There is no denying the fact that western hemisphere of our universe has reached the near climax of human civilization just because its inhabitants have equipped themselves with the true wealth of quality education. They continued "to strive, to seek and never to yield," with the result that they excelled in almost every walk of life. However, their quest for knowing more and more, and their urge for moving forward have yet to see a pause.
As a matter of fact, there are many facets of our national and social life here in Pakistan that needs to be looked at with greater degree of skepticism in this modern era of "Brave New World." Needless to say that illiteracy has taken a toll not only on the physical development of Pakistan but has also overshadowed every nook and corner of our socio-economic nay political life. The result is that Pakistan, today, has more illiterates than its total population at the time of independence. Despite this entire gloomy scenario, we used to spend lower even than the target recommended by UNESCO for education in developing countries. New education policy envisages spending about 4% of our GNP on education, which somehow conforms to that target.
Poverty, illiteracy, mismanagement of our scarce resources, and the male-dominated social structure that is hell bent upon maintaining the status quo have been mainly responsible for depriving most of the children of school going age, particularly girls, of this blessing that tends to turn one's eyes to light. Again, most of those who are enrolled leave the school before even going through this elementary phase, mainly, owing to negligence of parents, stereo-typed teaching, lack of funds and incentives on the part of the government etc. Now, the situation, as it stands, is, no doubt, disappointing, but is it depressing and intractable as well? Is there no light at the end of the tunnel?
Of course, nothing is intractable in this world. We are already moving in the positive direction, and as long as this onward movement continues, we have every reason to believe that the target of Universal Primary Education will see the dawn of life sooner than later. As a matter fact, literacy and education prove incremental in alleviating poverty, and in attaining development goals. Nay, it can help shatter our so-called taboos. For instance, the society can be made enlightened, healthier and progressive if it has an awareness regarding diseases such as Aids.
Establishment of Adult schools and Non-formal Basic Education Centres, giving incentives like providing free text books and implementing school nutrition TAWANA programmes, and extending stipends to girl students are but some of the steps that would go a long way in attracting people to schools. One may disagree with government spending tens of thousands of rupees on advertisements, yet the practice is not indefensible. After all this advertisement campaign in itself can be considered to be the inseparable part of this motivation drive.
However, we cannot afford to be content with just being philomaths. Not at all; we are to be proactive in our approach; we are to come forward and play an expeditious role in this regard. After all, we are part and parcel of this system, so getting education on our part, and, in fact, by our scions is not enough. We are to shoulder the responsibility of disseminating education. We must be committed to help coordinate the endeavours of the Government, N.G.Os, philanthropic organizations and media. We might be embers, but can we not kindle a fire? Let we follow the paradigm of "each one, teach one." We are to apprise the children that getting education is one of their basic right under UN Convention on the Rights of Child 1989; we are to motivate them and their elders to contribute and make "National Plan of Action" for "Education for All" a resounding success; we are to contribute in attaining "Universal Primary Education" goals.
For all this, we are to reach the disadvantaged population groups in rural and urban areas with emphasis on girl children. The people belonging to urban slums behind the façade of magnificence find themselves with one of the bitterest realities of the modern life. Although they are socially marginalized and, even ostracized, yet this yawning gap, both in material, as well as in psychological terms, can be minimized by providing them access to the centers of knowledge. It is so, because the urban life is a poly-tone that promises a myriad of opportunities to an individual for his material and intellectual growth. No doubt, it is by no means an easy problem to cope with, yet the more daunting challenge is to make inroads into the centuries-old mindset, in the mostly feudalistic rural set-ups, where male is more powerful and socially resourceful, where the absurd paganic traditions have been clothed with the attire of religion, and where the fair-sex is subjected to the ugliest of rigours.
Nothing, save education and awareness, can bring about change in this mode of life. Circumspection is the key word to describe the process of effecting a change here; it should be both tangible, as well as intangible, and should target both the genders, particularly men who hold the rein of the destinies of their respective families. No doubt, the worm of change has already started galling the forces of conservativism, yet the pace of all this is far from being satisfactory. It is to be realized that we are to work doubly hard on war footing to accelerate the process of change, nay to effect a virtual volte-face.
Imparting true religious education to both the genders can be one of the ways of doing that. For instance, it can be instilled in the minds, particularly, of the rural folk that getting education is a religious obligation, and that Prophet (PBUH) had called upon both his male and female followers to get education. Awareness has to be created among parents that a daughter has an equal right to the love and affection of her elders, and that sending her to centers of learning is our foremost moral, social and religious duty, because after all,
"My son is my son till he gets a wife, my daughter is my daughter all her life." — Robert Burns (1759- 796), Scottish poet
Only after creating, a sense of gender parity among the drivers of our social vehicle i.e. men, that women can be educated and thereby empowered. And unless that is done, the very concept of development would be lopsided.
The only panacea for inspiring the vision of "enlightened moderation" as has been enunciated by President Parvez Musharraf, is to educate the nation as a whole irrespective of the gender, origin and material status of the citizens of Pakistan. It is commendable that the present Government is spending unprecdentally more on education. While there can be no two opinions on this ground, yet I would condescend to expostulate that the bulk of the resources should be spent upon spreading education at the grassroots level, because it is there that the shoe pinches. Nonetheless, I would reiterate that major chunk of the responsibility rests on the members of the civil society; they have to "to shake shoulders of their lulled lot." They can no longer afford to be somnolent; they are to rise right now.
"Defer not till tomorrow to be wise, tomorrow's sun to thee may never rise" — William Congreve (1670-1729), English dramatist