On September 8, International Literacy Day is celebrated throughout the world every year with the objective to raise public awareness about the extraordinary value of literacy and of the necessity to promote a literate society. Recently, Federal Minister for Planning and Development, Ahsan Iqbal advised National Commission for Human Development (NCHD) to devise an action plan to achieve 90 percent adult literacy by 2025. This is nothing but an idealistic and infeasible target because it does not keep ground realities in view, nor does it keep the current rate of literacy improvement in the country in view.
Although Pakistan was required under the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), to increase its literacy rate from 48% to 88% by 2015, yet the progress toward achieving the required literacy rate is not only unsatisfactory, but also highly disappointing because the current literacy rate stands at 58%. Thus we are not only far away from achieving the goal by 2025, but with the current pace of development, this goal seems to be positively unachievable.
Pakistan is among the most densely populated countries of the world. Currently, it is the 6th most populous country in the world with over 180 million inhabitants. Overall literacy rate has always been a colossal concern here. Pakistan stands at 160th in the world when it comes to literacy. To achieve the expected overall 88% literacy rate, Pakistan announced three education policies in 1992, 1998 and 2009 and a number of development plans, including National Plan of Action 2001-2015 and Education Sector Reforms (ESR). However, the existing trend of literacy rate shows shocking and gloomy results. The number of school-going children is plummeting. According to reports revealed by Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement Survey (PSLM), the overall literacy rate, estimated at 60% in 2012-13, has gone down to 58% in 2013-14. Female literacy percentage is also coming down. There is gargantuan difference between literacy rates of male and female which currently stand at 70% and 47% respectively. The provincial literacy rates show that Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) governments managed to improve literacy ratios while Sindh and Balochistan could not maintain their previous levels. In 2013-14, the literacy rate dropped by 3% to 43% in Balochistan and by 4% to 56% in Sindh. The main and single biggest reason behind the dropping literacy rate is the reluctance and refusal of parents to allow their children, especially girls, to go to school. Even if children want to study, they can’t due to this sole reason. If the same trend is continued, Pakistan will never be able to achieve the required literacy targets by 2025.
It is a universal fact that education is a fundamental human right and an essential ingredient for the individual as well as the society. It is the right of every person to receive education which satisfies his or her basic learning needs. To promote gender equality and empower women, elimination of gender disparity in education is pre-requisite. However Pakistan was expected to achieve full gender equality in primary enrolment ratio as well as youth literacy by the year 2015 yet the 2013-14 figures show alarming condition of gender disparity in education and it seems that the gender disparity will enhance further in the future.
The country’s overall female literacy rate declined by 1% from 48% in 2012-13 to 47% in 2013-14 and the male literacy percentage stood at 70%. During the same period, female education percentage observed a decline, in Punjab, from 54% to 52% with the male literacy rate stalled at 71%. In Sindh, female literacy rate decreased from 47% to 43% and a male literacy rate decreased from 72% to 67%. A minor improvement in the female literacy percentage was witnessed in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), taking it from 35% to 36% with the male percentage sustaining at 72%. In Balochistan, it was increased from 23% to 25%.
The mechanism of proper monitoring and check and balance of public sector schools, especially by the Taluka and District Education Managers is pivotal to improving the function of the schools. It is vital to ensure the presence of teachers in schools and the enrolment of children in primary schools and to provide quality education. This mechanism has grown impotent due to undue intervention of state politics in the education system. The main reason behind avoidance of school visits and preparation of reports by education officers are nepotism, favouritism and bribery which have been made the criteria for making recruitments, transfers and postings of teachers, ministerial staff and education officials. The progress reports prepared and submitted by monitoring officers are generally rendered worthless, ineffective and of no use by their lack of implementation.
To say that Pakistan is facing a huge challenge in the field of education is nothing but the truth. Currently, approximately 25 million children are out of schools in Pakistan, literacy rate is hovering around 58% and a huge number of schools are without basic facilities. Learning outcomes of students are poor. There is a lack of inclusive, equitable and quality education opportunities for most children in the country. Currently, the section of the budget allocated to education is 2.1% of GDP. There is a need to increase this allocation to 5% of GDP in order to increase literacy rate, improve female literacy percentage and to achieve gender parity by 2025. Besides, a proper monitoring system, handing over of education ministry to a person who has sufficient knowledge of educational problems and vast experience in solving them, strict accountability from top to bottom and a corruption-free education system are the pre-requisites to achieve the targets.