We have to think there’s some sort of correlation between Pakistan’s persistent internal turmoil and its atrociously bad system of primary education. The nation may have one of the world’s top fifty economies, but its literacy rate officially languishes around the 50 percent mark. That makes Pakistan’s population less bookish than such poverty-stricken countries as Haiti, Liberia, and Malawi, all of which presumably have far less public lucre to spend on educating their children.
Yet is the Pakistani literacy rate even lower than advertised? A columnist for the Pakistan Observer makes the case:
The result of the above efforts have been that during 1981 and 1998 (17 years) the literacy rate in Pakistan increased from 26.2% in 1981 to 45% in 1998 which means an average of 1.1 points every year between 1981 to 1998. It was, therefore, very surprising when the Prime Minister of Pakistan recently announced the literacy rate in Pakistan being 56%. The same figure appears in the “Pakistan Economic Survey 2008-09”. It is interesting that from 1998 to 2008, a period of ten years multiplied by an average increase of 1.1 points every year comes to 11 points. Added to the 45% literacy rate in 1998 it also comes to 56%. This has been the practice of the Ministry of Education to add every year 1.1 points to the previous year’s literacy rate and make an announcement of the increased ratio of literacy in the country. The announcement of literacy ratio had been only a “desk exercise”. This can be verified from the Pakistan Economic Surveys of the previous years.
The writer blames the low literacy rate on a deliberate government scheme to keep the masses ignorant, and therefore less likely to “ask many questions for which our Rulers have no answers.” That explanation actually strikes us as overly cynical; our own take is that Pakistan’s central government simply prefers to focus on petty squabbling. It thus gives local ministers inordinate power of primary education, with no system of checks to ensure that basic standards are being met. But with statistical sleight of hand making the situation look far better on paper than on the ground, there is far too little pressure for Pakistan to change.