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Six Key Challenges Faced by the Education Sector in Pakistan

Despite increase in budgets, enrollment in schools remains low, quality of learning is poor, and there are not enough buildings or teachers. Ali Abbas reviews the long-standing issues with education in Pakistan.


Even after years of investments, reforms and promises, the education sector remains weak in Pakistan. Data from the Pakistan Education Statistics (2015-16) report, Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2016, Alif Ailaan’s 2014 report titled “25 Million Broken Promises” and various other sources identify key trends and challenges in the education sector. The 6 biggest challenges are:

  1. Children Who Should be Enrolled Are Out of Schools

Overall enrolment increased from 42.9 million students in 2013-14, to 44.4 million in 2014-15, and to 47.5 million in 2015-16. In terms of children aged 5-16 years, enrolment increased from 27.3 million students in 2014-15 to 28.6 million students in 2015-16. An analysis based on stage in education is given below:

Source: Pakistan Education Statistics (2015-16)


A big challenge is the children who should be enrolled in school but are not. By focusing on how well children are doing at school, we limit our attention to those who are enrolled. But the number of out-of-school children is not small either. In fact, in 2015-16, while 28.6 million children aged 5-16 years were in school, 22.6 million were not.


Source: Pakistan Education Statistics (2015-16)


Most children in the out-of-school population are boys:

Source: Pakistan Education Statistics (2015-16)


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 lack of motivation to study among the children, and inability to pay the expenses related to education:

Source: “25 Million Broken Promises” (Alif Ailaan, 2014)


Balochistan has the highest percentage of children who are out of school, with Azad Jammu and Kashmir having the lowest, according to ASER’s rural data.

Source: Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2016


As expected, poorer children predominantly enrol in public schools, and richer students on average, tend to enrol in private schools.

Source: Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2016


  1. There Is Not Enough Infrastructure

Source: Pakistan Education Statistics (2015-16)


PES data shows that approximately 9% of schools do not have a building available. This implies that 9 out of 100 schools are held out in the open, putting students’ health at risk. Furthermore, even for schools that have buildings, a large number of them are in disrepair.

Further, only 58% of schools have access to electricity, and approximately 68% have access to drinking water (PES 2015-16).

Focusing on primary schools, private schools have better infrastructure as compared to public schools, as shown in the table below:

Source: Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2016


  1. Substantial Shortage of Trained Teachers
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The total number of teachers from primary to higher secondary levels has increased from 1.27 million in 2013-14 to 1.35 million in 2015-16. What is interesting to note is that while increasing amounts of money are being spent on teacher salaries for existing teachers, there is still a substantial shortage of teachers. The PES 2014-15 indicates that in Balochistan, a shocking 23.7% of sanctioned posts are vacant. For Punjab, the figure is as high as 16.5%. Figures for other regions are given in the table below. Data on sanctioned positions was unavailable for Sindh and Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT).


Sanctioned Filled-in Shortage % Not Filled
Punjab 384,700 321,064 63,636 16.5%
Sindh N/A 144,170 N/A N/A
Balochistan 60,171 45,881 14,290 23.7%
KPK 138,033 123,291 14,742 10.7%
FATA 21,655 19,450 2,205 10.2%
AJK 27,835 27,581 254 0.9%
GB 6,904 6,727 177 2.6%
ICT N/A 6,463 N/A N/A

Source: Pakistan Education Statistics (2014-15)


A large number of teachers are tasked with teaching students from different grades during a single session in one class room. This can affect student’s capacity to learn, given that students from different grades and learning levels are in the same class. It also affects the teacher’s ability to follow the curriculum of a given grade. In 2012, this number stood at 11.7% for urban schools and 22.1% for rural schools.


According to ASER 2016, this number is even higher. 44% of surveyed government schools and 29% of surveyed private schools had Class 2 students sitting with other

classes. 11% of surveyed government schools and 15% of surveyed private schools had Class 8 sitting with other classes.

These figures are even more problematic in the context of increased spending on teacher salaries across provinces over the years:


Table: Salary Expenditure as a Percentage of Education Salary Budget

Source: Pakistan’s Education Crisis – The Real Story


In terms of teacher qualification, 41% of teachers do not have a bachelor’s degree. 26% of teachers have a primary teaching certificate (PTC), while 16% of teachers have a Certificate of Teaching (CT).

Source: Status of Teachers in Pakistan (UNESCO & ITA, 2013)


  1. Quality of Learning Is Poor

Source: Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2016


The youth literacy rate in Pakistan in 2013-14 was 80.6% for males and 64% for females.

Source: Pakistan Education Statistics (2015-16)

In 2014, only 46% of boys aged 5-16 years could read a sentence in Urdu, or Sindhi/Pashto in Sindh/KP, respectively. This figure was even lower at 39% for girls. In 2016, these numbers are 43% for boys and 36% for girls, which implies that the quality of education in the country is getting worse (ASER 2016).

Similarly, in 2014, 49% of boys aged 5-16 years could read at least some words in English. This figure was lower at 42% for girls. In 2016, 40% of boys and 33% of girls could do the same, showing a significant drop.

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In terms of arithmetic, in 2014, 45% of boys aged 5-16 years could subtract. This figure was lower at 38% for girls. In 2016, these numbers are 44% for boys and 36% for girls.


  1. Curricula Needs to Change

Curricula in Pakistan are defined by rote-learning, with little emphasis laid on improving student’s critical thinking skills. Furthermore, when curricula is developed in languages that are not native to an area, the ability of students to learn is negatively affected. Research shows that learning in one’s mother tongue is most effective whereas studying a subject in another language presents the additional challenge of learning the language while also trying to understand the subject. Curriculum development has been a controversial issue in Pakistan, with textbook reform being an issue highly politicized. Beyond issues related to curricula, there is widespread cheating in formal exams that assess students’ proficiency in different subjects.


  1. Parents and School Committees are Ineffective

The concepts of Parent-Teacher Associations (PTAs), School Councils, and School Management Committees (SMCs) have been around since the 1990s. The key idea around such organizations is that increased participation and oversight of parents in school-level decisions and management can lead to accountability of teachers, increased ownership of local educational outcomes, and increased community integration which can be used to apply upwards pressure on district level educational staff for resolving local school-level issues. These organizations are also empowered to resolve issues such as hiring temporary teachers, making provisions for providing transport for students to schools, and fixing school infrastructure. However, doing so requires a series of bureaucratic hurdles, such as official bookkeeping, filling purchase and payment orders, developing formal school improvement plans etc.

In a context of low literacy and education, parents find it hard to navigate their way through these processes. Furthermore, these councils are vulnerable to capture by the elite, with the local powerholders such as landlords and community influentials dictating terms to parents on the council. Significant amounts of funds for such councils remain unspent.


What Should Be Done to Improve the Situation?

Pakistan is faced with a multitude of challenges in the education sector. These can be divided into quality (curriculum, teacher quality, learning environment, assessment) and quantity (school availability, increased enrolment, infrastructure and facilities, teacher availability). However, policymakers must prioritize the following three actions to start fixing the broken education system in the country:

  1. Break the nexus of local influentials-political parties-school teachers, who feed off each other and gain power and financial benefits at the expense of school children.
  2. Increase non-salary investments and direct them into school infrastructure, including school buildings, electricity, drinking water and availability of toilets and sanitation facilities, to foster a fertile learning environment for children.
  3. Reduce the bureaucratic red-tape around parent-teacher councils, school councils and school committees, so that parents are not prevented from fully participating in school activities due to illiteracy and lack of skills.

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