State of school education in Pakistan (SGD 4)

"It needs to be ensured that the quality of teaching methodology, teachers and schooling is of international levels and having a personal and institutional approach towards sustainability of our future generations"

Education is key to making a person capable in expressing his or her individual choices and becoming empowered towards economic and political decision making in their household, community and the country. Education not only enhances intellectual capabilities of a person, but also if proper training is given, enhances their skills, productivity and income earning capabilities. Ten advantages of education are (1), that education creates more job opportunities for individuals, (2), Higher educated people can secure higher incomes, (3), gives individuals better skills to solve problems in the fast developing and changing world, (4), helps improve the economy, (5), provides opportunities to live a happy and prosperous life, (6), Allows people to give back to their communities in better ways, (7), helps create modern society in an optimum manner, (8), helps bridge the borders between states to create a conducive, peaceful neighbourhoods among nations, (9), creates equal opportunities for all with same skills, (10), Empowers individuals in the communities, work places and countries (Habitat for Humanity, 2022).

Researches show that nations where there is mass education for liberal arts, performing arts, philosophy, communication skills IT, and scientific know how have grown more rapidly than those nations like Pakistan that till today have a policy of ‘apartheid’ in education – a few state-of-the-art elite schools for the rich, sub-standard schools for the children of the poor that lack proper facilities, teachers and textbooks and then also, millions of children in Pakistan are out of school.

Pakistan’s lack of quality school education has created a knowledge gap between not only the urban and the rural parts of the country, but also between the rich and the poor strata of the economy. Which means that while the upper strata of the country is fast entering the modern age of information and knowledge, a large part of the country’s population, especially its children are deprived of schooling, or quality education. Almost 70% of the educational institutions in Pakistan are in the public sector and 30% are in the private sector. In Pakistan, the system of education has multiple issues like teachers who are unqualified or untrained in modern teaching methodologies, substandard textbooks, and outmoded teaching methodologies, also as most of these schools lack building, infrastructural, toilet, transport etc. facilities. Therefore, dropout rates in these schools are very high. Most of government (Public Sector) schools as well as private schools with low fee structures lack qualified teachers, lack teaching materials, lack teaching methodology and lack quality textbooks and even proper financing. In the country, there are madrassas (religious schools) teaching only Quran based-religious education that caters for the poor of the poor and creates extremist religious tendencies of various sects that exist and function in Pakistan. Also, there are upper-end private schools teaching in English and catering for O & A levels Cambridge exams, government schools and low-end private schools that are teaching in Urdu or regional languages and catering for matric exams and vocational institutes for a few hundred thousand poor children catering to the industry through skill certifications.

The Federal Budget of Pakistan 2022-2023 is envisaged at Rs12,400 billion, out of which current expenditures will be Rs11,400 billion. Out of the current expenditures, 4.65% would be spent on civil pensions and another 8.65% on military pension, a total of 13.3% of the budget on pensions, or on that part of the ‘past’ population that are not productive anymore and 7.7% would be spent on salaries of government employees (or the current productive generation). And only 1.2% of Pakistan’s Budget would be spent on education, or on the productivity of our future generation that have to, in the future, contribute to the productivity of the economy as well as the GDP growth rates in different employments and self-employments in the country.

Total primary schools in the country were 107,000 out of which 94 thousand (88%) were girl schools. Total middle schools in the country were 48.3 thousand, out which 27.7 thousand (57.3%) were girls’ school. Total high schools in the country were 32 thousand, out of which 14.3 thousand (44.7%) were girls’ schools, and total high secondary-inter schools were 6.1 thousand, out of which three thousand (49%) were girls’ schools. In 2019-2020, there were a total of 187,300 schools in Pakistan. Data shows that from 2005-2006 to 2019-2020 there was a decrease of 63.84 thousand schools in the country. While there was an increase in middle and high schools in the country of nine thousand each. The decrease was in primary schools with almost 50 thousand less primary schools during this 15-year period.

According to Economic Survey of Pakistan 2021-2022, that while 24.6 million children were enrolled in primary classes in the country, only 1.8 million reached high secondary levels. Therefore, a question can be asked – why 16.6 million children dropped out before reaching middle school and another 3.8 million dropped out before reaching high school and only 1.8 million passed their matric exam to reach intermediate classes. In 2021-2022, 22.8 million children of school-going age in Pakistan were not in schools. The majority of these out of-school children are girls. According to conservative estimates by the World Bank, at least one million more Pakistani children in addition to previous 22.8 million are likely to drop out of school by the end of the pandemic. According to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PSLM 2019-20), 16% urban while 28% rural children of Punjab are still out of school whereas percentage of out-of-school children is increasing. Rajanpur is the least performing district where school attendance is only 40%. Pakistani children currently spend 9.1 years in school on average, but they only accumulate 5.1 years of learning due to low quality of the school system.

The policy makers in Pakistan should realize that the world is changing, that the world has changed and in the near future only three actions would be sustainable, one, sustainable use of technology and energy; two, educate the children in methods of mitigating climate change through SDGs and three, sustainable use of natural resources and minimizing of wastages towards zero wastages. All this is the crux of SDGs, but data from Economic Survey and other relevant literature from Pakistan shows that the public sector school system and private schools for the relatively poorer section of the society are, neither capable to produce human resource needed for ushering Pakistan into the intricacies of the 21st century, nor has the capability of introducing productivity, as well as mitigating issues like climate change, SDGs etc, through the curriculum and respective syllabus for a sustainable, scientific and productive Pakistan in its near future.

Educationists in Pakistan understand that overall economic development and sustainability of this development and growth in Pakistan, as well as coming out of its debt trap and its dual deficits, i.e., fiscal deficit, balance of payments deficit, depends upon the investment on the future of the country, i.e., its children and their education that inculcates scientific thought and skills for the market, and depends upon teaching mitigation of climate change and environmental pollution through inculcation of SED and SDGs in the curriculum at each level of teaching from primary till PhD. It also includes teacher training in these essential subjects and tendencies.

It needs to be ensured that every child is in school, no one (boy, girl or transgender) is left behind and the quality of teaching methodology, teachers and schooling is of international levels and having a personal and institutional approach towards sustainability of our future generations through mitigating issues pertaining to environmental pollution, climate change as well as through knowledge of IT skills and SDGs. Otherwise, the country and its population would remain underdeveloped and unsustainable even in the future when the world is moving towards artificial intelligence and robotics for their economic progress.

Dr Qais Aslam, a former chairman of the Department of Economics at the Govt College University of Lahore, is now Professor of Economics at the University of Central Punjab in Lahore. With 36 years of teaching and research experience, he is author of two books and numerous research articles on Pakistan’s economy and a regular participant in TV talk shows on socio-political and economic issues. He can be reached at and on Twitter @drqais4.