Enrollment campaign on Int’l Literacy Day 2013

An edited version of this article was first published in The Express Tribune on Sep 8, 2013.

Islamabad – Pakistan will celebrate the International Literacy Day 2013 with a three-day nationwide campaign to enroll at least 0.5 million out-of-school children, the Federal Minister for Planning, Development and Reforms, Ahsan Iqbal, announced on Saturday.

Iqbal was addressing a press conference at the Planning Commission at the Pak Secretariat, ahead of International Literacy Day on September 8.

“It is a tragedy that Pakistan has fallen below the rest of the world in social indicators for health and education and the pursuit of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs),” Iqbal said. “Even in South Asia, we are at number 5 or 6 among seven countries.”

He said during the campaign, which will run from September 9 to 11, out-of-school children in all provinces, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan will be identified and enrolled. Official estimates suggest around 25 million Pakistani children between the age of five and 16 years are currently out of school.

Balighur Rehman, the State Minister for Education, Trainings and Standards in Higher Education, who also addressed the press briefing, said the campaign will rely on provincial education departments and non-formal schools under the federal government to accomplish the ambitious target.

“Around 20,000 non-formal schools run by the Basic Education Community Schools and National Commission for Human Development will enroll five students each during the three days,” Rehman said. “Provincial governments have given a commitment that they will ensure the enrollment of the additional 400,000 children.”

He said a “monitoring and evaluation cell” at the federal education ministry and similar set-ups in the provinces will check the campaign’s progress. But he admitted that Pakistan’s high drop-rate poses a problem to the campaign in the long-run.

Government statistics put the country’s primary school drop-out rate at an even 30 per cent, but private assessments claim it could be as high as 50 per cent.

Rehman said the National Plan of Action 2013-16, launched by the government on Tuesday to accelerate Pakistan’s progress on education-related MDGs, includes a strategy to arrest the drop-out rate. He said the government is focusing on improving facilities at schools and the quality of teachers to retain primary-level students.

Iqbal said the international day was an opportunity for the government to reiterate its commitment toward creating a better system of education.

“We want to create a knowledge economy and that is not possible until we provide better opportunities for education,” he said. “If Pakistan’s out of school children do not receive education, it will not only be an injustice to them but also an injustice to Pakistan’s future.”

Pakistan will not be able to reap its demographic dividend and illiterate youth could become a destructive asset for the country, he said.

The ministers said that even though education was a provincial subject post-18th Amendment and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz government believed in provincial autonomy, standardization of education needs to be conducted at the national level.

They said around Rs400-450 billion were required to upgrade schools in the provinces. Iqbal said the federal government hopes to stay to bring education spending to 4 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product in five years.

He said outdated curricula should be replaced and Rehman mentioned that a Federal Curriculum Commission will be established for curriculum reforms at provincial and federal levels.

Iqbal said the Council of Common Interest is being consulted to create linkages between the centre and provincial education departments. He said teachers should be hired on merit and the disparity between Pakistan’s public and private education systems needs to be removed.

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