By: Faizan Afzal
Despite prolonged and concentrated efforts, Pakistan’s literacy rate lacks behind the global average. Illiteracy is lethal for the development of any country. It is one of the major issues Pakistan is facing since inception. Pakistan has a literacy rate of 58 percent, which has improved from 35 percent in 1990-91, but still way behind the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) targeted at 88 percent, which was to be achieved by the end of 2015. A slight progression in the literacy rate has been noticed with the efforts made by NGOs and the government, but still there is lot more to do.
Illiteracy is a constantly ticking time bomb, just like population explosion, which holds our national development stagnant. Regrettably, we are far away from succeeding in universalizing our basic education system. Several political, economic and cultural factors are hindering our way in attaining a decent literacy rate. The government alone lacks capability and political will of handling such enormous burden. Many organizations, especially NGOs and civil societies, have come to the fore to support government efforts in promoting primary education.
The modern techniques employed by NGOs such as public-private partnerships, family literacy, teacher’s training, and community involvement are yielding good results. The role of NGOs are very clear when comes to education sector, they don’t intend to replace the government, but to ensure the quality standards, affordability and equity in mind are successfully met. However, the partnership between the government and the NGOs has failed to live up to the hopes, as more than 70 percent of the children are still out of the schools in Punjab and the students who go to school are way behind the globally set intellectual standards.
To bring a positive change in the dismal state of education in Pakistan, there’s a need to explore different ways of schooling and education. The community based school system offers a reliable solution to the problem. Community-based education goes beyond the conventional system of cognitive capacities and encompasses the emotional and social aspects of learning. The relationships that children create with the caring adults, in form of the teachers, are the overarching premise of community-based education. Academic experts asserts that the emotional and social development of students comes from the collaborative efforts of parents, schools, and communities.
Recently, I visited some schools of Surjani Town and Saeedabad in Karachi, which are run by BRAC Pakistan (Offshoot of a Bangladesh based NGO). These are non-formal primary schools, which are designed to provide an opportunity to disadvantaged and marginalized children left out of the formal education system due to extreme poverty, displacement, violence or discrimination. The model of this system is unique. It operates on the idea of ‘One room, One School’ model. These schools enroll thirty students of an under-privileged locality, provide them with the school supplies, arrange a teacher from the same area and provide basic primary education. These schools complement the mainstream educational institutes with innovative teaching methods and materials.
So far, 2,097 schools has been established in Sindh and Punjab by BRAC Pakistan, covering total population of four hundred thousand with enrollment of 64,165 children of ultra-poor category in 2016. According to the reports, twenty four million children are out of school in Pakistan, the second highest figure in the world after Nigeria. This figure reflects sorry state of affairs of public education in Pakistan. Government can bring up the literacy rate by involving more NGOs and civil society by expanding the operations and scope of community based education to all the areas of the country.
Creating a community-based education compatible to our socio-cultural needs may seem far-fetched and difficult, but we have examples like BRAC Pakistan who is operating it smoothly with outstanding results. As a nation we have not lost the capacity to envision and meet the needs of our children; we have only suppressed it through misunderstanding the learner of today. We can no longer look at children just as our future. They must become our present. As in the words of Albert Einstein, “no problem can be solved from the same consciousness that created it.”
Faizan Afzal is a freelance journalist and a social worker and tweets at @Faizan_Afzal1