THAT standards of education in the country are plummeting was confirmed by the Annual Status of Education Report Pakistan 2010, launched on Monday in Islamabad. Undertaken by a number of organisations, it assessed the learning outcomes of school-going children. Depressingly, more than half the children surveyed could not read a sentence in Urdu or their local language. Around 56 per cent could not do two-digit subtraction sums while the level of reading and comprehension in English was, predictably, dismal. These findings can be taken as fairly representative indicators, given that the survey covered over 19,915 children in over 19,000 households across 32 districts in all five provinces as well as Azad Jummu & Kashmir and Islamabad. The outcomes remained similar regardless of whether the children attended private or government schools. In terms of provincial performance, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa appeared to be ahead, followed by Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan, in that order. Even so, only 61 per cent of the children surveyed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa could read a sentence in Urdu or their local language. If any further proof was needed that the country's education system needs resuscitation, this is it.

Given that the survey found teacher attendance to be higher than generally assumed — 87 per cent in the public sector and a little higher than 90 per cent in the private sector — the problem appears to lie in the quality of teaching methodologies and curricula and in teachers' ability to foster comprehension. The solution to that lies, of course, in heavy investment, which the sector has been in dire need of for years. A surprise thrown up by the survey was the level of ability to read English in out-of-school children: 32 per cent stood at the beginner's level, 49 per cent were able to read words and 28 per cent could read sentences. Clearly there is a need for serious interventions that range from improving teachers' abilities to drawing out-of-school children back into the academic circuit. These need to be formulated and implemented on a priority basis; for Pakistan to have a viable future, it needs an educated workforce.

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