Deplorable state of Pakistan's education

May(The News): Literacy and education are indeed in a deplorable state in Pakistan. So much so that according to a survey, Pakistan stands at No. 43 among the 57 Muslim countries of the OIC in terms of rate of literacy. Only 13 countries, most of which belong to the underdeveloped African region, are less literate than Pakistan.

The first Pakistan census was held in 1951 in which the definition of a literate person was given as a "person who could read a printed word in any language". Consequently, all such men, women and children were described as literate who could read the Quran. Due to this erratic definition, the 1951 census declared 16.4 per cent men, women and children as "literate". In 1972, however, when the third national census was held, the definition of literacy was changed to "one who could read and understand a simple sentence and could write a simple sentence." The literacy rate rose from 21.7 per cent to 26.2 per cent in the subsequent censuses in 1981 and to 45 per cent in 1982.

Professor Laiq Ahmed once told me that the Literacy Ordinance (Amendment) Act, 1987, provides the new definition of "literacy" and "literate person" and is a comprehensive law passed. Unfortunately, the Act also includes a provision that this law would be effective from the date to be notified by the Ministry of Education in the Gazette of Pakistan. It is a matter of regret that in spite of lapse of 20 years, the Ministry of Education has not yet been able to fix a date for the implementation of this law and the Literacy Ordinance is gathering dust. Even the allocations made by the various governments for the promotion and development of primary education could not be utilised by the provincial governments during the past 52 years.

Unfortunately, the desire to keep the mantle of governance secure within the hands of the elite families of Pakistan compels our policy makers to ignore the 67 per cent children living in the rural areas and concentrate only on the English-medium output. This is in spite of the fact that the 1979 education policy clearly mentioned that "the nomenclature of English-medium schools shall be abolished".

Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz has recently announced a programme for the establishment of twenty thousand Community Schools throughout the country for the promotion of basic education, functional literacy and income generating skills. Unfortunately, a number of programmes of similar nature were introduced by various Governments but with little success. Plans like Nai Roshni Schools, step-in Schools, adult education centres etc have wasted precious national resources with very poor results.

In 1995, the report of an Inter-Agency UN Mission recommended the establishment of 250,000 non-formal basic education (NFBE) schools. But the Planning Commission approved only 10,000 NFBE Schools at a cost of Rs. 1263.375 million. The ministry of finance did not release even this amount and the cabinet reduced the number of NFBE Schools to only 500.

The story of literacy in Pakistan is a sad one because it has never been taken-up by the Governments as an essential element for the progress and prosperity of Pakistan. In fact, literacy was kept out of the field of education. In Punjab, it was with the department of local government, in Balochistan, it was with the department of social welfare, in Sindh, it was given to the Curriculum Department in Hyderabad and the same was the fate in NWFP. Late Dr. Mehboob-ul-Haq, under his special priority development programme of mosque schools, Muhammad Khan Junejo's five-point programme including the promotion and expansion of primary education for which he allocated Rs 27 billion, and the World Bank's and Asian Development Bank's input for universalisation of primary education, all ended in poor results because of lack of political commitment, lack of funds, poor capacity of the provincial governments to utilise the funds allocated to them, and lack of ownership of the primary schools by the communities.

According to the Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement (PSLM) survey 2005-2006, the total enrolment in government schools has been on a steady decline since 2001-02 when it stood at 74 per cent. The PSLM Survey 2004-05 reported "decrease in the share of primary enrolment in government schools. The overall share has declined from 72 per cent in 2004-2005 to 65 per cent in 2005-2006."

It is ironic that the people who believe in a religion which begins with God's first command "READ", have neglected it most criminally. Our budgetary allocations for literacy and education have always been miserly and the people made in charge of education have been those who have little knowledge of and commitment to education. In short, we are just not bothered about education. According to Quranic injunctions, the first and foremost requirement for a Muslim is to acquire knowledge of all things, which is the first stepping-stone to progress. Those of God's men (Al-nas) on earth who have understood the message of knowledge and exploration and are using it for the benefit of mankind are ruling the world while those whose Holy Book revealed this message have been left behind and are still groping in the dark.

We have failed to receive "wisdom" from God because we are not men of understanding. Those among God's servants, who understand, have been given wisdom, which they have used to create modern civilisation. God has given us signs to explore the universe, He says: "Lo! in the creation of the heavens and the earth and (in) the difference of night and day are tokens (of His sovereignty) for men of understanding." (Aal-e-Imran V-190). This is not possible without education.

By Burhanuddin Hasan
The writer is a former director of PTV. Email:



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