SHAMSUL GHANI (shams_ghani@hotmail.com)
Nov 09 - 15, 2009

With a literacy rate of around 56 per cent, Pakistan shouldn't have been as economically and politically backward as it unfortunately happens to be. Instead of willowing in the mud of blissful oblivion, we should raise some serious questions about the misleading statistics we are persistently being fed with. According to the Chambers English Dictionary, literacy is the condition of being literate. Further, literate in its adjective form means learned; able to read and write. The same word literate, in its noun form means an educated person without a university degree, or formerly a woman holding a certificate from St. Andrews University.

Now, a class-I madressah student and a college graduate both are able to read and write. How do the government statistics tend to segregate the two levels of education that are miles apart from each other? To elucidate the point, we can make use of some more statistics (Table-1) by Ministry of Education.





2006-07 2007-08 2008-09 2006-07 2007-08 2008-09
Pre- Primary 7423162 7403982 7493494 - - -
Primary Mosque 17041937 17233231 17366169 158375 157899 158023
Middle 5367608 5365907 5400435 40094 40837 41326
High 2315216 2435708 2536608 23554 23967 24320
Higher Sec / Inter 902448 961661 997703 3095 3218 3292
Degree Colleges 348814 352302 361072 1166 1198 1219
Universities 640061 741092 741092 120 124 124
Total 34039246 34493883 34896573 226404 227243 228304

It will be observed that around 15 per cent of the total population is enrolled at the pre-primary and primary levels, perhaps mostly in mosques and madressahs. This number finally tapers down to a modest 2 million that is collectively enrolled at higher secondary, intermediate, degree college and university levels.

The sudden drop in enrolment at middle and high school level clearly suggests that almost 80 per cent of those getting primary or pre-primary education give up the pursuit of studies. These 80 per cent dropouts are also counted as literate persons (unfortunately a good number of these dropouts become the raw material for terrorist organizations).

The point is that unless proper weight is assigned to the level of education the individuals have attained, a sweeping statement like, "we have a literacy rate of 56 per cent" will do us more harm than any good. When judged on realistic basis, our real rate of literacy will be just around 20 per cent.

Education is a prerequisite to a nation's mental development and growth. The higher the real literacy rate of a country, the greater the achievements in economic and related fields. Our resource allocation to social sectors, especially education, has been minimal - hardly 2 per cent of GDP on an average.

Utilization of funds allocated for education has also been dismal. During 2006-07 only 33 per cent of allocated funds could be utilized. During the next year, funds utilization again remained disappointing. A number of foreign educational grants go unutilized year after year. One wonders if it is by negligence or by design.

Under the feudal system, education is a taboo for the common man. The system decrees that all possible barriers are erected to stop people from getting education as educated masses start questioning the feudal lords' right to rule them. It is a travesty of educational standards that our ruling elite cannot bear with the simple condition of graduation for the electoral candidates. It means we are being ruled by non-graduates and a non-graduate could well be a person simply able to read and write, or a madressah certificate holder who are expert at churning out senseless rhetoric but hardly able to explain why the inflation rate in April-09 was 17.2 per cent in Pakistan as against 0.5 per cent in India, 2.9 per cent in Sri Lanka and a negative 1.5 per cent in China.

Our under-performing education sector can hardly boast of introducing any worthwhile change that sets the nation on the way to progress.

A huge disappointment is the fact that the general product of our education sector is highly uncompetitive while the education system itself is not cost effective. The commercial greed of educators and the ties of indifference between the teachers and the students coupled with the non-participative attitude of parents, all have combined together to create an educational mess that is much to the liking of our ruling elite. Political and religious parties sow their seeds of horizontal and vertical divisions in the impressionable minds of students at public sector secondary schools level. These seed start producing thorny plants and poisonous vines at college and university levels.

The private sector educators are seen busy the year round in devising ways to fleece the struggling-to-survive parents. Their fee structure is highly dynamic and keeps changing according to the inflationary pressure. But the static pay-structure prevents them from hiring quality teachers. The result is the year after year production of substandard product that hardly meets the requirement of international or even domestic market - a few exceptions in each case notwithstanding.

The scenario at the private sector elite schools is altogether different. Those teaching there are also better lot as they enjoy a comparatively better pay structure. The youth receiving education there if manages not to catch juvenile delinquency virus makes into a far better product that is suitable for international as well as elite domestic markets. Pakistani students are known to have excelled at globally held O-levels, A-levels, and ACCA examinations. After doing their levels from these elite schools, they are absorbed by good international colleges or elite domestic universities like IBA, LUMS etc.

After completing education, these youngsters take to the international job markets where it is normally absorbed against good pay packages. It is unfortunate that this youth is more often than not tagged as mercenaries who choose to desert their country for higher payouts. This phenomenon is often referred to as Brain Drain.

Such thinking is ill-informed and ill-conceived. A society that has been raised on quota systems, and ruled by the herds of "non-graduates" who have an innate bias against merit can hardly afford the presence of brilliant youth in their ranks and files.

Seen from another angle, the parents of such youth make huge investment and they have an economic right to seek an early payback. They gladly permit their wards to sail away from an economy that has an average inflation rate of 20 per cent. And by doing so, they are allowing the youth to settle in a far better environment that helps them to grow at a faster rate on one hand and arranges oxygen for the ever-ailing economy of their country in the shape of sustained inflow of foreign remittances. One doesn't have to be an economist to measure the importance of these remittances in the absence of which the economy will go to dogs. When seen realistically, Brain Drain turns out to be an absolute misnomer.