State of Education in Pakistan

By Mr. Abdus Sattar

Economic Progress and Investment in Human Capital

Schultz and Becker presented the concept of investment in human capital six decades ago. They proved that a high level of education is a necessary condition for economic growth. No country can make significant economic progress if majority of its citizens are illiterate.

The rapid economic development of East Asian Countries also attributed to their excellent system of education (Khan, 1997). Particularly investing in primary, secondary and higher education pays 20%, 14% and 11% returns respectively, which is higher than many other sectors of economy (World Bank, 1994). According to Summers (1992) by incurring a recurrent cost of one year of education for 1,000 women, the expenditure is US$ 30,000 whereas the benefits are USD 88,000. There can be no other development expenditure with a higher benefit in relation to cost. Psacharopoulos and Patrinos (2004) have reviewed and presented the estimates of the returns to education for 98 countries and concluded that “overall, the average rate of return to another year of schooling is 10 percent”.

Pakistan’s Situation

Similar studies conducted in Pakistan conclude that the average rate of return to another year of schooling is 5 to 7 percent (Jamal, 2015). The constitution of Pakistan allows free and compulsory education for the children of ages (5-16) years. After the 18th constitutional amendment (2010) education has become a provincial subject, but federal government has always played an imperative role in this regard.

The overall literacy rate was 18% while male and female literacy rate was 19%, 12% respectively in 1951 in Pakistan. It augmented to 60%, 71%, and 49% respectively in 2018-19.Pakistan is ranked 152 out of 189 countries in the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Human Development Index (HDI) ranking. The Human Development Report 2019 stated that Pakistan has not exhibited improvement in key educational indicators, such as literacy rate, gross enrolment ratio, and expenditure on education, as compared to regional countries.

Pakistan’s literacy rate 57 percent lags well behind its neighboring countries. The primary school dropout rate is 22.7 percent (3rd highest in the region after Bangladesh and Nepal), which is alarming given it as at the stage of formative learning (Economic Survey of Pakistan, 2019-20).The United Nations Global Education Monitoring Report 2016, concluded that Pakistan is 50 years in primary education while 60 years behind in secondary education to achieve the education goals. The number of children at primary, secondary and upper secondary level still from out of school were 5.6, 5.5, 10.4 million respectively. This is an alarming and mind boggling situation for the whole nation. Why this happened? Let us try to find out the answer of the question.

Why Has This Happened?

The root cause of the problem started from colonialism. Under the policy of divide and rule, they divided education among rich and poor. They dismantled the traditional education system and introduced an English education system. It had no link with the domestic education system and had its own foreign curriculum and exams. Educational institutions that followed this system were established in the region. The purpose of those institutions was to educate elite class only. Unfortunately, the educated elite class from those institutions indulged in a false complex and considered themselves a superior class.

This created a sense of deprivation among the poor class. The elite class always enjoyed power and wealth in the region. The volume of the elite class also enlarged with the passage of time. They strengthened the planted English education system for their future generations too. The colonialism physically disappeared from the region. But it could not vanish from hearts, minds and souls. The discriminatory English education system that persists today is the product of colonial rule. As a result, multiple education systems have emerged in the country.

A Non-elite Education System

The non-elite education system (Urdu Medium) was only for masses. It had plethora of impediments. It was geared towards preparing a working class from the middle, lower middle and the poor class. They spent their whole life struggling for a living, and accepted it as fate from generation to generation. Unfortunately, that class never became the part of the elite education system during or after the colonial rule. But the demonstration effect of the elite education system created a panic among the masses with the passage of time.

So in the name of English Medium, there was a mushrooming of local private schools in rural and urban areas. The local English medium schools attracted the middle class. But they could not help the poor class to catch up due to their poor economic condition. They started more or less ten education policies for the betterment of non elite education system that did not fully achieve their goals. So education became a dream for the poor class.  

Emergence of an Illiterate Class

An illiterate class also came into existence with the passage of time. Out of a total of 52 million children between the ages of (5-16) years, as many as 23 million 44 percent were out of school. On average, at the primary to secondary level, 50% girls were out of school compared with 40% of boys. The highest number of children out of school were in Baluchistan (70%). FATA (57%), Sindh (52%), AJK & GB (47%), Punjab (40%), KPK (34%) and Islamabad (12%) fare somewhat better [Pakistan Education Statistics 2016-17]. More than 12.5 million children in the age group of (10-14) years are involved in labor force in which 61 percent were boys and 88 percent coming from rural areas of Pakistan.The reason of this phenomenon is that 38% of population still living below the poverty line (Jamal,2017).

There is scarcity of schools, wherein for every 13 primary schools, there is only 1 middle school. There is also a shortage of teachers — around 50% of primary schools in Sindh and Baluchistan and 29% in Pakistan as a whole have only one teacher (Pakistan Education Statistics, 2017). According to Economic Survey of Pakistan 2018-19, public expenditure on education has been estimated at 2.4 percent of GDP while literacy rate was 62 percent in Pakistan. In Vietnam and Malaysia public spending on education was 5.3%, 4.7% of GDP having literacy rate 92.5%, 92.1% respectively (Pakistan Economic Survey 2009-10). In Pakistan the public expenditure on education has hovered at than 3 percent since independence.

Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 has devastated the developed as well as the developing economies in the world. It has also changed the daily human life style. It adversely effected the education too. All educational institutions remained close during COVID-19. But some people are talking about reopening the educational intuitions with Sops. As we all know that most of the people are not fully following the SOPs. How can we expect from students to follow the SOPs during COVID-19? The lives of the students are more precious than educational loss. The government has initiated the idea of teleschool to compensate the academic loss of students during COVID-19. Some educational intuitions have started online education. But all the educational intuitions cannot follow the same exercise due certain constraints. It needs a strong will and heavy finances.


  1. It would be highly appreciable if complete reference list is also provided with the article. Just in case anyone wants to make a reference to this blog.

  2. It gives us a knowledge of current situation of edu in Pakistan n reasons behind the decline in education .a good one for those who want to learn about Pak edu system

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