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Education standards downslide in Pakistan

Pakistan education standards
Islamabad, Sep 09: International Literacy Day is being observed today (Monday) across the world with the theme "Literacy and Health" but the state of education in Pakistan paints a dismal picture.

September 8 was proclaimed International Literacy Day by UNESCO on November 17, 1965. It was first celebrated on 1966 to highlight the importance of literacy to individuals, communities and societies.

International Literacy Day, 2008, has a strong emphasis on literacy and epidemics with a focus on communicable diseases such as HIV, Tuberculosis and Malaria, some of the world's most important public health concerns.

Education is the main vehicle for socio-economic development but, unfortunately about half of adult population in Pakistan cannot read and write. Pakistan is sixth most populus country of the world. Due to rapid population growth and inability of the formal education system to bring all children into school, illetrate polulation has increased from 22 million in 1961 to 48 million by 2005. It is feared that by 2015, illetrate population in Pakistan may rise to 52 million.

In the area of education, Pakistan is lagging behind other countries of South Asia, even lower than Nepal, Bangladesh and Maldives. Pakistan has been spending less on education as copmared to other countries in the region.

According to Education for All Global Mointoring Report 2008 by UNESCO, Pakistan is spending 2.4 per cent of its GDP on education against the UNESCO-recommended norm of a minimum of 4 per cent and against 3.8 per cent spent by India, 7.5 per cent by Maldives, 4.7 per cent by Iran and 3.4 per cent by Nepal.

Out of 2.4 per cent only 1.93 per cent of GNP is being spent on education in real terms and only 11 per cent of the total education budget is allocated for the higher education sector. The total education budget is needed to be increased to a minimum of six per cent as recommended by UNESCO for developing countries with at least one-third of it going to the higher education sector.

The reason behind the current state of affairs is lack of political will and half-hearted efforts by the government which can be gauged by the fact that the portfolio of the education ministry is vacant since the PML-N ministers' walk out from the cabinet on the judges' issue.

Though, 16 major political parties of the country on February 5 this year had committed in a Joint Declaration on 'Education For All in Pakistan' to increase the present allocation of the education budget from 2.4 per cent to 4 per cent of the GDP within the next three years.

But the ruling coalition contrary to its claims after coming into power slashed 5.7 billion from the fourth quarter of the last years' budget of Higher Education Commission (HEC).

The unexpected cut in the HEC's budget badly affected the universities which had no savings and even the salaries for the months of April and May 2008 had been paid after withdrawing money from Pension Funds, Students Fund, Reserve Fund and taking loans.

The prolonged absence of education minister greatly affected the ongoing projects of the ministry, including education policy, implementation of new curriculum and other issues, which could be resolved in an amicable manner if it would be on the priority list of the government.

By Asma Ghani (The Nation)

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Literacy Day passes unnoticed
Lahore: International Literacy Day passed unnoticed in the provincial metropolis as neither any non-governmental organisation (NGO) nor any government agency organised any event to highlight the day's importance.

The day is observed every year around the world on September 8 to acknowledge the efforts made in connection with promotion of literacy and to highlight its significance. The day also calls attention to the global efforts to promote literacy. However, unfortunately, this year the important day passed unnoticed as no event was organised in this connection.

September 8 was proclaimed International Literacy Day by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) on November 17, 1965. This year, the day was marked with slogan "Literacy is the best remedy".

It is a bitter reality that like many other challenges faced by Pakistan, the promotion of literacy is one of the tests for the government as well as for the people. It is generally said that lack of political will, absence of consistency in policies, population explosion and lack of community and civil society participation were major challenges and issues related to efforts to enhance literacy level in Pakistan.

According to experts, illiteracy rate in Pakistan is very high among the poor and disadvantaged people of the country while owing to feudal set up in rural areas; people are also not encouraged to receive education which leads to increase in number of illiterate populace.

One of the reasons for low literacy rate in the country is said to be low participation of female in education at different levels because of social constraints and other factors. According to the Federal Ministry of Education, there are over 50 million illiterate people in the country while rive to six million children are out of school. The adult literacy rate in the country is near 56 percent.

The sorry state of affairs regarding efforts in connection with promotion of literacy could be gauged by the Education for All (EFA) Global Monitoring Report 2008 recently launched by UNESCO according to which Pakistan is among group of countries which are far from achieving EFA goals by 2015.

According to the report EFA Development Index (EDI), calculated for 129 countries, shows that 25 countries are far from achieving EFA goals. About two-thirds of these are in sub-Saharan Africa, while Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Mauritania and Morocco are also included. It is pertinent to mention here that in April 2000 more than 1,100 participants from 164 countries gathered in Dakar, Senegal, for the World Education Forum. They affirmed their commitment to achieving Education for All by the year 2015.

According to UNESCO, there are six internationally agreed education goals, which aim to meet the learning needs of all children, youth and adults by 2015. These education goals include expand early childhood care and education, provide free and compulsory primary education for all, promote learning and life skills for young people and adults, increase adult literacy by 50 per cent, achieve gender parity by 2005 and gender equality by 2015 and improve quality of education.

Academic circles are very critical of the lack of interest shown by government departments as well as NGOs on important day like International Literacy Day, saying it was only because of such attitude that no significant results were being achieved while hollow slogans were being raised in this connection time and again. The News

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The education bazaar
Lahore: It is quite enlightening to hear our government big wigs wax eloquent on the importance of education in various prize-distribution ceremonies in the honour of position holders. But they never say a thing about why education is not being provided free by the government in this country. While all welfare states practice this rule, our government is free from this responsibility even after passing of six decades. As a result, the private sector has simply taken over the education turning it into a money-spinning industry by charge exorbitant fees from helpless parents.

With the inflation as high as it is today, it has become almost impossible for some segments of the society, especially the salaried class, to 'buy' education for their children from this education bazaar. Intellectuals, scholars and experts in the related field have all along been imploring the government to review its education policy but all in vain.

By Mashkoor A. Khan (The Nation)

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