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International Literacy Day 2015

International Literacy DayLet’s Resolve to Promote Education in Pakistan

Education is the foundation stone of a civilized society. It is the ladder that helps in reaching the pinnacles of social, moral and economic development in a country. All the saner minds around the world, individually and collectively, are amply aware of the importance of education because a person’s power of reasoning and consciousness are directly linked to his level of education. In today’s modern world, however, there still are some demented people who, at individual level, did not illuminate themselves and their near and dear ones with the light of knowledge while at the collective level, they spearhead the formulation of educational policies which have nothing to do with the ground realities.

Pakistan has been facing the grave consequences of disinterest in education in form of illiteracy, ignorance, poverty, extremism, intolerance, deprivations and underdevelopment; the evils that are still taking a heavy toll on country’s development prospects. However, it is also true that we are not the only country tangled in this intricate web rather many other countries that accorded no priority to education are also caught in the quagmire of backwardness and underdevelopment. On the contrary, the countries that prioritized education are reaping its benefits in the form of growth and development in all spheres of life.

In order to reinforce the commitment of education-friendly countries and to reaffirm that of those which are still waggling on their way to achieve higher literacy rates, a United Nations agency, United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) celebrates International Literacy Day on September 8 every year.

Although literacy is fundamentally a process of reading and writing, yet no consensus definition of it has been developed yet. Almost all countries use different definitions of literacy depending on their indigenous conditions and circumstances. For example, in Bangladesh a literate person is the one who can read, write, calculate and be socially aware; in Canada, a 9th grade pass is considered literate; in India, a literate person is the one who can read with accuracy at a speed of approximately 40 words per minute and write or copy at a speed of 10 words per minute and take dictation at the speed of not less than 7 words per minute in any language; in Indonesia, a person who can recognize alphabets, read simple words, signs his / her name, is able to read and understand a letter, or able to read certain part of a magazine or a newspaper is considered literate; and in Nepal, a person of age six years and above who is able to read and write in any language, a short statement on everyday life is considered literate. However, in Vietnam, this definition consists of three components vis-à-vis: (1) reading and writing the printed materials without spelling each word; (2) writing 80 words in 45 minutes without making too many mistakes; and (3) reading four digit numbers and write legibly the first ten numbers.

But, when we explore the term ‘literacy’ in the context of Pakistan, we come to know that it has evolved and improved since the first Census that was held in 1951. Following are the changing definitions of literacy that had been used to measure the ratio of literacy in Pakistan.

  1. In 1951 Census: “One who can read a clear print in any language.”
  2. In 1961 Census the definition with some improvement was: “One who is able to read with understanding a simple letter in any language.”
  3. In 1972 Census: “One who is able to read and write in some language with understanding.”
  4. In 1981 Census, the definition further evolved and the “One who can read newspaper and write a simple letter,” was considered literate.
  5. In 1998 Census, the definition further evolved to include only those people among the literate lot “who can read newspaper and write a simple letter, in any language.”

International Literacy DayAlthough all the above-mentioned definitions, per se, vary in their choice of words, yet the only core objective of all of those is to disseminate education and determine a specific eligibility criterion for a person to be included among the literates.

Since the establishment of Pakistan, in 1947, country’s overall literacy rate has significantly improved. Between 1951 and 2013-14, an increase of 256% was recorded as it rose from 16.40% to 58% during the said period. However, it is apt to note here that the literacy rate in Pakistan was recorded at 60% in 2012-13 which fell to 58% during 2013-14. Interestingly, during 2010-11 and 2011-12, it remained somewhat unchanged to stand at 58%. It is also worth mentioning here that in 2009-10, Pakistan’s literacy rate was 57.7%. This intermittent rise and fall in our country’s literacy rate warrants serious contemplation on its many aspects. This becomes especially important when we see that our progress on Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) has also been not-so encouraging.

At present, Pakistan has the world’s second highest number of out-of-school children while the country also hosts third highest number of adult illiterates in the world. According to Unesco’s “Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2015,” the number of out-of-school children reached as high as 5.3 million in 2012 which accounted for 9.25% of the world’s total OOSC. Moreover, the very report also pointed out that nearly 49 million adult people do not know how to read and write which, in essence, means that 6.30% of world’s adult illiterates inhabit Pakistan. In addition, the Economic Survey of Pakistan 2014-15 puts the number of OOSC in Pakistan to as high as 6.7 million.

On MDG 2 i.e. achieving universal primary education, Pakistan set a three-pronged target which consisted of achieving: (1) 100% primary school enrolment; (2) 100% completion of education from grades 1-5; and (3) 88% literacy rate. Although the situation as to the MDG has improved a lot, yet we still lag behind many other countries in achieving these coveted goals. As per the findings of “Pakistan Social & Living Standards Measurement Survey 2013-14,” only 57% of the Pakistani children of school-going age are enrolled in primary schools. However, Alif Ailaan’s District Education Rankings 2015 puts the dropout ratio at primary school level to nearly 33% which means that only 67% children complete their primary education. Literacy rate in Pakistan, which was to be elevated up to 88% by 2015, is still hovering around 58% (2013-14 data). It is also to be noted that in Pakistan, a person of age 10 years or more is literate if he/she “can read a newspaper and write a simple letter, in any language,” despite the fact that internationally, a standard of age 15 years and above is used.

This state of affairs calls for special attention toward the education sector. But, probably, the ground realities are quite different because Pakistan’s educational balance sheet presents a dismal and gloomy picture.

A Unicef report titled: “The State of the World’s Children 2015” reveals that in Pakistan, the net enrolment ratio of males and females at the secondary school level stands at 41% and 31% respectively. A similar report issued by National Education Management Information System (NEMIS) titled “Pakistan Education Statistics 2013-14” has revealed that during the period 2008-13, the net enrolment ratio of boys at primary level decreased by 8.89% while that of girls by 5.61%. This position is utterly unsatisfactory with regard to the MDG2 of achieving the universal primary education by 2015. Actually, the achievement of the said target is solely dependent on the success of national policy regarding the adult literacy, which currently stands at 56.2% in Pakistan. Only those parents, who, themselves, are literate and amply aware of the virtues of education, will send their kids to schools and will endeavour to make them go on with their studies even when they attain puberty.

International Literacy DayAccording to the NEMIS data, Pakistan’s educational system comprises 260200 educational institutes where 42918801 students are being imparted education by 1598334 teachers and instructors. Currently 69% of Pakistan’s educational institutes, 63% of students and 51% of teachers are in public sector. The ratio of boys and girls currently studying in these educational institutions is 57:43 and, at an average, there is one teacher available for 29.85 students; one institute for 164.94 students and the average of teachers available for one educational institute stands at 6.14.

Numerous reasons can be cited for Pakistan’s plight in education sector but one biggest impediment in this regard is an acute lack of facilities in schools. As per the data released by the NEMIS, among country’s public sector primary and higher secondary educational institutes, 7.2% do not even have a building, 36% have no electricity, and clean drinking water is not available in 30% of them. In addition, 30% of such educational institutions are without toilets and 27.55% are without boundary walls. Moreover, 21.81% of country’s school buildings, from primary to higher secondary level, are in serious want of repairs. Pakistan’s dilemma is further highlighted when we see that 14.80% of these institutions have only one-room buildings and 34.41% of those are housed in 2-room premises. Moreover, ghost schools devour millions of rupees of education budget; again a serious issue that requires immediate attention of the government.

Another cause of this backwardness is the less spending of financial resources on education. As per the data extracted from Economic Survey of Pakistan 2014-15, during the last decade, Pakistan spent nearly 2% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on education that is far less than international standard of a minimum 4%. When seen in the context of our region, other countries’ annual spending on education as percentage of GDP is more than Pakistan’s. For instance, Bangladesh spends 2.1% of its GDP on education while Bhutan spends 4.9%, India 3.2%, Iran 4.7% and the spending of the tiny Island nation Maldives accounts for 8% of its GDP. Another aspect that warrants special mention is that according to Unesco’s Global Education Digest 2012, Pakistan, after China and India, received third largest funding for the betterment of education amounting to US$541m but still our educational indicators are weaker than those of the other South Asian countries.

In addition, ever-increasing poverty in Pakistan has also kept us backward in education. Unesco says that more than 50% of poor children in the age group 7-16 years are out of school and 5% of their counterparts from well-off families do not bother to go to school. To monitor the progress on MDG 2, an index EFA 2012 was issued with Unesco’s Education for All Monitoring Report 2015, according to which Pakistan stood at 106th position out of 113 countries. The ranking of other South Asian countries was better than Pakistan’s as Sri Lanka was placed at 59th position with Bhutan, Bangladesh and Nepal occupying 93rd, 97th and 100th position, respectively.

There can be no denying the fact that education plays the most pivotal role in social welfare and economic development. The fruits of investing in education can be reaped in form of poverty reduction, healthcare improvement and economic development. In addition, it also enhances public participation in political affairs and helps in creating a balance between political and economic power. That’s why the focal point of educational systems across the globe is to increase enrolment, then retention, of children in the educational process.

Educationists all over the world consider education as essential mainly due to five major factors:

First, education is a means to eradicate poverty and to make financial development because researches reveal that in the lower-income countries, schooling for an additional year effects an increase of 10% in individual incomes. So, it is necessary to equip people with education as it can pull them out of the poverty quagmire. Education boosts economic growth as well. One study, conducted on 50 countries between 1960 and 2000, found that an additional year of schooling increased GDP by 0.37% annually.

Secondly, experts link education of mothers to achieving better nutrition for and more chances of survival of their children. At present, the height of 26% children of 5 years or less age is less than the requirements of their age whereas 15% of newborns have below-normal weight at birth. For that matter, if a mother is educated properly, then the chances of her child’s being of below-normal height and weight are reduced significantly. Moreover, an additional year of schooling for mothers helps in reducing the chances of infant mortality by 7-9%.

Thirdly, experts believe that education helps in fighting against AIDS and other fatal diseases.

Fourthly, it helps in improving the prospects of gender equality because with more and more girls getting educated, the chances of achieving gender parity will increase.

Fifthly, education fosters democracy and enhances public participation in a country’s affairs. International researches reveal that among the people eligible to vote, those having completed their primary education support democracy 150% more than those who are illiterate. While the same ratio for those having passed secondary school is 300%. This proves that investing in quality education improves the democratic dispensation of a country. It means that the promotion of democracy is dependent on promotion of education and vice versa and as a nation we need the both.

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