CLASSES at the first ever university for the students belonging to Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) started on October 24. Unfortunately, no women sought admission in the university this year and the first class would be comprised of 84 men. However, it is not surprising keeping in view the gender gap in FATA’s literacy rate. According to a 2013-14 survey conducted by the FATA Secretariat and the Bureau of Statistics, only 7.8% of adult women in region are literate compared to 45% of men. A single digit women literacy rate is such a painful thing to write in 2016 but these are official figures so I had no other option. It is worth mentioning that a person is considered as “literate” in Pakistan who can read and write his/her name.
So can a university help improve the region’s literacy rate, particularly in women? Keeping in view the present scenario, it seems highly unlikely. Along with a university, people of FATA need primary and secondary education facilities. One of the worst victims in the ongoing war against terrorism is the children residing in FATA. According to official figures, over fifteen hundred schools had been destroyed by miscreants during last twelve years. Over sixty percent of these were girls’ schools. Majority of these schools are yet to be reconstructed. The remaining schools show a dismal picture. Some of these schools lack basic facilities like clean drinking water and toilets. Number of teachers is far from sufficient and unfortunately appointed teachers do not perform their duties regularly due to which students’ dropout ratio has increased substantially over the years.
Though FATA shows a grim picture in terms of literacy rate but condition in the other parts of the country is equally disappointing. Pakistan has one of the least literacy rates in the world despite such a humble standard for a person to be counted as literate as stated above. Pakistan has the second highest number of out-of-school children in the world after Nigeria. Different reports show various number of out-of-school children in the country. Last year a report by Alif Ailaan stated that there are currently almost 25 million boys and girls between the ages of 5 and 16 who are not in school. A similar report prepared in collaboration between the Government of Pakistan, UNICEF and UNESCO indicated that despite achievements in the education sector, over 7 million children are not enrolled in primary education and another 3 million are not enrolled at lower secondary level.
These reports provided a detailed analysis of out-of-school children. The studies also confirmed that the number of out of school girls is much higher than boys i.e. 38.9% of primary age girls are not attending school, the rate is 30.2% for boys. Children from poorer households are proportionally more out of school – 49.2% compared to 17.5% in richest quintile. Moreover, as per the Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement Survey 2013-14, Pakistan has not achieved any of the targets set for 2015 in all three indicators for literacy which are: to improve literacy rate, retain enrollment and increase net primary enrollment.
The number of schools in Pakistan is insufficient in proportion to the population. Although private school bridges this gap to some extent but everyone cannot afford to send their children to private schools. Since over one third of the population is living below poverty line, therefore poverty can be regarded as one of the main reason behind such a high number of out-of-school children. People living in absolute poverty prefer to send their children to work instead of school that is why child labour is on the rise. Some parents do not send their children to school despite having resources due to lack of awareness.
For others, high rate of unemployment in the country is a source of demotivation but if these people do not educate their children the issues of poverty, unemployment and even law and order will get even worse. 25 million out of school children means 25 million illiterate and unskilled people. These people will not only live in poverty and unemployed but also involve in criminal activities. Education sector has never been a priority for government throughout the sixty nine years history of the country. Budget allocation for education has always remained below par. Government needs to address all the problems that keep children out from school.
— The writer is a freelance columnist based in Germany.