Literacy concerns

The literacy challenge persists in Pakistan, taking on a new meaning post-pandemic with widening inequalities hampering progress

Literacy concerns


any factors contribute towards the progress of a nation. The most important one is the development of its citizens through improving education and literacy. Literacy provides a platform to the individuals for their personal growth.

Evidence shows that literacy programmes help enhance democratic values, peaceful living and community solidarity. By empowering people, primarily through a critical and sovereign approach, literacy can help them engage and assume an active role locally and globally to face and resolve global challenges. This helps in the transformation for more sustainable and peaceful societies.

On the other hand, progress in other areas of social development, such as health, agriculture, water, energy and transport, can improve the environments in which people live, work and learn. Learning opportunities in multiple forms that become available due to socio-economic development help promote literacy.

In collaboration with its member states and partners, the UNESCO celebrates International Literacy Day on September 8. This year’s theme was Promoting Literacy for a World in Transition: Building the Foundation for Sustainable and Peaceful Societies.

The year also marks the mid-point towards the 2030 Global Agenda for Sustainable Development Goal 4, promoting Education for All, to which the international community committed eight years ago.

The objectives of the commemoration include advancements in literacy and fostering a more literate society, bringing together policymakers, practitioners, development partners, youth and individuals to play their roles.

The Covid-19 crisis and other global challenges have worsened the educational and literacy opportunities available to millions of children and adults, largely those already marginalised before the pandemic. Over 373 million adults across the globe cannot read or write, and 58 million primary school-age children are not attending schools.

Literacy enables people to acquire the knowledge, skills and values required to succeed in our rapidly changing culture and economy. As such, literacy contributes not only to engendering personal benefits, such as better well-being and economic conditions, but also social, economic and political awareness.

Pakistan has the world’s second-highest number of out-of-school children. An estimated 22.8 million children between 5 and 16 years of age are not attending school, representing 44 percent of the population in this age group in 2018-19.

The country faces a serious challenge to ensure that all children, particularly the most disadvantaged, attend, stay and learn in school. At the same time, enrolment and progress has been slow in improving educational indicators in Pakistan.

According to a report, nearly 10.7 million boys and 8.6 million girls are enrolled at the primary level. The numbers drop to 3.6 million boys and 2.8 million girls at the lower secondary level. Disparities based on gender, socio-economic status and geography are significant. In Sindh, 52 percent of the poorest children (58 percent girls) are out of school; in Balochistan, 78 percent of girls are out of school.

“Literacy is the first step towards freedom, towards liberation from social and economic constraints. It is the prerequisite for development, both individual and collective. It reduces poverty and inequality, creates wealth and helps eradicate problems of nutrition and public health.

Pakistan Institute of Development Economics Report 2022 states that by breaking down the data further, it has been discovered that approximately one in four (23.45 percent) children between the ages of 5–16 in Pakistan have never attended school. About seven percent enrolled and dropped out.

The report mentions that alongside enrolment, there is a serious need to address the shortcomings of the system in place responsible for supporting and overseeing public schools.

The report emphasises that gaps in service provision at all education levels are a major constraint to education access. Socio-cultural demand-side barriers combined with economic factors and supply-related issues hinder the access and retention of certain marginalised groups, in particular adolescent girls.

At systems level, inadequate financing, limited enforcement of policy commitments and challenges in equitable implementation hamper reaching the most disadvantaged. Though an encouraging increase in education budgets has been observed at 2.8 percent of the total GDP, it is still well short of the four percent target.

The recent Human Capital Review highlights that quality education for all children in Pakistan will require a different approach and substantial financial efforts, estimated to be 5.4 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It is added here that 81 percent of children are enrolled in government schools, whereas 19 percent are going to non-state institutions. One percent are in madrassahs.

UN Sustainable Development Goal 4 is to “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.” Gender equality is linked to the right to education for all. Achieving gender equality requires a rights-based approach that ensures that boys and girls, women and men, not only gain access to and complete education cycles but are empowered equally in and through education. There is an opportunity for developing countries such as Pakistan to improve the living standard of their people through quality education and access to primary education.

The UNICEF has established more than 500 temporary learning centres in the worst-affected districts in Pakistan and supported teachers and children with education supplies. To support children’s mental and physical health, the UNICEF is training teachers in psychosocial care and health screenings and is preparing for back-to-school and enrolment activities for schools that have been rehabilitated.

Pakistan’s educational infrastructure will take many years to develop if we want our 22.8 million out-of-school children to be in school. With technology and many digital resources available, we can support our schools.

Audrey Azoulay, the UNESCO director general, has said, “Literacy is the first step towards freedom, towards liberation from social and economic constraints. It is the prerequisite for development, both individual and collective. It reduces poverty and inequality, creates wealth and helps eradicate problems of nutrition and public health.”

The writer is a playwright and freelance journalist. He can be reached at and his blogging site:

Literacy concerns