‘If we are to move forward, we must believe in Alif Bay Pay. This awareness campaign to highlight the importance of education, being run by a private TV channel, makes every viewer strongly and recurrently realize that we, individually as well as collectively, still have to do a lot for the promotion of education in our country.
We are paying a heavy price in the form of poverty, ignorance, extremism, intolerance, deprivation and backwardness for our apathy and indifference towards education. But, it is also a fact that we are not the only nation passing through this grim situation rather many other nations are also marooned in gigantic problems because of not prioritizing the education. On the contrary, the countries which give top priority to education are enjoying the blessings of progress and prosperity. Seen in this context, with reference to the importance attached to education, there are two types of countries in the world: those which have a firm hold on education and those whose grip on education is still loose. For the benefit of both these types of countries, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) observes International Literacy Day on September 8 every year, to further consolidate the commitment of education-friendly countries and to promote this commitment in those countries which lag behind them in this field. The theme for this year’s Literacy Day is ‘Literacies for the 21st Century’. The reason is that this is the century of knowledge and only those countries can hope to survive, which will show real commitment to knowledge and enlightenment.
The biggest challenge facing humanity at the moment is in the form of those children who are out of primary schools, and their number is 59 million according to UNESCO’s Institute of Statistics. Besides, educating 774 million illiterate adults is also an uphill task. Universal Primary Education Programme is going on all over the world under the auspices of the United Nations for encouraging the non-school-going children to go to schools. The goal of this programme is that by the year 2015, all the children between the ages of five and nine (the universally-recognized age for going to primary schools) should be sent to schools. In this connection, Pakistan faces an alarming situation, because it has the world’s second highest number of non-school-going children (5.53 millions). In the same way, it has the world’s third highest number of illiterate adults above the age of 15 (49.50 million). Some indicators have been devised for the primary education of all children under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). They include:
1. Hundred per cent children belonging to the primary school going age group should go to school.
2. Hundred per cent children should continue their studies from grade 1 to grade 5.
3. Literacy rate in the country should be increased.
In terms of these three indicators, situation in Pakistan has somewhat improved, but a lot is yet to be done. According to the Economic Survey of Pakistan 2012-13, 57 per cent children belonging to the primary school going age group were admitted to the schools in 2011-12. On the other hand, 49 per cent of the primary school going children completed their primary education till 2010-11. The literacy rate in the country that was to be increased to 88 per cent by the year 2015, could reach only 58 per cent. Literacy rate in Pakistan is still measured in terms of persons of ten or above, being able to read the newspaper and write a simple letter in any language. On the other hand, at the international level literacy rate is measured with reference to the literacy level of adults who are 15 years old or above. If measured in these terms, Pakistan stands at 134th position among 149 countries. It is interesting to note that among all the South Asian countries, Bhutan is the only country where literacy rate is lower than that of Pakistan in adults who are fifteen years old or above. In the remaining South Asian countries, literacy rate is higher than that of Pakistan and consequently they enjoy better places in the global ranking of countries. In Pakistan, literacy rate among youngsters (15 to 24 years old) is 70.7 per cent. Pakistan’s ranking is 129th in 148 countries of the world in terms of literacy rate of the youngsters belonging to this age group. All the other South Asian countries are ahead of Pakistan in this ranking. In the same way, Pakistan has the world’s second largest number of illiterate youngsters. Their number is 10.82 million, as mentioned in the Adult and Youth Literacy: National, Regional and Global Trends 1985-2015 report, compiled by UNESCO’s Institute of Statistics.
All such facts emphasize the need for taking radical steps in Pakistan. One such step can be a substantial increase in the budget allocated for education. According to UNESCO’s Global Education Digits, Pakistan is spending only 2.4 per cent of its total GDP on education annually. In this connection, Pakistan is ranked 134th in the global ranking of 144 countries of the world. A surprising feature of this global ranking is that Bangladesh and Sri Lanka spend 2.2 per cent and 2.1 per cent of their annual GDP on education respectively. Their annual spending on education is less than that of Pakistan. But despite that, they are ahead of Pakistan in terms of their literacy rate and other education related indices. Another worth-considering fact is that in the year 2010, Pakistan received US$541 million in aid to be spent on education. Thus, after China and India, Pakistan became the third largest recipient of such aid. Even then, all indicators point to the fact that Pakistan is still far behind the other South Asian countries in the realm of education. Realizing the gravity of the situation, the Government of Pakistan has taken a number of appreciable steps in this regard. For instance, it has made education free and compulsory up to grade ten. The Parliament has passed a bill for free and compulsory education following article 25-A of the Constitution, that entitles the right of education to every child between the age of 5 and 16 years. In addition, in 2009, National Education Policy was formulated, under which a strategy was evolved for the qualitative and quantitative improvement of education at all levels. Besides other steps, the government is committed also to allocate 7 per cent of GDP to education by the year 2015. The Government of the Punjab has recently launched Enrolment Emergency Campaign, entitled Jahalat say Azadi, in the province. As a part of this campaign, the government of Punjab has decided to achieve hundred per cent enrolment of children belonging to the age group of 5-15 years. 2.4 million children (5-9 years old) are reported out of school in Punjab on the basis of Nieisen Household Survey. This campaign will ensure:
1 hundred per cent enrolment of-out-of school children (5-9 years old) in schools.
Hundred per cent retention of enrolled students.
3 Hundred per cent readmission of students (nine to sixteen years old) who left school without completing or passing terminal exams in their respective classes, if his or her age is according to the age of the students of the class. The success of this campaign will depend on the commitment and sincerity of the efforts on part of the people associated with it. Otherwise, like previous similar campaigns, it too will go up in smoke.
We can have a quantitative assessment of our educational standards on the basis of likely enrollments, number of institutes and number of teachers. This analysis shows a slight improvement. The number of enrolments during 2011-12 was 40.1 million, as compared to 38.5 million during the same period last year showing an increase of 2.4 per cent . It is estimated to increase to 41.3 million during 2012-13. The number of institutes stood at increase 231200 during 2011-12, as compared to 227400 last year. This shows an increase of 1.7 per cent. The number of institutes is estimated to increase to 233200 during 2012-13. The number of teachers during 2011-12 was 1.44 million, compared to 1.41 million during the last year, showing an increase of 2.1 per cent. The number of teachers is estimated to increase to 1.50 million during the year 2012-13.
Now, let us have a qualitative analysis of our educational standard, in the light of Annual Status of Education Report 2012; a citizens-led household based learning survey conducted in selected urban and rural areas. It measures learning levels of children (five to sixteen years of age), the same age group as identified for compulsory education in article 25-A of the Constitution of Pakistan. Annual Status of Education Report Survey is conducted annually across Pakistan and will continue up to the year 2015. In this survey, children aged 5 to 16 years were tested for language and arithmetic competencies. The survey revealed that the learning level of students with reference to their competency in language (Urdu, Sindhi, Pushto and English) and arithmetic though have improved since last year, yet it still remains poor. Half of the children from grade 5 still cannot read grade 2 Urdu, Sindhi and Pushto stories. In ASER 2011, 47 per cent of grade 5 students were reported as being able to read a story, compared to 51 per cent of grade 5 students who could do so in 2012. For English this year, 48 per cent of grade 5 students were reported to read class 2 level English sentences, as compared to 41 per cent of grade 5 students who could do so in 2011. Similarly, 44 per cent of grade 5 students were able to do three digit division sums, compared to 37 per cent children in 2011. No doubt, there has been some qualitative and quantitative improvement in our educational standard yet the pace of improvement is very slow. We need urgent and wide- ranging reforms for the real improvement of our educational sector in order to keep pace with the rapid progress of the developed countries. At the same time, at individual, collective, political and government levels, we need a solid commitment and determination to demonstrate our belief in the slogan that if we are to forward, we must have a firm belief in Alif Bay Pay.