While going home from university one day, I observed a young boy working with a street vendor and selling fruits to a couple. This sight disturbed me, and I suddenly had the urge to ask him about his education. After some small talk, the boy admitted that he cannot afford going to a school due to his financial conditions, therefore he accompanies his father (the street vendor) and helps him with his business. This response, although not anything I hadn’t heard before, deeply saddened me. I started thinking about how diverse we Pakistanis are as a society. Where one part of the society cannot survive without a maid, a smartphone and WiFi, the other part struggles to afford a three-time meal. With this depressing realization, I walked away and went home.
Being the raging patriotic that I am, I decided to conduct some research on the reasons behind this extremely large gap between the rich and poor in Pakistan. It didn’t take me more than ten minutes to reach the conclusion behind this horrific truth. Lack of proper education is the reason why the gap between the rich and poor exists and is increasing day by day. The literacy rate of Pakistan is 58%, meaning almost half of the people living in Pakistan do not even know how to read and write. Parents are reluctant to send their children to school due to the extremely high school fees of private schools. Government schools provide no solace, with inadequate teaching facilities, antiquated teaching methods and inappropriate teaching staff. Therefore, students are left with two options. They either drop out of school, or remain in the school but do not attend it. Students, who opt for the latter option, then give their Matriculation examinations through erroneous methods like cheating and creating fake transcripts. Because of faults in the education system in Pakistan, these students get away with such fraudulent acts and are considered to be learned even without attending a proper school.
The reasons behind children not being able to receive proper education are many. Pakistan, a home to millions of people, is also rich in its cultural diversity. People from divergent walks of life share this land and call it home. Because of these cultural boundaries, children, especially girls are not encouraged to receive education. This is more common in rural areas as compared to urban areas. This alarming situation is on the rise, with girls either not receiving education at all or dropping out after primary education. The logic given by parents of such a mindset is that a girl must be able to look after her house and her family and this does not require any prior education or degree. Research suggests that in 2008-09, the primary net enrollment rates in Pakistan was 61% for boys, whereas it was 54% girls. This further proves the argument that boys are more likely to get education as compared to girls. The literacy rate of males in Pakistan is 69%, whereas the literacy rate of females in Pakistan is 44%. This augments the fact that only 56% of the girls do not even know how to read and write in Pakistan.
The second reason behind the low literacy rate in Pakistan is poverty. Poverty, a vicious demon which has set foot in the land of Pakistan, is not willing to go away any time soon. Research suggests that 52% of the total population of Pakistan is living below the poverty line. That means more than half of the citizens of Pakistan cannot afford a three day meal, a proper house, a car, and all the daily necessities and luxuries of life. Poverty is a colossal hurdle for Pakistani families, even those who dream about sending their children to schools. Because of the unequal income distribution in Pakistan, the lower class will suffer the wrath of poverty from generation to generation. It is a trap which is impossible to get out of. Therefore, families belonging to this class are unable to receive proper education. Also, parents are reluctant to send their children to government schools because they wish to send their children off to workplaces so that they can earn money. This, they believe, is more important than receiving education as it adds to the family income. Children, then, are left with no choice but to work and live in the same lower class as their parents have. Only a few children belonging to this class attend school and fewer graduate.
The issue of illiteracy of Pakistan is a serious one which must be addressed quickly. The government should intervene and formulate policies which encourage education, regardless of class. Primary education must be made mandatory and free from all children, whether in the public or private sector. The government should stop private schools from charging high fees and introduce need-based scholarships for those who are extremely poor. Child labor should also be stopped and children who drop out of school must be questioned on this act. These actions will greatly assist in improving the level of literacy in Pakistan. As quoted by Nelson Mandela, “education is the most powerful tool through which you can change the world.” Similarly, the problems present in Pakistan will slowly finish once the issue of education is addressed.
The contributor is a student at the IOBM, Karachi.