Literacy and citizenship

Published: September 21, 2010
The author is founding director of the Children’s Global Network and a member of the Pakistan Education Task Force

The author is founding director of the Children’s Global Network and a member of the Pakistan Education Task Force [email protected]

Pakistan has a massive population of 170 million that is growing at an alarming rate. It is estimated that the population could reach 340 million by 2040. There are two startling aspects to be taken into account — the physical sustenance of the population ,ie, food and shelter, and the other is mental direction, in the form of literacy and education. The latter could turn the population into a resource rather than a burden on the country, as well as the rest of the world.

Current conflicts and disasters have brought forward many glaring gaps linked to a government that should cater to the masses. As the country grapples with survival, we see violations of rights, as in the case of a journalist for speaking the truth, violence against two brothers in Sialkot, accusations of match-fixing by our cricketers and massive corruption in all walks of life. There is something very wrong with the fabric of our society and that is based on what we call literacy and education.

At first glance it appears that 54 per cent of the country’s population is literate. However, estimates of literacy rates are meaningless in Pakistan, where literacy is only reading and writing your name. At present there are 47 million illiterate adults in the country, and it is projected to be almost 50 million by 2015. Our country will be one of the few in the world where the illiterate population is growing. There are 6.8 million children between the ages of five and nine out of school. Less than one-quarter of Pakistani girls complete primary schooling. 30 per cent of children enrolled will be out of school before grade five.

A report by The Center for Universal Education at Brookings stated that poor education creates widespread grievances, negative worldviews, and opportunities for militants to recruit because schools fail to impart critical citizenship skills.

Our education system has furthered discrimination and oppression. It has not been able to link the general population to a global reality and their position in the world, and to widen the horizons of the beliefs, attitudes and behaviours. Most importantly, what is missing is the absence of critical thinking skills and citizenship in students. It is widely recognised that the social objective of education is nation building and installation of civic values.

The situation has to be turned around immediately as an opportunity rather than a lost cause. The recently constituted Pakistan Education Task Force brings together international and national expertise to draw attention to some of the huge challenges in the education sector.

It is clear that the state cannot be the only provider of good quality education and literacy, and there has to be a synergy between the public and private sectors. Expectations of parents are extremely important, as is reaching out to the district levels.

Vitally, we must have a national strategy for helping our youth realise their potential, so that they comprehend literacy as a skill and a right, and not just a means to a job. Citizenship remains crucial as the need of the hour is to be true to ourselves and to the country, as we face other challenges. Everyone must play a strong role in advocating social change for literacy. We all have a part to play in carving a direction for our massive population.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 22nd, 2010.

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Reader Comments (11)

  • Sep 22, 2010 - 12:15AM

    The state education system is failing in part because our nations elite are totally disconnected from it. Which generals, bureaucrats or politicians son or daughter attends a public school? apart from attending a prize distribution ceremony where they are the chief guest, the powers to be have little interest in education in Pakistan.

    Our failure to understand the social benefits of education, while overemphasising the private benefits of education has meant that elitist over priced private educational institutions are offering nothing more than what Sir Ken Robinson described as fast-food standardised education. Heavy on advertising and the “cool” factor, expensive private educational institutions are neither regulated, there is no system of dealing with grievances, they had in the 1980s initially sucked away key teachers and administrators whose training was subsidised by state funded institutions.

    Making schooling local, getting parents and the community involved, empowering teachers is the way forward. A rural school somewhere in pubjab or sind cannot continue to function dealing with provincial bureaucracy, budgeting and the whims of local administrators. Recommend

  • Taha Kehar
    Sep 22, 2010 - 6:43PM

    Synergies of both state-run committees and NGOs are needed to grapple with the waning standards of our education system. Moreover, it is equally important to understand the complex dimensions and varieties of primary and secondary education that pervades our social fabric. Hence, there is a need either accord a parity of esteem to each of the three education systems (the Matric System, the Madressahs and the GCE O-level system) or to entirely revolutionize them. However, it is disconcerting to note that both strategies will produce mixed results.Recommend

  • Usama
    Sep 22, 2010 - 7:55PM

    If only our leaders could understand that….we would not be in a state we are today!!Recommend

  • Anoop
    Sep 22, 2010 - 9:05PM

    When a state spends approximately 60% of its budget on defense and loan payments there wont be much left for development, will there?Recommend

  • binwakeel
    Sep 22, 2010 - 10:52PM

    Our tragedy is that even most of our literates are uneducated. Educating our future generation is very low on our list of priorities because we have so many other irons in the fire, most of them anti-national interest.
    Merely raising the literacy percentage by moving the goal posts as we have been doing in the past is not going to help. HEC is no help. We can do without PHDs; what we cannot do without is educated youngsters. Easier said than done, though! Recommend

  • Syed A. Mateen
    Sep 22, 2010 - 11:30PM

    I don’t find any difference between a literate and illiterate person as both of them talk in the same language as soon as they become wild.

    The society has been degraded up to such a extent and I do think that all the illiterate people in the country would become graduate degree holders it can bring change in the country.

    The parameters to judge between a good and a bad person have taken turn of 90 degrees. Unless we draw a very clear cut line between the right and the wrong, nothing is going to change.

    The world may change with the passage of time, but not the Pakistanis in Pakistan.

    The day when milkman will stop mixing water in the milk, one may think that there may be a light at the end of the tunnel, but the milkman will not leave his habit of mixing water in the milk. Recommend

  • Isfand
    Sep 23, 2010 - 12:04AM

    The only solution is to increase the tax/gdp ratio,currently at 10%, one of the lowest in the world.Recommend

  • Isfand
    Sep 23, 2010 - 12:07AM

    Article “Paying For Pakistan” by Moshin Hamid

  • Raja Arsalan
    Sep 23, 2010 - 1:34AM

    The education system we have is a threat to the society. Just imagine the Punjab University keep producing the graduates groomed by the IJT. Their increased number would mean more trouble and more destruction not only for Pakistan but also for the whole world.
    The first thing we have to do is to change curriculum. Until we achieve the aim, nothing positive is possible.Recommend

  • Mohsin
    Sep 23, 2010 - 6:29AM

    One more task force, one more committee… we have to get away from these temporary structures and really works towards strengthening the system. Till when Pakistan’s education system will be governed through these temporarily structures. The author has failed to mention the Pakistan’s Education Curriculum and the National Education Policy. Both of these documents have already set great parameters to develop cognitive skills among Pakistani children. Recommend

  • Mansoor Khalid
    Sep 23, 2010 - 12:09PM

    I completely agree and that is why these terrorists blow up schools, so that the people of this country should become a burden on the country later to be exploited by the militants rather than a useful resource for the country. We must not let these extremist succeed in their sickening goals.Recommend

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