Pakistan Observer

The year of illiteracy!

Prof Laeeq Ahmed Khan

Monday, July 04, 2011 - In one of my interviews on Pakistan Television, the Anchorperson asked me about the situation of literacy in Pakistan. I explained to him that the literacy rate on an average has increased by 1.1% annually between 1981 and 1998. Incidentally, no census has taken place between this period i.e. 1981 to 1998. The Ministry of Education had been simply adding 1.1% every year to the last year’s figures for literacy without any empirical basis. Obviously, therefore, the figures of literacy do not reflect the true situation of literacy in Pakistan.

The Anchorperson asked me the reasons for such low literacy rate in Pakistan. Was it because of the paucity of funds, the Provincial Governments do not cooperate with the Federal Government for the promotion of literacy which falls within the provincial domain or is it that our people at large who are illiterate, are not interested to become literate. My answer to his query was that none of the three assumptions he had mentioned are valid. Infact, it is the Government which is not interested to make the society literate. A literate-unemployed will become more dangerous for the Government and would ask questions for which the political leadership of Pakistan have no answers.

The stance, I had taken in that interview has been proved right. The Prime Minister, Mr. Yousuf Raza Gilani, has recently announced that the “year 2011” will be the “Year of Literacy”. The statement of the Prime Minister was widely quoted by the Press, Radio and Television. However, the steps taken by the Government have proved that the year 2011 will be the “Year of Illiteracy” instead of the “Year of Literacy”. Some of these steps are enumerated below:-

i. The National Reconstruction Bureau had recommended the devolution of 11 departments to the Districts which also included “Education” and “Literacy” separately. An Executive District Officer (Literacy) had to be appointed in each District with three District Officers working under him. Each of the District Officers was to deal with “Literacy”, “Continuing Education”, and “Vocational Education” separately.

A senior representative of the Reconstruction Bureau visited the Provincial Capitals of Lahore, Peshawar, Karachi, Quetta, and Muzaffarabad in order to explain to the E.D.Os (Literacy) and D.Os (Literacy, Continuing Education, and Vocational Education), the scope of Literacy, Continuing Education and Vocational Education. Each of the E.D.Os (Literacy) was also given the “Census Report” of his District to him. A proforma was also circulated to prepare the budgets for making each District literate. Unfortunately, the post of Executive District Officers (Literacy) alongwith those of D.Os (Literacy, Continuing Education, and Vocational Education) have been abolished.

ii. During the first stint of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto as the Prime Minister of Pakistan, the issue of literacy in Pakistan was raised by her with the visiting Director General of UNESCO. The Director General appointed a “United Nations Commission on Literacy” which included the Resident Representatives of all the UN Offices in Islamabad. The Commission presented its report to the then Prime Minister during a few weeks time. The Commission recommended the establishment of two lakh fifty thousand Non-Formal Basic Education Schools in Pakistan to achieve 100% literacy by the beginning of the next Census. Unfortunately, 7000 of such schools opened by the National Commission for Human Development (NCHD) and a few thousand Non-Formal Basic Education Schools opened all over the country by “The Literacy and Mass Education Commission” have been abruptly closed down with one stroke of pen rendering more than 20,000 employees unemployed and more than 800,000 students with no access to Primary Education. In this wake the National Commission for Human Development alongwith Pakistan Human Development Fund-UK, Pakistan Human Development Fund-USA, and American Human Development Fund would be terminated by 30th June 2011 as per the decision of the Council of Common Interests dated 1st June 2011.

iii. At the same time the Non-Formal Basic Education Schools being run by educated young persons in their own homes by a large number of Non-Government Organizations under the aegis of the Pakistan Education Foundation have also been closed down.

iv. It will be interesting to note that the Mosque Schools opened under the Special Priority Development Program of Late Dr. Mehboob-ul-Haq in 1982, have already been closed down and do not form a part of our educational system.

The above measures adopted by the Federal and the Provincial Governments would certainly go a long way in spreading illiteracy in Pakistan. This obviously would result in increasing the poverty situation, rapid increase in the population of Pakistan and further shortages of availability of water, energy and even food items per capita. This will be in addition to accelerated unemployment situation in Pakistan.
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