Karachi is said to have the highest literacy rate in the country. This does not appear to be true because one comes across so many, hundreds and thousands of people who cannot read. But I personally know readers outnumber illiterates. I am a frequent traveller by rickshaw and occasionally by bus. I always try to locate where the driver has tucked his daily newspaper. It is usually between the overhead bar and the roof in rirkshaws and to the left of the driver's seat in a bus. I also talk to people and find they can read.
Those who cannot read are the poorest of the poor or people who came to the city from villages in search of work. In short, all Karachiites can read. However, there is a puzzling phenomena: the majority of people who can read cannot write. That makes Karachiites half-literate. No matter how many reports I browsed through, written by educationists, social workers and NGOs on Karachi's literacy, I have not found any which even noticed this peculiarity.
It is also said that the ability to read is growing by leaps and bounds thanks to the mobile cellphone and the popularity of text messaging. It may be so, but it is not proof that the ability to text message means the ability to write. Ask people of the working class to write on a piece of paper and they cannot do it. The clue to this puzzle is in the high rate of school dropouts, and also in the absence of the slate and chalk from the schoolchild's satchel. In most schools in bastis and in the lower-middle class areas too, you will find a blackboard, usually just a wall painted black, on which the teacher writes something and the children recite what ever is written. Thus they pick up reading skill faster than they learn to write. Children dropout of school normally after class two.
Most are forced to leave to help support the family, working at menial jobs. As they grow older they may learn to drive a vehicle, become mechanics at garages, welders and carpenters, factory workers and other semi-skilled jobs. Their ability to read comes in handy but they do not seem to need the ability to write. Their writhing skill usually is limited to the ability to write their name and they like to have a wiggly signature to put on a form or their NIC card, while the rest of the data is filled in by some helpful person or a professional writer.
There are many NGOs who believe that it is not necessary to have the writing skill, which is why handwriting is not stressed. They say a person who can read can recognise the letters of the alphabet on the keyboard and tap the right key to spell a word. I was surprised to learn from them that in America in the poor areas children are taught to use the keyboard and handwriting is not taught.