Saving habits: cultural factors are decisive

By Zubeida Mustafa

Pakistan’s saving rate betrays its people’s weakness for spending. The nation manages to save only five per cent of its gross domestic product — a figure much lower than in most other Third World countries. The saving rate in India is 20 per cent. It’s 30 per cent in Indonesia and 28 per cent in China and Nigeria.

But in spite of their notoriety for ostentatious living and wasteful habits, it is wrong to think that people in this country do not set aside any of their earnings for the proverbial rainy day. And those who do not manage to save despite their best efforts worry about their inability to save. Continue reading “Saving habits: cultural factors are decisive”

Education sector: shortfall on development side alarming

By Zubeida M ustaf a

THE Sixth Five-Year Plan describes education as “a vital investment in human resources development.” It concedes that the performance of the education sector in Pakistan has remained “utterly deficient.”

In a bid to correct this deficiency, the government has adopted a strategy which seeks to increase the funds allocated to education, to change the distribution of available resources among various subsectors — so that there is greater expansion of primary and technical education while spending on higher education is kept down — and to place greater emphasis on female education.

Now that the first year of the Sixth Plan is over, it should be an instructive exercise to evaluate the government’s education policy especially with a view to ascertaining as to what extent its professed guidelines have been adhered to. Continue reading “Education sector: shortfall on development side alarming”

Population planning suffers due to poor efforts

By Zubeida Mustafa

IT IS to state the obvious that Pakistan‘s population could do with some planning. According to the 1981 census the annual population growth rate of the country is 3.1 per cent which gives Pakistan the dubious distinction of having one of the fastest multiplying population in the world.

Mercifully, it is now being noted in official quarters that without an effective programme to control the galloping population growth rate, economic development can be reduced to a farce. Thus Dr. Mahbubul Haq, Federal Minister for Planning and Development, recently observed, that during the next 16 years an estimated increase of 60 million in the population was expected.

To meet the need of these extra people alone, the country would have to produce goods worth Rs. 12 billion, generate 150 MW of electricity, set up 120,000 additional primary and 5,000 secondary schools, train 300 additional doctors and 5,000 nurses. Continue reading “Population planning suffers due to poor efforts”

The author’s coin

By Zubeida Mustafa

A FACT which is not so widely known about Sweden is that it has the highest ratio of book titles published per thousand of the population in a year — nearly one title per thousand people. (West Germany, which is also a prolific publisher, produces one title per 1,500 people).

Although the Swedes are complaining that people no longer read as many books as before, the sales of books have been rising. You just have to visit a library in any Swedish city (there are 2,200 local public libraries all over the country) or a bookshop to see how popular books still are, especially with children.

How do writers fare in a society where 80 million copies of books are sold every year? What is quite clear is that Swedish writers are conscious of their rights and responsibilities and are prepared to struggle for them. Thus, in 1972 the Writers’ Union protested against low payments to writers and its members withdrew all their books from public libraries.

It was their awareness of being isolated from society which led a group of three Swedish Writers to set up the Writers’ Centre in Stockholm in 1967. Within a week, 200 writers — including the leading ones — had responded. Today the Forfattarcentrum (Swedish for Writers’ Centre) has a membership of 800, including two Turks, two Kurds and some Latin Americans. Any person who has written a book that has been published can become a member.

The aim of the centre when it was established was to help writers break out of their social isolation and bring them closer to society Today the centre is very active in providing its members contacts with the public which, on the one hand help them understand people and their problems, and on the other help create an awareness and appreciation in people of writers and their works.

Gun Qvarzell, a staff member at the centre, who is in charge of the programmes, told me about the activities the centre arranges. A poet might be invited to a school to recite his verses and explain his poetry to the children. A university might arrange a workshop in which some writers could be invited to participate. A writer might be a guest at a cultural week. Concerted campaigns by the Writers’ Centre have been instrumental in getting literary circles and libraries set up in hospitals, sanitoria and prisons.

Every day the centre receives at least four or five requests from various institutions for help in arranging a workshop or group discussion with a writer’s participation. Once a couple even telephoned asking the centre to arrange for a poem to be composed on the first birthday of their child. Their request was fulfilled!

The centre undertakes all kinds of projects which promote a happy relationship between the writers and the public. For instance, after office hours the centre’s telephone is fixed on taped poetry recitals by the poets themselves. Anyone can ring up to listen to these.

Gun Qvarzell feels that the centre has achieved its goal in that writers are today closer to society. Writers and poets have had the opportunity to explain their work to people who are ordinarily not in touch with them. This has created public interest in literature and sustained a dialogue between writers and the readers. But Gun is unhappy about what she calls barriers created by bureaucracy between writers and the public.

The Writers’ Centre, which now has four branches, has in its sixteen years of existence done much to improve the lot of the writers too. Thus, it has tried to give new writers a boost by introducing them to the public through its programme of contacts with schools, hospitals, libraries, bookshops, prisons and other institutions.

At its new premises on the island of Skeppsholmen overlooking the Saltsjon (Baltic), the Writers’ Centre has four furnished rooms with a kitchenette. At a very reasonable rate of SEK 600 a month a member can rent a room to work there. It is quite common in Sweden for writers to go into seclusion, away from their family and friends for a few weeks to finish their writing.

At the centre I met Elsa Steffen (aged 83 years) who has written six books. She was working on her seventh and had rented a room for a month to finish her work. She was in bed (obviously working) when I knocked the door at 4.30 in the afternoon. That was something unusual but then that is precisely the idea of moving into a separate apartment from your family — you don’t have to bother about routines and schedules and can get along with your work. Gun Qvarzell, who also edits a quarterly magazine on children’s literature, told me that writers in Sweden have been protesting against the high taxes they have to pay on their incomes. Although few writers can earn a living from their writings, Swedish authors are relatively well off compared with their counterparts in many other countries, mainly because of their trade union type efforts.

Authors’ union

Swedish writers first organised themselves into a union called the Swedish Authors’ Association (Sveriges Forfattar-eforening) in 1893 on the initiative of Verner Von Heidenstam, who later won the Nobel Prize for his poetry. Thereafter the Swedish Union of Authors was set up. Through organised efforts the writers could improve their situation by persuading the government to take important measures.

Two of these I find quite interesting and with the exception of the Scandinavian region, I don’t know of any other country where the writers enjoy similar facilities. Under the terms of standard contract an author in Sweden is entitled to 16-2/3 per cent royalty on the retail price of his book. As soon as a manuscript has been accepted, the publisher must pay a guarantee equal to at least one-third of the royalty on the first edition. This advance is deducted from the payment that subsequently falls due. But it does not have to be repaid by the author, if his book does not sell.

Another fascinating feature of Sweden’s literary life is the Library Loan Compensation which was introduced in 1954. The concept underlying this scheme is that the government must compensate the author for books borrowed from public libraries. The government pays compensation at the rate of 37 ore (100 ore is equal to 1 SEK) per loan. Of this sum, 22 ore goes to the author whose book has been borrowed upto a miximum of 100,000 loans in the form of the “author’s coin”.

After the first stage, a writer, receives only 11 ore per borrowing. This sum progressively decreases with the number of loans. The part of the compensation not paid to the writer goes to the Swedish Author’s Fund. Administered by a board of 14 member (four appointed by the government and the remaining the nominees of the authors), the Fund seeks to create a system of security for writers. Thus 180 qualified authors, translators, and illustrators are guaranteed SEK 48,000 per year, irrespective of the number of loans of their books.

Younger writers are given longterm grants.^Awards, pensions and travel grants are given from the Fund. In 1983-84, the Library Loan Compensation amounted to SEK 40 million. Of this SEK 28 million was transferred to the Fund.

How much can a writer earn under this system? Gun Qvarzell disclosed that Sweden’s leading writer of children’s books, Astrid Lindgren, earned SEK 2 million jn 1983. That is a big amount even by Swedish standards but of course the taxes are heavy

Source: Dawn 6 June 1984

PQLI: A new yardstick to replace ‘per capita income’

By Zubeida Mustafa

THERE was a time when the sole yardstick to measure the level of development of a country was the conventional economic indicator, namely, the per capita income. But economists have now discovered the fallacy of this approach. A country can have a high per capita GNP and yet be severely underdeveloped in terms of the quality of life it can provide to its people.

Very often the national wealth happens to be concentrated in the hands of a few people and the Government’s priorities are such that the social sectors are totally neglected. In such cases the GNP can be quite misleading for it hardly reflects the level of development of the people. Hence economists have come to adopt the basic needs approach and now more emphasis is placed on the social sectors, especially education and health. Thus the conventional economic indicators are no longer the only measure of national development. Continue reading “PQLI: A new yardstick to replace ‘per capita income’”

What the ’81 census reveals

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE situation of women in Pakistan as it emerges from the findings of the 1981 census is still rather bleak. True, the sex ratio, female literacy rate and female labour participation level have registered some improvement over what was recorded in the previous census in 1972. But progress has been so slow in terms of percentages, and the population growth rate so high, that in absolute numbers there are more illiterate women and more women out of the labour force today than there were in 1972. When compared with other countries the position of women in Pakistan emerges as even more dismal.

Continue reading “What the ’81 census reveals”

Population planning: key to all-round betterment

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE ONE factor which has proved to be a major impediment to the socioeconomic development of countries in the Third World is population explosion.

It has now been conclusively established that Governments which have been incapable or unwilling to slow down the population growth rate in their countries have failed to bring about much of a change in the quality of life of their people — whatever be the growth recorded in the sectors which are taken to constitute the indices of economic progress. Conversely, failure to promote the socio-economic development of people results in a high population growth rate.

This was the message to emerge from the seminar on women, children and population held in early November at Jakarta, cosponsored by UNICEF, U’NFPA, the Press Foundation of Asia and the Indonesian Planned Parenthood Association. The seminar in which media representatives from seven South and South-East Asian countries participated also had another message to convey. The status of women and children in a society largely determines the rate of population growth, just as an effective population policy has a direct impact on the lives of women and children. It needs no profound thinking to understand the interrelationship between the two.

Social status

Policies directed towards raising the social and economic status of women have a deep bearing on the fertility rate of a country. Thus, a higher literacy level, better health care and employment opportunities for women inevitably lead to lower infant mortality rate (IMR) and a greater willingness to space children and limit the family size. Conversely, a vigorous family planning programme which aims at reducing the number of children a woman gives birth to also helps in improving her status by raising the level of health and nutrition of her family and opening up opportunities for education and employment for her and her children.

These factors are very closely interrelated as is obvious from the statistics pertaining to literacy rate, life expectancy at birth, infant mortality rate, female participation in labour force and crude birth rate (CBR) in any given Third World country. It has generally been observed that the better educated the women are, the lower is the infant mortality rate, the higher is the life expectancy at birth and the lower is the crude birth rate. This trend is indicated clearly by the data given for the seven Asian countries for 1981 (these are the countries which were represented in the seminar).

Perhaps the most instructive fact to have emerged from the seminar is that the traditional basic indicator of the health of a country’s economy, namely, the GNP, is not really the key factor in determining the quality of life of its people. Thus, among the countries listed above, Sri Lanka has a per capita GNP of 306 dollars as compared with 350 dollars for Pakistan and yet Sri Lanka has a much lower CBR and IMR and higher life expectancy and literacy rate than Pakistan. Political will

U’NICEF has formulated this concept in terms of the PQLI — the Physical Quality of Life Index which takes into account three elements: the rates of infant mortality, literacy and life expectancy at age one. The PQLI is calculated by giving equal weight to each of these indicators. It is significant that many countries with a high GNP per head have a low PQLI. For instance, Brazil is much richer than Sri Lanka in terms of GNP but Brazil’s PQLI rating is 65 as compared with 80 for Sri Lanka.

In other words, it is now clear that the quality of life of the citizens of a country, which is the real indicator of economic development, depends not on its resources alone. The more crucial factor is the political will and social commitment of the Government and the soundness of the policies it adopts on education, health, population planning, women and children.

An integrated approach, however, is essential if progress is to be made in checking population growth. It is an exercise in futility to seek to reduce the crude birth rate through policies which are directed towards one sector but completely ignore the others. While equal importance needs to be given to every aspect of development of women and children, sufficient emphasis should also be placed on family planning. In Indonesia, the Government has chalked out a programme for the development of women and children which should have a widespread impact on society. It is called GOBI-FF. The acronym stands for growth monitoring of the child, oral rehydration therapy, breast feeding, immunisation, family planning and female education.

populationCollectively, these should boost the health and education level of women while reducing infant mortalitv rate. But the most significant aspect of the programme is that it focusses sharply on family planning. A concerted effort is being made at all levels to make people aware of the need of limiting their family size and spacing their children. This is done through a vigorous family planning programme which aims at informing and educating the people, providing contraceptive services and training personnel. This emphasis on family planning has begun to pay dividends. The crude birth rate per thousand has been brought down drastically from 47 in 1955-60 to 37 in 1975-80 to 32 in the eighties.

Seen in the light of the experience of other Third World countries. Pakistan’s record in family planning stands out as being really dismal. The population growth rate is said to be 2.8 per cent which is on the higher side (the Third World average is 2 per cent). According to UN estimates, the total fertility rate (the average number of children a woman can expect to give birth to) in the Third World is 4.64. In Pakistan it is 5.9. The crude birth rate here is also alarmingly high at 41 per 1,000 as compared with the average of 33 per 1.000 in the other developing countries.

Pakistan’s record

The broad thrust of the Population Welfare programme in Pakistan is correct because it seeks to improve the social, economic and health conditions of women and thus reduce fertility rates. But what is sadly lacking is sufficient emphasis on the clinical aspect of family planning without which no progress can be made in actually cutting down on the crude birth rate. The shyness which has marked the Government’s approach to family planning is not quite understandable. There is greater need for frankness in the Government’s approach to the family planning side of the population welfare programme. A discreet stance has not really paid off because it has not created the social environment necessary for educating the people and motivating them. The message of family planning must be conveyed to the people through the Radio, the Television, the Press and also the Mosque as is being done in Indonesia, a Muslim country like ours. The entire Government leadership has to show the political commitment to make family planning acceptable to the masses.

Source: Dawn 20 Nov 1983

 

The story of high targets, low performance

By Zubeida Mustafa

EDUCATION planning in Pakistan has traditionally been lopsided, with the priorities misplaced. There has been too much emphasis on higher education, while the primary sector has, by and large, been neglected. Consequently, education has been like an inverted pyramid balanced on a narrow base.

The basic weakness in the government’s education policy lies in its reluctance or inability to allocate sufficient funds to this sector. Hence resources have had to be spread thin. Thus in 1982-83 Pakistan spent only 1.5 per cent of its GNP on education. Continue reading “The story of high targets, low performance”

Population growth: Official programmes misdirected

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE KEY factor which will, in the final analysis, determine Pakistan’s economic and social progress in the coming years is the size of the country’s population and the rate at which it grows. In view of the present population explosion in the country, it is difficult to hold out much promise on this count.

The official population planning programme, which will complete two decades of its existence in 1985, has so far made not much of an impact on the demographic scene. The rate of population growth in this country is one of the highest in the world. In 1901 the area now comprising Pakistan had a population of 16 million. This doubled itself in 50 years, the 1951 census recording a population of 33 million. Continue reading “Population growth: Official programmes misdirected”

Wrong approach to primary education

By Zubeida Mustafa

WHERE is a Pakistani child at the age of 8 12 years being led to provided he is among those 50 percent who go to school? By the time he is eight—the age at which Dr Montessori, one of the greatest educationists of the century, thinks a child is ready to go to junior school — a Pakistani child has already been attending school for three years , even more if he began his studies at a nursery school. His activities have already been restricted by the rigours and discipline of a regular school at a time he should have been free to be active and explore the world for himself.

If he happens to go to a Government or nationalised school, he would in all probability be one of a class of 80 or 90. His teacher would never get to know him during the course of a year and worse still he would not be learning much while being confined to the restrictive environs of the classroom . Continue reading “Wrong approach to primary education”