This year’s International Literacy Day celebrated all over the world, on Sept 8th 2015, carried the Theme: Literacy and Sustainable Societies.
This is how Director General UNESCO Ms. Irina Bokova dilating on the theme viewedliteracy: “as a human right, as a force for dignity, and as a foundation for cohesive societies and sustainable development.Literacy is essential to reach the proposed sustainable development goals to promote ‘inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning for all.Weneed greater investment and more effective policies to embed action for literacy within wider development policies, supported by innovative mechanisms that generate positive synergies across all policy areas that are vital to building more just and cohesive societies.”
Now that the fifteen years of MDGs and Education For All Goals are about to end in December, where does Pakistan stand?
The recent most Living Standard Measurement Survey has revealed that literacy rate instead of moving up, has gone down by 2%. This is because of low priority given to the promotion of literacy. The total allocation for literacy in the country has been around 2%. Out of this extremely inadequate provision of funds, not even 1% is spent on adult literacy. The present number of illiterate men and women in Pakistan is not less than 60 million. In our neighbouring countries the allocation for education rangesfrom3% to 6%. UNESCO’s required minimum is 4%. On the exhortation of UN’s special envoy Mr. Gordon Brown two years ago, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif responded by promising that allocation would be raised to 4% by the year 2018. In other words there was very little concern on the part of the government to make speedy efforts to meet the EFA Goals and educational targets of MDGs with the result that Pakistan today is lagging behind most of the developing countries. It sits smugly at the lowest rungs at the International Literacy ladder. The average world literacy rate is presently more than 84% while Pakistan claims to have attained 58%. Many quarters question even this percentage.
The world is moving ahead at a fast pace, beyond MDGs and EFA Goals. While Pakistan has not achieved a single EFA and educational targets of MDGs, the international community has held a number of world conferences to formulate new goals. These have been named as Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs). These are based on lengthy discussions held in all the continents and will be discussed later this month by the UN General Assembly. It may be of considerable interest for my readers to have some idea of these goals. Briefly some of them are: End poverty in all its forms everywhere. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all and achieve gender equality and empower all women. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all and affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
After the SDGs will be approved by the UN General Assembly, all countries of the world shall stand committed the achievement of these goals by the year 2030. Each country will be required to prepare a national plan for achieving them. Now that the scope of the goals have been widened to include a number of new social and economic fields, there is every possibility of Pakistan ignoring many of the MDGs targets and EFA goals and pay more attention to areas where it could attain success. It is therefore imperative that a national commission is set up to ensure that the unfinished agenda of the MDGs and EFA goals is attended to vigorously in the shortest possible time.
After the 18th Amendment the responsibility for educating the masses including the promotion of literacy has devolved to the provinces. Now except for Punjab, none of the other provinces have the administrative structure to undertake these tasks. While at one end of the spectrum (Sindh and Baluchistan),hardly any serious effort to meet any of the EFA goals has been made, even the Punjab province has failed to move speedily enough to achieve the set targets. Although the budget for literacy in this province has been considerably raised, only a small part of it has been actually spent on eradication of illiteracy.
The root cause of the multiplying number of illiterates is poor educationin the public schools. The litmus test to judge the efficacy of educational reforms and increased allocations has to be in terms of the number of yearly drop-outs and the learning achievement of the children who manage to survive up to class V. Most of the reports indicate that the fifth class students cannot properly read books prescribed for class III. As for drop-outs, no authentic figures are available but the general consensus is that 30 to 40 percent drop-out by the time they reach class III. Apart from the national financial loss incurred on their education in the schools, this default also adds millions to the pool of adult illiterates, over a period of time.
So Mr. Prime Minister and hon’ble Chief Ministers,wake-up for once and seriously realize your international commitment to achieve the educational goals to which your governments are committed.Hold just one well-attended meeting to thoroughly review your literacy policies and programmes with a view to accelerating action to achieve at least 80% of the goals set for the year 2015, in the next 5 years. Good Luck!