Pakistan's lingering illiteracy | Rate your tutor
Pakistan's lingering illiteracy
Aug 19, 2008: Much greater consistency of initiatives is required if our nation is ever to
improve its overall literacy rate, as this remains too huge a task to be
fulfilled within the tenure of a single government
Global Monitoring Report has estimated that literacy rate in developing
countries has increased from 68 percent to 77 percent between 1985 and 2004.
This has brought the overall global average literacy rate to about 82 percent.
Pakistan, however, is placed at the lowest rung of the international literacy
ladder. The reason for Pakistan's dismal rating on yet another development
indicator is due to the simple fact that the literacy ratio in Pakistan still
hovers around 50 percent.
In our surrounding region, Pakistan's literacy
rate is only a little better than Nepal and Bangladesh, which have literacy
rates of 49 and 43 percent respectively. Other countries like the Maldives and
Sri Lanka have achieved far more impressive results given that above 90 percent
of the population in both these countries is literate. Even India has a 61
percent literacy rate, despite its enormous population.
literacy rate estimates by last year's National Economic Survey, there seem to
be tremendous variance between literacy rates between the provinces. Balochistan
has a much lowest average since only 33 percent of the province is literate
compared to the national average of over 50 percent. Moreover, only 27 percent
of women in Balochistan are literate. While the national averages for female
literacy are better, even they do still cumulatively lag behind those for
This overall lingering illiteracy in Pakistan is due to broader
policy hurdles as well as a range of on-ground factors. In the realm of policy
making, it is a lack of political will, made manifest in the form of stringent
budgetary allocations, delays in disbursement of funds, and institutional
inefficiency and corruption.
Resultantly the lack of sufficient
infrastructure in the form of school buildings and facilities, low professional
capacity of teachers due to the non-availability of proper training institutes,
uneven teacher-student ratios, lack of teaching aids, as well as low public
awareness concerning the value of education, all contribute towards maintenance
of low educational rates at the ground level.
Focus on expansion of
elementary education, using both formal and non-formal methods, remains vital.
There is however simultaneous need to expand adult education, literacy and
functional literacy programmes, which are not only a basic requirement for
economic development, but also vital for improving the overall literacy rate of
Yet, besides the utility of education in providing a more
skilled workforce or helping improve individual livelihoods, there is intrinsic
value in being an educated person which our nation still does not seem to
collectively realise. After all, being illiterate in the modern world is a
profoundly disturbing phenomenon. When neither the husband nor wife can read or
write, they find it difficult to track the progress of their own children at
school, they cannot read simple instructions on medicines, nor record simple
accounts of household expenditure.
Any thinking person should thus not
doubt the necessity of people past the school going age to at least be able to
read the newspaper in their local language, write a simple letter and be able to
add, subtract, multiply and divide up to three figures.
however been trying to make efforts to improve the literacy rates, and has also
made some gradual progress. A new Education Policy is currently being finalised
to further accelerate this progress. Numerous donors have also been helping the
government boost literacy. Donors like the World Bank have even encouraged the
government to provide incentives in the form of providing free textbooks,
stipends to girls who attend schools, whereas other agencies like the World Food
Programme have been distributing edible oil to students to help improve the
nutritional level of children, in addition to encouraging them to attend
The impact of these incentive schemes on increasing enrolment
rates has been evident, although their eventual impact on the quality of
education is questionable. Nonetheless, one may argue that even if more efforts
are being spent to goad children into school, rather then focusing on the
quality of education being imparted to them, this is better then allowing them
to remain away from school altogether.
However once children are enrolled
into schools, it does become necessary to think about the quality of education,
or else a child who is only attending school to avail an incentive of some kind,
will drop out the moment his or her family is not being provided this incentive
To be fair however, the government strategy to improve literacy
rates was not so myopic as to rely on incentive schemes alone. A major
supplemental effort with regards to improving literacy rates was the formation
of the National Commission on Human Development (NCHD). The NCHD was formed in
2002 by President Musharraf to support government departments in areas of
education, literacy as well as the provision of basic healthcare services. NCHD
had ambitiously aimed to accelerate the literacy rate to 86 percent by
While there were evident critiques concerning the impact and extent
of NCHD's work, it did win recognition by securing UNESCO's 2006 International
Literacy Award, and it also has evident presence on ground in the form of
providing numerous community-based schools, adult literacy centres and feeder
teachers across a majority of districts in the country.
integrating this entity more closely with other ongoing initiatives in the
education sector, or else weeding out the supposedly corrupt elements within it,
the new government has decided to disband this ongoing initiative altogether,
and even protestors agitating against the sacking of thousands of NCHD employees
were ordered to be beaten up, in the typical fashion of vendetta
Clearly, much greater consistency of initiatives is required if
our nation is ever to improve its overall literacy rate, as this remains too
huge a task to be fulfilled within the tenure of a single government. Moreover,
even while working resolutely towards this goal, it must also be borne in mind
that literacy is just the first step towards truly educating our populace, but
it is an obviously vital one, without which the longer quest for education
cannot even be embarked upon.
Syed Mohammad Ali
The writer is a researcher. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org (Daily Times)
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