Education in Pakistan: A Case of Neglect

Author Name: Mariam Siddiqui      02 Jan 2020     Government & Politics

“The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to sixteen years in such manner as may be determined by law”, says Section 9 of the Constitution Act, Article 25A.

After partition, Pakistan and India’s literacy rates lingered below 20 per cent. However, India made palpable progress and in 2011, its literacy rate stood at 69.2 per cent, whereas Pakistan’s was at 54.74 per cent. The most recent statistics of 2018 reveal the literacy score of the two neighbouring countries to be 74 and 58 per cent, respectively. After transitioning from East Pakistan to Bangladesh, the nation has shown prominent progress despite being younger and smaller. It made rapid growth in educating its people in the past few decades and now stands equal to India in its literacy rate. Pakistan is lagging behind both these nations; the question is, where did Pakistan go wrong, and what steps did it skip to improve the health of its education system?

The history of educational planning in Pakistan depicts that whether it was a military government or civil, policymakers always set targets with limited vision and kept on making hue and cry on the failure of previous policies. This has been the practice since the creation of Pakistan. This pattern makes it conspicuous that there is a serious lack of political will and commitment to education in Pakistan. A UNDP 2018 report placed Pakistan at 150th position out of 189 countries with HDI value of 0.562. In the region, only Afghanistan lags behind Pakistan; every other regional country has surpassed Pakistan in HDI value.

Pakistan is faced with a multitude of challenges in the education sector, the most important of all being the meagre budget allocation for education. Without investing a sizeable sum in education, the situation will worsen over time. Pakistan's public expenditure on education as percentage to GDP is estimated at 2.4 percent in the fiscal year 2018-19, which is the lowest in the region. According to budget documents, Rs 28.64 billion has been earmarked for the Higher Education Commission (HEC) under the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) for 2019-20 against Rs 35.830 billion in 2018-19, which was later revised down to Rs 30.961 billion, despite the fact that HEC had demanded Rs 55 billion under the PSDP for 2019-20. Education Affairs and Services have been allocated Rs 77.262 billion for 2019-20 as compared to Rs 97.155 billion in revised estimates of 2018-19. The bulk of expenditure at Rs 65.233 billion has been allocated for Tertiary Education Affairs and Services in the 2019-20 budget, which is 84.4 percent of the total allocation under this head. These figures show that the funds allocated for education is decreasing with time, along with the commitment of subsequent governments in educational reforms.

Pakistan has a huge population of out-of-school children (OOSC) which is the core reason behind the low literacy rate of the country. According to UNICEF, Pakistan currently has the world’s second-highest number of out-of-school children, with an estimated 22.8 million children aged 5-16 not attending school, representing 44 per cent of the total population in this age group. This is a big challenge to tackle. By focusing on how well children are doing in school, it is often neglected how well those children are doing who are out of school. Some of the reasons children drop out or don’t go to school in the first place include the families’ needs to keep children at home to help with farm work and other income-generating activities, as well as the lack of motivation to study among the children, and inability to pay the expenses related to education. The government can be seen out of action here leaving behind the responsibility awarded to it by the constitution.

Another major problem in Pakistan is the sub-standard quality of learning environment and lack of infrastructure for education. The poor quality of the existing learning environment is evident from the fact that a large number of schools are missing basic infrastructure, i.e. 37.7 per cent of schools up to elementary level are without boundary walls, 33.9 per cent without drinking water facility, 37 per cent without washrooms and around 60 per cent of schools are without electricity. The situation in the private schools is much better but they are out of the financial range of the poor. Therefore, the children of the poor predominantly attend public schools, where they have to face these issues which are definitely a hindrance in the provision of quality education.

In addition to this, under-qualified teachers, and often un-available teachers, in primary and secondary schools are also a cardinal issue behind the lower literacy rate of the country. Many sanctioned posts of teachers are vacant in the schools of Punjab and Balochistan. In the higher education sector, the situation is more or less the same.

On the contrary, education in India means the process of teaching, learning, and training of human capital in schools and colleges. This improves and increases knowledge and results in skill development, hence enhancing the quality of the human capital. The Indian government has always valued the importance of education in India and this is reflected in their economic policies. The percentage of expenditure on education out of total government expenditure is the indicator of the importance of education in the scheme of expenses before the government. The commitment level towards the development of education in India can be shown by the percentage of expenditure on education out of the total GDP. Between 1952 and 2010, the percentage of education expenditure out of total government expenditure has increased from 7.92 per cent to 11.10 per cent.

An overhauling of education policy is immediately required with new controls and effective measurement procedures. For higher accessibility of education, particularly in low-income households and to enhance enrolment, existing schools should be upgraded with the provision of necessary infrastructure to improve both the output and quality of education. As most of the population of Pakistan lives in rural areas, there is a dire need to keep a check on primary and secondary schools being run in villages. Many reports have surfaced which have depicted the rich landowners and politicians in rural areas are a major hurdle in the promotion of education. They fear that once the people will get educated, they will lose their grip and control on people and ultimately it would result in their downfall. Though India today is in a better position than Pakistan in the arena of literacy and education but it certainly is not the model for Pakistan to follow. Strong democratic norms and devolution of power to district level is one prominent way to help Pakistan in countering this crisis.


The writer is FDO at Centre for Aerospace and Security Studies (CASS). She can be reached at

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