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Pakistan’s Literacy Problem

Boosting literacy in challenging circumstances requires planning, resources, and commitment, but is undoubtedly worth the investment. Pakistan must now make literacy a priority and implement a nationwide program that takes into account the country’s multi-ethnic and multilinguistic nature.

ISLAMABAD – In every country, literacy has been essential to support a wide range of social and development goals, from political participation to good health outcomes. Among literate mothers, infant mortality rates drop significantly. Children from low-literacy areas, by contrast, not only do worse at school, and hence have fewer economic opportunities, but also have much lower life expectancies than their peers in high-literacy areas.

Yet, in Pakistan, boosting literacy has always been on the back burner, even compared to other education goals such as improving the primary-to-secondary transition. As a result, the country’s average literacy rate has fluctuated between 57% and 60% over the past decade, well below the regional average of 67%. Pakistan has the second-lowest literacy rate in South Asia after Afghanistan, and in adult literacy it ranks 150th out of 188 countries worldwide.

There are also major gender disparities: the literacy rate for Pakistani males is 68%, compared to 45% for females. Likewise, there is a yawning gap between urban and rural areas, which have literacy rates of 74% and 46%, respectively. What’s more,Afghanistan and Pakistan are the only two countries in the region where this disparity persists among younger generations,indicating that overall literacy is unlikely to improve significantly in the near future.

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