Unfortunately, even in the 21st century where excessive media exposure and massive level of globalisation have entirely metamorphosed the concept of change and development for many of us; the government of our country remains indifferent with only a tiny bit of its budget being allocated for the education sector. The figures and literacy rate of Pakistan, however, show the brighter side of the picture. This is mainly because the definition of a ‘literate person’ in Pakistan does not really describe a literate person. Ironic, isn’t it?
According to the definition of literacy that has been drafted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO); literacy is the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate, compute and use printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. It involves a continuum of learning in enabling individuals to achieve their goals, to develop their knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in their community and wider society.
Surprisingly, someone who can read and write a simple letter, in any language happens to be a literate person in Pakistan! This definition is in stark contrast to many developed as well as developing countries where the definition is more qualitative.
So technically, what explains a ‘simple’ letter? Does this refer to a written element of an alphabet that represents a single phoneme or ….? The definition also fails to specify the language of the letter and the newspaper. So that means if I am able to read a newspaper in Hebrew and also write a simple letter in the same language; this would earn me the title of a literate person, irrespective of the fact that I am a part of a South Asian country whose national language is Urdu?
So are we blinded by ignorance or what? Talking in the same context, if we skim through the pages of the past or even consider the current efforts being made by the government for the improvement of the educator sector, we analyse the lack of political commitment, low quality education, lack of stress on primary education, improper checks and balance, etc.
I got a chance to teach at a local government school in Punjab and was baffled to see the number of mistakes in the text books provided by the government under the education promotion schemes. It was indeed appalling because the students would not believe me over the book. ‘A book is always true and authentic,’ they said.
Be it the ‘Benazir Income Support’ programme or the ‘Parha Likha Punjab’ programme; each has proved yet another futile effort that has failed to do any good; the major reason being lack of stress on quality education. This makes us come to the conclusion that even if a higher per cent of the budget is allocated for this sector, there would still not be enough of good news because of the many loop holes and grey areas associated with the allocation.
The proper solution lies in the standard and quality of education that need to be focused upon. Efforts should be made to replace the out-dated curriculum with international standards of quality education, which has little relevance to the present day. In this way, standardisation in the education system can also be ensured, when both the private and public schools will be following the same system of education and text books. Similarly, proper quality training should be given to the teachers.
Finally, economic and social change should be understood as a concept that has to take place through the existing social system and the networks of social institutions. The need to realise the role of education, in this respect, as an agent or instrument of social change and economic development has to be widely recognised. Mainly because youth is the backbone of any country and it is expected to play a constructive role towards change and a better tomorrow. Let the change, and revolution, be through quality education!
The writer is sub editor, Profit