June 20 - 26, 20

Writing of policy documents is perhaps the easiest academic job in Pakistan. The will be/shall be type statements of objectives is what a policy document is replete with. These statements are never meant to be put to implementation and, therefore, can be as lofty as the imagination of document writer can allow them to be. Two such statements are reproduced from National Education Policy 2009:

1. The government shall allocate seven percent of GDP to education by 2015 and necessary enactment shall be made for this purpose.

2. Government shall take steps to ensure that teacher recruitment, professional development, promotions, and postings are made on merit alone.

In a country, where public sector spending on education remained below three percent during its existence of 64 years, the idea of seven percent spending is not only preposterous but self-deceiving too. We are just four years away from the 2015 mark and there is no plausible reason to believe that government spending on education will break the barrier of three percent during the next four years.

Malaysia and Vietnam spend around five percent of GDP on education and boast of a literacy right as high as 92 percent. By pretending to spend seven percent of GDP on education, who are we trying to deceive? Will someone tone down the most important statement of National Education Policy and bring it down to a credible level? The statement regarding 'merit alone' is in total contradiction to the real-life situation. One can only dream of a government that allows merit to take the front seat.

Pakistan Economic Survey 2010-11 mentions some facts about the condition of educational infrastructure according to which a large number of schools are lacking basic facilities. Out of 32.7 percent schools up to elementary level, 32 percent are without boundary wall, 33.6 percent without drinking water facility, 35.4 percent without latrines, and around 60 percent schools are without electricity.

The problem of low literacy is compounded by the misstatement of our literacy rate. The practice continues unabated with no one appearing bothered to correct the figures to figure out our actual literacy deficit. Unless we do that, we would not be able to understand the prognosis on this deep-seated malady.


  2008-09 2009-10
A. Literate 57.4 69.3 44.7 57.7 69.5 45.2
No formal education 0.5 0.5 0.5 0.5 0.6 0.5
Below matriculation 37.1 44.4 29.2 37.5 44.9 29.5
Matriculate but below Intermediate 10.7 13.4 7.8 10.7 13.1 8.0
Intermediate but below Degree 4.7 5.6 3.8 4.7 5.6 3.8
Degree & above 4.4 5.4 3.4 4.3 5.3 3.4
B. Illiterate 42.6 30.7 55.3 42.3 30.5 54.8
Total (A+B) 100 100 100 100 100 100

Our so-called overall literacy rate of 57.7 percent is built on a big block of 37.5 percent of below-matriculates - anyone from pre-primary to middle level. At pre-primary, primary and mosque levels, around 28 million students were enrolled during 2010-11 against 5.5 million students enrolled in middle classes the same year. This shows that only 20 percent students move to the middle level while the remaining 80 percent add to the list of dropouts. So, around 80 percent of those below-matriculates are simply the dropouts at primary level. What role these dropouts can play in a fast-moving high-tech world? And, do they really deserve to be called literates?

Unesco Institute for Statistics (UIS) has launched a Literacy Assessment and Monitoring Program (LAMP). The program is designed to enable nations to assess the literacy skills of their youth and adult people as a continuum. The objective of the program is to provide information to all of the stakeholders namely planners, donors and groups participating in debates on literacy and role of the state in promoting education.

While introducing the program, UIS puts forward a simple question: Can you read and write? And then proceeds by stating: "This question is commonly used to produce literacy statistics. In most countries, there are no other measures - just a simple count based on information gathered in a household survey or census. Answer 'yes' and join the ranks of the so-called literates. Answer 'no' and you are considered to be illiterate. While these conventional statistics are useful in benchmarking progress globally, they do not reflect the full spectrum of skills associated with reading and numeracy."

In Pakistan, we have been using this simple method of developing literacy statistics during the last 64 years. The changing world is not in a mood to be fooled on this account any more. The donors, specifically, would like to know the real changes their money has brought about in the literacy rate of the recipient country. LAMP is accordingly designed to:

* provide robust data on the distribution of reading and numeracy skills within the youth and adult populations;

* deliver information needed to effectively plan and carry out initiatives to improve literacy skills;

* develop a global methodological standard for measuring reading and numeracy skills in a way that can be compared across countries at different stages of development and linguistic contexts; and

* reinforce national capacities to regularly generate and use state-of-the-art assessment data.

LAMP attempts to measure five different levels of literacy ranging from 'poor skills' to 'a good command of higher-order information processing skills'. Countries like Morocco, Mongolia, Niger, El Salvador, Jordan, Vietnam, Paraguay, Afghanistan, belonging to different regions have entered the test field and are in the process of coming under the LAMP shade. Pakistan should brace up to be tested under a more scientific, stern, and revealing literacy measurement system. The so-called literacy rate of 57.7 percent might drastically come down. But at least, we would be able to know that there is too little oil in our LAMP; and that is why the light is so dim.