end UEP specifically endeavours to:

Implementation Approaches and Methodologies

UEP is implemented primarily using a community-based participatory approach which ensures that grassroots communities and organizations are mobilised and empowered to participate actively in the planning and implementation of the programme. PROSHIKA encourages people living in rural areas and slum cities to organize themselves into community organizations (known as samities or federations). The community groups, through their Village Coordination Committees (VCC) and with technical and resource assistance from PROSHIKA, are responsible for implementing the programme within their communities. These responsibilities include: opening new learning centres; managing these learning centres; enrolling learners; and recruiting facilitators and teachers. Community members and organizations also contribute financially towards the programme operation costs through, for example, the payment of a Tk. 10 (US$0.145) monthly tuition fee for each learner at non-formal primary schools. In addition, PROSHIKA’s Material Development Cell (MDC) designs and develops UEP curriculum in consultation with the communities, while UEP professional field staff and community organizations collaborate in drafting and implementing annual work plans.

The active involvement of grassroots organizations in the planning, implementation and management of UEP is intended to promote community ownership of the programme. Active community participation has improved the visibility, efficiency and cost effectiveness of the programme. Most importantly, moreover, the active involvement of the community at the planning stage has also ensured that UEP continues to meet the basic needs and aspirations of the beneficiaries.

Recruitment and Training of Facilitators and Teachers

UEP is being implemented through a network of community organizations and facilitators/teachers. More than 13,500 facilitators have been trained since the inception of the programme in 1992. With professional assistance from PROSHIKA’s UEP Education Workers (EWs), the VCCs select facilitators from village federations. Community organizations are encouraged to select facilitators with at least eight to ten years of formal primary education. Selected facilitators receive training in basic literacy teaching, which includes the administration of learning centres, curriculum content, classroom management, and efficient and effective teaching methodologies such as the use of primers, flash-cards, charts, group discussions, story telling and field observation trips. The initial training for facilitators lasts for 20 days thereafter, facilitators are obliged to attend ongoing refresher training seminars.

Unlike facilitators, teachers working in non-formal primary schools should have a Secondary School Certificate (S.S.C.) and are selected from the local community on the basis of written written and oral (viva) examinations. 95% of these teachers are women. Once the selection process is over, teachers undergo a three-week basic teacher training course, followed by a 6-day refresher course at the beginning of each academic year. In addition to the basic training and refresher courses, specialist training courses are being provided in English and Mathematics.

Basic literacy facilitators and non-formal primary school teachers receive a monthly honorarium of Tk. 600-800 (US$8.70 - 11.60) and Tk. 1000 (US$14.50), respectively.

Programme Components

UEP has four programme components:


This programme targets and assists young children them to enrol and remain in formal primary schools. It is designed to make education accessible to poor people and thus to contribute towards the achievement of Education for All (EFA) in Bangladesh. Between 1992 and 2006, 484,016 children (234,917 boys and 249,099 girls), received assistance to enrol in government formal primary schools. 84% of the enrolled managed to complete the full course of primary level education.

This is an educational catch-up programme which targets out-of-school children, particularly those aged between 8 and 11 years, who either dropped out of school or have never enrolled due to social and economic problems. As noted above, these children and youth constitute a large segment of the growing number of illiterate people in Bangladesh, and it is therefore imperative that they receive educational assistance to enable them to catch up with other children their age. By 2006, 22,747 non-formal primary (NEP) schools had been established and a total of 694,740 learners (309,194 boys and 385,546 girls) had benefited from the programme.


The NFPE core subjects are related to essential learning contents of formal primary education of the National Curriculum Board and Textbook Board of Bangladesh. The NFPE programme therefore offers the same qualifications as the formal primary education system and 65% of NFPE graduates are eligible to get themselves admitted into grade six of formal secondary schools for continued study. Efforts are also underway to provide NFP school graduates with Occupational Skills Development (OSD) training opportunities for self-empowerment and wage employment.

Unlike the formal primary system, the NFPE curriculum is covered in four academic sessions, each lasting for nine months for a complete study duration of three calendar years. Each year lasts of these years has been reduced to nine months by reducing the length of school holidays and increasing the total hours of learning time. In addition, the NFPE programme is faster and more intensive than formal primary schooling, not only because the learners in the programme are normally older and therefore able to grasp concepts more quickly than younger learners in formal primary schools, but also because the student-to-teacher ratio in NFP schools is lower (averaging 30:1), thus enabling teachers to focus more attention on individual learners.


This consists of two six-month adult literacy courses each year. Adult learners are selected by their respective community federations. Literacy classes are conducted at community learning centres and each class has, on average, between 20 and 25 participants. The programme particularly targets adult learners aged between 20 and 40 years. There are separate classes for male and female learners who are taught by a facilitator of the same sex. Adult literacy lessons are designed to satisfy the basic literacy and practical socio-economic skills needs of adult learners. This entails integrating literacy learning into productive skills training activities, thus enabling adult learners to become self-reliant providers for their families. Learners are also encouraged to share ideas and views interactively. By 2006, UEP had established 53,665 basic adult literacy learning centres, and a total of 1,138,820 learners (386,455 male and 752,365 female) had benefited from the programme.


This programme caters for semi-literate learners, including graduates of the basic literacy classes, and is intended to reinforce and sustain acquired literacy and numeracy skills. It entails establishing and equipping village libraries/advanced literacy centres with a variety of reading materials, such as newspapers, magazines, periodicals and books. As well as being encouraged to study on their own, learners are also organized (by the facilitators) into study circles which meet twice a month. This is intended to promote knowledge sharing and learner-to-learner mentoring. By 2006, about 8,267 village libraries had been established in 188 programme locations.

Impact and Challenges

Monitoring and Evaluation

PROSHIKA employs an ongoing monitoring and evaluation system to assess the progress as well as the impact and challenges of UEP on learners’ lives and their communities. Facilitators, the UEP technical team and PROSHIKA’s Impact Monitoring and Evaluation Cell (IMEC) are jointly responsible for the ongoing monitoring and internal evaluation of UEP. In addition, UEP learners sit assessment examinations which form the basis for accreditation and progression to the next level of learning.

In addition to these internal monitoring and evaluation processes, professional external evaluators are also employed to assess the progress, impact and challenges of UEP in line with PROSHIKA's agreements with its donor partners. To date, the following external evaluations have been undertaken:

Impact and Achievements

UEP has contributed substantially towards promoting social and economic development in Bangladesh. Most importantly, it has made a critical contribution towards the empowerment of poor people by reducing illiteracy and poverty as well as improving socially disadvantaged people’s living standards. The following summarises the programme’s main impacts and achievements:



UEP has encountered a number of challenges during its implementation, including:


Lessons Learned

Several key lessons have emerged from the implementation of UEP:


The sustainability of UEP is dependent on PROSHIKA's strong partnerships with the Government of Bangladesh and international donors supporting the programme's positive developmental impacts and PROSHIKA's various income-generating activities. As testimony of its capacity to sustain UEP without external funding, PROSHIKA was able to use its own resources to fund the establishment of around 1,200 NFP schools and 1,000 adult literacy centres following the NGO Affairs Bureau’s decision to block donor funds from October 2001.

In addition and most importantly, the sustainability of UEP depends on active technical and resource support and a continuous demand for literacy training from community members and organizations. Furthermore, as noted above, community groups share the cost of establishing and operating community literacy centres, and some of them also volunteer to work for the programme.


Harun ur Rashid

Director and Head, UEP
PROSHIKA Bhaban, Section-2, Mirpur, Dhaka-1216
Tel: +880-2 9004006; +880 801 5945
Fax: +880-2 8015811
Mobile: +880 1713042703
E-mail: uep (at) proshika.bdonline.com
Website: http://www.proshika.org/index.htm