Gullakhta Palvasaha was the Chairwoman of the Parents-Teachers Association (PTA) or School Management Committee, as it was also called, of School No 099 in the Kacha Ghari Refugee Camp in Peshawar when we met several years ago, and Balgis Rangg was the head teacher. Both were capable women from Afghanistan, refugees in the neighbouring land of Pakistan, which had been generous enough to offer them shelter and, certainly, opportunities for their children to go to school, girls and boys. In Afghanistan, education opportunities are still very limited and the literacy rate only 30-40 percent, and among women in rural areas, often just 10 percent or less. But work is being done to improve basic education in Afghanistan. The UN organisations, such as UNICEF and UNESCO, and numerous local and international NGOs do as well as they can, together with the government. PTA Chair Gullakhta was illiterate when I met her, but that did not mean that she did not have an understanding for the importance of literacy and education. As a matter of fact, she might well have had a better understanding for many obstacles to education than many well educated people. She had herself not had the opportunity to formal education due to cultural traditions in rural Afghanistan. When she became a refugee, and a widow, and had to move to Pakistan, she had to fend for herself and her children as best as she could. Priority one was education. I still remember the pride with which she told me that all her four children had all gone to school; the two elder ones in secondary school, one at university to become an engineer, and one in primary. If you had asked me if this would have been possible 10 years ago, I would not have believed it, she said. I am grateful to Pakistan and the organisations that have helped in providing education to poor Afghan refugees, especially the NGO called Basic Education from Afghan Refugees, which runs so many schools in Peshawar. I am also grateful to the teachers, and very much so to head teacher Balgis Rangg, who has the required knowledge and experience. We have all worked hard to reach results. I contacted another teacher on email during Eid this year to find out what PTA Chair Gullakhta was doing now. Javed Murad said that she had moved back to Afghanistan, as his father had, too, a head teacher at Gullakhtas neighbouring boys school. And the young English and computer teacher Javed had moved back many years ago, and he had found a job in southern Afghanistan. It is not safe, but we make good money, he wrote in the email. He keeps fond memories from Pakistan, where his father had taught, where he and his siblings had received education, and he himself had graduated from Peshawar University. The stories I have told are Sunday school stories. And you may say, yes, that is probably true. However, I would like to tell one more positive story today, as we mark the International Literacy Day 2011 on this very day. Pakistan has been given favourable mention in connection with the UNESCO Confucian Literacy Prize. Dr Allah Bakhsh Malik, Secretary in the Punjab government, has been commended for his leadership in connection with the implementation of the ongoing work in peace, education, literacy and entrepreneurial skills for marginalised groups, the so-called Night Market programme under the wider activities named Making Punjab Literate by 2020. Pakistan needs encouragement in the field of literacy and adult education and in basic education, in general, for that matter. The country lags far behind other countries at the same economic level. With average literacy below 60 percent, higher for men and much lower for women, Pakistan needs to speed up its efforts. It is among the lowest in the region; it is lower than many African countries with lower GDP. Pakistan is not going to reach the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, and it will not be on the right track until a much higher percentage of GDP goes to education than the current miniscule percentage of some 2 percent. The UNESCO recommends at least 4 percent; the successful countries in the world spend a much higher percentage on education of their annual government budgets. Alas, Pakistan spends most of its public money on defence, including the mostly unreal war on terror. Why dont we reallocate the military men to be literacy teachers? Then we could make good use of their talent and education. They too would feel they did something good, for a change, and their pupils would thank them forever. This is not a conversational proposal. It is a serious proposal. We can learn a few lessons from Cuba and other social countries in this field, when they still implemented good ideas. We need a war on illiteracy and ignorance, not on anything else In the world today, there are close to one billion illiterates, about one in five adults above the age of 15. Progress is being made in Pakistan and everywhere, and the percentage of illiteracy among youth at the age of 15-24 is going down, which is a result of more widespread basic education. But again, over 75 million children worldwide are out of school and many more attend irregularly or drop out. The Education for All (EFA) movement does help and the United Nations, and the international community, at large, assists in keeping our attention focused on education, especially the importance of education for girls and women, contributing to better health, and better understanding of the importance of vaccination and how to reduce communicable diseases - HIV/AIDS, TB, malaria and so on. These issues are a main focus of this years International Literacy Day. Everyone knows the importance of literacy, or so we say. We say that it is a human right, important for economic development and so on. But the fact is that many do not really think that it is necessary for poor peasants, labourers, housewives, and other 'lower class people. As long as they have strong muscles and can work hard, and not object to the orders given to them, by the employer, or maybe the husband, many seem to think that it is acceptable that a large proportion cannot read and write. I believe it is important for the Pakistani politician, civil servants and the NGOs, especially the National Commission for Human Development (NCHD), to identify and describe the arguments, hidden or open, against literacy and education for all. Today, on the International Literacy Day, towards the end of the United Nations Literacy Decade (2003-2012), everyone will endorse the goals, but much of it is lip service, and quite a bit is UNESCO, the coordinator of world literacy initiatives, and the rest of the UN, celebrating itself on this day. I started this article by drawing attention to a good woman, who was illiterate. She did good work, but imagine how much more she could have been able to do if she had been literate In our time and age, everyone needs the basic skills of reading and writing, and calculating, of course, although most illiterates have some basic skills in that field. Furthermore, we all need some language knowledge, so that we can read documents in our mother tongue and the countrys language of administration. Nowadays, we also need to have access to and be able to send an email and use the internet; we need to be computer literate. Finally, you and I should not be too complacent, with all our bookish knowledge; we must remember to combine and use all the bits and pieces of information we have, so that we can analyse and understand the world around us. And we must be willing to use the knowledge not only to the best of ourselves and our own families, but also to the best of others. Do we not do that? No, because it would then take less than a year just to get the whole world literate. We could just help one individual, each of us to get literate. We did not even need literacy soldiers to help us, but it would be good to have some professional help, too. Then all people on the globe, all people in Pakistan would be comprehended. Then we could, indeed, proudly celebrate next years Literacy Day The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist based in Islamabad. He has served as United Nations Specialist in the United States, as well as various countries in Africa and Asia. He has also spent a decade dealing with the Afghan refugee crisis and university education in Pakistan. Email: atlehetland@yahoo.com