AS the world geared up to mark the Global Action Day for Malala Yousufzai, the Pakistan government launched on Friday a literacy programme to provide free education to children, primarily girls. The four-year Waseela-i-Taleem initiative, undertaken under the umbrella of the Benazir Income Support Programme, aims to educate three million poor children, with President Zardari noting during its launch that “no country can make any progress without investing in its human capital”. We hope the state remains committed enough to achieve its goals. There is no doubt that, as report after report has pointed out, Pakistan faces an education emergency with the young not being able to attend school due to a wide variety of reasons ranging from convention or poverty to security — as the injuries suffered by Malala so horrifyingly demonstrated. Not only are there not enough schools in the country, Pakistan’s dropout rates are much higher and enrolment figures woefully lower than they should be.
The grim picture of the fate of the next generation, particularly its female members, is drawn in clear lines by the recently released Education for All Global Monitoring Report. Pakistan is among the bottom 10 countries in terms of education for females in straitened financial circumstances. It was also amongst the last 10 for the amount of time girls spend in schools in their lifetimes, with almost two-thirds of the poorest girls never going to school at all. These figures are cause for serious concern, for coupled with population growth and demographic figures, they point towards a future where growing numbers of people are not just poor but illiterate as well, thus further decreasing opportunities for uplift. Only if the government takes strides towards achieving the Waseela-i-Taleem initiative’s goal can it be considered to have demonstrated its commitment to this crucial sector.