Why do they matter?
Who are “youth” and why do they matter? Why is this word thrown about the development set? Is it important that Pakistan’s definition of literate is someone aged 15 who can “read and write”? Should one be concerned that this dubious definition lumps 57 percent of Pakistan’s population into the literate category?1
Yes. One should.
Globally comparable statistical analysis demands uniformity, and such a definition is quite standard. It also makes the 57 percent figure sound almost impressive, as though the education establishment has bumbled along and actually stumbled upon a working solution. Surveys show something quite different. Thirty percent of first-grade children in Pakistan recognize numbers. Forty percent of third-grade children can even subtract them. But mathematics can be difficult. Perhaps language skills make for better discussion. Nine percent of third-grade students in Balochistan can read “some” English words. An admirable 28 percent of fifth-grade children in the province can actually navigate an English paragraph. Are these unfair assertions in this debate? Perhaps the same statistics would be better if one assessed regional languages. After all, a child’s mental comprehension during the early years is best nurtured in an environmental language, something spoken around the house, something that equalises all in the region. But an examination of Urdu, Pashtu and Sindhi shows that the figures are only marginally better.
Why is any of this important?
An educated generation can often “get better jobs”, although the notion that children with opportunities and private schooling may fare better, cannot be discounted.
An educated youth group today translates into a narrower gap between people and resources. It means not getting married at 12, it means delaying childbirth to a more respectable age2 being taken more seriously and it starts a virtuous cycle – today’s educated youth is tomorrow’s educated mother and father of suitable age whose birth-spaced children are already learning their a-b-c.
Enrolment rates are insufficient as indicators. We must measure and improve retention rates, especially those of girls. We must incentivize parents to send their children to school by denying the right to an identification card in the absence of proof of primary schooling2 and by using stipend schemes. Other ideas include microcredit for women unable to leave home and gainful employment in the hospitality and garment industries. 2
Faisal Bari, “Education: Governance conundrum”, Development Advocate Pakistan,1 vol. 1, No. 2 (May 2014). Using statistics from Pakistan, Statistics Division, Social and Living Standards Measurement (PSLM) Survey, 2012–13 (Islamabad, Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, 2014). smaller households that are less susceptible to poverty. It means