JINNAH’S Pakistan, after 63 years, continues to
remain overwhelmingly illiterate without any serious
reflection or debate taking place in the national parliament,
the provincial assemblies, the print and electronic media,
think tanks, the educational institutions and political
parties on the consequences of illiteracy.
judiciary has not invoked its power to come to grips with this
constitutional right. The fact that the Mundi Index of
literacy rates us at 49.9 per cent and shows us at 182 amongst
201 countries in international rankings, with 63 per cent of
the female population and 35 per cent of the male population
unable to read or write in any language, does not seem to draw
the attention of the high and mighty.
nation, with a hostile neighbor to its east and international
forces occupying the neighboring country to the west, coupled
with foreign intelligence agencies working to achieve their
interests and anti-state elements destabilizing the country
from within, must think of its national security by empowering
its citizens with literacy.
Let us see where we stand
in this regard. Literacy is typically described as the ability
to read and write and UNESCO considers literacy as the
“ability to identify, understand, interpret, create,
communicate, compute and use printed and written materials
associated with varying contexts”. Pakistan defines literacy
as the acquisition of basic skills of reading and writing. Let
us take this simple definition of literacy to understand our
A major effort was launched by the Musharraf government in 2002. It established the National
Commission for Human Development (NCHD) at the federal level
with its outreach to the provinces. It was funded uniquely by
a separate organization, the Pakistan Human Development Fund
(PHDF), mainly with national and international private
donations and managed by its independent board.
NCHD provided literacy through its now 120,263 adult literacy
centres to 2.5 million adults, 90 per cent of them females.
The NCHD estimates that almost 50 million people in Pakistan
are illiterate, a figure more or less reflected by UNESCO’s
Institute for Statistics which cites the literacy rate for
2007 at 54.9 per cent. The Economic Survey of Pakistan 2009-10
says it is 57 per cent. No matter which statistic we take, we
are faced with a stark reality.
We spend a dismal 2.1
per cent of our federal budget on education and low amounts on
literacy. It can be said that education (and thus literacy) is
a provincial subject. Literacy in our largest province
Baluchistan comes under the Social Welfare, Special Education,
Literacy/Non-Formal Education & Women Development
Department whose proclaimed vision is “to provide better
social facilities to socially disadvantaged people and to
empower women”. However, it has not provided any data on its
official website on the state of literacy in the province. The
Economic Survey 2009-10 shows a literacy rate of 45 per cent.
In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa we find that there is a School
& Literacy Department which is committed to providing
access to quality education to all. There is no mention of the
literacy rate. However, the latest available data indicates a
literacy rate of 50 per cent.
In the commercial and
industrial province of Sindh one finds that literacy is the
responsibility of the Education & Literacy Department. It
recognizes education as one of the most important pillars of
government and stands for “strong policy actions for raising
literacy to 100 per cent”. The department does not spell out
when and how it will meet this target. The province appears
heavily dependent on the NCHD, a federal institution, for its
literacy program. The latest data pertaining to Sindh puts the
literacy rate there at 59 per cent.
Moving to the most
populated province, Punjab, one comes to the conclusion that
all is not lost. One is pleased to see a history of concerted
efforts, well-established programs, recognizable achievements
and plans. Since 2002, the Punjab government has the Literacy
& Non Formal Basic Education Department with its goal “to
make Punjab literate by 2020”.
New initiatives have
been launched in 2008-09. These include: strengthening
capacity, the establishment of 300 adult literacy centres in
jails, factories and brick kilns, mobile literacy programs,
vocational training and above all an awareness campaign. They
actively partner with national organizations like the NCHD and
international organizations like the Asian Development Bank.
The latest 2009-10 Survey puts the literacy rate in Punjab
literacy at 59 per cent.
Development Goal for the literacy rate is 88 per cent by 2015,
while the NCHD’s is 86 per cent. Pakistan has made a clear
commitment, yet ongoing efforts cast serious doubts on the
achievement of this goal.
In the last Mundi Index,
France with 99 per cent literacy ranks 40th, while China with
91 per cent ranks 105. Neighboring Iran at 144 has a 77 per
cent literacy rate. Evidently, there is a correlation between
literacy and development, literacy and international standing,
literacy and stability.
If we want to be seen as a
self-respecting and empowered nation with a democratic
dispensation the only way forward is to make this nation
literate so that all citizens can be empowered to take part in
the nation-building exercise and stand guard against all
internal and external challenges to the country’s culture
heritage, economic independence and sovereignty. It requires
strategies and plans to meet this national challenge with all
stakeholders on board.
Published in Daily
14th June 2010