Among the poorest students, only 30 percent of boys finish primary school, and only 16 percent of girls. As of , which is the most recent published data, the percentage of people who had ever attended school was:. Across all provinces, generation after generation of children, especially girls, are locked out of education—and into poverty. One particularly concerning theme in some interviews for this report was numerous families in which children were less educated than their parents, or younger siblings were less educated than older siblings.
Some families were unrooted by poverty or insecurity in ways that blocked children from studying. Some encountered financial difficulties that made it impossible for children to reach the educational level their parents had achieved. In some communities, schools had closed, or the route to school had become more unsafe. The number of private schools increased by 69 percent during the period from to alone, a period during which the number of government schools increased by only 8 percent.
There has also been a massive increase in the number of programs offering religious education, ranging from formal madrasas to informal arrangements where children study the Quran in the house of a neighbor. Because many religious schools are informal, it is difficult to estimate how many exist, but commentators agree that the number has risen sharply over recent decades. A variety of nonprofit schools also exist in Pakistan, though there are far too few to meet the needs of the many families struggling to access education.
Some nonprofit private schools are only for girls. The lines between nonprofit schools and private tuition can be blurred, with some informal schools representing a mix of philanthropy and business, with some teachers charging students who can pay and letting the poorest children attend for free. In addition to schools run as charities, nongovernmental organizations NGOs also sometimes help other schools, for example by providing books to schools in poor areas.
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Many families said they had sought assistance from charities to educate their children but were unable to find help. The area outside the classroom at the lyari School, a free nongovernment school in Karachi, Pakistan serving children who otherwise do not have access to education. Research on educational outcomes for different types of educational institutions suggests that when you control for the differences in intake characteristics of students between government and private schools, their outcomes are in terms of testing achievement are similar.
Every province has a separate planning process, on a different timeline, with varying approaches and levels of effectiveness and commitment to improving access to education for girls. Aziza, 45, lives in a fishing community on the fringes of Karachi. She never studied; all her five children attended at least a few years of school, though none went beyond primary education. So, everyone is interested now in getting an education.
Some experts pointed to growing acceptance that girls should study. A school headmaster cited four reasons for this: 1 a desire by boys and men to marry educated brides; 2 growing availability of education as a result of the spread of private schools; 3 efforts by the government to push people away from studying in madrasas and toward mainstream education; and 4 a growing belief by families that educated women better contribute to their families, even if their role is only inside the home. Bushra, second from the right, a 10th grader at Behar colony government Secondary School for girls, at home with her family.
Now, because there are four people in the family earning, we can.
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She attributed the change to the work of NGOs and others in creating schools in the area. But very few people think like this now.
This means that many children are too far from the nearest school to travel there safely in a reasonable amount of time, if they do not have access to transportation, a problem that becomes more acute as children reach higher grades and schools are in ever-shorter supply. Compulsory education exists on paper but there is no functioning mechanism to require that children go to school.
Corruption and nepotism affect who gains employment in the school system, and rural areas are particularly underserved. According to UNESCO guidance to governments, in order for the government to fulfill its obligations on education, it should spend at least 15 to 20 percent of the total national budget, and 4 to 6 percent of GDP, on education. Bushra, a 10th grader, sews to help earn money for her school expenses.
As of , In its National Education Policy, the government is blunt about its own neglect of the education system, writing:. This diagnosis is refreshingly honest. But there are few signs that it is triggering solutions. Professionals working in the education sector described a situation in which the government seemed disinterested, sometimes pointing out that policymakers send their children to high quality and expensive private schools, and lack any personal investment in the quality of government education.
Several experts pointed to the government failing to spend even the inadequate amount allocated to education, including funding from the government budget and from international donors, saying underspending occurs consistently and across regions. You need a system of checks and balances and monitoring and political will. In reality, however, there is no organized effort by government to ensure that all children study. When children are not enrolled in school, no government official reaches out to the family to encourage or require that the child study.
When a child drops out of a government school, individual teachers may encourage the child to continue studying, but there is no systematic government effort to enroll or retain children in school. This is incompatible with the constitution and international standards Pakistan has signed up to which require that education be free and compulsory at least through primary school. Some children try to enforce their right to education through their parents. Then if they want to, they can study further. Outreach by the government to encourage families to access education—and explain that education is compulsory—could make an immediate difference.
Safina, 40, never went to school. She is a mother of 10 children, ages six to One of her children is studying, but she said her other children refused to go and said they were not interested. She suggested the government should send people house to house to talk about education. Saba is one of the almost She sells potatoes on the street outside a private school and longs to attend school herself. In the absence of compulsory education, children sometimes decide themselves whether to study. Her father washes cars for a living.
Sahar believes the government should force children to go to school. Some families are not aware that government schools, with free tuition, are available. Saira, 30, has three sons and one daughter, ages six to Her husband is physically abusive and did not allow Saira to leave the house, but he was away from the home after he found work as a cleaner in a school.
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Not only are children not required to study, in numerous cases parents and children described situations where teachers urged children to drop out. Palwashay, 16, was in fifth grade and age 14 or 15, when her teacher at government school said she was too old for her grade and should leave.
She had low marks and had failed the exam to progress to sixth grade. Her family hopes now to send her to private school. There simply are not enough government schools for all children to have access to one. When families can access a government school, they often find that it is overcrowded. An area that size needs five to ten schools. In Peshawar, a local government official said the closest government school was a minute walk away. Because of this, she said, most children start school late, at ages eight to 12, because parents wait for them to be old enough to walk to school on their own.
Saba, age 11, who does not attend school, with her mother. Almost 13 percent of Pakistani children aged 10 to 14 years are in paid employment, rising to 33 percent among children ages 15 to and work, also including housework or child care, often keeps girls out of schools. In some provinces and local areas, disparities can be higher. For example, in Balochistan there are more than twice as many schools for boys as for girls. Aisha, around age 30, lives with her husband and their six children in an area of Peshawar where the nearest government school for boys, offering nursery school through 10 th grade, is less than a five-minute walk away.
The nearest government school for girls is a minute walk and goes only through fifth grade. Many neighborhoods are education deserts for poor families. The family had moved from a village near Multan to Karachi three years earlier, looking for work, and had no choice but to settle in an area where there are only private schools the family cannot afford, but no government schools within reach. The distance to school often increases as children get older, especially for girls.
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The government has acknowledged this gap. This gap makes the transition from fifth to sixth grade impossible for many girls. Beenish, 14, left school after fifth grade, because the closest secondary school was a 10 to minute drive. But, she said, she is not allowed to walk through the bazaar, which is on the route to the government secondary school, because her family sees it as unsafe, and the family cannot afford to pay for her transportation.
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These costs put education out of reach for many poor families. Girls face another difficult transition when they complete 10 th grade. In Pakistan, 10 th grade ends with an examination called a secondary school certificate, or SSC. After passing the SSC, students who wish to continue studying go on to a different school, often referred to as an intermediate college, where 11 th and 12 th grades are taught. Government colleges are in short supply. Ghazal, 16, lives in a poor area of Karachi. There are two government schools within walking distance of her home, and she completed 10 th grade.