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
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
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