Literacy a little too late

May 31, 2015

Political ownership is missing for adult literacy programmes in the country

Literacy a little too late

Pakistan signed the Dakar Framework of Action in April 2000 along with 164 countries and committed to achieving six education-for-all (EFA) goals by 2015. The fourth goal reads "achieving a 50 per cent improvement in levels of adult literacy by 2015, especially for women, and equitable access to basic and continuing education for all adults."

Pakistan took one year to prepare a National Plan of Action for EFA (2001-2015) to achieve goals of EFA and set the target of 86 per cent adult literacy rate both male and female by 2015.

We did not stop there and prepared similar 15-year provincial and district EFA plans. The then government of Pervez Musharraf introduced Education Sector Reform (ESR) plan, prepared at an estimated cost of Rs 430 billion, including Rs.180 billion for Adult Literacy.

Adult literacy rate in Pakistan was 46.5 per cent in 2001-02 and ESR set a target to achieve 58 per cent adult literacy by 2005-06. But the country failed to achieve these targets. According to government estimates and experts, adult literacy rate in Pakistan is not more than 58 per cent at present with 69 per cent for males and 46 per cent for females.

Pakistan is among the countries which have failed to achieve a single EFA goal by 2015. "Education for All 2000-2015: Achievements and Challenges," a report produced by UNESCO to track progress of EFA goals for the past 15 years, places Pakistan among the 32 per cent countries which are far from achieving a 50 per cent increase in adult literacy levels.

The National Education Policy (NEP 2009) promises to enhance education budget up to 7 per cent of GDP by 2015 but the report says that in Pakistan, spending on education fell from 2.6 per cent of GNP to 2 per cent. The NEP 2009 also says that a minimum of 4 per cent of education budget should be allocated for literacy and non-formal basic education (NFBE).

The professional base of adult literacy initiatives remained under developed due to lack of training of teachers, lack of formalised curriculum, and non-existence of effective research in the field of literacy and continuing education

The countries had made a pledge at the World Education Forum in Dakar, Senegal in 2000, that "no country should be thwarted in achieving the EFA goals due to lack of resources." But the situation on the ground remained different. The promised allocations were not made even during the early years after the launch of ESR to achieve EFA goal of adult literacy.

Research shows that the commitment to Adult Literacy has remained weak. According to a PhD thesis in 2013 from the department of education of International Islamic University Islamabad, during 2001-05, the estimated financial requirement for Adult Literacy under the ESR was Rs 8.3 billion out of total Rs 100 billion but the country spent Rs 230 million during 2001-03, which indicates a utilisation rate of less than 3 per cent of the total adult literacy allocation. "Out of 45,516.00 million (2.42 of GNP) budget of the ministry of education for 2005-06, hardly 1 per cent allocations are earmarked for literacy and NFBE."

Opening of literacy centres is one of the major programmes proposed to eradicating illiteracy in ESR. On average, 100,000 literacy centres should have been opened every year in the public sector till the completion of the plan, so as to educate the backlog of illiterate population. But Pakistan Education Statistics 2013-14 prepared by the government reveals that the total number of Basic Education Community Schools is 12,023.

Experts question the quality of these centres. They have apprehensions about efficacy of adult education, which is usually attributed to half-hearted efforts, lack of political ownership and resource mobilisation, leading to a low achievement and wastage of resources. "We are a country of 60 million adult (age 15 plus) illiterate, including 40 million women," says Dr Inayatullah, a retired federal secretary and chairman of Pakistan Association for Continuing and Adult Education (PACADE).

Also read: Not a good start of Punjab Literacy Movement 

The professional base of adult literacy initiatives remained under developed due to lack of training of teachers, lack of formalised curriculum, and non-existence of effective research in the field of literacy and continuing education. "Pakistan was quick to make a National Action Plan on EFA but nobody was ready to own adult literacy," he says, adding that less than one per cent of education budget is allocated to literacy schemes.

"There are 35 million illiterate adults only in Punjab province. At present, there are a few functional literacy centres in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa while there are hardly any functional centres in Balochistan and Sindh," he informs.

Inayatullah points out that NGOs can only run pilot projects and that, too, on small scales. "NGOs can do advocacy and test methodology but this is the job of the government to do it on a big level."

He believes National Commission for Human Development (NCHD), which emerged as the lead national agency for adult literacy, is a good initiative but the government seems to have lost interest lately, "To attract people to literacy centres we need to introduce functional and skill-based post literacy programmes that should support people to go beyond reading, writing, and numeracy and help them earn income and bring sustainable improvement in their lives."

The ratio of illiterate adults in rural areas is more than in the cities and the medium of instruction is mainly Urdu language. "We cannot find syllabus in most local languages. We have some literature for adult classes available in Pushto, Sindhi and Balochi but not in languages like Seraiki," says Sherbaz Gorchani, a coordinator for Bunyad from Rajanpur, a leading NGO of the country working on adult literacy. Rajanpur is the least literate district of Punjab province with 34 per cent literacy rate.

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Government officials say political ownership of adult literacy programmes is missing. Punjab is the only province in the country that has created a separate literacy and non-formal basic education department though it has been unable to bring about any drastic change in the literacy scene.

"In Balochistan, adult literacy programmes are managed by social welfare department. Adult literacy has always been a neglected area in education policies and plans. Most of the projects are donor driven," says a senior official of NCHD, a leading initiative of federal government on achieving adult literacy goal. He says that adult literacy has progressed but at a very slow pace of about 1per cent per annum.

"Population is increasing at a pace of about 2.5 per cent. In the given scenario, it will take more than 30 years to achieve 86 per cent adult literacy rate in the country," he says, adding that there are limited policy interventions for improving literacy in the country.

At present, there are hardly any programmes at the national or provincial level. "We need over 0.8 million literacy centres to educate adult population. It will cost Rs 46 billion. This may sound a huge amount but this money is equal to the money spent on Rawalpindi-Islamabad metro bus project. Money is not the issue, priority is the issue," he maintains.

"The government has not allocated budget to NCHD for literacy programmes in the last two years. The overall emphasis of the government has been on the formal education system," he says.

Literacy a little too late