In April 2017, the federal government had directed the National Commission for Human Development (NCHD) to chalk out an action plan to achieve a 90% adult literacy rate by year 2025. However, after the passage of five years, achieving the target still seems a far cry.
In 2022, Pakistan’s literacy rank is 113 among a total of 120 countries. Since 1990, Pakistan has announced four education policies: in 1992, 1998, 2009, 2021, and a number of development plans, including National Plan of Action 2001-2015, and Education Sector Reforms (ESR), but the country miserably failed to achieve all goals, set by the successive governments, as well as the United Nations Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of 88% literacy rate by 2015.
The latest Education Policy 2021 included free and necessary education for individuals. According to the Article 25-A of the Constitution of Pakistan, “The state shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age group 5 to 16 years in such a manner as may be determined by law.”
The Economic Survey 2020-21 revealed that the literacy rate in the country remains stagnant at 60% and education-related expenditures witnessed a decrease of 29.6% in the year 2019-20. According to the Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement (PSLSM) district level survey 2019-20, the literacy rate of the population (10 years and above) had been stagnant at 60% in 2019-20 since 2014-15.
The survey report showed that the cumulative education expenditures by the federal and provincial governments in FY2020 stood at 1.5% of the GDP compared to 2.3% in FY 2019-20. Expenditures on education had been rising gradually till 2018-19 but in 2019-20, it witnessed a decrease of 29.6% – from Rs. 868 billion to Rs. 611 billion.”
The survey also said the literacy rate was higher in urban areas (74%) than rural areas (52%) showing a huge disparity of 22%. Punjab has the highest literacy rate of 64%, followed by Sindh 58%, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (excluding merged areas) 55%, KP (including merged areas) 53% and Balochistan 46%. The total number of enrolment in 2018-19 was recorded at 52.5 million compared to 51 million in 2017-18, which showed an increase of 2.9%.
The province-wise comparison reveals that NER in Punjab and Balochistan remained stagnant at 70pc and 56pc, respectively, while a decline in NER has been observed in Sindh and KP. If the same trend continues, Pakistan will never be able to achieve the required literacy targets of 90% by 2025.
Reasons for the stagnant or declining literacy rates are no secret at all. At least 25,000 fake employees were identified in the Sindh Education and Literacy Department during the past years, while a list of 794 suspected ghost teachers in district Qambar-Shahdadkot had also been released. The Sindh education minister had told a private TV programme host last year that during an investigation of the Accountant General Sindh office and the Education Department, about 25,000, out of 155,000, recorded employees were identified as “fake”, and strict action was taken against them.
It is a crucial question as to how the target of a 90% literacy rate could be achieved in a country where 60% of the population is living on less than 100 rupees a day?
The Incheon Declaration at the World Education Forum (WEF) had urged the governments to allocate at least 4-6% of their GDP for education and spend at least 15-20% of total public expenditure on increasing literacy rates. However, the official data shows that federal and provincial governments in Pakistan failed to implement this declaration, even partially.
The official data showed that the nation faltered on almost all things that mattered. Allocating it less than 2% of the GDP, Pakistan continued to spend much less on education than its neighbours did, when it actually needs to invest much more to beat the vicious circle of disease, poverty, and violence. The government allocated only 2.68% of its GDP, which is the lowest in South Asia.
One of the main purposes of election of political parties as well as individuals to the parliament is legislation for the wellbeing of the country as well as the people living in it. The Constitution of Pakistan recognises free primary education as a fundamental right, and after the 18th Constitutional Amendment, this sector has been devolved to the federating units. Under the law, the four federating units and other territories are bound to legislate on Right to Education (RTE) in pursuance of Article 25-A of the Constitution. However, for a long period of time, the process of legislation was not completed. Either the provinces failed to legislate on the right to free and compulsory education for the children, or implement the legislation in letter and spirit. Most provincial governments are yet to formulate the Rules of Business. In such circumstances, only government authorities could be optimistic that the target of 90% literacy rate would be achieved by 2025.