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Pakistan’s literacy deplorably low when compared to its neighbors

Pakistan withstands the burden of one of the most illiterate countries of Asia. About half of the male population is illiterate and two third of the female population can’t even write their names. Pakistan with its 58.7 percent literacy rate is even lower than Nepal and Bangladesh, which has literacy, rates of 64.7 and 61.5 percent respectively. Countries like the Maldives and Sri Lanka have achieved far more impressive results given that above 90 percent of the population in both these countries is literate. India has a 61 percent literacy rate, despite its enormous population.


Balochistan has the lowest average since only 33 percent of the province is literate compared to the national average of over 50 percent. Moreover, only 27 percent of women in Balochistan are literate. The lack of sufficient infrastructure in the form of school buildings and facilities, low professional capacity of teachers uneven teacher-student ratios, lack of teaching aids, as well as low public awareness concerning the value of education, all contribute towards continuation of low educational rates at the ground level.

The parts that now constitute Pakistan were among the least developed regions of India and the rest of the world prior to 1947, and the last to be conquered by the British, according to an eminent Pakistani economist Dr. Kaiser Bengali. The British rule in Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa lasted about 100 years and these regions were considered the periphery of the British Raj in India. At the time of the first census in 1950, the overall literacy rate was 20 percent in India and 14 percent in Pakistan, according to UNESCO.

As of 2012, India has achieved 75 percent literacy rate while Pakistan is at 58 percent. Pakistan youth (15-24 years) literacy rate is 79.1 percent for males and 61.5 percent for females. Each new generation of Pakistanis is more literate than its predecessors:

  • Over 55 years 30 percent literate
  • 45-55 years 40 percent
  • 35-45 years 50 percent
  • 25-35 years 60 percent
  • 15-25 years 70 percent

Pakistan has come a long way in terms of literacy but it still lags its neighbors, particularly Iran, which had lower literacy rate than Pakistan in 1950s, now has well over 90 percent of its adult population literate according to UNESCO report.

Education was a key focus of the Shah Reza Shah Pehlavi, the Shah of Iran from 1941 to 1979. The Shah invested a significant chunk of his country’s oil revenues to improve education, health care and infrastructure. Iran’s education spending increased 1800 percent during the Shah’s rule.


Although literacy in Pakistan has grown by about 13 percent during President Mushsarraf’s rule to about 56 percent, it still remains deplorably low when compared to its neighbors.

Pakistanis now spend more time in schools and colleges and graduate at a higher rate than their Indian counterparts in 15+ age group, according to a report on educational achievement by Harvard University researchers Robert Barro and Jong-Wha Lee.

As of 2010, there are 380 out of every 1000 Pakistanis age 15 and above who have never had any formal schooling. Of the remaining 620 who enrolled in school, 22 dropped out before finishing primary school, and the remaining 598 completed it. There are 401 out of every 1000 Pakistanis who made it to secondary school. 290 completed secondary school while 111 dropped out. Only 55 made it to college out of which 39 graduated with a degree.

India’s overall schooling rate of 67.4 percent exceeds Pakistan’s 61.9 percent in 15 and over age group. Pakistan’s primary schooling rate of 21.8 percent is slightly higher than India’s 20.9 percent of 15+ age group. India has a big edge with its secondary enrollment of 40.7 percent over Pakistan’s 34.6 percent, but India’s completion rate at this level is a dismal 0.9 percent versus Pakistan’s 22.5 percent of the population of 15+ age group.

India’s tertiary education enrollment rate of 5.8 percent is higher than Pakistan’s 5.5 percent, but Pakistan’s college and university graduation rate of 3.9 percent is higher than India’s 3.1 percent of 15+ age group.

Pakistan’s combined graduation rate at all three levels is 45.7 percent versus India’s 22.9 percent among the population age group of 15 years or older.

UNESCO’s Global Education Digest shows that, as of 2009, nearly 16 percent of Pakistan’s adult population has completed higher education, higher than the figures of 12 percent for India and 8 percent for Indonesia among emerging markets.

Barro-Lee data also shows that the percentage of 15+ age group with no schooling has gone down in both nations in the last decade, particularly in Pakistan where it dropped dramatically by a whopping 22 percent from 60.2 percent in 2000 to 38 percent in 2010. In India, this percentage with no schooling dropped from 43 percent to 32.7 percent of 15+ age group.

Here is some data on out-of-school children in Pakistan:

  • The actual number of out of school children of primary age in Pakistan is 5.1 million.
  • The out-of-school figures of 50 percent in Punjab, 61 percent in Sindh, 65 percent in KPK and 78 percent in Balochistan are for pre-primary children ages 3 to 5 years, not for ages 6-16 years.
  • In 6-16 years age group, 7 percent of urban and 23 percent of rural children are out of school.
  • The number of out-of-school children has declined from in 8.4 million in 2001 to 5.1 million in 2010.
  • According to Pakistan Standards of Living Measurements PSLM 2011-12, the country’s literacy rate is 58 percent.
  • Data from Harvard researchers Rober Barro and Jhong-Wa Lee shows that Pakistan has been increasing enrollment of students in schools at a faster rate since 1990 than India.
  • In 1990, there were 66.2 percent of Pakistanis vs. 51.6 percent of Indians who had no schooling.
  • In 2000, there were 60.2 percent Pakistanis vs. 43 percent Indians with no schooling.
  • In 2010, Pakistan reduced it to 38 percent vs. India’s 32.7 percent.

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