Rote learning... no more

By Iqra Sarfaraz
Tue, 09, 18

Formal education is not a criterion for literacy. The focus on both formal education and skills development is important to be literate.....

Formal education is not a criterion for literacy. The focus on both formal education and skills development is important to be literate. Hence, International Literacy Day 2018 aims to make effective connections between literacy and skills development. You! takes a look...

Pakistan’s population is growing rapidly with each passing day. The country is ranked as the 6th most populated land with over 180 million people. But what about the literacy level of Pakistan? Sadly, the literacy rate in the country is very low as compared to other developed and developing countries. According to the financial analysts, the previous government spent just 2.3 per cent of the total Gross National Product (GNP) and just 9.9 per cent of the total budget on education. Pakistan has been successful in making attractive policies for the improvement in education sector. However, due to the improper implementation and bad governance, there is no practical demonstration of these policies, let alone the concept of skill development and knowledge based education; which has gained importance worldwide in the past few years.

This nuisance has badly affected the country’s educational sector. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Pakistan is currently at 160th rank among the total countries of the world as far as the literacy rate is considered; it is a big shame for the country. However, there is no doubt that in the last three decades, literacy ratio has increased and the quality of education has improved.

According to the latest Pakistan Economic Survey 2017-2018, the literacy rate of the total population (10 years and above) is 58 per cent. The data shows that literacy rate is higher in urban areas i.e. 76 per cent than in rural areas, which is 51 per cent. Yet, the progress on the whole is not satisfactory.

Keeping this in mind, each year September 8th marks UNESCO’s International Literacy Day, raising awareness globally on the issues surrounding adult and child literacy. First held in 1966 and now part of the UN’s sustainable development goals programme adopted in 2015, International Literacy Day highlights the changes and improvements being made worldwide in literacy development.

UNESCO has been central to improving global literacy since 1946 and promotes International Literacy Day in partnership with governments, charities, local communities and experts in the field worldwide. Using themes and programmes, the day aims to turn attention on literacy in all its forms in a changing world. Recognising literacy encompasses more than the written knowledge in societies today. The theme for 2018 is ‘Literacy and Skills Development’. The International Conference will be held in Paris, on 7th September 2018 and explore ways to make effective connections between literacy and technical and vocational skills in policies, practice, systems and governance. Focusing on youth and adults within the lifelong learning framework, the effective linkages between literacy and skills will be explored.

In context with Pakistan’s current educational system, You! talks to Ameena Saiyid, OBE, S.I., Chair of Oxford University Press Pakistan, who shares her insight on Pakistan’s literacy and inclusion of skills development in the education system. “I think education in our country needs a great deal of improvement and change. It is not working properly because 23 million out of 53 million children between the ages of 5 and 16 years are out of school. Those studying in government schools have very low levels of learning and those who are in private schools, have higher learning levels.”

Pupils should not absorb ‘received wisdom’ without questioning it. -Ameena Saiyid

“Although we have a number of education boards, the problem mainly lies in the examination and assessment system which tests pupils on rote learning and memorisation. The exam questions are based on textbook board books rather than on the curriculum. Consequently, pupils are forced to learn by heart from these books. When they should be examined for understanding concepts and having the skills to gather information from a variety of sources, process this information critically and form their own, original opinions. They should not absorb ‘received wisdom’ without questioning it,” adds Ameena.

While referring to the importance of skills development, Ameena is of the view to mould pupils into being self-sufficient, “Independent learning skills are important. These can result in pupils becoming independent learners and critical thinkers. In my opinion, literacy is very important as it opens doors to education and enables students to read a great deal and learn from different perspectives of diverse authors. Literacy should mean the ability to read books for only then can a person become an effective learner. Hence, it is better to be a learner as it allows you to grow and add value to your skills set rather than having grades to your name with no understanding.” According to Ameena formal education is not a criterion for literacy. “Literacy and skill development lead to formal education which requires skills of creativity, critical thinking, questioning, researching and original thinking.”

Following the same vein, playwright, satirist and TV host, Anwar Maqsood, also gives his two cents, “Since the time Pakistan came into being, least amount of investment has been made in education and health. Reason being, that our leaders and politicians are not educated as well. Basically, the elders need education in our country more than the children.”

Anwar Maqsood believes that education should be made easy for all. It should be accessible to anybody and everybody. “There is a balance in education level of children living abroad, and every child enjoys the right of education on the same level. Contrary to this practice, children living in rural areas of Pakistan do not get proper education unlike the children in urban areas. So, equality can bring betterment in levels of education. Having several boards of education won’t help but equal opportunities will,” expresses Anwar.

While defining the criteria of literacy, he states, “In my opinion, literacy is not limited to just writing your name. A person becomes literate when he is nurtured with great values and mannerisms at home. These days, education has been considered a responsibility of the institute and not the family. Children have lost respect for elders unlike some of the families where morals and values are still of prime importance today. However, it is also important to develop an appropriate criterion of literacy in schools as well. Especially our government schools where kids do not have basic necessities like proper building, chairs, books and copies. To get education should be every child’s right despite how rich or poor he is.”

Degree is basic but if you know a skill, you will never sit idle. -Anwar Maqsood

Shedding light over literacy and skills development, Anwar Maqsood, tells, “I believe a child’s education should comprise 60 per cent of skills development and 40 per cent of academics. Today, a graduate sits at home but someone who can do plumbing, painting or any other skilled labour works and earns well. In every school, at least 2 hours should be given to skills development.”

Moreover, association between formal education and skills development is deep according to the veteran writer and humorist. “The focus on both formal education and skills development is important. In our country, we feel ashamed to do skilled labour which is wrong. Degree is basic but if you know a skill, you will never sit idle. And, this should be established since childhood. For instance, if a musician lets his son play a sitar to transfer a skill to his child, why can’t this be a common practice in every household?” A question that needs to be answered...