Bad news for literacy: The National Commission for Human Development (NCHD) is being abolished – a fallout of the 18th Amendment of the Constitution. Apart from the human cost of 34,000 employees working for NCHD projects all over the country losing their jobs (provinces are unwilling to accommodate them, despite the assurances by Mian Raza Rabbani, Chairman of the Implementation Commission), the Commission’s literacy, primary education and health support programmes will cease to exist. This will be a severe blow to the already shrunken EFA programmes at the centre and in the provinces.
At a PILDAT meeting in Islamabad last Tuesday, the former Federal Education Minister, Sardar Assef Ahmed Ali, deplored the total devolution of education to the provinces. He stressed the need for a federal entity to oversee and regulate education and health affairs for the purposes of uniform standards. He called the devolution of education to the provinces an “unwise” act, as no clear role of the federal government had been provided under the Amendment. (The time for putting up a spirited resistance was when the decision was under way and he himself was holding the portfolio. He possibly did make an effort, but it was not good and strong enough.)
With massive and persistent protests, the Higher Education Commission has managed to survive. There was a strong lobby for it in the universities and the media. Hardly anyone speaks for literacy in Pakistan. Six crore utterly illiterate Pakistanis have no spokesperson to plead their case. Brave initiatives by UNESCO and NGOs, like Pacade, Bunyad, Khwendo Kore, Sadiqa’s Indus Resource Centre and Qurratul Bakhtiari (in Balochistan), do keep the issue alive, but our governments, donors and even the media have generally neglected it. Hardly a voice was raised when, most regrettably, the National Literacy Commission a fell victim to an economy drive during the Musharraf regime.
There are three irrefutable reasons why the government must mend its mindset and seriously take up the cause of literacy. One, as rhetorically stated again and again by our rulers that without substantial increase in literacy, no nation can make real progress. In this day and age, when only knowledge societies can successfully compete in the economic and social arenas, how can people march ahead when most of them cannot read even the number plate of a bus or date on the calendar?