X-Square: Clap, clap, clap!
Just stand up and applaud. No, seriously. Nothing short of a standing ovation would do. Despite all the massive problems being faced by the country — from Gayari up north to Lyari down south — Pakistan has registered a rise in the literacy rate. The naysayer will always talk of fudged data and such other things, but don’t pay much attention to the lot; just bask in the glory of the moment. A full one per cent — repeat, ONE per cent — hike is almost miraculous in scale and dimension. Clap, clap clap …!
According to the Economic Survey of Pakistan, released a few days ago, the national literacy rate now stands at 58 per cent.
What this basically means is that going by this rather astronomical rate, Pakistan needs just 42 more years to be cent per cent literate, which will be only 39 years behind the 2015 deadline designated by the United Nations under its Education For All (EFA) protocol to which Pakistan is a signatory. Clap clap …?
In 2010, the EFA global monitoring report had put Pakistan among 29 countries which were not likely to achieve the goal by 2015. At the time, the report had assessed that Pakistan may need another 15 years (2030) to achieve 86 per cent literacy rate and 33 years (2048) to achieve universal primary education or 100 per cent net enrollment rate. In a nutshell, Pakistan was 33 years behind the deadline in 2010, while today the gap has extended by six additional years and our own deadline seems to be the year 2054. Clap … but not quite.
Though it was quite evident from the very outset that the UN deadline will not be met, rhetoric of the hardcore variety had marked the official response of successive governments. But gradually it did start creating space for an ultimate setback. In 2005, a member of the federal cabinet had talked of cent per cent literacy by 2015. A year later, another minister told a Senate standing committee meeting that though 100 per cent was the target, she was not sure whether it could be met. Then came the chief of the National Commission for Human Development (NCHD) who brought it down to 86 per cent. Another policy document then took another percentage off the target and put it at 85.
While all this rhetoric was being churned out, international agencies kept reminding Pakistan about the worth of its effort. A Unesco report on the EFA initiative placed Pakistan among the 10 worst performers alongside Eritrea, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Benin, Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad. Also, the report noted that Pakistan spends a little over two per cent of GDP on education as against the Unesco suggestion of at least six per cent. But we kept talking.
All this is not to suggest that the country has done nothing to move towards the EFA target. It definitely has, but it has not been enough. An honest statement makes people feel more confident in the system. On the other hand, blatant lies and rhetoric to justify existence and continuation in office don’t sell in this day and age. But this is something that our politicians, bureaucrats and technocrats have yet to learn.
Though indirectly and not in as many words, the Economic Survey of Pakistan does indicate that the UN targets will be missed by some margin. The National Education Policy had proposed in 2009 to achieve the goal by up-scaling of on-going programmes of literacy and non-formal education along with achieving universal primary education and ensuring zero-drop rates at the primary level. The Economic Survey, however, shows that all these paper mechanisms had failed to produce much.
Mind you, the quality of education is not a factor in this equation as the targets are about basic literacy. But there is certainly the question of what exactly defines literacy. There are proper, full-length, internationally recognised standard definitions available, but we have tampered with them to boost numbers. Not long ago, a government official had publicly declared that it did not matter whether people can or cannot write a few sentences. In his words, the ability to read a vernacular newspaper was enough for a person to be declared literate. This naturally was in clear violation of all universal standards and needed to be condemned with the contempt that it deserved.
And, finally, the literacy growth rate of one per cent must be viewed against the national population growth rate of over two per cent. By the time we have achieved making the current Pakistan of 177 million people cent per cent literate, there will be millions more who would have worn the proud tag of being a Pakistani. The year 2054 is far away, but the United Nations Population Fund has projected a population of 210 million by 2020; an addition of 33 million over the next eight years.
The enormity of the task is self-explanatory. But with the government struggling, among a host of other things, to work out a uniform plan for summer vacations in schools, there is little hope — or, there is little reason to hope — that it will be able to do much. We are on ‘auto’ mode. Let’s enjoy the ride. And while doing that, don’t forget to do what we should all be doing round the clock … clap, clap, clap!