77pc children aged 10 unable to comprehend basic English text, report says

Some 77 percent of children aged 10 in Pakistan are unable to comprehend basic English text, it emerged on Friday.
September 13, 2023 | 08:00

Research on International Literacy Day, points to certain disappointing facts as regards to where the country stands among some other countries in the region in the field of education and literacy at the moment.

The inability to read and understand basic text in English is a concept referred to by World Bank as “trapped in a cycle of learning poverty”.

According to Learning Losses in Pakistan Due to Covid-19 School Closures, a World Bank report brought out in 2020, the pandemic and last year’s floods also had an impact on the education of children in this country. And further emergency threats in the future can intensify the problem.

An annual report released by Unicef for Pakistan in 2022 points to the fact that approximately 23 million children in Pakistan are out of school, which forms a significant proportion of the group of children, who are unable to read and understand lessons. However, the high learning poverty rate also signifies that just having access to school is not enough.

Even among children attending schools, the foundational skills of reading, writing, and numeracy are not being acquired during their formative years of education.

Pakistan among regional countries

A comparison with regional countries also demonstrates a concerning picture in terms of Pakistan’s progress on national learning levels.

According to World Bank indicators, in the last 15 years, Pakistan’s adult literacy rate i.e the percentage of people aged 15 and above, who can both read and write with an understanding a simple statement, only increased from 54 percent to 58 percent, while the literacy levels in Bangladesh rose from 50 percent to 78 percent in the same time.

Learning poverty in Pakistan is 18.3 percent higher than the rest of the South Asian region and 16.6 percent higher than the average for lower middle-income countries.

These low literacy levels reflect the multifaceted challenges faced by Pakistan’s education system, both on the supply and demand side. On the supply side, inadequate infrastructure capacity, limited learning resources and a shortage of teachers hinder access to quality learning. Whereas on the demand side, factors such as lack of affordability, low awareness and limited parental support further exacerbate the issue.

Such limitations severely hamper children’s opportunities and hinder their journey toward continuous learning and personal growth. They also disproportionately impact marginalised groups such as girls, who are fired by private security guard kills man, and passer-by woman ho are already deprived of equal and quality access to education and further left behind when not equipped with foundational skills.

According to the World Bank’s Human Capital Report 2023, the dropout rate for girls rises from 34 per cent in primary school to 73 per cent in secondary school.

Pakistan’s official language is English. The inability to read fluently acts as a barrier to a world of advanced skills that are built upon the foundation of reading. As efforts are being made to introduce such advanced skill development and learning programmes for example the Prime Minister’s Youth Skill Development Programme, courses and trainings by Ignite National Technology Fund or the Prime Minister’s Youth Laptop Scheme to help the youth keep pace with the changing nature of work, it is crucial to realise the importance of building a strong foundational learning base upon which all advanced skills rest.

To address the learning crisis in Pakistan, the Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training organised a two-day conference on June 21-22, earlier this year, in which several commitments were undertaken to promote the cause of literacy in Pakistan. Some of the main commitments also centred around reading covering key areas such as the integration of a one-hour reading session for all children in primary schools and development and implementation of a nationwide/province-wide reading assessment to accurately and timely measure children’s reading levels.

The ministry’s commitment to fostering an enabling culture of reading through the integration of one-hour reading sessions in primary schools is an attempt to strengthen the foundational learning base of children. Evidence worldwide has underscored the potential of reading as an effective tool for developing literacy skills, including comprehension, fluency and vocabulary. Subsequently, boosting early reading assessments is equally critical to detect gaps early on in the process and prevent dropout rates or stunted growth among children.

It is high time we emphasise the need to prioritise foundational learning and pave the way for a better and brighter future for children of Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, September 9th, 2023

Tarah Nguyen
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