Nelson Mandela rightly said that “education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world”. Sadly, as statistics in Pakistan show, not everyone has the chance to avail this opportunity, let alone that of their communities. The most recent United Nations figures ranked Pakistan 113 out of 120 countries in literacy rate, which it projected as being 55 per cent. Figures from the province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, as one example for adult literacy, were 55 per cent according to the Pakistan Statistics Bureau Report from 2010-11; female literacy was 42 per cent and male literacy was 67 per cent. So, any effort to raise the literacy rate should be lauded, as should any effort to increase enrolments at all levels of education, from primary to university. In light of this, the University of Peshawar’s initiative of a distance learning programme through six public-sector universities nationwide is a bold step that provides students an opportunity to gain knowledge where none was available before.
Undoubtedly, distance learning allows a greater number of students to avail learning opportunities because it is more accessible, flexible and economical. It allows students living in remote places to study without leaving their homes and, in some instances, without having to stop supporting their families financially as it allows them to continue working while studying. It gives women the chance to complete their education as they have the higher dropout rate; indeed Pakistanis have a high rate of dropouts from college which distance learning can arrest. It is not a substitute for a classroom and all the paraphernalia that a college experience brings with it, especially what one learns when engaging with other students, so such programmes should never be seen as replacements for quality education as much as a stepping stone to a brighter tomorrow. Such programmes should be encouraged so long as they provide quality education to students.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 4th, 2013.