On Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Bangladesh (Part 4)

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On Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Bangladesh (Part 4)

Md. Amzad Hossain

Perth, Western Australia

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In our previous 3 discourses on ‘On Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Bangladesh’ published in the NFB – News from Bangladesh on June 05, June 26 and July 18 2017 respectively; we emphasize that Bangladeshi people are inherently educated in sustainable development management. Novak (1993) observes: "When you visit Bangladesh, by all means view the people as they are. But for your sake and theirs, remember that you are dealing with people who know what development is”.

Bangladeshi people culturally sustain least ‘ecological footprint’[i] values in order to live in ‘the state of self-reliance and self-reliant sustainability’ within sustainable carrying capacity of the country’s finite renewable resources.[ii] The Global Footprint Network reports that Bangladesh’s ecological footprint stands at only 0.7 ha per person compared to 1.8 for Asia, 2.65 for the world and 8.3 for Australia.[iii] The long-standing oral tradition of applied education for sustainable development has been the key to footprint management.

Yet, most of the post-1970’s rural people of Bangladesh need education for sustainable development including agriculture and fishing, skill development and spiritual perfection which have considerably degraded due to the acculturation of the Western culture including the Green Revolution and globalization (Shiva, 1993; 2005).  The sustainability incompatible western education that has emerged in the 1970’s also appears to be utterly unsustainable from all aspects of social, economic, political and ecological sustainability. An overhauling of the current education system is, hence, inevitable (Hossain and Marinova, 2013).

This discourse is developed as to how Bangladesh can re-achieve its glorious culture of sustainability by following the guidelines of the UN adopted Sustainable Development Goal 4  (Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all). [iv]

The Goal has 10 target areas to consider. This discourse focuses on Goal 4.7 that seeks “by 2030 ensure all learners acquire knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including among others through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship, and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development”.

The Goal 4.7 includes several aspects of education that can facilitate the rural people to avail essential goods and services from within the Mahalla or Ward resources on their own accord i.e. food, housing, clothes, applied education including spiritual development, health education and services, conflict resolution, and daily household and occupational necessities.

The primary research question and remarks (PQRs) to substantiate the findings:

What aspects of educational outcome most parents aspire for their children?

To become a good citizen i.e. personally honest, modest and healthy; economically solvent/self-reliant; socially respectable; and kind to nature.

Do children need to go to school for achieving these qualities?

NO. All these qualities can be achieved from parents, society and nature.

The people who became great persons in the history are the example.

What is the primary goal of Goal 4.7?

To generate and implement such an inclusive educational framework that is indispensable for achieving social, economic and environmental sustainability requirements.

What is the definition of inclusive ‘education’?

Inclusive education is “an attempt on the part of individuals and society to transmit to the succeeding generations their accumulated store of the knowledge of arts, values, customs and their ideals of life as a whole as well as their experiences in various fields which should help the younger generation in carrying on their activities of life effectively and successfully” (Ahmed,1990).

What are the implications of the above definition of education?

It implants values that are essential for understanding the natural and social environment around us and for connecting our knowledge, skill and values with our concerns for and obligations to nature, ecology and ourselves. (Hossain et al., 2014).

What are the obvious outcomes of the implications?

Individually consumption conscious, socially responsible, economically self-reliant, and respectfulness to nature (naturalism).

What must be the prime objective of education for sustainable development?

To ensure complete and inclusive wellbeing and healthy lifespan of human beings, respect for nature, and ecological stewardship by way of values and wisdom based education starting from the primary level onward for life-long learning and practices. It can then re-build the country as the model of sustainable human civilization within the time-span of achieving the SDGs.

What education system in Bangladesh can play the role as noted above?

A combination of non-formal or social education, and formal or classroom education.

Who need non-formal or social education and why?

Everyone needs it, for it is a lifelong education system. This educational system is applied in nature, timely, dynamic, culturally compatible, values based and sustainable.

Who need formal education and why?

Formal primary education for basic literacy is desirable for everyone. Secondary and tertiary level education is required to be occupational and selective for the pupils with appropriate aptitude and affordability.

Why NOT the current education system can serve the above purposes?

Because, it is devoid of the non-formal folklore based social education which is applied, and which puts more emphasis on morality and sustainability related issues.  On the other hand, the current curriculum is meant to promote greed, self-centredness, corruption, violence, and all sorts of immoral behaviours and actions.

What education can rectify the above anti-sustainability phenomena in Bangladesh?

Orally transmissible traditional education can be more effective in Bangladesh in this regard. Jalil (1993) maintains that folktales and traditional educational customs (informal gathering on an open ground under the shade of a tree while the mentor lectures using various forms of visual aids including actual specimens, etc)  are more effective education about the villagers’ day-to-day life management than written instructions. It is almost impossible to manage problematic village poverty and environment effectively without the restoration of sustainability related folk tales and other traditional customs. The country is abundantly resourceful of diverse folkloric education and wisdom encompassing individual, social, economic and environmental sustainability.[v]

What is folklore?[vi]

Folklore is a generic term that signifies the sustainability aspects of folk-life studies with its own core of theory and methodology. Unwritten stories and tales, proverbs and wisdom, folk and spiritual songs, beliefs in myths and legends, and adages and riddles etc. of a culture which are created and believed, valued and used mostly by the folk masses. Resulting from their belief and experience, the rural people rely more on the guiding messages embedded in the folklore rather than modern knowledge based knowhow (Albala, 2013).

Why is folklore so significant in Bangladesh with respect to achieving Goal 4.7?

The Bangladeshi folklore plays the key role to education for sustainable development. It is also cultural heritage of the country. Folklore embraces a myriad of proverbs, adages, wisdom sayings, folktales and folksongs, including the songs of the Baul mystic minstrels. “Khonar Bochan” (Afzal and Sattar, 1986) is most prominent and well practices folklore which are linked to various aspects of agriculture – from tilling to harvest, storage of yields and consumption principle. Folklore education is disseminated through face-to-face personal interactions in the organic village communities by means of oral, visual, direct, shared discourses enjoyed by most people (Briggs, 1990). This popular culture developed a large body of shared knowledge, beliefs and skills through vernacular expressions as well as demonstration. According to Bauman (1990), folklore is recognized for its durability and social efficacy. Albala (2013) points out the importance of folklore in anthropology, religious studies, literature, arts and most other humanities disciplines as well as for public policy, community development, social justice, cultural interpretation and education.

Why folkloric values and wisdom so significant for Bangladesh?

Folklore is an indispensable source of educational material for all including children. It promotes inter-personal relationship between the learner and the teacher or performer. Folklore can mould the young minds of children to achieve social and cultural reorientation and to prepare them for life challenges (Christine, 2009).

Bangladesh is one of the prime Stakeholders to implement and achieve the UN ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ 2030. Climate change, sustainable consumption, resilience in life, and values education in terms of sustainability perspective are considered as the vital goals amongst others. For a successful achievement of these goals, the reinforcement of folklore vis-à-vis traditional knowledge, values, and lifestyles are of utmost importance.

Who can foster folklore in Bangladesh for achieving the SDGs and how?

Demonstration Model Projects (DMPs) can foster and disseminate folk values and wisdom, and educational entertainment such as village drama, Jatra, Palagaan, Waj Mahfil and storytelling.

In Bangladesh the religious leaders (Ulama) transmit scriptural sermons orally to the audience at home ceremonies, mosque congregations and organised lectures at schools and other educational institutions. Baul gurus sing spontaneous songs before crowds of people. Storytellers reveal episodes to children. The Shamans prescribe locally available curatives (medicinal plants, herbs and substances) for fighting various diseases.

Why Goal 4.7 is enough for achieving self-reliant sustainability in Bangladesh?

This goal stresses for education for sustainable development; sustainable lifestyle; human obligations; gender equality; culture of peace and non-violence; brotherhood; appreciation of cultural diversity; and cultural contribution to sustainable development.

For whom the Education for Sustainable Development is required?

It is required for all people in the society in accordance with their need for respective occupational skill development. For example, rural people have a close relationship with and dependence on natural resources for their livelihoods, which requires them to have skills and practices to look after those resources in a careful manner.

Why education for sustainable development is essential?

Due to the lack of education for sustainable development people can be destructive and utterly unkind to nature. The education for the Green Revolution in Bangladesh and the Indian subcontinent which utterly lacks the components of education for sustainable development resulted in the application of mechanical irrigation for over-extracting underground water, chemical inputs for food production and processing, mono-cropping and genetically modified high yielding varieties of crops.[vii] These technological factors have caused unsustainability, accelerated poverty, widened the gap between rich and poor, degenerated cultural values and lead to water crises and soil fertility degradation (Shiva, 2016).

Wherefrom the education for all these can be obtained?

From the Demonstration Model Projects (DMPs) facilitated with the form of education as included in the above definition of education i.e. transmission of accumulated knowledge, values, experience and know-how of sustainable development to the succeeding generations so that they can understand the natural and social environment around them and can connect their knowledge with their concerns about nature, ecology and other people.

What components of DMPs contribute what aspects of education for sustainable development?

The DMPs have both formal applied research and training based educational programs and informal life-long learning and practicing processes.

What are the formal components in the DMPs?

Applied research and training based educational programs.

How can applied research contribute towards achieving SDGs.

By documenting the problems, research methodology, research findings, recommendations and guidelines for replication of DMPs elsewhere.

Who can conduct the research and training programs?

The appropriated qualified people who can create learning, understanding and practicing atmosphere as Einstein puts: “I never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn” (Albert Einstein).

Who can initiate Goal 4.7 for implementation in Bangladesh?

In Bangladesh government, apex authorities such as the Prime Minister’s Office, through its research oriented units like the GIU, upon receiving instructions from the government, and in coordination with ministries and departments can trigger this venture by appropriately trained personnel who want to pursue research at DMPs.

Concluding Remarks

Bangladesh is now going through a severe unsustainable educational phenomenon for the Young Generation. Folklore is an indispensable source of educational material for all including children around the globe. It promotes inter-personal relationship between the learner and the teacher or performer. It is a common perception that the greater the guru, the simpler the technique of teaching and reflecting.

Saria Tasnim[viii] maintains that the age-long tradition folklore education has been overshadowed and marginalized by the acculturation of modern education. A notion of social awareness, political and policy support is thus urgent to revive the education and practice of nature friendly self-reliant sustainability. The integration of folklore in primary education would particularly help rediscover the roots of regaining the degrading self-reliance through reviving traditional lifestyle and stewardship for achieving UN declared Sustainable Development Goals in Bangladesh. Thus this discourse stresses to reinstate folklore education right from the primary level as the best means of learning and acquiring sustainability management values such as simplicity, self-reliance, respecting nature, resilience etc..

UNESCO adopted a charter in 1998b with the aim of protecting and preserving the threatened and deteriorating folklore and traditional cultures across the world. The charter emphasized the necessity of collecting, preserving and studying folklore of all countries of the world. It insisted that the study of folklore be included in the curricula of all secondary education and higher studies. The charter also stressed on training in folklore studies at regional, national and international levels. All countries including Bangladesh are the signatories of this charter.

But, the folklore based oral tradition of diverse applied education required for sustainable development has been sustainably existed in the culture of Bangladesh since the beginning. If nurtured properly, the folklore values driven education from the primary level onward can re-build the country as the model of human civilization and sustainability within the time-span of achieving the SDGs.

The simple yet powerful proverbial wisdom of Bangladeshi folklore helps rural people understand food production, culture and sustainability through a spiritual window. In the domain of folklore, agriculture, culture and sustainability are all interlinked. Folklore being the carrier of the Bangladeshi culture is linked to every step of the agricultural accounting process through rural beliefs, customs, rituals, myths, legends, tales, rhymes, songs and riddles. Countless folkloric proverbs, adages, wisdom, folktales and folksongs, including Baul[ix] songs and the Khona Bochon, guide various aspects of agricultural accounting and management – from tilling to harvest and storage of yields to ethics of sustainable consumption.

Without formal quantification, these proverbs and songs guide agricultural practices in rural Bangladesh maintaining a socio-economic system that promotes sustainable activities and counteracts the damage caused by the Green Revolution in the 1970s. The three value principles of sustainability accounting, namely kindness, modesty and resilience, are highly informed by the country’s folklore allowing traditional agro-ecological sustainability management. They help revitalize agricultural traditionalism as an important sustainability aspect of looking after the health of the land and its people.

To be continued.


Afaz, A. and Sattar, A. 1986. Khonar Bachan, Dhaka: The Taz Publishing House.

Ahmed, M., (1990), Islamic Education: Redefinition of Aims and Methodology, Qazi Publisher and Distributors, New Delhi.

Albala, Ken. (2013). Routledge International Handbook of Food Studies. Routledge, New York.

Bauman, R. (1992). Introduction. In R. Bauman (Ed.), Folklore, cultural performances, and popular entertainments: A communications centered handbook (pp. xiii-xx1). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Briggs, A. (1992). Culture. In R. Bauman (Ed.), Folklore, cultural performances, and popular entertainments: A communications centered handbook (pp. 3-11). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Christine, Y. House (1993), Cultural Understanding through Folklore, Contents of Curriculum Unit 93.02.05: New York

Hossain, A., Marinova, D. (2013) Wisdom for living with certainty amidst uncertainty, Transformations, 3–4 (78–79): 294–306

Hossain, A., Marinova, D., Hossain Rhaman, P. (2014) Islamic insights on sustainability, in Humphreys, D., Stober, S.S. (eds) Transitions to Sustainability: Theoretical Debates for a Changing Planet, Common Ground, Champaign, IL, pp. 50–62

Jalil, A. (1993) Loka Sahitter Nanan Dik (Diverse Aspects of Folk Literature). Bangla Academy, Dhaka [in Bangla]

Novak, James. 1993. Bangladesh: Reflections on the Water. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Shiva, V. 1993, The violence of the Green Revolution: ecological degradation and political conflict in Punjab, Zed Press. New Delhi.

Shiva, V. 2005, Earth democracy: justice, sustainability and peace, South End Press, Cambridge.

Shiva, V. 2016, The violence of the Green Revolution: Third world agriculture, ecology and politics, Kentucky University Press, Lexington, KY.

United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) 2008, Baul songs, viewed 23 August 2015, <>.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) (1998b) Education for the Twenty-first Century, UNESCO Publishing, Paris.

End Notes

[i] Ecological footprint – a sustainability accounting approach related to nature’s carrying capacity. It begins with a particular section of the landscape and asks what population this locality can support sustainably; it then calculates the current pressure on this area (Rees 2000). This is an attempt to measure human demand on the planet’s ecology based on self-reliance.

[ii] The state of self-reliance is a phenomenon where people culturally maintain minimum ecological footprint in order to live healthy, content and happy lives on their own accord.

[iii] Global Footprint Network. 2015. “Footprint of Nations.” Global Footprint Network.

[iv] 4.1 by 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes

4.2 by 2030 ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education

4.3 by 2030 ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university

4.4 by 2030, increase by x% the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship

4.5 by 2030, eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples, and children in vulnerable situations

4.6 by 2030 ensure that all youth and at least x% of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy

4.7 by 2030 ensure all learners acquire knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including among others through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship, and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development

4.a build and upgrade education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive and provide safe, non-violent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all

4.b by 2020 expand by x% globally the number of scholarships for developing countries in particular LDCs, SIDS and African countries to enrol in higher education, including vocational training, ICT, technical, engineering and scientific programmes in developed countries and other developing countries

4.c by 2030 increase by x% the supply of qualified teachers, including through international cooperation for teacher training in developing countries, especially LDCs and SIDS

[v] The diverse natural calamities in Bangladesh such as famine, floods, droughts and cyclones cause people to frequently experience sustainability setback. In order to revitalise adaptation, coping and resilience skills while in hardship, people are culturally taught to use the widely known proverbial wisdom such as: ‘where there is an adversity, there is a hidden possibility’, ‘there is no happiness without sorrow’, ‘take the bad with the good, ‘where there is a will, there is a way’, ‘failure is the pillar of success’, ‘money is not all’, ‘people are the slave of their environment’, ‘desire for too much is ruining’, ‘cut your coat according to your cloth’, ‘eat less to live longer’, ‘foolish is s/he who overeats’, ‘eat to sustain life, and not for the pleasure of it’; ‘wise is s/he who is immune from excessive material desire’, ‘respecting Mother Nature is worshipping God’, ‘avarice begets sin, sin begets death’. This sustainability wisdom conveys a sense of values that belongs to the universal human conditions (Fluehr-Lobban, 2004: 74) and creates peace and certainty.

[vi] Some examples of folklore:

1. On population

Je desher nai jonobol briddhi,

Se deshe nai shukh sombriddhi.

(The country which has no population increase, there is no thriving happiness).

Je grame asse 36 jatir bash

sethai bohe sorger batash.

(The village which has people with 36 occupational casts, the wind from heaven flows there).

2. On Homestead

Alo Haoa bedho na, roge voge moro na.

Dakhin duari ghorer raja, pub duari tahar proja.

Paschim duarir mukhe sai, uttar duarir khajna nai.

(Do not block sunshine and wind – do not die of sickness and sufferings.

South facing home is the king, East facing is its subject.

West facing is unlucky, North facing has no municipal tax).


Purbe hash, poschime bash, uttore kola, dakkhine mela.

(Pond in the East, bamboo in the West, banana in the North, open space in the South).

3. On Agriculture

Baishakher prothom jole, Aus dhan digun fole.

Vadrer chari, Ashhiner chari, kolai buni joto pari.

Bunle potol falgune, phol bare digune.

Sholo chase mula, tar ordhek tula, tar ordhek dhan, bina chashe pan

((Rice production is double if planted in the first rain of the month of Baishakh – March, April. Plant banana  between 4 Vadra and 4 Aswin (September and October).

If Potol vegetable is planted in Falgun (February), production is double.

Raddish 16 time tilling of land, cotton requires a half of it, rice requires a half tilling of cotton, and no tilling is required for betel leaves)).

Am kathal rue, thakge chashi shue.

Bosore duibar dibi shar, dekhbi tobe foler bahar.

(Planting mango and jackfruit seeds, the farmers can relax. They are required only to give fertilizer twice a year in order for high yields.)

Dak die bole rabon, kola lagabi Ashar srabon.

Tin soto shat kola rue, thako grihastha ghare shue.

(Rabon calls people for banana plantation in month of Ashar and Sravan –June and July. Planting 360 plants, the famer can sleep at home)

Kola rue na kato path, tatei kapor tatei bhat.

(After planting banana, never cut its leaves)

Vadra mashe rue kola, Sobongse molo rabon shala

(Planting banana in the month of Bhadra – August, Rabon the farmer suffered a heavy loss)

Purnima Amaya je dhore hal, tar dukkha chiro kal.

Tar boloder hoy bath, ghore tar thake na hath.

Khona bole shuno bani, je choshe tar hobe hani.

(The farmers who engage cattle in the full moon and dark moon for tilling, his cattle suffer from rheumatism. Khona strongly warns about it).

Gai die bohe hal, tar dukkha chiro kal.

(Those who till land with she-cow, they suffer from poverty lifelong)

At hath ontor ek hat khai,  kola poth ge  chashi bhai.fl74

Dhorle poka dibi chai, er cheye valo upai nai.

(Plant banana in 18 inches depth and after every 4 meters. This is the best method).

Shobol gorur govir chash, tate pure chasha ash.

(Deep tilling with strong oxen fulfills the farmer’s expectation).

Ghar badho khato, gai kino chhoto.

Bou koro kalo, tai grihaster valo.

(Build house not too high, buy small size cow, marry dark-complexion woman, all these are good for the peasant)

Baignanik abad ar korona

A abad kokhono teksoi hoy na

Khonar bochone fire cholo

Khonar gnaner nai tolona. (Harun Baul)

(Do not do modern farming, it is not sustainable, return to Khona’s knowledge, it is uncomparable)

Gram banglar gram vandare bhai, kono kisur ovab nai

Sethai biswase malai vastu, itihash proman dayi

Harun tai grame thake, shohorke adhla vebe (Harun Baul)

(No insufficiency in the rural treasure of Bangladesh. Belief is the means of material goods. Harun, therefore, lives in village recognizing city as a half entity).

Jeo na andaji pathe, o mon rasana.

Kupanke kupanche pole, praan bachbe na.

Pather parichoy kare,

Jao na maner sandeh mere,

Laav lokshan buddhir dare Jabe jana.

Anurag tarani choro

Dhar chine ujan dhoro

Lalon bole karte paro mul sadhana (Lalon Fakir).

(Do not proceed through conjectural path. It has fatal pitfalls.

Identifying a sustainable path, proceed diligently.

Intention results in right or wrong.

Sail on a boat of commitment, and go ahead to overcome adversities.

Lalon says, you can then accomplish your goal).

[vii] Shiva, Vandana. 1993. The Violence of the Green Revolution: Ecological Degradation and Political Conflict in Punjab. New Delhi: Zed Press. Also see Shiva, Vandana. 2016. The Violence of the Green Revolution: Third World Agriculture, Ecology and Politics. Lexington: Kentucky University Press. Also see Siddiqui, A., Amzad Hossain, and Dora Marinova. 2016. “Crisis amidst Abundance: Food Security in Bangladesh.” This volume.

[viii] Saria Tansim is completing PhD in CUSP. Her thesis title is “Integrating Folklore into Primary Education: Sustainability Perspective of Bangladesh “

[ix] In 2005, the Bauls were recognized by UNESCO (2008) as part of the intangible heritage of humanity as they have been influencing the popular culture of Bangladesh for centuries.



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