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The illiteracy of Pakistan

READING AND WRITING DIFFICULTIES / Pakistan needs to prioritize the citizens' lack of reading and writing skills and should launch a nationwide program that takes into account the country's multicultural and foreign language communities.


good read- and writing skills are important for a wide range of development goals, from political participation to good health. If the mothers have good skills, the infant mortality rate will decrease significantly.

Children from areas where reading and writing skills are low not only do poorly at school and have poor financial prospects, they also have lower life expectancy than peers from areas where the population has good reading and writing skills.

Nevertheless, Pakistan has never given priority to enhancing people's reading and writing skills. As a result, Pakistani literacy rates have varied between 57 percent and 60 percent over the past decade, well below the 67 percent average in South Asia.

In the region has Pakistan the second lowest literacy rate after Afghanistan. , and the country ranks 150th out of 188 countries worldwide.


There are also major gender differences: Among Pakistani men, 68 per cent can read and write, for women the corresponding figure is 45 per cent. There is also a big gap between city and country, which has a literacy rate of 74 and 46 percent respectively.

In addition, Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only countries in the region where differences persist in the younger generation, indicating that literacy rates are unlikely to increase in the near future.

It's not that difficult to find the reason: The Pakistani government is not investing in literacy. An estimate shows that the country introduced around 15 comprehensive programs to improve these skills in the years 1947–2005, but most programs were discontinued ahead of time – either due to change of government or funding problems.

Pakistan's adult literacy education expenditure (ALE – Adult Literacy Education) accounted for only 0–0,4 per cent of total educational expenditure in the period 2009–2014.

During this period, when Pakistan should have made an effort to meet UNESCO's 2000 Education for All program, which would halve the number of adult illiterates by 2015, it was used fewer public funds for education.

Success in Bangladesh

Pakistan is not alone; Few countries have succeeded in making significant progress in the fight against illiteracy. But in other areas, such as equality, Pakistan has been bypassed by other South Asian countries.

For example, managed Bangladesh to increase the literacy rate from 46 per cent in 2007 to 73 per cent in 2017. The country has also made significant improvements in gender equality since 2000, and continues its good development from the previous decade. Last year Bangladesh met the three criteria required to leave the list above UN least-developed countries, and change their status to developing countries in 2024.

The literacy rate tripled from 1966 to 2006.

Bangladesh's progress is largely due to effective cooperation between the public and private sectors. The Agency for Non-Formal Education (BNFE) is launching a literacy program in collaboration with 300 national and international organizations. The Campaign for Popular Education, a national network of NGOs and NGOs, collects data on illiteracy and marginalized groups, information that in turn affects education policy.

Bangladesh is one of the few countries that has established an education management information system that provides reliable data on service providers, users and other relevant education sector issues.

Also in India progress has been made. The adult literacy rate (over 15 years) has increased from 61 per cent in 2001 to 69 per cent in 2011. And the alphabetization rate will be further increased through measures such as Saakshar Bharat Mission, a government-sponsored nationwide initiative from 2009 aimed at women. (In 2011, the literacy rate among women was on average 65 per cent, compared with 82 per cent among men.) Also, the countryside, where the literacy rate is often lower than 50 per cent, is given high priority.

In order to get the best effect, the teaching material is developed in consultation with the students themselves. It is then reviewed by a national quality assurance committee, tested in practice and then revised to reflect experiences before being standardized. To maintain development, libraries and reading rooms are also established.

In the years 2009–2012 certified National Literacy Mission Authority # over 14 million adults are learning, writing and accounting skills.

Investment in Iran

One can also watch Iran, where the literacy rate tripled from 1966 to 2006. This reflects a top-level commitment: Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, leader of the Iranian revolution and founder of the Islamic Republic, told Iranian citizens in 1979 that they had to "take up the fight against illiteracy".

At the command of Khomeini became Literacy Movement Organization (LMO) created as a spearhead in this fight. In 2018, LMO received UNESCO's Confucian Award, and is honored for having established thousands of local learning centers across Iran.

Other initiatives include a program that encourages students å help their parents with the reading, and recently the mobile app Healthy Family was launched, an offering for those with poor reading skills where they interactively learn about health, nutrition and water saving.

Similarly, Pakistan must prioritize literacy and should implement a nationwide program that takes into account the country's multicultural and multilingual communities. Such a program should also encourage citizens who have just learned to read and write to develop further.

Pakistan's Minister of Education Shafaqat Mahmood announced in January 2019 a target to increase the literacy level by at least twelve per cent in four years. But it has not happened much. To be successful, research organizations should be encouraged to provide decision makers with comprehensive data and evidence-based analyzes as well as technical support for program development.

Pakistan's neighboring countries have shown that the level of literacy can be significantly improved, even under challenging circumstances. This requires dedication, planning and resources. But given the tremendous benefits of general literacy, few investments are equally valuable.

Translated by Iril Kolle

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