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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

UNESCO's latest 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.

According to 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 males.

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 the country.

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.

Pakistan has 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 school.

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 any more.

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 2015.

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.

Instead of 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 politics.

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 (Daily Times)

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As feedback goes it's a bit on the harsh side. "She is very kind and can be helpful but, boy, is she insane. The insanity leads to volatility sometimes which leads to her being not very kind."

Welcome to - the website which lets students grade their tutors. It has been the scourge of university professors in the United States and now it has reached Britain and is being embraced by undergraduates. Nearly 1,300 British academics have been ranked on the website, where they are marked on "easiness", "helpfulness", "clarity" - and whether they are "hot".

Some of the comments which accompany the marks are controversial to say the least. One tutor is described as: "Arrogant, rude, unhelpful and supremely egotistical. His specialist field is himself." Another is damned with: "Ignores her students mostly, a very false personality and especially when handing out praise. Incredibly patronising and not very bright."

Comments are posted anonymously. This has led to comments such as "bring a pillow", "not only is the book a better teacher, it also has a better personality", and "Boring. But I learned that there are 137 tiles on the ceiling." has received around six million postings about 750,000 academics since 1999. Since it was extended to cover England, Scotland and Wales, the number of British lecturers on the site has reached 1,284. However, the ratings have been controversial, with academics protesting about bullying and derogatory comments.

One of the main criticisms has been that there is no way to tell if a comment comes from a vindictive student, a student happy about getting an A on an otherwise disappointing course - or the academic themselves. And academics complain that idle disaffected students have as much say as diligent ones.

A study of the ratings, conducted by James Felton, professor of finance at Central Michigan University, found that "the hotter and easier professors are, the more likely they'll get rated as a good teacher". His research warned that at their worst, ratings are "not much removed from graffiti on the walls of restrooms".

However, new research published this month in the journal Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education suggested that the ratings may not be biased.

But Sally Hunt, general secretary of UCU, the lecturers' union, said: "All staff and students have the right to work free from intimidation. Online gossip might seem harmless but it can lead to serious bullying. If students have concerns about lecturers, they should go through proper channels. Universities need to consult unions regarding any policies they wish to produce in this area."

By Sarah Cassidy
The Independent, London

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