Education is a benchmark for excellence and is crucial for any developing country’s efforts to achieve sustainable development and prosperity. Well-being of a nation comes with education, as illiterate individuals do not turn out to be fruitful for any nation. It needs to be understood that education not only equips the population with knowledge and creative approach but also acts as an engine to accelerate economic growth. However, although a number of educational policies have been framed by different rulers, unfortunately, they were not put in practice in letter and spirit. With more than 68 million children under the age of 15 to educate, what is required are more efforts to overcome the challenge, and create a sustainable path to a better future for the country and its youth.
Article 25-A in the Constitution of Pakistan guarantees the right to free and compulsory education to all children of age five to 16 years. This means that free and compulsory education is to be provided by the state, but it is observed that little has actually been achieved on the implementation of Article 25-A so far. Moreover, laws necessary to ensure the implementation of the article have either not been made or not made effective by all the provinces. There is a desperate need to take meaningful measures to implement this article in real terms.
It is, however, important to note that the implementation of Article 25-A is a challenge because there are still millions of out-of-school children. Moreover, the way the population of the country is increasing, our society would soon be engulfed in more illiteracy because of a low enrollment rate. The rapid population growth would lead to a steady increase in the number of out-of-school children, and resultantly, the number of illiterate people in the country would multiply.
It is estimated that at present about 55 million Pakistanis of age 10 plus are unable to read and write, and seven million children of age five-nine years are out of school. Worst still, in rural areas, about 52 percent of girls are not enrolled in school, and 67 percent women are illiterate. Thus owing to a low standard of education our society has been immensely affected in all spheres of life, including developmental processes, economic uplift, and social and political stability.
Many educational policies have been designed since the inception of Pakistan; we are adept at making policies but slow in fully implementing them. Now the time has come to have a realistic approach and innovative ideas that may help to improve the standard of education in Pakistan. In this regard, it is necessary that government should work on mass mobilisation and have awareness campaigns in every village, town and city. Political and religious leaders, social workers and civil society organisations should participate in campaigns in their respective areas. Participation of local communities is said to be the key to success of basic education programmes. This participation has been lacking in Pakistan where many parents and communities neither understand the importance of education nor support it in any way. Thus it is important that community-based awareness campaigns are started everywhere, as such activities would be helpful to eliminate lack of awareness, conservatism and ignorance of parents about benefits of education. These factors are deemed to be basic hurdles that impede enrollment of all children into schools.
Quality of education in primary schools should be evaluated by these indicators: student attendance, teacher attendance, test scores, transparency and checking of school resources. All that would lead to an improvement in the standard of education. It is necessary to systematically monitor teachers’ actual presence during school time, as it is commonly observed that students’ attendance is greatly related to teachers’ presence. Thus measures should be taken to encourage teachers to serve in schools with honesty and integrity. Growing evidence on learning achievement confirms that the quality and relevance of basic education is related to giving training to teachers and enhancing their pedagogic practice, and improving learning/teaching conditions. It is up to teachers’ abilities to improve the quality of education, and that comes through methods used for different ways of teaching.
We must celebrate children’s voices and rights in the classroom and the school. And in order to make that happen there should be events where civil society members, parents, and teachers interact with children. This influence should extend to pedagogy as well as school councils; for it is the classroom where citizenship starts, and it is common knowledge that discussion, dialogue and argument are very powerful tools for learning.
Fighting illiteracy is a great tool to ensure social stability. We must understand that rampant illiteracy has grave implications for our national security. A largely illiterate population is an easy prey to nefarious propaganda, and can be easily misguided, divided, and radicalised. State should take measures and make sure every child is schooled and every Pakistani is literate.
The writer is an educationalist, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org