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Education for all

Sep 8: The first ever National Literacy Review Roundtable was held last week at Lahore by PACADE the national NGO for literacy and continuing education in collaboration with NCHD the National Commission for Human Development.

In addition to senior officers in-charge of literacy of the central and provincial governments - all the four provincial secretaries as well as the concerned ministers from Balochistan and Punjab were present. The meeting was attended by the Chairman of NCHD, Dr Nasim Ashraf and Mr Iqbal-ur-Rehman commission's Chief Literacy Coordinator, Director UNESCO in Pakistan Mr Jorge Sequeira, a senior JICA representative Ms Nazia Seher and heads of leading literacy NGOs.

The purpose of holding the roundtable was to take stock of the literacy situation in Pakistan and secure commitments on the part of the governments, central and provincial, to accelerate efforts to speed up the achievement of targets set in the National Plan of Action.

This Plan of Action was formulated as a follow-up of the World Education Forum held in Dakar, Senegal in the year 2000. 'Education for All' goals include expanding and improving comprehensive early childhood care and education, access by 2015 of all children to free and compulsory primary education of good quality, and ensuring 50 percent improvement in levels of adult literacy by 2015, especially for women. The Roundtable Review focused primarily on adult literacy.

As is known, Pakistan has one of the highest rate of illiteracy in the world. A few revealing facts are:

a) While 82 percent of the world population is literate, Pakistan claims only 55 percent literacy (this figure is widely questioned)

b) Pakistan is one of the handful of countries where the number of illiterates instead of going down, is increasing every year.

c) Close to 55 million Pakistanis of age 10 and above are utterly illiterate - they cannot read the number of the bus or the calendar.

d) Pakistan's financial allocation for literacy is one of the lowest in the world, not even .5 percent of the GNP.

e) There are about 7 million out-of-school children in the country.

f) According to UNESCO Global Monitoring Report 2006, Pakistan is one of the 28 countries which will fail to achieve the EFA goals by 2015 "unless dramatically stepped up efforts are made."

g) Pakistan's literacy rate in 1998, as per the national population census report, was 43.9 percent with Punjab 46.6 percent, Sindh 45.3 percent, NWFP 35.4 percent and Balochistan 24.8 percent.

Some of the findings of the roundtable based on presentations made are as follows:

The good news: NCHD has emerged as the lead agency for the promotion of literacy. During the last five years it ran about 70,000 centres all over the country including FATA, FANA and Azad Kashmir and claims to have made 1.4 million adults literate. The literacy course is for a period of five months (with no post- literacy follow up). The commission is to raise the number of literacy centres to 100,000 this year.

The question is: will it be able to sustain the quality of its work with this rapid and large up scaling? And will it achieve the declared goal of 86 percent literacy rate by the year 2015 considering that it will require a much greater effort to make even 2/3rd of 55 million adults, literate.

Another promising start is the Punjab's initiative to make four districts totally literate. It also will be opening literacy centres in the remaining districts of the province. So elaborate have been the preparations for these programmes including an information and mapping exercise that for the last one and a half-year hardly any adult literacy centre has actually been opened (so much for the heavily advertised Paraha Likha Punjab!). The elementary education foundation in NWFP has under the leadership of its dynamic managing director, Mushtaq Jadoon made rapid strides within a period of two years. The number of adults made literate for the period July 2003 to June 2007 comes to 0.158 million.

Now the bad news: The performance of the central ministry of education has left much to be desired. First it let the government abolish the much-needed Prime Minister's Literacy Commission reducing it to a cell within the ministry. Reduced in status and capacity and starved of funds it could not provide the support and leadership to the provinces. This to some extent explains why Balochistan and Sindh have practically little to show by way of literacy promotion. So pathetic is the position as admitted by secretary education Sindh Mr Jatoi and minister for Social Welfare and Literacy Balochistan Madam Shama Parveen Magsi that not only no literacy centres have been opened in these provinces for the last many years, what is worse is that there are no financial allocations for literacy in the current financial year. The small amounts sent by the centre for literacy direct to the districts have remained unspent.

After a presentation by Mr Saqib Ali Khan, central project director for literacy, Dr Muhammad Saleem of the ministry of education presented his estimates of the number of centres to be operated and the financial estimates for required expenditure between the years 2007 to 2015. These were discussed at length. The ministry would be producing revised figures which the provincial representatives present at the roundtable promised to take up with their respective governments.

Dr Nasim Ashraf's timely contribution towards the spread of literacy merits appreciation. He as head of the NCHD has commendably filled the leadership vacuum in promoting literacy, in Pakistan. In his address, he rightly emphasised the crucial importance of political will for literacy which by and large has been lacking. His comments about the need for decentralisation and coordination were also well taken. He further referred to the commission 's valuable support for strengthening the primary school system especially in the remote areas. If only our primary education standards can be raised, the yearly addition to the number of illiterates would be considerably reduced. Unfortunately, the dropout rate in the first two years of schooling remains unacceptably high, around 40 percent resulting in tremendous loss and wastage.

Shaheen Attiq-ur-Rehman spoke for the NGOs at the roundtable. In the ensuring discussion it was conceded that NGOs had done pioneering work in the field of literacy by experimenting with methodologies, production of reading material and introducing good practices. It was recommended that government should avail of their services and also help build up their capacity to deliver the goods.

UNESCO has played a vital role in drawing attention of the government of Pakistan to the neglected task of promoting literacy and in providing support to it in various ways. Director Jorge Sequeira in his speech assured the continuation of UNESCO's cooperation and support to the government and NGOs.

The roundtable succeeded in bringing out a clear picture of the literacy situation in Pakistan and in securing commitments from the central and provincial governments to accelerate efforts for the realisation of Dakar/NPA goals and targets.

Today is the International Literacy Day. The central government as well as the governments of Sindh and Balochistan would be well advised to make a note of the findings and recommendations of the National Roundtable to ensure that the Dakar EFA goals and National Plan of Action targets are reached and necessary financial allocations are made for this to be realised. It is time government fulfils its repeated promises to raise the allocation of funds for education to the minimum required 4 percent of the GDP.

The writer is president PACADE and was the first whole time chairman of the National Commission for Literacy and Mass Education.
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