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The Impact of Poverty on Literacy in Pakistan

Updated on November 28, 2014

27 (M) Babies Out of School


In nation building education plays vital role. It is a well-established fact that no nation can progress without education. Unfortunately Pakistan has the lowest literacy rate in the world. It is not more than 26 percent. The government has been providing funds but these allocations could not increase the literacy rate to a considerable extent. This means that funds alone are not enough. The main reason of lowest literacy rate is poverty. There is no firm definition of poverty. It is a confounding and comprehensive term. There can be noticed a great impact of poverty on literacy. Many students cannot bear the expenses of education, and it creates hurdles in the continuity of their studies. Poverty limits the ability of individuals. Poor students have to face many conditions that leave them less time and energy for studies. They have to earn and learn at the same time. When they work for money their health may be affected. For adequate nourishment proper rest and food is necessary which the poor students cannot afford. Mostly it is seen that poor students have parents, family members and neighbors who are also less educated. Such students cannot get proper guidance for education at homes. Moreover poor parents cannot give proper time to their children for their studies. This thing causes the lowest literacy rate. Poverty definitely creates difference to education.
Students should have all the basic needs not before they are able to learn. If a student is not sure where the next meal is coming from or where he is staying tonight, learning is not very important to them. It is beyond the scope of countries to assess how many people of the countries are able to read and write. A lot of problems arose because of low level of literacy. The economic development of country cannot rapidly progress because of low level of literacy. This is the world of technology but without education we cannot compete with it. So what does literacy mean either a person who just put one’s signature on papers or documents, is called literate? It is always found that this ability is not meaningful and comprehensive. The concept of ‘Literacy’ does not simply mean the ability to read and write only. It is a broad concept. It also means the ability to understand things, identify and solve problems and play a role in social development. In a country like Pakistan where literacy rate is very poor than the rest of the countries, there is great need to focus our efforts to increase literacy rate. The increase should be quantitative as well as qualitative. In the past few years the government has realized the importance of literacy and has made commitment to achieve 86 % literacy rate by the year 2015. It has been committed by the government of Pakistan in Dakar Framework in 2000 (UNESCO GMR, 2002).
The government is expanding a lot of resources to enhance literacy rate. National Commission for Human Development is contributing to increase literacy rate in country through feeder schools and adult literacy centers. Non formal Basic education schools have been established to provide free education to children at their door step. Pakistan Association for Continuing and Adult Education (PACADE) is also bringing about a change for the better thinking and performance of youth and adult illiterates in Pakistan through literacy. There are good reasons why literacy is at the core of Education for All (EFA).
A good quality basic education equips pupils with literacy skills for life and further learning; literate parents are more likely to send their children to school; literate people are better able to access continuing educational opportunities; literate people live longer and less possibility to smoke. Literate persons are more likely to aware about their health and diet. They are more likely to take benefit of social services available for them. This thing also reduces child morality rate and fertility rate. The researches indicate that illiterate women in Pakistan have 4.71 children on the average, while literate and secondary school certificate holder women have 3.6 children. Brown (1990) found a powerful correlation between women’s literacy and assurance in the vaccination of their baby. Smith (1994) described that literate women were more possibility to used oral dehydration. Brown (1990) described in his research study that literate parents are more likely to help their children in their home work and instead of those illiterate mothers. Literate mothers also reinforce their daughters to sent schools and gave them proper status in the society than uneducated mothers. Literacy also enhances the production and earning capacity of the people leading towards nation development and prosperity. An educated or learned person earns more and has higher work mobility. In short, literacy has not only high economic returns but also produces non-market profits for generation. Literacy rates serves as an important baseline for assessing the status of education in a country because the adult literacy rate is an effective way to measure the achievement of the education system over the past three to four decades. So, it is strongly believed that the world can not achieve its higher progress level with out literacy. It is an important instrument for the development of humanity. So the spread of education is second priority of every nation after defense production. This is because education civilizes the people giving them the smooth way for the development of economy (UNESCO GMR, 2008).

Urban and Rural Ratio

Definitions of Literacy in Pakistan

Keeping in mind the above mention definitions of literacy, we now see how it has been defined in Pakistan from time to time.

Census wise definitions of Literacy

The definition of literacy in Pakistan keeps on changing since the first census in 1951. It has evolved and improved. The following table shows the changing definitions of literacy.

Census wise definitions of Literacy

(click column header to sort results)
Year of Census  
Definition of Literacy  
Age Group  
Literacy rate (%)  
One who can read clear print in any language
All ages
One who is able to read with understanding a simple letter in any language
Age 5 and above
One who is able to read and write in some language with understanding
Age 10 and above
One who can read newspaper and write a simple letter
Age 10 and above
One who can read newspaper and write a simple letter, in any language
Age 10 and above


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