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While Article 26 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees basic education as a fundamental right for all, what goes on in many Developing and Underdeveloped nations is an incongruity to this pledge, to say the least.

Nowhere is this conflict more apparent than in the world’s second largest Muslim nation, Pakistan. I emphasize on the word Muslim because that makes the country’s educational scenario even more shameful given that the first command that Almighty Allah gave to the holy Prophet was to ‘read’.

Today, the fact that Pakistan is one of the nine countries (called the E9) [i] that are home to 70 per cent of the world’s illiterates according to UNESCO is enough to upset any other advances that the country might have made.

The Federal Education Ministry of Pakistan gives the country’s overall literacy rate as 46 per cent with females at 26 per cent. However, independent sources and educational experts are skeptical, saying the literacy rate overall is 26 per cent with only 12 per cent amongst the women. In fact, in some of the more backward areas of NWFP and Balochistan, the female literacy rate falls to as low as 3-8 per cent.

One after the other, governments in power have ranted and raved about the dire state of education in Pakistan. There have been promises to build an impressive number of primary schools in areas that need them, followed by budget allocations (though never enough). Whether these schools were eventually built or equipped with teaching material or skilled staff is a question no one bothers to ask, or answer for that matter.

The poor, down-trodden classes of Pakistan seek to better their situation by educating their children. But the dismal state of government schools and a rise in the number or ghost schools (which are just one example of the misappropriation of education funds) are a put off for parents who would otherwise be willing to give up a breadwinner of their family.

Why should we send our children to sit in a room with no books, papers, pencils or even teachers, when they could be helping us earn a livelihood for the rest of the family, they ask.

And honestly speaking, we lack a convincing enough answer for them.

Many NGOs have risen to meet the daunting challenge that the lack of adequate public schooling has thrown upon Pakistan’s populace. Success stories range from individuals doling out money to set up a small school or more in poor localities of the cities or the rural areas, to the larger endeavors of The Citizens Foundation and SOS Villages.

But the fact remains that educational ventures by NGOs depend on the interest, commitment, and of course pockets of a few individuals. For the society to count on them to provide education to a population of over 150 million is not just silly but also illogical and unfeasible.

As many-an-educationalists have suggested, perhaps the army can step in to provide the country with both manpower and an infrastructure around which a plan to improve Pakistan’s literacy rate can be formed.

The army stepped in for relief operations in earthquake-affected areas, or during the floods in Punjab. It can do the same by treating the pitiable state of Pakistan’s education sector as a crisis – a crisis that refuses to let the country move forward on the road to progress.

Meanwhile, the society as a whole and the government in particular needs to take up this developmental cause on both an individual level and as a collective effort. Success in energizing and revamping Pakistan’s education system will go a long way in poverty eradication and bring about progress in all other sectors of economic and social development. If nothing else, let us at least work hard to rid ourselves of the place that UNESCO has granted us in the E9!

Notes and References

[i] Following are the E9 countries: Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan

Back to> Issues: Overview


Message of Quaid-e-Azam

Teachings of Islam on Education

The aim of Education

Concept of Knowledge in the Quran

Process of Understanding


Which organizations are active in Pakistan?

CARE Pakistan
The Citizen's Foundation


Where can you get more information?

Education in Pakistan by wikipedia

Unesco: E9 Initiative

Book Reviews

A Study of Education, Inequality and Polarization in Pakistan















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