Little to celebrate and a lot to worry about. Like every year International Literacy Day, that was held across the globe on Saturday, served as a grim reminder that not much is being done to make education accessible for all and sundry in the country.
To raise awareness about this issue and highlight the importance of sending children to schools, a walk was held at the Pakistan Sports Complex.
The participants walked a few hundred yards in the rain, carrying banners and placards inscribed with the importance of literacy in socio-economic development and promoting peace. The slogans were in consonance with the theme of this year’s literacy day, “Literacy and Peace”.
Students and teachers from public and private schools, boy scouts, civil society members and officials of the education ministry took part in the walk.
A majority of Pakistan’s children remain deprived of education. Based on the data available on the National Commission of Human Development (NCHD) website, only 12 per cent of 19 million primary school age children study beyond fifth grade. In other words, 22 out of every 25 primary school-age children are expected to fail or drop out of school before fifth grade.
Every Pakistani child should attend school as peace and progress in the country cannot be achieved without literacy and education, said Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Shahnaz Wazir Ali, addressing the participants.
“We have gathered here to send out a message to our leaders and our citizens to send all our children to school,” Ali said, during a literacy walk that was organised by the NCHD.
Ali added, “Through Article 25(a) of the 18th amendment, elected representatives have endorsed the idea that every child between the ages of 5 and 16 years should be provided quality education by the state.”
Sadly, apart from the legislation there is little on-ground work that has been done in this regard, added another participant, on condition of anonymity.
After the walk, Iqbalur Rehman Sharif, director of education at NCHD, said 57 districts across the country had been selected as part of a new project to improve the literacy rate by 10 per cent in the next three years.
NCHD is running its universal primary education programme in 134 districts nationwide, establishing feeder schools in areas with no schools within a two-kilometre of their radius.
Campaign to enrol children launched
The second phase of a campaign to solicit signatures from one million out-of-school children was also launched to coincide with International Literacy Day at the National Press Club.
In a country that has the highest number of out-of-school children in South Asia, totalling 25 million, the One Million Signature Campaign for Right to Education aims to enrol the same number of out-of-school children by the end of the second phase of the campaign.
Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA) launched phase-II of the campaign so that it can ask the government to implement Article 25-A, which guarantees education as a fundamental right of every child aged five to 16. Though the article was made part of the constitution after the 18th amendment in 2010, its implementation remains a far cry.
“Phase-I garnered signatures from citizens from various occupations, ages and classes and now the phase II aims at getting one million signatures from only out-of-school children,” shared ITA representative, Aisha Bilal at the event.
Chief guest Rubina Qaimkhani, secretary Parliamentary Commission for Child Protection, regretted that Pakistan has little to celebrate on International Literacy Day. “While providing education to every child is the government’s duty, given the dire state of the country, everybody should pitch in to promote education in any way they can.” Qaimkhani shared she would present a resolution in the parliament to demand all university graduates to serve one to two months educating children in rural areas.
“The education should not only be free, it should be of quality,” said Union of Journalists General Secretary Bilal Dar.
Some 80 out-of-school children from the twin cities inaugurated phase II of the campaign with Qaimkhani and recited a dua to pray the government delivers on its commitment.
Phase-I of the programme was launch on 6th March 2012 by ITA.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 9th, 2012.