By Faraz Jehangir
Managing Director, Spearhead Research
Disseminating Knowledge Beyond Schools and Textbooks
Pakistan’s literacy rate, as compared to many neighboring countries, is improving at a much slower pace. Though the literacy rate varies drastically from province to province and region to region within the country, but Sindh remains the most adversely affected due to multiple factors including issues with administrative control and provincial government’s intent. Similarly Balochistan too is much behind other provinces because of social and cultural issues. Punjab (specifically northern Punjab), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit – Baltistan and Azad Kashmir are relatively better but there is a huge room for improvement even in these regions.
The literacy rate gap between the rural and urban areas is also increasing and is becoming a big issue. With rapid urbanization and migration from rural to urban areas, this literacy gap becomes more evident and obvious.
Despite hundreds of schools all over the country and thousands of teachers employed and drawing salaries, literacy rate is way below what is required to be part of the modern economic system. Poor teacher training, out of merit teacher hiring, outdated syllabi and poorly developed textbooks, are the biggest negatively contributing factors to our substandard education system and high dropout rates from schools. Economic issues, which force parents to pull out their children from schools and get them employed so they can start contributing to household expenses is another major contributing factor to low literacy rate in economically challenged regions of the country. Unchecked population growth adversely affects the national education standards like it affects all other resource constrained sectors, including water, food, health and general wellbeing of the citizens.
Our society and culture historically is more oral in nature. Traditions, knowledge and life advice is passed on verbally from generation to generation and from person to person. Many of our sufi poetry, folk songs and traditional nautanki (theater) have for a long time remained a medium of imparting advice and knowledge to masses by holding their attention and engaging with them at a deeper level, something our government run schools, disinterested teachers and poor teaching methods and uninteresting textbooks fail to do. Therefore, it is extremely important to review our goals, objectives and methods for imparting useful knowledge and education in a more effective manner, that is modern in nature yet blends with our culture and society.
Cinemas or movie theaters that are traditionally associated with pure entertainment and leisure, can play a huge role in reforming a society and imparting knowledge to the masses. A strong initiative is needed on a countrywide scale to realize the positive impact of cinemas as a tool for education and social reform. Additionally, a detailed study needs to be conducted in this area from multiple angles such as cost of building cinemas in the most efficient manner, number of cinemas required, content development for the cinemas by engaging local new and experienced film makers, making cinemas self-sustaining, engaging the private sector to help finance the films / content, content approval body that will monitor the content being distributed.
Such a venture would create job and earning opportunities for thousands of people all over the country. From creative people like artists, singers, musicians, script writers to filmmakers and their crew and related industries to cinema managers, cinema staff. Though subsidized, the ticket sales from the cinema could help fund a project of such nature.
Potential for educating farmers who can’t read or write, creating climate change awareness and providing training for agriculture related industry is immense through use of cinemas in rural areas.
Pakistan’s existing filmmakers from all parts of the country would get great opportunities to demonstrate their talents and enhance their skills. By blurring the line between education and entertainment, a genre of edutainment and infotainment needs to be introduced to engage the masses. These cinemas would only be used for the purpose of non-commercial or semi-commercial films that would help impart knowledge, introduce the idea of tolerance and acceptance and good values that are appreciated globally. Issues like health, family planning and the importance of education for girls can be communicated to the backward communities through well films. Efforts should be made to audio dub these educational films in regional languages so people from all over the country would be able to understand and share each other’s cultural values, social issues and other aspects of life, generating a sense of national unity.
The creative community of Pakistan would get a huge opportunity to contribute to the national development in multiple areas that need attention. Government needs to think out of the box solutions for resolving issues. Cinemas for education, knowledge dissemination, character development, building national unity and harmony are the best option if executed properly and with the right intentions. We have the talent, resources and the ability to create inspiring content for these screens of knowledge that have the potential to gradually help evolve our people into a more knowledgeable and tolerant society.