Education in Pakistan: A historical socio-cultural perspective >> Part 6: Education in Present-Day Pakistan

Today’s post is the final post in a six-part series reviewing the historical and current context of education in Pakistan. These posts include:

  1. Introduction
  2. Ancient India – Hindu and Buddhist Influences
  3. Islamic Influences
  4. British Influences
  5. A Separate Nation
  6. Education in Present-Day Pakistan (this post)

Some of the information in this series is drawn from the book, “Going to School in South Asia” edited by Amita Gupta, interwoven with my own understandings of context, values, and beliefs in Pakistan.

Children at school in Sindh, Pakistan. Copyright Sadaf Shallwani. All rights reserved.

Children at school in Sindh, Pakistan. Copyright Sadaf Shallwani. All rights reserved.

Education in Present-Day Pakistan

Education Policy

When Pakistan was established as its own nation in 1947, the country had a weak administrative infrastructure and meagre financial resources (Ali & Farah, 2007). Free and compulsory education by the government was recommended in 1947 at the first educational conference. In 1971, the country’s constitution affirmed education as a universal right, with at least 10 years of education to be provided by the government. While there were mass increases in the provision of schooling, quality was and remains poor, particularly at schools serving rural areas, girls, and children from poor families.

The federal Ministry of Education in Pakistan is responsible for overall policy-making, advisory, and coordinating. Provincial departments of education are responsible for provincial policy making, implementation of both federal and provincial policies, and disbursement of budget. Government schools are managed at the district level, with Executive District Officers of Education (EDOE) responsible for planning, budgets, and management of schools. District Officers of Education (DOE) handle different portfolios such as primary education and teacher training. Assistant District Officers (ADOs) and their teams are responsible for managing education at a more local level – including inspection and supervision.

National education policy in Pakistan tends to be influenced by both local priorities and the influences of international donors and international development agencies. Education policies sometimes change in fundamental ways in a short period of time, according to the government in power as well as external and local influences. For example, policy around Urdu as the medium of instruction at schools has changed a few times in a short period of time. Moreover, NGOs often supplement government efforts in education. Thus, funds and directions are often short-term and inconsistent, resulting in the unsustainability of many reform initiatives.

Education System

In Pakistan today, formal education is partitioned into four levels: primary schools from Grades 1 to 5, middle schools from Grades 6 to 8, high schools for Grades 9 and 10, and college for two years to reach Intermediate level. After Intermediate, students can do two or three more years in college to get a Bachelor’s degree or go on to professional colleges. Bachelor’s degrees can be followed by Master’s degrees and then PhD degrees.

Four major types of schools exist in present-day Pakistan (Ali & Farah, 2007):

  • Government schools: These schools are owned and operated by the government, and follow the national curriculum and examination system. The government is responsible for the school building, prescribing and providing textbooks, hiring teachers, teacher salaries, and monitoring and supervision. While there are no or only nominal school fees, families must pay for other expenses such as notebooks, stationary, and uniforms. In most government schools, Urdu is the medium of instruction, although it is not the home language for many students. In Sindh, many schools are also Sindhi medium. English is taught as a compulsory subject. Government schools have limited resources and quality is often inadequate – particularly in rural areas. These schools mostly serve students from low-income families.
  • Private schools: These schools are owned and operated privately, and cater mostly to children in urban areas from higher income families. They charge relatively high school fees, tend to be well-resourced, and use English as the medium of instruction (and Urdu is taught as a compulsory subject). They follow either the national curriculum and examination system, or the British curriculum and examination system.
  • Community-based schools: These schools are usually established by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in collaboration with local communities – sometimes with support from the government or an international donor. The community generally provides the venue for the school. Teacher salaries are paid either through external funding or from community resources. Community members form a committee to manage the school and train and supervise teachers, often with the support of the NGO. The schools are intended for poor and rural communities. Families pay relatively low school fees and cover other school expenses.
  • Madressas: These schools are generally attached to a mosque, and focus primarily on religious education. Madressas are usually funded by Pakistani or international donors. They generally do not charge fees and often provide boarding and lodging for students. Madressas thus are generally accessed by students from very low-income families who are struggling to meet their basic needs.

At all primary schools in Pakistan, the following subjects are compulsory: Urdu, English, mathematics, science, social studies, and Islamic studies (Ali & Farah, 2007). Madressas affiliated with the Pakistan Madressa Education Board are obligated to teach similar subjects, but many madressas are affiliated with their own boards and teach mostly or only religious subjects. Private and community-based schools often have additional subjects.

Teaching and Learning

As alluded to throughout this series of posts, the educational content and teaching methods currently used at schools in Pakistan are shaped by interactions between various historical influences, as well as by current local and global influences. Some examples are provided below:

  • Hindu/Vedic and Islamic value systems both emphasize the importance of pursuing knowledge and education. In both traditions, religious and worldly knowledge are both considered important. As well, one’s responsibility (dharma) towards family, community, and society is regarded as fundamental. These values and beliefs remain strong in varying degrees in present-day Pakistan. Most fundamentally, education is considered a universal right, and public schooling is available for free to all children.
  • Historically, the esteemed role of the teacher included children’s holistic intellectual, spiritual, societal development. Over time, the teacher’s role has been narrowed to lead students through standardized curricula and examinations. The status and value accorded to teachers by society has also been greatly reduced. However, it seems that at least some parents continue to want teachers to provide holistic worldly and religious education to their children.
  • The effects of the education system established by the British continue to this day. This is seen in the continued stratification of the school system, where higher quality private schools teach elite students in the English language using the British curriculum, and lower quality public schools teach poor students in the Urdu language (or other local languages) using the national curriculum. Remnants of the British system are also seen in the ways in which students and teachers physically and intellectually interact with each other.
  • Teacher-driven teaching methodologies and rote learning approaches were common during Islamic periods if not earlier. Even today, these approaches are common in classrooms, particularly at government schools and madressas (Ali & Farah, 2007). This is further reinforced by an examination system that tests memorization rather than understanding and application. Some private and community-based schools have begun using more learner-centered approaches with a focus on understanding and engagement with learning. NGOs have also tried to implement such approaches at government schools.
  • The Partition of India resulted in many Urdu-speaking Mohajirs migrating from the Indian side and resettling in the new nation of Pakistan. Urdu has become the official medium of instruction at most schools across the country (the province of Sindh has some Sindhi-medium schools), although many families and children speak other languages at home. As well, the education system, and society in general, sustain the central importance that was given to the English language during British colonization.
  • Globalization and international discourses also influence educational policy and practices in Pakistan. For example, the global emphasis on early childhood development has led to increased donor funds, NGO interventions, and academic research focused on pre-primary education as well as infant and toddler care in the region.
  • Ongoing and increasing political insecurity, religious and ethnic conflicts, and socio-economic and demographic challenges all affect the stability and quality of education provided to young children. For example, during the 2010 floods in Pakistan, many children missed months of school. Those whose families were displaced often missed more or dropped out of school altogether.

To summarize, education in Pakistan is shaped by a complex and multidimensional socio-political historical and current context. While it is impossible to delineate and fully untangle the various interwoven and complex influences, it is nonetheless important to consider the range of socio-cultural and political factors that have shaped the system and value base underlying education in Pakistan. This provides context and deeper understanding towards both how things are, and why things are the way they are.

Please share your thoughts and comments below.

Sadaf Shallwani


Ali, S. & Farah, I. (2007). Schooling in Pakistan. In A. Gupta (Ed.), Going to School in South Asia (pp. 143-166), Westport, CT: Greenwood.

See related posts: 

2 thoughts on “Education in Pakistan: A historical socio-cultural perspective >> Part 6: Education in Present-Day Pakistan

  1. I think we should concentrate on Urdu and local languages like other developed nations does for example Japan, China, Switzerland, Germany, Italy etc. And accountibility should be strict and we should have 5x more budget for education than some changes can be bought in this sector and in next 30/40 years.

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