THE question of how to define literacy is an international debate. The debate ranges from whether literacy is just the ability to read and write or whether it should be defined widely. Pakistan opted for the lowest possible denominator i.e. the ability to read and write. But now, in 2017, the government, according to reports, has redefined it to include the ability to understand as well as adding numeracy skills as part of the definition of literacy.
The new definition: “Ability to read and understand simple text in any language from a newspaper or magazine, write a simple letter and perform basic mathematical calculation (i.e. counting and addition/subtraction)” shows Pakistan’s resolve to raise the bar higher.
However, the definition still limits literacy to mere reading and writing with an added emphasis on basic numeracy skills. This is somewhat a missed opportunity for the country. Although the new definition is in line with the internationally defined minimum, Pakistan could have set the bar a little higher for itself. As a standard that is only revised before a census, Pakistan would have been better off in taking the lead in the religion with a broader standard than the rest of the countries in the region.
Pakistan in the last few years has done much to increase its literacy rate, getting children in schools, eliminate the so-called ghost schools and renewed its focus on education. However, the opportunity to give more meaning to literacy should have been taken as a challenge at this juncture of the country’s history. The definition of literacy is being challenged all over the world and there are calls to extend the definition to a more extensive meaning of the world. Similar initiatives, to give a broader meaning to literacy, are being pushed in neighbouring countries so that more meaningful outcomes can be gained. Rather than just being able to read, write and count, the emphasis should be to process information and use it in a more meaningful way. The more meaningful definition can help children be more productive, especially if one keeps in the mind the global economic, cultural and technological progress and how we, as a country, fare against it.
There should be no doubt that Pakistan needs a better way to define literacy and experts in the field, policymakers should emphasize the fact on the government. Pakistan will not succeed in a global competitive environment by opting for the lowest common denominator, specifically in educating the masses. The world has moved forward and so should we. It is the time to take a decision as education is the foundation of the modern world.