KARACHI: Words may sway people but numbers are more telling, as evident by the state of education in Sindh – despite all the press conferences and meetings held by government officials on ‘steps’ taken to improve education, the literacy rate stays put at a mere 59 per cent in the province.
“Where is the impact of all these so-called efforts?” asked a perturbed Dr Muhammad Memon, the director at Aga Khan University’s Institute for Educational Development, in the presence of Sindh Education Minister, Nisar Ahmed Khuhro.
Dr Memon was one of the participants at a seminar organised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) to commemorate International Literacy Day 2013, with focus on “Literacies for the 21st century”.
“Every time when we get the funding to spend on education, we attempt to reinvent the wheel,” said Dr Memon. “Why can’t we benefit from the experiences of other developing countries which successfully got through the quagmire of illiteracy?”
According to him, there was a dire need for the government to review the existing plan of action and develop a roadmap for future in collaboration with the stakeholders. “Perhaps, we need to revisit our very philosophy of literacy and education,” he said. “If campaigns for literacy have failed to improve life and vocational skills vis-à-vis the alleviation from poverty, going on with them is to no avail.”
Even provincial education department’s special secretary, Nazir Ahmed Jamali, had to agree, saying, “We should not be oblivious of the fact that the minimum desirable output has not been achieved yet.”
Education Minister Khuhro, while conceding the observations, mentioned the long list of the education department’s activities and achievements – all undertaken with the aim to improve the literacy scenario. “Above all, we have made education completely free with the introduction of Right to Education Act. The list is so long that you will not be able to even note them down.”
He added that the government certainly did not lack in the education budget as well. “Even if 50 per cent of the budget is utilised, the discouraging scenario is bound to change.”
While citing the reason of sub-normality in progress, Khuhro read out an international remark by Dr Kozue Kay Nagata, the Unesco country director, said that the most common reason for children of ages between 10 and 18 leaving school before completing primary grade was ‘their unwillingness to go to school’, which may be related to quality of education and educators as well as learning outcome.
For the girls living in rural communities, sadly, the second highest reason for dropout was apparently a prejudice as parents do not allow them to go to schools.
Khuhro asserted that the government as well as the civil society was responsible for failure in setting up a persuasive environment for the rural communities where one would be able to say with confidence that children should go to schools. “The dichotomy is apparent when we analyse the urban and rural settings,” he said. “In rural areas, children are admitted to school when they reach the age of six or seven while urban parents plan non-formal education at pre-nursery and even play schools for their children as soon as they reach the age of two.”
For the rural or improvised communities, he highlighted the void in opportunities for non-formal early childhood education, which would generate the interest of children in further education. Khuhro suggested the need for incessant public-private campaigns on indispensability of non-formal education. “Let the people receive this message whenever they open their radios and television sets as well as with personal interaction.”
Published in The Express Tribune, September 9th, 2013.