Primary education in Pakistan: Outcomes on key indicators

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

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

Pakistan has signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child and voted in support of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, both of which assert the right of each child to education, with primary education compulsory and available free to all. However, Pakistan is far from achieving universal access to primary education, and primary education quality remains low. Take a look at these recent statistics:

  • Pakistan has the second highest (after Nigeria) population of out-of-school children in the world, with almost five and a half million school-aged children not accessing school . This number accounts for 10% of the world’s out-of-school children. (UNESCO, 2014)
  • 72% of school-aged children enroll in school. This is an improvement compared to two decades ago, when only 58% of children enrolled in school. One of key goals of the Education For All declaration is for countries to achieve a primary enrollment target of at least 95% by 2015. While Pakistan is rated as very far from target (with an enrollment rate below 80%), it is also rated as having relatively strong progress over the last two decades. (UNESCO, 2014)
  • However, only one out of every two children who enroll in school will make it to the last year of primary (Grade 5). On average, 4% of children will repeat any given grade. (UNESCO, 2014)
  • Before the end of Grade 1, 17.5% of enrolled children drop out of school. Another 4.9% repeat Grade 1. In other words, more than one in five children experiences failure before making it to Grade 2. (UNESCO, 2014)
  • Of those children completing primary school (Grade 5), 51% are unable to read at a Grade 2 level and 57% are unable to do arithmetic at a Grade 2 level (SAFED, 2014). This means that these children have spent five or more years of their lives attending school but are still without basic literacy and numeracy skills.
  • Outcomes for all learning indicators are lower in government schools than in private schools, and lower in rural areas than in urban areas. (SAFED, 2014)

The education system is failing too many children!

Education is critical for human development – and for national development. Consider this:

  • The Pakistani government invests only 2.3% of its Gross National Product in education – less than what it spends on the military (UNESCO, 2014). The effects on the availability and quality of the education system are clear, as seen above.
  • In Pakistan, the wages of a literate person are 23% higher than those of an illiterate person (UNESCO, 2014). However, the adult literacy rate is 55% (UNESCO, 2014), and it will be difficult to increase this number in the decades ahead with so many out-of-school children, and so many children leaving primary school without basic literacy skills.

We need to push for greater public investment in education in Pakistan. This means:

  • Increasing tax revenue and reducing tax evasion (less than 1% of Pakistanis pay income tax – Economist, 2012, as cited in UNESCO, 2014)
  • Prioritizing education at the policy and budget level – above the military for example (education is likely a stronger force against terrorism and war anyway, in the long run!), and
  • Identifying and implementing proven strategies to improve the quality of teaching and learning in primary schools across the country – especially in the early grades. (More on this in a later post.)

Learn more about children’s access to and children’s learning in primary schools in Pakistan from the sources of the above statistics:

Please share your thoughts and comments below.

Sadaf Shallwani

See related posts: 

3 thoughts on “Primary education in Pakistan: Outcomes on key indicators

  1. Hi Sadaf:

    Hope you are doing ok?

    How are you?

    I am finishing the lit review for my dissertation research proposal. It was nice to see your post – I have been thinking about you. Wondering if you were going to be coming to Montreal this summer?

    Take care,


  2. Hi Sadaf,

    It’s great to go through some of your articles and the best thing about your articles is that they can be of a great help for my literature review of my dissertation.


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