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Dr. Maqbool Ahmad Bhatty

(January 08, 2003)



THE Quaid had the vision to realize that education held the key to progress and development. Sadly, fifty-five years later, the human development report by UNDP for 2002 suggests that the adult literacy rate in Pakistan is 43.2 per cent. Official statistics put the figure of literacy above 50 per cent but that is on the basis of ability to sign oneís name. Pakistan remains 16th among the least developed countries in terms of literacy.

Though literacy is only one indicator of backwardness, it has been established that education holds the key to solving a host of other problems, including poverty, disease, crime and social instability. Even the problem of rapid increase in population that is at the root of many economic and social problems, becomes amenable to solution with the spread of education. With government resources falling considerably short of requirements, the private sector has been called upon to play an increasingly important role in providing educational facilities.

Among the many organizations that have come into being in this field, one of the most innovative and dynamic is the Tameer-e-Millat Foundation, which is chaired by Dr. Zaheer Ahmad, founder of the Shifa International Hospital in Islamabad. Starting with a small school in 1987 in the town of Khewra, the foundation is now running 280 informal schools, 22 formal schools, 30 adult literacy centres and a School of Excellence for gifted children, all over the country, from Skardu to Karachi.

It has also established a teachersí development institute, as well as four vocational training centres for women.The total strength of students already exceeds 16,000, though the key contribution the non-profit foundation makes is through the network of informal community schools in remote localities with an average enrolment of 30 children.

The Foundation launched a major initiative on September 7 last year, when it brought together intellectuals, thinkers, businessmen technocrats and educationists to launch the Educate Pakistan Forum. The project is a nationwide enterprise to achieve both vertical and horizontal expansion of education. The objectives are to achieve a significant improvement in the literacy rate by 2010, improving the quality of education through teacher development programmes, and creating a tolerant civil structure, eliminating gender disparities, and neutralizing ethnic and sectarian differences by developing special curricula. The project seeks to mobilize the community and introducing sustainable capacity-building programmes. The main constituents of the project are an Educate Pakistan Campaign, as well as a forum, a fund and a website.

A notable feature of the foundationís activities, is that the objectives are being pursued in partnership with existing organizations, both private and governmental. The foundationís partners include the ministry of education, several reputable foundations in the US, UK and educational trusts in various cities in Pakistan. The foundation is conscious of the need to integrate the on-going activities in the field, and to utilize available resources in an optimum manner.

What is important is to secure general acceptance that education for all Pakistanis is a priority objective for which everyone must make a contribution. Thus, even if half the people at home and overseas participate in this fund-raising, the objective can be achieved by raising the amounts to be contributed, with those who are well off paying two or three times their share. In this way the overall resources generated could prove adequate for the goal of achieving universal education.

Many countries in our own neighbourhood have managed to overcome illiteracy by means of crash programmes. In the case of China, Marshal Chen Yi, who liberated the central part of China from Kuomintang control, was put in charge of the literacy campaign that was launched in the aftermath of the revolution. He achieved the target of increasing the literacy rate dramatically through an operation on military lines. Iran, another neighbour, also adopted a similar strategy, creating a countrywide force of educated persons who went from village to village, spreading literacy. The campaign there also achieved the objective of virtually eliminating illiteracy.

It is necessary to point out that the task of spreading education does not involve financial resources alone. The fact remains that various governments in Pakistan did launch literacy campaigns and laid down targets to be achieved in spreading literacy. As in other fields of development, the desired results proved elusive on account of wastage of resources through inefficiency and corruption. The experience of the past half century is that the impact of inadequate funding was only one element in the failure to achieve educational goals. Others were poor utilization of available resources, and a lack of motivation and commitment among those responsible for implementing the plans.

The mobilization of financial resources for overcoming illiteracy is only going to be one goal, though it is the most important one. Two other inputs are going to be equally important. One is the degree of commitment and dedication to the goal of imparting quality education. Unfortunately, there is too much stress on imparting practical skills, and too little on educating the minds so that learning goes beyond technical competence and creates a better, more enlightened human being. To achieve this, courses on literature, humanities and fine arts are being made a compulsory component of the curriculum for business administration or engineering in many countries.

Creating balance and a sense of proportion is one dimension of proper education; the other is that it must help shape the personality and character of the younger generation. A person therefore should be enabled to develop all three dimensions involved in education. First is that the student achieves a comprehension of the place of his specialty, whether it is in science or humanities. Second is that the value system he or she acquires results in a more humane, tolerant and positive personality, conscious of obligations and rights. Last, but no less important, is the acquisition of technical competence in chosen fields, be it medicine, engineering or computers.

Apart from having faculties in the specialized disciplines, all universities must have departments of social sciences and have courses in religion and literature. They should not only have well-equipped laboratories, but also must maintain good libraries. There needs to be interaction between the teachers and the taught that goes beyond the classroom, and enables contacts that will influence the character and personality of the students.




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