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Findings and surveys: State of primary education in Pakistan

Education has become a central element of the countries’ growth strategies including economic development. Improvements in education need to enable all children to have access to quality education without discrimination and to achieve the skills and knowledge they will need for effective social and labor market integration. Access, equity and quality of education are very important considerations while analyzing the effectiveness of an education system. For each of these important parameters, there are a number of indicators which can determine the level of access, equity and quality.

According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Human Capital Report 2017 report, Pakistan clearly isn’t the best country for acquiring education and skills development. In fact, it is ranked 125th out of a total of 130 countries according to the report. The rankings were based on the country’s educational infrastructure and how well they perform when it comes to learning and skill development. The grading schema for the countries comprised of four sub-indexes namely: capacity, deployment, development and know-how. Each country was scored out of 100 based on these categories. The report consisted of a detailed analysis of the human capital of 130 countries.

Article 25-A of Constitution of Pakistan obligates the state to provide free and compulsory quality education to children of the age group 5 to 16 years. “The state shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to sixteen years in such a manner as may be determined by law”.

The education system in Pakistan is generally divided into six levels: preschool (for the age from 3 to 5 years), primary (grades one through five), middle (grades six through eight), high (grades nine and ten, leading to the Secondary School Certificate or SSC), intermediate (grades eleven and twelve, leading to a Higher Secondary School Certificate or HSSC), and university programs leading to undergraduate and graduate degrees.

The literacy rate ranges from 85% in Islamabad to 23% in the Torghar District. Literacy rates vary regionally, particularly by sex. In tribal areas female literacy is 9.5%., while Azad Jammu & Kashmir has a literacy rate of 74%. Moreover, English is fast spreading in Pakistan, with more than 92 million Pakistanis (49% of the population) having a command over the English language. On top of that, Pakistan produces about 445,000 university graduates and 10,000 computer science graduates per year. Despite these statistics, Pakistan still has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world and the second largest out of school population (5.1 million children) after Nigeria.

Only 87% of Pakistani children finish primary school education. The standard national system of education is mainly inspired from the British system. Pre-school education is designed for 3–5 years old and usually consists of three stages: Play Group, Nursery and Kindergarten (also called ‘KG’ or ‘Prep’). After pre-school education, students go through junior school from grades 1 to 5. This is followed by middle school from grades 6 to 8. At middle school, single-sex education is usually preferred by the community, but co-education is also common in urban cities.

Sadly the quality of education has a declining trend. Shortage of teachers and poorly equipped laboratories have resulted in the outdated curriculum that has little relevance to present day needs. The education is based just on cramming and the students lack professional skills as well as communication skills when they are graduated from an institute. Moreover the universities here are too much expensive, due to which the Pakistani students can’t afford a university to get higher education. Moreover, the universities here don’t provide skills that have a demand in market.

The education system of Pakistan is comprised of 317,323 institutions accommodating 50,292,570 students and 1,836,584 teachers. The system is composed of 196,998 public institutions and 120,273 private institutions. The public sector is serving 28.68 million students to complete their education while the remaining 21.60 million students are in private sector of education. About 38% of private educational institutions are serving or facilitating 43% of students showing a slightly higher per-institution enrollment ratio in the private sector compared to the public sector. In the last decade, we have witnessed increased public interest and trust in the private sector, resulting in a gradual growth in the private sector.

10In terms of teaching staff, 49% of teachers work in the public institutions, compared to 51% in the private sector. It is evident that the public sector has a deficiency of teachers as compared to private sector. Further research is required to determine the causes behind this deficiency. 56% male students compared to 44% female students are enrolled in education institutions. Whereas 39% of male teachers and 61% of female teachers teach in the entire education system (up-to degree colleges). Ratio of male teachers is higher in public sector whereas ratio of female teachers is higher in private sector.


The gender discrimination in education occurs among the poorest households but is non-existent among rich households. Only 18% of Pakistani women have received 10 years or more of schooling. Among other criticisms, the Pakistani education system is facing the gender disparity in enrollment levels. However, in recent years some progress has been made in trying to fix this problem. In 1990-91, the female to male ratio (F/M ratio) of enrollment was 0.47 for primary level of education. It reached to 0.74 in 1999-2000, showing the F/M ratio has improved by 57.44% within the decade. For the middle level of education it was 0.42 in the start of decade and increased to 0.68 by the end of decade, so it has improved almost 62%. In both cases the gender disparity is decreased but relatively more rapidly at middle level.

National Education Management Information System (NEMIS) gives a complete picture of net enrolment and out‐of‐school children for all provinces and federating units in both the public sector (formal and non‐formal) and private sector. The current population census was conducted in 2017, however, age‐wise population figures are not yet published. As a result, all demographic calculations for subsequent years must use population projections based on the 1998 census. For the purpose of this report, projections of National Institute of Population Studies (NIPS) based on 1998 population census for the year 2016 have been used. For the enrolment, adjusted net enrolment figures have been taken. According to NIPS projections, there are currently 51.53 million children in Pakistan between the ages of 5 and 16 years. Among this group, only 28.68 million children are attending schools from pre‐primary upto higher secondary in both public and private sectors, leaving 22.84 million children out of school.

10There are currently 5.06 million children of primary‐school age are out of school. At the middle, high and higher secondary level, the out of school children are 6.51 million, 4.97 million and 6.29 million respectively.

In addition to the above, there are around 30,000 non-formal basic education schools and 45,680 middle schools (public as well as private) with primary section. Besides, we have more than 32,272 Deeni Madaris (Madrassas). Most of these Deeni Madaris teach national, primary education curricula in addition to Islamic teachings (Deeni Taleem).

Gender Parity Index (GPI) is 0.86. Survival Rate to grade 5 is around 66%. Pupil-Teacher Ratio 32 and Pupil-Class Room Ratio 44. Overall percentage (Public + Private) of female teachers in primary education is 51%. More than half (54%) primary schools have electricity. 67% schools have drinking water; 68% have latrines, and 72% have boundary wall. We are spending average 35-40% of education budget on primary education.

The research studies and surveys indicate that the quality of education at primary level of education is not satisfactory. Hardly 40% children have minimum required competency in Languages, Mathematics and Science. Health and Nutrition studies of Primary age group children indicate that the status of health and nutrition of the children is not satisfactory. Stunting rate is more than 40% in Pakistan.

Issues and Challenges:
  • The major issues and challenges confronting primary education in Pakistan, inter alia, are as follows:-
  • High population growth and inadequacy of facilities and services to cater the needs of ever growing primary education age group population.
  • Low enrolment/participation rate and large number of out of school children due to poverty, high opportunity cost, child labour, non-availability of schools at access-able distance, security issues, parents illiteracy and social taboos etc.
  • High dropouts and low completion/survival rate due to lack of teacher’s commitment, teacher’s absenteeism, unattractive school environment, harsh treatment of children, missing basic facilities and services in school, natural calamities and disasters etc.
  • Low quality of education due to teachers incompetence and lack of commitment, overburdened curriculum, use of foreign language as medium of instructions, archaic and obsolete teaching methodology, non-availability of teaching-learning and instructional materials, low quality textbooks, rote memorization instead of activity based learning for development of innate faculties of child, lax monitoring and supervision, ineffective assessment and evaluation etc.
  • Governance and management issues include lack of coordination amongst public, private, formal non-formal schools and Deeni Madaris; lack of community involvement and participation; ineffective school leadership; ghost and dysfunctional schools; and human resource development issues etc.
  • Financial issues include low allocations as compared to the needs and requirements for universalization of primary education, low allocation/expenditure for quality of education improvement and low absorptive capacity of the system.
  • Missing facilities in existing schools is another serious issue which need to be addressed on priority basis.
The author, Mr. Nazir Ahmed Shaikh, is a freelance columnist. He is an academician by profession and writes on diversified topics. Currently he is associated with SZABIST as Registrar and could be reached at  registrar@szabist.edu.pk.

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