Oct 31 - Nov 6, 20

The following data on world's literacy standings in 2007 was compiled in line with the United Nation's Literacy Decade 2003-12 program:

1. The most literate among the Arab states is Kuwait with a literacy rate of 93.9 percent while the least literate is Morocco with a literacy rate of 55.6 percent.

2. The most literate nations in Central and Eastern Europe are Estonia and Latvia with a literacy rate of 99.8 percent, followed by Belarus, Lithuania, Slovenia, and Ukraine with a literacy rate of 99.7 percent. The least literate nation in that region is Turkey with a literacy rate of 88.7 percent.

3. The most literate nation in Central Asia is Turkmenistan with a literacy rate of 99.5 percent.

4. The most literate nation in Latin America and the Caribbean is Cuba with a literacy rate of 99.8 percent while the least literate nation is Haiti with a literacy rate of 62.1 percent.

5. The most literate nation in North America and Western Europe is Italy with a literacy rate of 99.8 percent while the least literate nation is Malta with a literacy rate of 91.6 percent.

6. The most literate nation in South and West Asia is Maldives with a literacy rate of 97 percent while the least literate nation is Bangladesh with a literacy rate of 53.5 percent.

According to Pakistan Economic Survey 2010-11, the literacy rate in the country is 57.7 percent - higher than that of the least literate nation of the region, Bangladesh, and slightly lower than that of Nepal.

How does our literacy rate of 57.7 percent compare with the least literate nations of other regions of the world: Arab states 55.6 percent; Central and Eastern Europe 88.7 percent; Latin America and the Caribbean 62.1 percent; and North America and Western Europe 91.6 percent? With the exception of India, Nepal and Bangladesh, all emerging economies in our region have a literacy rate of 90 plus percent.

World economies, in general, focus on 3Es to continue on the road to progress and prosperity - Education, Energy, and Equality (especially of incomes). Our leadership, unfortunately, has maintained its focus on all these three basic parameters of growth to ensure that the road to progress ever remains clogged with self-created social and economic barriers. We all know that lack of education is the root cause of all economic and social imbalances of our society.

Education has never been and will never be the top priority of our ruling elite, which is composed of predominantly feudal lords. Promotion of education creates awareness, which in turn becomes a potent threat to the feudal structure of governance.

During autocratic rules when mostly technocrats take the helm of affairs, the education sector comparatively gets greater attention and government's financial support.

The conventional democrats who mostly come from the feudal setup hardly focus on education for lack of time or will. Lack of talent pool and party-line compulsions deter them from finding the right person for the high profile jobs of great national importance. Being aware of the short tenure of their rule, they are caught up between the desire to abolish previous government policies and the ambition to advance their own. The result is that the important sectors like economics, finance, and education suffer greatly. Between FY03 and FY08, we recorded an average growth of 21.8 percent in public sector expenditure on education. This growth came abruptly down to 8.6 percent in FY09.

No forward-looking nation can afford to ignore the weakening of its educational system and degradation of its literacy base. Alan Greenspan, concerned about the deterioration in the elementary and secondary education systems in US, writes in his book The Age of Turbulence: "It is the recognition of these values that has attracted such a large segment of the world student population to our institutions of higher learning. But, while our universities and especially our community colleges have responded impressively, in recent decades our elementary and secondary schools have not. In the foregoing, I have raised concerns about the state of our elementary and secondary education while lauding the world-class university system we have built over the generations. It should be clear, however, that unless the former can be brought up to world class, the latter will either have to depend on foreign students or sink into mediocrity."

Another American writer Clyde Prestowitz observes about the falling US education standards, in his book The Betrayal of American Prosperity: "But there are four major elements that I want to emphasize here. First is the simple matter of the length of the school year. The American school year is at least a month shorter than that of any other well-educated country. Their kids get ahead of our kids for the simple reason that they spend more time in the school. We need to get rid of the long summer vacation, which is the relic of the farming economy of the nineteenth century. Second, we need to pay teachers like professionals - not on the level of investment bankers, but certainly so that their income is competitive with that of the ordinary accountants and lawyers. Third, we need to be serious about discipline in classrooms and permanently remove students who are disruptive and disrespectful. Finally, we need to have meaningful national curricula requirements and standards."

All these four points are very much relevant to the Pakistan's education system.

The current decade has sprung some surprises on the female education front. The scenario owes much to the enlightened-moderation philosophy of the previous government.

Brushing aside the political jargon, it can be ascertained that the philosophy was more visible in the positive changes that took place in the field of female education. Despite all the drawbacks the female education nationwide is saddled with, the female literacy rate has improved from 42 percent in 2006-07 to 45.2 percent in 2009-10.

The male literacy rate, during the same period, has increased from 67 percent to 69 percent. The rate of improvement of female literacy is obviously faster.

Gone are the days when boys overwhelmingly occupied top positions in any form of educational examinations. It should not be surprising if in our male-dominated society, females have vehemently refused to be the pushovers. The reason is simple and straight: girls are lot more focused and disciplined. Given the culture we are living in, it is not easy for them to leave the four-walls of their homes at will and get enrolled at some educational institution. But, once they are able to do that, they show their real mettle and start to outsmart their male counterparts by excelling in the pursuit of studies.