ISLAMABAD - International Literacy Day is being observed today (Monday) across the world with the theme "Literacy and Health" but the state of education in Pakistan paints a dismal picture. September 8 was proclaimed International Literacy Day by UNESCO on November 17, 1965. It was first celebrated on 1966 to highlight the importance of literacy to individuals, communities and societies. International Literacy Day, 2008, has a strong emphasis on literacy and epidemics with a focus on communicable diseases such as HIV, Tuberculosis and Malaria, some of the world's most important public health concerns. Education is the main vehicle for socio-economic development but, unfortunately about half of adult population in Pakistan cannot read and write. Pakistan is sixth most populus country of the world. Due to rapid population growth and inability of the formal education system to bring all children into school, illetrate polulation has increased from 22 million in 1961 to 48 million by 2005. It is feared that by 2015, illetrate population in Pakistan may rise to 52 million. In the area of education, Pakistan is lagging behind other countries of South Asia, even lower than Nepal, Bangladesh and Maldives. Pakistan has been spending less on education as copmared to other countries in the region. According to Education for All Global Mointoring Report 2008 by UNESCO, Pakistan is spending 2.4 per cent of its GDP on education against the UNESCO-recommended norm of a minimum of 4 per cent and against 3.8 per cent spent by India, 7.5 per cent by Maldives, 4.7 per cent by Iran and 3.4 per cent by Nepal. Out of 2.4 per cent only 1.93 per cent of GNP is being spent on education in real terms and only 11 per cent of the total education budget is allocated for the higher education sector. The total education budget is needed to be increased to a minimum of six per cent as recommended by UNESCO for developing countries with at least one-third of it going to the higher education sector. The reason behind the current state of affairs is lack of political will and half-hearted efforts by the government which can be gauged by the fact that the portfolio of the education ministry is vacant since the PML-N ministers' walk out from the cabinet on the judges' issue.    Though, 16 major political parties of the country on February 5 this year had committed in a Joint Declaration on 'Education For All in Pakistan' to increase the present allocation of the education budget from 2.4 per cent to 4 per cent of the GDP within the next three years.   But the ruling coalition contrary to its claims after coming into power slashed 5.7 billion from the fourth quarter of the last years' budget of Higher Education Commission (HEC).   The unexpected cut in the HEC's budget badly affected the universities which had no savings and even the salaries for the months of April and May 2008 had been paid after withdrawing money from Pension Funds, Students Fund, Reserve Fund and taking loans. The prolonged absence of education minister greatly affected the ongoing projects of the ministry, including education policy, implementation of new curriculum and other issues, which could be resolved in an amicable manner if it would be on the priority list of the government.