Key Gaps and Challenges in Pakistan’s Education System

Pakistan has made progress by adopting laws and action plans to provide free and compulsory education to children. However, the country’s education system faces numerous challenges that impact children, society and the country as a whole. These challenges not only limit children’s immediate educational opportunities, but also have far-reaching implications for the country’s socio-economic development and its global competitiveness.

Findings of Pakistan Education Statistics 2021-22

A report released by the Pakistan Institute of Education, Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training, identifies a number of challenges that need to be addressed for reforms in Pakistan’s education system.

Intake and Participation Trends in Pakistan’s Education System

Between 2016-17 and 2021-22, Pakistan has witnessed a concerning decline in Gross Enrollment Ratios (GER) across various education levels. The Gross Intake Ratio (GIR) in primary education drops from 81% to 65% from first to last grade. Pre-primary GER is 71%, but only 28% participate in organized learning a year before primary school. Primary GER falls from 97% to 76%, suggesting fewer enrollments. Preprimary education sees a 13% decrease, indicating potential issues in early childhood education. Middle education experiences a 4% decline, while upper secondary education drops by 2%. These trends signal challenges in retaining students, with the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbating the situation, leading to decreased participation across all levels.

Out-of-School Children

Pakistan faces a significant challenge with out-of-school children (OOSC), with recent progress showing a reduction in the percentage from 44% in 2016-17 to 39% in 2021-22. However, the absolute number has increased from 22.02 million to 26.21 million, mainly due to population growth, highlighting ongoing issues with education access and retention. Across different education levels, the proportion of OOSC remains alarmingly high. In primary education, 36% (10.77 million) of children are out of school, extending to 30% (4.94 million) in middle school, 44% (4.55 million) in high school, and 60% (5.95 million) in higher secondary levels. Punjab and Sindh report the highest numbers of OOSC, with 11.73 million and 7.63 million respectively, followed by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) with 3.63 million and Balochistan with 3.13 million. The Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) has the lowest figure with 0.08 million OOSC. Gender disparity persists, with a higher percentage of female students out of school compared to males across all education levels. Economic factors also play a significant role, with 51% of children from the poorest quintile not attending primary school, rising to 75% at higher education levels. Even among wealthier quintiles, OOSC rates remain notable, with 14% at the upper secondary level.

Survival and Transition

In Pakistan’s education system, there’s a significant challenge with retention rates, as only 77% of students who start at grade 1 reach grade 5, indicating a notable dropout rate in early education. The closure of schools due to the pandemic disrupted learning routines for millions of students, exacerbated by economic hardships faced by families, leading to potential increases in dropout rates, especially among vulnerable groups. Policymakers must address these issues to ensure equitable access to education post-pandemic. While there’s been an improvement in the survival rate to grade 5, rising from 67% in 2016-17 to 77% in 2021-22, challenges persist. The transition rates from primary to middle school and from middle to secondary school have seen slight declines, highlighting the need for focused strategies to support students through these transitions effectively.

Pupil-Teacher Ratio (PTR)

In Pakistan’s public education system, the Pupil-Teacher Ratio (PTR) indicates one teacher for every 39 students in primary schools, with varying ratios across different levels: 25 in middle schools, 30 in high schools, and 33 in higher secondary schools. The PTR in primary schools has increased from 32 in 2016-17 to 39 in 2021-22, potentially affecting the quality of instruction due to higher student numbers per teacher. The Pupil-School ratio averages at 162 students per school, with an average of five teachers per school. The Pupil-Classroom ratio, reflecting classroom density, is 37 for primary, 33 for middle, 45 for high, and 52 for higher secondary levels. While there’s a slight improvement in the primary Pupil-Classroom ratio from 38 students per classroom in 2016-17 to 37 in 2021-22, gaps persist in teacher availability and classroom occupancy, particularly in higher education levels.

Facilities in Schools

Facilities in schools across Pakistan display a significant regional disparity, with provinces like ICT, Punjab, and KP showing better conditions compared to others, notably Balochistan. In Balochistan, access to essential facilities like safe drinking water, toilets, and boundary walls is severely lacking, with primary schools being particularly affected. Progress has been made between 2016-17 and 2021-22, with slight increases in schools with electricity, toilet facilities, boundary walls, and access to drinking water. However, challenges persist due to limited budget allocations, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, where funds were diverted to healthcare and social protection measures. The decline in the number of schools with basic facilities underscores the need for strategic planning and sustainable investment in education to ensure resilient and inclusive societies. Balancing competing priorities in resource allocation remains a complex challenge for governments, highlighting the importance of addressing these gaps in education infrastructure.

Education Quality and Learning Outcomes

The findings from key assessments conducted by the Pakistan Institute of Education’s National Assessment Wing emphasize the critical need to enhance learning outcomes among students. According to TIMSS 2019, a mere 27% of students at the end of primary school in Pakistan reach a minimum proficiency level in mathematics, indicating significant challenges in mastering fundamental subjects. Similarly, NAT 2019 results reveal that only 60% of primary students attain a mean score in reading. Even at the lower secondary level, the percentages of students achieving mean scores in mathematics and reading are low, with only 43% and 51% respectively. These results underscore the pressing need for improvements in education quality to ensure students attain adequate proficiency levels in core subjects.

Gender Disparities in Education System

An analysis of enrollment and transition rates in Pakistan’s education system reveals gender disparities. While 65% of male students are enrolled in primary to secondary education, only 57% of females are. However, Survival Rates show relative parity, with 77% for males and slightly higher at 78% for females. Yet, gender differences emerge in Effective Transition Rates. Transition from primary to middle school slightly favors girls (82% vs. 80% for boys), but from middle to secondary school, boys have higher success (91% vs. 88% for girls). Interestingly, basic facilities like electricity, water, toilets, and boundary walls are more available in girls’ schools, indicating a prioritization of educational environment for girls.

Allocations to Education

Traditionally, Pakistan has allocated around 2% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to education. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020-21, there was a significant reduction in this allocation, dropping education spending to 1.4% of GDP. The Pakistan Economic Survey 2022-23 reported a slight improvement, with education spending recovering to 1.7% of GDP in 2021-22. Provincial and area governments commit 15-20% of their total budgets to the education sector, with Punjab, Sindh, and KP leading in prioritizing education expenditure. However, there are regional variations in budget utilization, with Punjab dedicating 86% of its budget to school education, while Sindh allocates a lower percentage at 61%.

Findings of GBCLS 2018-19, PCLS 2019-20 and KPCLS 2022

Provincial governments have conducted household surveys to determine the extent of child labor. The governments of Gilgit-Baltistan, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have released detailed findings on education trends. The key challenges that emerge from the survey results on education are:

School Attendance and Dropout Rates

Across Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), and Gilgit Baltistan (GB), school attendance rates vary significantly among children aged 5-17. In Punjab, the majority of children attend school only (76.2%), with a notable decline in attendance between ages 11 and 12. The primary reason cited for non-attendance is lack of interest, particularly among older children. Similarly, in KP, approximately 64.2% of children attend school only, with attendance peaking at age 9 and declining thereafter. Economic constraints, such as inability to afford schooling and lack of available facilities, contribute to non-attendance, especially among older children (15-17). In GB, while most children attend school (70.9%), a significant proportion (14.8%) neither attend school nor work, posing concerns for their vulnerability to child labor. The transition from primary to middle school appears challenging, with dropout rates increasing at age 11.

Economic Barriers to Education

Economic barriers play a crucial role in hindering access to education in all three provinces. Costs associated with schooling, including uniforms, meals, and transportation, present significant challenges for families, particularly those living in poverty. Subsidy programs and conditional cash transfers have shown promise in increasing school enrollment and reducing dropout rates. However, the effectiveness of such interventions requires careful planning and implementation to address the diverse needs of vulnerable populations.

Quality of Education

Despite efforts to improve educational quality, challenges persist in delivering high-quality education across Punjab, KP, and GB. Issues such as teacher training, pedagogical methods, and learning outcomes remain areas of concern. Access to early childhood education is limited, with a considerable percentage of children entering school behind the expected grade for their age. Enhancing the quality of education through targeted interventions, including teacher training programs and early childhood education initiatives, is critical to improving overall educational outcomes.

Gender Disparities in Education

Gender disparities in education persist across all three provinces, with girls facing greater barriers to access and retention. In Punjab, although a similar percentage of boys and girls attend school, access to education is more challenging for girls due to distance and safety concerns. In KP, girls are significantly more likely to be idle than boys, reflecting broader societal attitudes towards gender roles and education. Strategies to promote gender equality in education, including investing in girls’ schools and addressing cultural barriers, are essential for achieving equitable access to education.

Parental Education and Perceptions

The level of parental education significantly influences children’s educational outcomes and perceptions of education. In households where parents have higher levels of education, the perceived value of education is greater, leading to higher enrollment rates and better academic performance among children. However, in households where parents have limited education, overcoming barriers to access becomes more challenging. Targeted interventions aimed at engaging parents and raising awareness of the importance of education are crucial for improving overall educational participation and outcomes.

Geographic and Cultural Factors

Geographic and cultural factors also play a significant role in shaping educational opportunities in Punjab, KP, and GB. In rural areas, geographic barriers such as distance to schools and lack of transportation infrastructure pose challenges for access to education. Cultural norms and practices, including early marriage and gender segregation, further exacerbate gender disparities in education. Addressing these factors requires a multi-dimensional approach, including investments in infrastructure, community engagement, and cultural sensitivity training for educators.

Other Challenges

In addition to the aforementioned, stakeholders have identified several other challenges and gaps.

Equality and Inclusion

A lack of uniformity and significant inequities exist in Pakistan’s education system among different types of schools, with public schools facing resource shortages and private schools demonstrating better outcomes. The varied curricula hinder holistic development, emphasizing memorization over critical thinking. Discrimination affects minorities, persons with disabilities, and economically disadvantaged individuals, impeding their access to quality education. Gender inequalities persist, with lower enrollment and higher dropout rates for girls. All indicators of access and participation show wide gaps  between girls and boys and between rural and urban areas and net enrolment rates for all levels are low with decline in numbers as the levels move from primary to middle and secondary.Cultural barriers, early marriages, and inadequate facilities, especially in rural areas, exacerbate challenges, hindering the overall development of education in the country.

Alternative Learning Pathways (ALP)

Alternative learning pathways  refers to educational programs and approaches that deviate from traditional formal schooling to non-formal education (NFE), literacy programs. The challenges in the alternative learning pathways (ALP) sector are rooted in historical neglect and a lack of prioritization in policy and reforms. Government institutions overseeing ALP face capacity issues leading to discrete and project-based interventions and lack of infrastructure that fall short in addressing the diverse needs of  learners.

Quality of Teaching Personnel

The varying quality and qualification of teachers in different education systems leads to differences in student performance. Teacher training institutes suffer from insufficient resources and outdated courses, which further deteriorates the performance and skills of teachers.

Implementation of Laws

Effective implementation of education laws in Pakistan faces significant obstacles, primarily due to inadequate implementation strategies and lack of provincial level regulations essential for proper implementation. The current education system is also hampered by a lack of effective coordination between the various ministries and departments responsible for implementation. Despite laws mandating children’s school attendance, there are no robust mechanisms in place to hold those responsible, including parents, education officials and local authorities, accountable when children are not enrolled or do not attend school.

Policy Commitments and SDG 4

While the federal government and all provinces of Pakistan have drawn up sectoral plans for the education sector, a review shows that there is a gap between the targets and actual progress. Failure to fulfill these plans affects the realization of provincial targets and SDG 4 for education.

Disasters and Emergencies

In Pakistan, where disasters such as floods and earthquakes have occurred repeatedly in the past, maintaining the continuity of education in emergencies is fraught with significant obstacles. The 2022 floods, causing extensive school destruction, hindered access to education leading to closures, displacement and the loss of key educational infrastructure, and children struggle with the long-term consequences.


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