EducationVolume 14 Issue # 12

Decreasing literacy rate must set alarm bells ringing for the PTI government

Riaz Ali doesn’t believe an education is necessary for his children. He is running his plumbing shop in the Tajpura locality of Lahore along Canal Bank Road in Ghaziabad area for the last three decades. Only one of his three sons went to school and he, too, left it before passing his fifth grade exams. All three are grown up now, and attached to their father’s profession. The eldest one, married with three children, has set up his own shop, while the younger two are still working with their father.

All four – father and three sons – make a reasonable daily earning, and there is no shortage of money in the house for their modest living. Riaz Ali has three daughters also, and they too were never sent to any school for getting an education.

The man in his late 40s has his own reasons for not sending his children to any school. “After observing the fate of my elder brother’s “educated” children, I decided not to send my kids to school. He is a very good bricklayer, but none of his four sons adopted his profession.

“They preferred becoming clerks in private schools and factories, as working as a mason was an insult for them. They are earning only 20 to 30 thousand rupees monthly but did not like their father’s “muddy profession” though it could bring them two or three times more earning,” says Riaz Ali.

“My sons are following me and making a good living. They all have purchased their own plots and can build their own houses,” the plumber tells Cutting Edge proudly. “Had I ‘spoiled’ them by sending them to school, they would have been doing some clerical jobs in (private) schools after doing FA and BA and living in rented houses,” Riaz explains his viewpoint.

The plumber is also against girls’ education. “My wife is uneducated, but she always managed my house in the best manner. She cooks very well; she knows how to keep the house neat and clean; and above all she knows very well how to save money and marry off her sons and daughters in limited resources. What else is needed in a woman,” asks Riaz Ali.

“My wife has trained my three daughters in all these fields in the best manner and married them off. They are happy in their homes and running their houses successfully. Then what’s use of an education for girls,” he puts a question philosophically.

There must be hundreds of thousands of Riaz Alis in Pakistan, stopping it from becoming a literate country even in the 21st century. They might have different reasons, but it is a fact that they are large in number and they are not sending their children to school, regardless of whether they are living in small villages or big cities like Lahore and Karachi. That is why, over 20 million children in the country are still out of school.

Pakistan’s education minister admitted in the Senate, the upper house of Parliament, last month that during the last two years, Pakistan’s literacy rate has dropped from 60% to 58%, with the literacy rate of males 70% and females 48%.

During a seminar in Lahore recently, Shafqat Mahmood, federal minister for Education and Professional Training, told Cutting Edge that the decrease was due to the growing population and lack of education facilities in far-flung areas.

The Academy of Education Planning and Management, a subsidiary of the Education Ministry, said in its April 2018 report that Pakistan currently has 51.5 million children aged 5 to 16. Among them only 28.7 million are attending school, while 22.8 million children are out of school. According to the report, Pakistan ranks 129 out of 137 countries on health and primary education-related goals.

Shafqat Mahmood regrets that Balochistan province has the highest number of out-of-school children (70%), followed by the tribal areas of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province (57%). And it is more painful that more girls than boys are out of schools, 49% and 40%, respectively, who are supposed to nurture the upcoming generations of Pakistan.

According to the Pakistan Economic Survey, 2017-2018, the literacy rate for entire Pakistan, including 10-year-olds and above is 58%. The national net enrolment for primary level for overall Pakistan stood at 54%, while Punjab leading the rest with 59%, followed by Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa with 53%, Sindh by 48% and Balochistan 33%.

Similarly, the gross enrolment rate for Pakistan is 87% and again Punjab in the lead with 93%, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa 88%, Sindh 78% and Balochistan 60%. The gross enrolment for males is 94% and 78% for females.

Public expenditure on education as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) is estimated to be 2.2% in financial year 2017-18 as compared to 2.3% of GDP in financial year 2016-17.

Likewise, the Economic Survey says that the education-related expenditure increased by 5.4% to Rs699.2 billion in financial year 2017-18 from Rs 663.4 billion financial year 2016-17.

The overall education condition is based on key performance indicators such as enrolment rates, number of institutes and teachers which have experienced minor improvement. The total number of enrolments at national level during 2016-17 stood at 48.062 million as compared to 46.223 million during 2015-16. This shows a growth of 3.97% and it is estimated to further rise to 50.426 million during 2017-18.

The total number of institutes stood at 260.8 thousands during 2016-17 as compared to 252.8 thousands during last year and the number of institutes are estimated to increase to 267.7 thousands during 2017-18.

The total number of teachers during 2016-17 were 1.726 million compared to 1.630 million during last year, showing an increase of 5.9%. This number of teachers is estimated to rise further to 1.808 million during the year 2017-18.

The minister believes poverty is the leading cause of parents not sending their children to schools or a reason for high drop-out rate in primary schools. “Most poor parents send their children to work to earn money and help out their families,” he believes. Some 50.4 million people live below the poverty line in Pakistan, although the percentage has declined to 24.3%, according to official data.

Various educationists say even 58% literacy rate is an inflated figure as the actual ratio of literate persons is far less. Literacy in Pakistan is now defined as: “Ability to read and understand simple text in any language from a newspaper or magazine, write a simple letter and perform basic mathematical calculation (i.e. counting and addition/ subtraction).”

According to the previous definition used in the 1998 census, “A person was treated as literate if he could read a newspaper or a journal and could write a simple letter in any language.”

Internationally, every country has its own definition of literacy. In many Asian countries, the definition of literacy is somewhat similar. However, experts believe that a meaningful change in the definition of literacy was required to make it comprehensive with an emphasis on attaining knowledge.

Higher Education Commission’s former chief Dr. Atta-ur-Rehman says that a change in the definition was a positive move. In a telephonic talk with Cutting Edge, he said that there was a need for a more comprehensive definition. “The change is an improvement in the definition, but it is not the ideal one,” he added.

Shafqat Mahmood says that Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-led coalition governments at the Centre and Punjab as well as in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa are planning to launch an adult education programme to boost the literacy rate 10-15% within a few years. In August, in his first speech after taking over his office, Prime Minister Imran Khan had promised to run state schools in double shifts – morning and evening – to tackle the grave situation of low literacy rate. Hopefully, with a new party in command in Pakistan, the literacy rate will go up significantly and the government would take some special measures to convince parents like Riaz Ali the plumber who are bent upon depriving their children of the basic human right of education.