At independence, Pakistan had a poorly educated population and few
schools or universities. Although the education system has expanded
greatly since then, debate continues about the curriculum, and,
except in a few elite institutions, quality remained a crucial concern
of educators in the early 1990s.
literacy is low, but improving. In 1992 more than 36 percent of
adults over fifteen were literate, compared with 21 percent in 1970.
The rate of improvement is highlighted by the 50 percent literacy
achieved among those aged fifteen to nineteen in 1990. School enrollment
also increased, from 19 percent of those aged six to twenty-three
in 1980 to 24 percent in 1990. However, by 1992 the population over
twenty-five had a mean of only 1.9 years of schooling. This fact
explains the minimal criteria for being considered literate: having
the ability to both read and write (with understanding) a short,
simple statement on everyday life.
limited resources have been allocated to education, although there
has been improvement in recent decades. In 1960 public expenditure
on education was only 1.1 percent of the gross national product
(GNP); by 1990 the figure had risen to 3.4 percent. This amount
compared poorly with the 33.9 percent being spent on defense in
1993. In 1990 Pakistan was tied for fourth place in the world in
its ratio of military expenditures to health and education expenditures.
Although the government enlisted the assistance of various international
donors in the education efforts outlined in its Seventh Five-Year
Plan (1988-93), the results did not measure up to expectations.
Structure of the System
is organized into five levels: primary (grades one through five);
middle (grades six through eight); high (grades nine and ten, culminating
in matriculation); intermediate (grades eleven and twelve, leading
to an F.A. diploma in arts or F.S. science; and university programs
leading to undergraduate and advanced degrees. Preparatory classes
(kachi, or nursery) were formally incorporated into the system in
1988 with the Seventh Five-Year Plan.
and technical education institutions are the responsibility of the
federal Ministry of Education, which coordinates instruction through
the intermediate level. Above that level, a designated university
in each province is responsible for coordination of instruction
and examinations. In certain cases, a different ministry may oversee
specialized programs. Universities enjoy limited autonomy; their
finances are overseen by a University Grants Commission, as in Britain.
workshops are overseen by the respective provincial education ministries
in order to improve teaching skills. However, incentives are severely
lacking, and, perhaps because of the shortage of financial support
to education, few teachers participate. Rates of absenteeism among
teachers are high in general, inducing support for community-coordinated
efforts promoted in the Eighth Five-Year Plan (1993-98).
1991 there were 87,545 primary schools, 189,200 primary school teachers,
and 7,768,000 students enrolled at the primary level, with a student-to-teacher
ratio of forty-one to one. Just over one-third of all children of
primary school age were enrolled in a school in 1989. There were
11,978 secondary schools, 154,802 secondary school teachers, and
2,995,000 students enrolled at the secondary level, with a student-to-
teacher ratio of nineteen to one.
school dropout rates remained fairly consistent in the 1970s and
1980s, at just over 50 percent for boys and 60 percent for girls.
The middle school dropout rates for boys and girls rose from 22
percent in 1976 to about 33 percent in 1983. However, a noticeable
shift occurred in the beginning of the 1980s regarding the postprimary
dropout rate: whereas boys and girls had relatively equal rates
(14 percent) in 1975, by 1979-- just as Zia initiated his government's
Islamization program--the dropout rate for boys was 25 percent while
for girls it was only 16 percent. By 1993 this trend had dramatically
reversed, and boys had a dropout rate of only 7 percent compared
with the girls' rate of 15 percent.
Seventh Five-Year Plan envisioned that every child five years and
above would have access to either a primary school or a comparable,
but less comprehensive, mosque school. However, because of financial
constraints, this goal was not achieved.
drafting the Eighth Five-Year Plan in 1992, the government therefore
reiterated the need to mobilize a large share of national resources
to finance education. To improve access to schools, especially at
the primary level, the government sought to decentralize and democratize
the design and implemention of its education strategy. To give parents
a greater voice in running schools, it planned to transfer control
of primary and secondary schools to NGOs. The government also intended
to gradually make all high schools, colleges, and universities autonomous,
although no schedule was specified for achieving this ambitious
of data for men and women reveals significant disparity in educational
attainment. By 1992, among people older than fifteen years of age,
22 percent of women were literate, compared with 49 percent of men.
The comparatively slow rate of improvement for women is reflected
in the fact that between 1980 and 1989, among women aged fifteen
to twenty-four, 25 percent were literate. United Nations sources
say that in 1990 for every 100 girls of primary school age there
were only thirty in school; among girls of secondary school age,
only thirteen out of 100 were in school; and among girls of the
third level, grades nine and ten, only 1.5 out of 100 were in school.
Slightly higher estimates by the National Education Council for
1990 stated that 2.5 percent of students--3 percent of men and 2
percent of women- -between the ages of seventeen and twenty-one
were enrolled at the degree level. Among all people over twenty-five
in 1992, women averaged a mere 0.7 year of schooling compared with
an average of 2.9 years for men.
discrepancy between rural and urban areas is even more marked. In
1981 only 7 percent of women in rural areas were literate, compared
with 35 percent in urban areas. Among men, these rates were 27 and
57 percent, respectively. Pakistan's low female literacy rates are
particularly confounding because these rates are analogous to those
of some of the poorest countries in the world.
has never had a systematic, nationally coordinated effort to improve
female primary education, despite its poor standing. It was once
assumed that the reasons behind low female school enrollments were
cultural, but research conducted by the Ministry for Women's Development
and a number of international donor agencies in the 1980s revealed
that danger to a woman's honor was parents' most crucial concern.
Indeed, reluctance to accept schooling for women turned to enthusiasm
when parents in rural Punjab and rural Balochistan could be guaranteed
their daughters' safety and, hence, their honor.
initiatives characterized reform efforts in education in the late
1980s and early 1990s: privatization of schools that had been nationalized
in the 1970s; a return to English as the medium of instruction in
the more elite of these privatized schools, reversing the imposition
of Urdu in the 1970s; and continuing emphasis on Pakistan studies
and Islamic studies in the curriculum.
the late 1970s, a disproportionate amount of educational spending
went to the middle and higher levels. Education in the colonial
era had been geared to staffing the civil service and producing
an educated elite that shared the values of and was loyal to the
British. It was unabashedly elitist, and contemporary education--reforms
and commissions on reform notwithstanding--has retained the same
quality. This fact is evident in the glaring gap in educational
attainment between the country's public schools and the private
schools, which were nationalized in the late 1970s in a move intended
to facilitate equal access. Whereas students from lower-class backgrounds
did gain increased access to these private schools in the 1980s
and 1990s, teachers and school principals alike bemoaned the decline
in the quality of education. Meanwhile, it appears that a greater
proportion of children of the elites are traveling abroad not only
for university education but also for their high school diplomas.
extension of literacy to greater numbers of people has spurred the
working class to aspire to middle-class goals such as owning an
automobile, taking summer vacations, and providing a daughter with
a once-inconceivable dowry at the time of marriage. In the past,
Pakistan was a country that the landlords owned, the army ruled,
and the bureaucrats governed, and it drew most of its elite from
these three groups. In the 1990s, however, the army and the civil
service were drawing a greater proportion of educated members from
poor backgrounds than ever before.
of the education reforms of the 1980s was an increase in the number
of technical schools throughout the country. Those schools that
were designated for females included hostels nearby to provide secure
housing for female students. Increasing the number of technical
schools was a response to the high rate of underemployment that
had been evident since the early 1970s. The Seventh Five-Year Plan
aimed to increase the share of students going to technical and vocational
institutions to over 33 percent by increasing the number of polytechnics,
commercial colleges, and vocational training centers. Although the
numbers of such institutions did increase, a compelling need to
expand vocational training further persisted in early 1994.