[Opinion] Conventional Literacy and Civic Illiteracy

by Parveen Roy

The importance of education (in its technical sense-characterized by formal schooling, measured by credentials and rate of literacy), throughout the life cycle is recognized and acknowledged by every individual in our society. Education is considered to be a critical element of human development and an essential instrument for fulfilling the multiple aspects of human rights such as civic participation. However, reaching the 90-95% literacy rate has not been able to help many of us (the literates of Gojal) sufficiently well because the formal education we get in our schools lack conscientization, which could empower us to take charge of the adverse situations around us. Many of us are conventionally literate but civically illiterate.

Those who have been to schools in Gojal (for that matter schools in Gilgit-Baltistan or in Pakistan) would agree with my observations that our education is limited merely to the acquisition of the rudiments of the letters and numbers. Our formal schools fail to take us beyond the levels of the 3Rs (i.e., reading, writing and arithmetic) and communication skills necessary for employment in the contemporary labor market. Hence, the social ills such as oppression, exploitation, political apathy, and partition, which education supposingly eradicates are still with us to a generous degree.

Civil illiteracy seems reasonable once we scrutinize the educational processes and the explicit and implicit codes of our schools to undermine the critical and liberating potentials of education. For example, in our daily school routine command is implied over participation, obedience is rewarded over disagreement, hierarchy is valued over equality, repression is encouraged over liberty, uniformity is appreciated over diversity, regurgitation is sought over creativity, and secrecy is respected over candor. We are made to view the world through a dominated discourse that conveys particular values, assumptions and expectations. This happens because the cluster that runs this country requires youth and citizens who can be manipulated. The cluster fears that civically-literate youth will become informed and involved citizens. If youth will start questioning and challenging issues and policies, the power and stability of established institutions will be threatened.

The disastrous situation arisen today in Gojal is neither a wrath of God nor a test of faith (as many of our schooled leaders are putting it). It is because we the citizens are not educated to question and challenge our policies, politicians and their practices. Such education leaves us (the so called literates) unable to make reasoned judgments and prepares us to give unthinking support to our favorite political parties and politicians. This phase of the disaster will soon be over and we will be required to rebuild our society. In the rebuilding process we should give it a thought to reform our school education. We need to incorporate conscientization as an essential part of our curriculum, which would take education from the narrow mechanistic confines to make it a liberating agent of transformation. Education would then become a liberational act that involves a radical resistance of dehumanizing and unjust social, economic and political conditions. Only then we will be in a better position to destruct the existing unjust structures and make our world a better place to live – the ultimate goal of education.

The contributor is a PhD student at AKU – IED.

Related Articles


  1. Its very nice approach made by an individual,we all need to think about it, lack of awareness about political parties has left all of us oblivious, all parties on eve of election become the benefector of the poor public when its over they start politics and criticism in their orthodox way, i suggest all of our young youth to be practical in all aspect of life on parrallal to their formal education, it will definately lead our society toward the main hub of awareness and better life.

  2. The above article depicts truly our frame mind and they way we are being educated.

    Let me explain with reference disaster in Gojal -The Gojals in every city were aware of the repercussions of the disaster on our economic life as well as social life and you all had noticed a peaceful demonstration in all the metropolitan cities of Pakistan and the Rabita committee of Gojal here in Gilgit made every effort to make the general public as well as the politicians aware of the disaster four month back by arranging conferences, press conference and demonstrations and very emotional documentary in Gilgit as well as Hunza- Nager.

    The members several time arranged meetings with our representatives Mr.Wazir Baig and Mr.Muthabayat Shah about the issues and concerns of Gojal but they were only with the slogan that “ALL IS WELL” and each every effort is being made and they reported to the media that these people are miscreant and are against Pakistan.

    But here we noticed that in our political and social setup there is no any space for peaceful agitation now we strongly believe that agitation should be violent to grab the attention of the press and the Govt.The same idea has been reported by Mr.Hafeez Ur Rehman that the presentations and press conferences of Gojals will not solve their problems in our social setup only violent agitation works

  3. Literacy and Civic Illiteracy by Parveen Roy is good focused article challenging the the basis of functional literacy which is confined to the mechanistic process of basic skills of reading and writing and which has seeped into our educational systems. Such literacy generally lacks reflections, deep thinking, challenging the bases of stereotypes, and exploring alternatives. An apt description of such literacy is given by Postman in his article, “Politics of reading”, where the basic purpose of functional literacy is to understand the orders and instructions and obey them. I recall an interesting excerpt from Daniel Defoe’s novel, Robinson Crusoe which is about an Englishman who, after the shipwreck, starts living in and island. One day he happens to meet with a native boy. The English man teaches him (the functional literacy I believe?). Here is the actual paragraph:

    “I was greatly delighted with my new companion, and made it my business to teach him everything that was proper to make him useful, handy, and helpful; but especially make him speak, and understand me when I speak, ad he was aptest scholar that ever was.”

    The point to note is the the boy becomes useful, handy, and helpful for whom? Of course for the Englishman. The real work that needs to be undertaken now is to realize the political significance of education has been historically used to control others. But the same tool of Education can be used to put up resistance and realize the dreams of freedom, development, and justice.

    Congratulations Parveen for writing such a succinct, relevant, and contemporary piece. I am sure people like you can contribute a lot to challenge the political and social stasis and this can only be done by consistent efforts by progressive forces.
    Congratulations once more 🙂

  4. Well done Perveen
    You have rightly mentioned that our eduaction is unable to develop social consciouness whcih is the important apratus for liberation, development and social mobility. I also think that many social ills we are facing would have been disappered so far if the purpose of our education would be critical and liberating. It is also true that we need to revist the purpose of our eduaction becomin critical to functions of schools and the way knowldeg is processed. You have rightly mentioned that the disaster in Gojal must be seen as a natural calamity and such kind of calamities occure everywhere. I enjoyed your artilce.

  5. Parveen, you have mentioned an important attribute of the failure of formal schooling in preparing democratic, critical and responsible citizenship in Pakistan. However, the history of universal formal schooling in the West, which later on spread throughout the world, was mainly initiated and undertaken to prepare educated workforce for the industrial capitalism. More so, education system as an ideological apparatus was to prepare citizens who believed in the ‘fair’ function of education in social mobility and accept their existing social positions as objective. The preparation of critical citizenship does not seem to be the goal of education, thus Freire and Illich were able to identify the modern education’s latent function and found the space for developing civic literacy in the nonformal education sector (Freire) and complete deschooling the society (Illich). As educators, who have access to critical radical education and ability to systematically analyse education system and pose questions about it, we need to identify the alternative spaces, parallel to our efforts to influence educational policy making, where the ordinary citizens have opportunities to read the world (Freire). My own country, Kyrgyzstan with its almost universal literacy rate (close to 98%) is an excellent example for lack of critical citizenship skills and attitudes. We failed to recognize the mechanisms of ‘power’ in manipulating our ’emotional feelings’ towards achieving their own goals and interests. Our regionalism, our ethnicity make us blind to the facts that at the end of the day, as ordinary citizens, we are being manipulated for the interests of ‘power-hungry, selfish, dominant’ political elites. We may need to start the processes or identify already-existent spaces and mechanisms of counterhegemonic education (Gramsci) or literacy among the ordinary citizens in order to increase the possibility for radical change in our society. I also find the term ‘literacy’ a bit functional and more mechanistic. However, I believe this term’s meaning of developing functional-critical, practical and pragmatic skills and knowledge for bringing about social change. More importantly, I am very happy that local people like you should be the ones to contribute to such change in thinking in the regions which require leadership and strong moral support. I liked the way you continue questionning the social structures of your locality and your country in general.

  6. Loved to read this article.
    Absolutely correct depiction for our educational setup. One think I wanna add is, rather an event that I heared.
    In Gilgit a presenter briefed a European Educationist about GB education system. In which he said Hunza has approaching 100 % literacy rate. The European Edusationist repiled with some questions.
    1) How many Public Libraries are there in Hunza? And what is the membership percent among the population.
    2) How many NEWS publishers are there?
    3) How many NEWS readers are there?
    4) And are these people well aware of their country economy on daily basis?
    Answers we all know.

    There is no doubt our education system is better in Pakistan but we have to compete at International level. For that we have to bring these changes in us and our juniors.

  7. The above article is well written.Civic literacy plays a pivotal role in nurturing a fair and just society, it can be observed in the developed countries that how their strong civic literacy helped them in overcoming their social and administrative problems.
    While in Pakistan, the civic literacy has been neglected from the last 6 decades by the policy makers because policy makers belongs from the upper class, who find the civic literacy at mass level as a threat for their social stratification.
    No doubt, Hunza has achieved a huge increase in literacy rate in a short span of time but still the region lacks the true essence of civic literacy. In spite of acquiring higher education, people still do not know what their political and social rights are. People lack the vision who has to rule them and who are their true representatives.
    Nonetheless I feel the Ataabad disaster has brought a paradigm shift in the thinking of the common man after going through their civic positions and the distaste for the local administration which can now motivate them politically and socially. Thus it is a right thinking that every threat bring opportunities with itself. But availing these opportunities is the biggest testimony of the people of the region.

Back to top button