Being a developing country and one with an almost exponentially growing population, Pakistan faces all sorts of socio-economic problems. But the underlying cause of these problems is the issue of illiteracy. Our government spends less than 3% on the education sector. Already an insufficient value for catering to the needs of a considerably large population, it is further misappropriated. According to a compilation of the World Literacy Foundation, more than 796 million people in the world cannot read and write, about 67 million children do not have access to primary school education and another 72 million miss out on secondary school education. Pakistan’s situation is even more unfortunate as it is estimated that 26% of the countries that are poorer than Pakistan, send a larger proportion of their children to schools. The main finding of the report further states that putting an economic value on the cost of illiteracy, it is estimated at $1.2 trillion to the global economy. Hence, this problem is not confined to the developing world.
Why is education so crucial to saving our economy? Literacy is the fundamental building block of education and as vaccine is a prevention measure for a disease, literacy works in the same way for preventing the spread of corruption, hunger, poverty, crime, poor health conditions and unemployment among other socio-economic problems. Education is an essential tool for breaking the rigid and harsh social cycles of poverty.
In Pakistan, the quality of education is as big a problem as lack of access to education starting from the primary level. Even if the net enrollment rate of children attending a primary school is 63%, half of them drop out due to several reasons and those who continue are also getting a substandard experience because of inadequate education facilities, lack of trained teachers, and a standard medium of instruction in all regions, outdated curriculum and absence of a standard assessment tool. Another worrisome issue is that textbooks and the way things are taught encourage rote learning and promote ideologies of certain powerful groups of the country instead of stimulating creativity and critical thinking.
Additionally, when we talk about gender inequality and discrimination faced by women at all levels, we are always lead to the question: how does one break through the rigid norms? This is again a problem that stems from the lack of access to education and poor quality education. Firstly, female enrolment is only 43.6% of the total enrollment which is significantly less than the male enrolment. Secondly, gender roles for men and women are enforced through education and the curriculum also promotes patriarchal ideologies to a great extent. Both these factors mutually contribute to the social problems that result from gender discrimination in our society. Hence, it is crucial for the progress of Pakistan as a nation that girls are provided with an equal access to education.
Pakistan needs an extensive educational reform which must begin with a policy reform that tackles the chronic under-investment in the education sector. Adding to that, the government and the private sector must work as partners to provide quality education especially primary education to all the school going citizens. It is a long-term process which requires effort from each one of us as individuals too, to work towards a quality education system along with providing the youth with hope, our undivided attention, and unwavering belief in their potential. Education is not only crucial for mitigating the socio-economic issues, it is important for psychological reasons too as it helps to make you feel worthwhile, gives a boost to morale and builds confidence and perseverance.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 1st, 2017.