Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, Imran Khan, has announced he will declare war on illiteracy in the country and will treat it as a national emergency when he assumes office.

Khan said that he intends to create a specialist cabinet of advisors and implement a ten-year multi-pronged plan to reach full literacy in Pakistan.  Illiteracy is one of the main factors holding back the country’s development and is closely related to the ongoing levels of poverty and income inequality.

The statistics are somewhat daunting.  Due to many years of underinvestment in education, some 42% of the adult population (15-64 years) lack basic literacy and 44% of young children (5-10 years) are not even attending primary school, thereby perpetuating the problem.  If Pakistan is to reach its stated goal of full literacy by 2025, then a twin track approach is needed to expand primary education to universal access and to tackle the adult illiteracy problem with all available resources.

PTI has already committed to expanding the education budget to 5% of GDP, making another Rs 8,687 million available for investment in the necessary schools and trained teachers. However, the need in the primary education sector is for another 120,000 schools and 342,000 teachers, almost doubling

the primary sector and leaving very little for an effective adult literacy campaign.

A report prepared by Dr. Ibrahim’s suggests that a Khan government could learn from other countries such as Cuba, China and the Philippines who have achieved great progress in eliminating illiteracy through enthusiastic public commitment and wise use of existing resources. Aware that the initial investment in a mass literacy campaign can be significant, the report also points out costs will decline as each newly educated cohort of children enter the workforce and as newly literate adults encourage their

children to complete and further their education.

A centrally organized and systemic mass campaign for adult literacy can bring about a reduction in family poverty, and by making it relevant to the lives of the poor, can be related to other development goals and help resolve some of Pakistan’s pressing social, economic and political problems.  Illiteracy is both a cause of economic underdevelopment and a consequence of a stagnant economy.  Investment in the futures of 44% of Pakistan’s primary school age children and 42% of the adult population will be a priority task for Pakistan’s new leadership.