Sep 10 - 16, 2007


Education has never been Pakistan's strong point. Prevailing system collapsed slowly and at times its progressive deterioration was not even noticed by the people who later were to be most affected by it. This disintegration occurred for several reasons. The process began in three fairly distinct phases with each phase leaving a deep impression on the educational system. The first phase began in 1972 when the administration of Mr. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto nationalized 80% of private educational institutions. This action increased the number of schools run by the government without increasing any funds to education. The second phase occurred also during the time of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto when he allowed the politicization of college and university campuses in order to build support for himself and his party among the country's students. The third phase brought Islam into the educational system. In the 1980s while Pakistan was helping the United States expel the Soviet Union troops from Afghanistan, Military ruler Zia-ul-Haq allowed a number of foreign governments to set up Dini-Madrassahs or religious schools. These institutions provided instruction only in religion and ignored all other aspects of education.

Another unhappy development to affect the sector of education was the political confusion that prevailed in the country for more than a decade, from the death of President Zia ul-Haq in August 1988 to the return of the military under General Pervez Musharraf in October 1999. In this period four elected governments and three interim administrations govern the country. Preoccupied with prolonging their stay, the elected governments paid little attention to economic development in general and social development in particular. Under the watch of these administrations, public sector education deteriorated significantly.

As a matter of fact the failure of Pakistan to educate its young was the result of the failure of the state to provide basic services to the people.


The result of inconsistent policies and measures came out to be grim for education in Pakistan. The system has now given rise to three kinds of schools: the elite private institutions that cater to the upper class; the government-run schools serving the lower echelons of the population and the Madrassah, the religious school. At the top are the students who have received reasonably good education from western-style institutions that operate mostly for profit. They count for perhaps 5 percent of the student body in the five to 18 year age group of some 70 million people. At the bottom are the religious schools that provide education to an equal number of students. In between is 90 percent of the student population dependent on a public system that is inefficient and corrupt. It is, in other words, dysfunctional. Before addressing the important subject of the remedies that are available to improve the educational system, we should take a look at the situation as it is today.

There are several ways of assessing the status of an educational system in the developing world. Among the more frequently used indicators are adult literacy rates for both men and women in various parts of the country; enrolment rates for both girls and boys at different levels of education and in different areas of the country; the drop out rates at different levels of education; the number of years boys and girls spend in schools; the amount of resources committed to education as a proportion of the gross domestic product, particularly by the public sector; the amount of money spent on items other than paying for teachers' salaries; and, finally, some measure of the quality of education provided.

To these indicators, one should also add the quality of data and information available about education. Unfortunately, Pakistan's record is relatively poor on all these counts, including the quality and reliability of the data which makes it difficult to provide a reasonably accurate description of the state of affairs in the sector.

The latest information available for Pakistan suggests an adult literacy rate of only 43.5 per cent for the entire population above the age of 15 years. The rates for Sri Lanka and India are considerably higher than for Pakistan; 92.1 per cent and 61.3 per cent respectively. Of the South Asian countries, only Bangladesh has a slightly lower rate, 41.1 per cent. Since the level of literacy has a profound impact on the quality of human development, Pakistan ranks 142 in terms of the UNDP's Human Development Index. Sri Lanka ranks at 96, India at 127, and Bangladesh at 138.


Pakistan inherited a high standard of education from the Britsh. Schools and colleges were only in cities and the cost of education was relatively high but the institutions kept a high standard of education. Most of the schools were run by convents or private British organizations.

In the late 1940s and up to the early 1970s, Pakistan had a reasonably efficient system of education, not much different from other countries of the South Asian subcontinent. It was dominated by the public sector; educational departments in the provinces administered schools and colleges while a small number of public sector universities provided post graduate instruction. The private sector was active at the two extreme ends of the educational spectrum. On the one end were missionary schools and colleges specializing in western-style liberal education. At the opposite end were religious schools, called dini madrassas that imparted religious instruction. Some of the better institutions belonging to this genre were either imports from India or were patterned after the old madrassas in what was now the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. The best known of these were the Darul Uloom at Deoband and Darul Uloom Haqqania. The private schools catered mostly to the elite while the religious schools produced imams (preachers) for the mosques or teachers for the madrassa system of education. These two systems are producing two different social classes with very different world views and views about the way Pakistan should be managed. The two groups are now clashing in the political and social arena.

Pakistan's checkered history of investment and planning in education began immediately after independence in 1947 with the consideration of "such immediate projects (as) the provision of Senior All-India Polytechnics on the lines of Massachusetts Institute of Technology". But now more than half a century later, that "consideration" still has no hope of being implemented. The next major educational policy effort was National Commission on Education, 1959. The portions of this report on higher and technical education are a serious attempt to grapple with the problems of university education and still remain extremely relevant.

After the National Commission on Education 1959, came Education Policies of 1970, 1972, 1979, 1992 and 1998. Each one of these reports had its own bag of unrealistic (and ultimately unrealized) targets. However they all shared the belief that by the fiat of a minister, the stroke of a pen, without sound planning and investment, higher education would take care of itself. Some exacerbated the situation by recommending that new universities should be opened when it was obvious that the existing ones were not functioning (The Education Policy 1972-1980). Alongside these Education Policies, Pakistan Government also produced eight Five-Year Plans.


Pakistan has a long history of failed reforms. Inappropriate policies of governments always gave lethal blows to the very spirit of the whole system and segmented the society ruthlessly. The first jolt was given in the early 1970s by government headed by Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto served between 1971 to 1977 as Pakistan's President. He was also the country's Chief Martial Law Administrator (1971-73) and later Prime Minister (1973-77). Bhutto decided to nationalize private schools, in particular those run by various Christian missionary orders. His motive was simple. He was of the view that private schools encouraged elitism in the society whereas he wanted equality and equal opportunity for all. When the government of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto came to power in 1971, planning was virtually bypassed. The Fourth Five-Year Plan (1970-75) was abandoned as East Pakistan became independent Bangladesh. Under Bhutto, only annual plans were prepared, and they were largely ignored. In the 1970s, the multitude of fundamental education needs began to be more fully addressed both by the government and the World Bank.


It can undoubtedly be argued that the negative outcomes of Bhutto's nationalization program outnumbered its benefits. Some of the critical consequences of the policy are outlined as follows:

i- Increase in Expenditure: The whole scheme of nationalization proved to be a financial burden on the education department. The mass education could not attain much success because of the financial constraints, as the major loophole in the nationalization was the immense increase in the government expenditure.

ii- Decline in Standard of Education: Nationalization in no way helped to raise the standard of education, it rather led to inefficiency and decline by all means. All segments of society as a result experienced undesired results.

iii- Reduction in rate of Primary Education: The net result of privatization was that the government failed to achieve any more success in the universalization of primary education for both sexes.

iv- Quick Benefits to Teachers Community: This policy promised well for the teachers and lecturers working in the private institutions because they were absorbed in government service, with good pay-scale, security of service, etc.

Teachers employed in such enterprises gained greater job security and more benefits, with less pressure to work hard since it became very difficult to terminate the services of even the most inefficient employees. Productivity was no longer the main criterion for personnel decisions in the public enterprises and the economy, on the whole, suffered from the nationalization policy.

v- Abrupt Reversal of Policy: Gen Zia reversed the nationalization policy, and wanted to Islamic the entire education system. He took a number of steps in this direction, bringing, in the process, the entire system under the control of the rulers. This closed all paths to liberal, secular and scientific education. Every successive government enforced its own dictate without considering the consequences. The Government of Z.A. Bhutto nationalized all private and missionary educational institutions in the mid 70's General Zia-ul-Haq further added insult to injury by introducing a syllabus leaning more towards Islam and Urdu as well as eliminating Civic from the syllabus. From there on our nation produced postgraduate students who could not write a simple application in English, yet flash their Masters in English Degree with pride

vi- Madrassah System: In nationalizing education, Bhutto also carved out an exception, allowing the Islamic boarding schools -- madrassas -- to remain free of state control.

Politicization: Bhutto was also responsible for delivering the system another shock and the motive was political expediency. Bhutto and the Islamists-chose to use the college and university campuses to fight the battle for the control of the political mind in the country. Both sought to mobilize the student body by establishing student organizations representatives of their different points of view. For a number of years campuses of the publicly run institutions became the battle ground for gaining political influence at the expense of providing education. Politicization took the form of increased political activity on the part of student organizations representing various political parties. It was the Islamic parties that gained the most in the battle to influence the campuses.

vii- Retrogressive Effects on Owners & Management of Institutions: The owners and managers of missionary schools were seriously affected by this decision and a great harm was that further private institutions ceased to open. Unlike teachers the management of these schools was badly demotivated. The expertise and knack of these professional held to serve the society any more. There emerged a stagnancy in the whole system due to drain of these brains out of the sphere.

viii- Origin (and later proliferation) of Quota System: The government then wasted little time in quickly dissolving these schools into nothingness. The resulting mediocrity soon gave way to apathy, a phenomenon further compounded by the "quota system." This got deep rooted and undermined the basis of transparent access to higher education. This obstacle in the way of an equitable merit-based system exists even today.

ix- Direct Beneficiaries of Nationalization: The main beneficiaries of this policy were the prominent government leaders, their family members and supporters, the bureaucrats, laborers of state-owned industries, and the employees of state-owned banks and insurance companies. These leaders were able to have their relatives and supporters appointed to various positions in the new "industrial/commercial empire" acquired by the government. "Provincial governments and local politicians forced the absorption of an uneconomic number of employees in the state sector

x- Unrealistic Goals: The New Education Policy in 1972, under Islamic Socialist Z A Bhutto, regime, announced free universal education up to grade 10, achievement of UPE up to grade 5 for boys by 1979 and girls by 1984, and UPE up to grade 7 for boys by 1982 and for girls by 1987. The education system, however, lacked the capacity to address these increasingly ambitious goals, and instead fell into the previous patterns of inadequate funding and uncoordinated policy implementation.


Eventually all these institutions came under state control and absorbed the jerks and shocks given in following eras. However by dint of effort and with the passage of time system gained some ground and started producing quality graduates. Government run these institutions for the last 30 years. Some of these expanded enormously. Much government and public funding was invested in them after nationalization.

After three decades once again government decided all of a sudden to privatize these institutions on the plea of World Bank pressure. This denationalization is now again destabilizing the foundations of institutions. Most of the reputable institutions are already denationalized by now. But the question is whether it is advisable to denationalize them now? It is reasoned that education department cannot cope with the quantum of work, and there is pressure from IMP and World Bank to reduce the burden of the government and privatize education as early as possible. Instead of following the dictate of international financial institutions, the government should try to rationalize the situation.

The literacy rate in Pakistan is soaring at an exteremly low level. In the past, education has been treated on the least priority because there were "more pressing needs" in other sectors. More than 46 per cent of the population lives below poverty line. They cannot afford to send their children even to government schools. The denationalized schools will follow their own agenda of profit and loss. The fee structure will be changed so as to earn maximum profit. It will go beyond the reach of the common man. These institutions are being handed back to their previous managements or owners. After the passage of three decades, how many previous managers or owners would be still alive or active to run these institutions? Their hirelings would try to grab them on very soft terms and perpetuate their exploitation.

Under these circumstances, the only rational course left is to retain these institutions and give concessions to old managements or owners to start new schools and colleges. After all, even in developed countries both state and private institutions exist side-by-side. On the one hand, we want to boost up our literacy rate and, on the other hand, we are undertaking retrogressive measures of making education available to the rich few.

Discontented with the present denationalization policy, teachers and students are out in the streets and, instead of withdrawing the unwise step of denationalization, the government is trying to suppress their demonstration with brute force. It is shameful to publicly beat male and female teachers and then to expect that the country would make advancement in the field of education.


The primary measures which are to be taken for rectification of the system are given as follows:

i- It is high time for worlds don't agencies to extend generous aid to Pakistan so as to enable it to generate rightly skilled people who can be active and positive contributors to a modern economy.

ii- Need of the hour is to give attention to public sector institutions because this system caters to more than 90% of school going age. Reforming it is of critical importance.

iii- Madrassah system should be attended diligently and watchfully. It would be imprudent to ignore this part of the system as it has far reaching consequences over social system also.

iv- Appropriate use of money injected by donors should e ensured. Mere throwing of money can not resolve the issue without well thought out systematic reforms.

v- Private sector also has an important role to play in restructuring the education system. This is the area in which the large and well endowed communities of Pakistan can also participate.


To put the educational system back on track will need more than money; it will require a change in the way our society views education and in the way it is prepared to deliver knowledge that would be useful in the market place. The education system must aim to change the general mindset so that all citizens begin to recognize that it is not right to barely concentrate superfluous dimensions of life but to become productive and active participants in all fields.

Pakistan's educational system requires an almost total overhaul. It will not be reformed simply by the deployment of additional resources. This has been tried several times before by the donor community under the auspices of the World Bank's Social Action Program and that did not succeed. What is required now is a well thought out and comprehensive approach that deals with all facets of the system.