Literacy blues and Pakistan

June 2008: According to the latest EFA (Education For All) Global Monitoring Report adult literacy rate in developing countries increased from 68 percent to 77 percent between the period 1985 to 2004. The global average literacy rate presently is 82 percent.

China which had a literacy rate of 16 percent in 1951, about the same as Pakistan had, today has as a 98 percent literate population. Even India's literacy rate is more than 65 percent. Pakistan lags behind most of the developing countries with its claimed rate of 55 percent. Even this figure is viewed with skepticism. This feeling has found support from a direct assessment of 15000 households in Kenya. The survey yielded a literacy rate of 64 percent against the official figure of 72 percent. It can be safely assumed that in Pakistan the literacy rate is less than the one trotted out on the basis of the 10 yearly census or household surveys. If the 2008 census is undertaken as before without direct assessment and remains based on oral statements the rate tabulated will continue to be unrealistic.

The Global Monitoring Report issued by UNESCO places Pakistan at number 120 out of 129 countries - at the lowest rung of the international literacy ladder. Pakistan will be one of the 25 countries which may fail to achieve any of the goals set by the World Education Forum held at Dakar Senegal in the year 2000. These goals are:

*Expand early childhood care and education.
*Provide free and compulsory primary education for all.
*Promote learning and skills for young people and adults.
*Increase adult literacy by 50 percent.
*Achieve gender parity by 200, gender equality by 2015.
*Enhance educational quality.

The Dakar Framework of Action also laid down 12 strategies for achieving these targets. These include (a) mobilisation of strong national commitment for education for all (b) promote EFA policies within a sustainable and well integrated sector framework linked to poverty elimination and development strategies. One may here take notice of the Millennium Development Goals especially the ones relating to all children completing a full course of good quality of primary education and the promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women. Add to these international commitments the UNLD - United Nations Literacy Decade which lays great emphasis on adult literacy.

The UN Human Rights Charter clearly states that education is a basic human right. Literacy is the foundation of education. The constitution of Pakistan lays down that literacy shall be eliminated in the shortest possible time. Why in spite of all these commitments and obligations, does Pakistan remain one of the most illiterate nations of the world? The answer simply put is: lack of political will and deficient implementation of programmes.

Because of external pressure an EFA National Plan of Action was prepared. Its implementation has been poor and disappointing. Lack of political will is reflected year after year in the budgetary allocations announced on the eve of the new financial year. The minimum recommended by UNESCO for education is 4 percent of the GDP. Despite promises made at the highest level, the allocation remains 2 percent or less. The amount earmarked for literacy has been a little more than 1 percent of the education budget. So short sighted and heartless was the last regime that it abolished the National Literacy and Mass Education Commission as a part of an economy drive. While literacy was relegated to the sidelines an enormous increase was allowed in the non-development administrative expenditure including creation of dozens of new posts in the offices of the president and the prime minister, a huge cabinet, purchase of luxury goods for furnishings as also expensive planes and cars.

How much of a farce Chaudhry's Parha Likha Punjab propaganda was may be gauged from the fact that not a single adult literacy centre was opened in the years 2006 and 2007 despite the existence of a sanctioned programme.

The Department of Literacy and non-formal basic education in the Punjab has remained paralysed for the last two years, bogged down as it is in red tape and procedural rigmarole. The position in Sindh and Balochistan is worse. There was no literacy project in these two provinces in the years 2005, 2006 and 2007. Only after the goading and prodding by an active NGO (PACADE) which held Roundtables on National Literacy Review with the support of UNESCO and NCHD, has Sindh persuaded itself to restart a modest programme. Balochistan is totally unconcerned about its responsibilities in regard to the promotion of literacy.

The only bright spots are the National Commission for Human Development and the NWFP Elementary Education Foundation both led by committed leaders. (The latest reports are that the funds for these organisations are being reduced) Amazing that the offices of the president and prime minister, the planning commission and the federal ministry of education have taken little notice of the state of affairs. From personal knowledge I can say that those heading the planning commission, economic affairs and the ministry have been by and large unsympathetic to the promotion of literacy.

They would rather have no programme for adult literacy at all. They are entitled to their views but can they afford to backtrack on solemn commitments given at Jomtien and Dakar to the world community. Pakistan is a signatory to the United Nations General Assembly Resolution about the UN Literacy Decade. According this Resolution Pakistan has pledged itself to accelerate the achievement of literacy targets so as to ensure that most of the people of Pakistan become literate by the year 2012. The Millennium Development Goals further require that all countries achieve universal primary education.

A word for those who oppose adult literacy on the ground that we should first concentrate on making all our children educated. Should we consider that the governments of China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Kenya, Tanzania, India, Malaysia and Brazil have been stupid in launching countrywide adult literacy programmes? In these countries massive efforts were made both to educate children and impart literacy to the adults. Do our decision-makers realise that in this day and age, no country can make real progress if more than half of its adult population remains utterly illiterate?

There are today 55 million Pakistanis of age 10 and above who cannot read or write. Tens of millions of them fall in the age bracket of 15 to 35. At least 25 million Pakistanis fall in this category. They constitute Pakistan's productive manpower. Can we afford such a large productive resource to remain illiterate? We all know that the secret of Japan's greatness (a small country which has been able to emerge as the second largest economy of the world) lies almost entirely with its human resource. Crores of unlettered Pakistanis are on the other hand, a drag on the economy and society of Pakistan.

A literate mother makes a big difference in a household. She can read and write letters, receipts and newspapers. She takes more interests in children's education and studies have shown that because of a mother becoming literate the children attend school regularly and this leads to a reduction in the dropout rate. An illiterate person is dependent on others. He or she cannot decipher a letter received from a friend, husband or wife. They cannot read numbers on a bus or a calendar. Literacy skills thus are rightly considered a basic human right. It need not be mixed up with education as the acquisition of basic literacy skills is like getting to know how to drive a vehicle.

Driving a vehicle to various places and destinations would be like acquiring education of various kinds and levels. A two-pronged attack on literacy - primary education and adult literacy - is a must if Pakistan has to join the rapidly advancing developing world. It is indeed tragic to find that there is very little allocation for education and even less for literacy. How myopic and negligent our rulers are!.

By INAYATULLAH, The writer is ex-federal secretary and ambassador
E-mail: (The Nation)

Your Comments
"who is going to stop the jocking with adult literacy in body because themost adult illiterate dont know the legal constituitional basic rights theRE IS NO ACCOUNTABLITY OF ANY ORAGanizations individuals from govt level.the protest against NCHD is not for the misuse of fund it is only for take over rest of the amount & authority.if govt is serious about the adult literacy the never took action first NCHD the start action from their own federal departments . there is no authority to look after the adult literacy issue to whom we protest .i plea to people like innayat sahib who are sincerly work for literacy to please start national based adult literacy compain."
Name: zakia shoaib
City, Country: karachi, pakistan



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