Dr Ghulam Shabir

There is no denying the fact that those regions in Pakistan tend to be more developed where the literacy rate is comparatively higher, and vice versa. It also implies that development of any region, country or the people is directly linked with education, or the literacy rate.

Various research studies have so far been published on the subject. The first human development report introduced a paradigm shift in views about the development, in 1990, when it asserted that the “people are the real wealth of a nation”. When one says this, a fundamental point is assessing how nations treat that real worth and invest in its quality. The quality of the people is the quality of the nation; the development of that resource is to develop the nation. What can be regarded as an effective means to develop real worth? Development is the expansion of choice, so how can choices be made more meaningful and effective? Making the right choices requires awareness of the consequences, and this requires education. That is the only means through which people can gain the opportunity to control and direct their own development.

A scientific research on progress trends in human development indicators also make it very clear that these factors are interlinked through education. In a USAID-supported study of 83 developing countries (conducted from 1960 to 1970), it was found that the 12 developing countries with the fastest growth rates also had well above average levels of literacy. An increase in the literacy rate from 20 to 30 per cent is associated with a national income (GDP) increase of eight to 16 per cent.

Experts claim it on the basis of their experiences and studies that education contributes significantly to the establishment of the socio-economic prerequisites for democracy: economic development, improved health and societal wellbeing. Thus, investment in education can tremendously influence democracy and the development of civil society. It also increases access to social and economic opportunity, participation in political processes and promotes democratic practices of multiculturalism and pluralism - all essential ingredients in promoting human development.

According to a World Bank report, from 60 to 90 per cent of the growth achieved in Japan and other East Asian industrialised countries is explained by human capital rather than financial means or natural resources. An overall higher level of primary education was found to be the single most important factor accounting for the differences in growth rates between East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Studies also show that farmers and labourers with better education adjust more rapidly to technological and societal changes and are ultimately more likely to increase their productivity at the individual, communal and national levels. As the amount of schooling increases (especially when the workforce achieves basic education) the political power of the working class is increased. This, in turn, is an essential means of realising full human potential through the expansion of choices, freedom and space.

On the other hand, education is a source of empowering individuals within communities with the self-awareness and confidence needed for meaningful engagement in critical discussions. Education can be a launching pad to make people aware of their rights and what they can do to defend these rights. Just one additional year of education can increase productivity in wage employment by 10 per cent even after factoring in other aspects.

The UN’s Human Development Report 2010 ranks Pakistan at 125 of 169 nations in its index. This country’s experience has also shown that districts with higher literacy levels have a higher level of development. In this context, the report argues that progress in health and education can drive success in human development. The seven countries ranking highest in human development associate their achievement with their commitment to health and education. The same lesson is dictated by the countries that are right at the bottom - they lag behind in their achievements in health and education, as well as in other sectors.

Another WB report Human Development Outcomes in Pakistan argues that although the country “has made significant achievements in sustaining economic growth levels and reducing income poverty during the decades up to the mid-1990s, yet relatively little progress has been made in achieving improvements in human development outcomes. The ‘human development gap’, i.e. what one might expect for the country’s income level and what is actually observed, is large and growing. Trends in education outcomes are particularly disappointing. At the beginning of the 21st century only one in two children aged five to nine attends school, and perhaps as many as half of primary school students are functionally illiterate.”

However, it is a pity that successive governments in Pakistan have failed to provide its people with education, though it is more important than spending on defence and security for the country’s long-term stability. For more than 65 years now, the government of Pakistan has failed abysmally to provide its people even with primary education; a basic right enshrined in Article 25A of its Constitution which instructs the state to provide free and compulsory education to all children aged between five and 16 years.

Educationists and experts on development believe that a paradigm shift in policy and priorities is required in Pakistan to accelerate the growth rate in human development as well as create viable space for the people in which to utilise their strengths and potentials. This requires special focus on education as the strategy to achieve sustainable human development. No doubt, a tremendous amount of commitment is required to equalise opportunities through the creation of policies, laws and procedures and create an environment for a meaningful participation at all levels. And, of course, higher education has its own importance in the development process.

Recently, seven regions of Asia were mentioned in the Asian Development Bank (ADB)’s Asia 2050 report that have seen maximum economic growth: South Korea, Japan, China, India, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. Pakistan, it is a lamentable fact, is not even on the horizon. India has a population six times that of Pakistan, its GDP ten times more and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is 22 times more than that of Pakistan. While education is directly linked to the socio-economic development of any country, Pakistan’s education and research network faces numerous challenges including access to higher education enrolment and equity, quality and standard of education, faculty and significance of research in universities. Pakistan could not make progress until and unless it does not put education on top priority.

The writer is chairman, Department of Media Studies, The Islamia University of Bahawalpur.