NationalVOLUME 18 ISSUE # 30

Addressing educational inequality in Pakistan: Challenges and perspectives

Education is a fundamental right that every child deserves, yet Pakistan continues to face significant challenges in providing quality education to all its children. Let us examine the state of education in the country, focusing on issues of inequality and the shortcomings of previous government initiatives. Despite some progress, the goal of ensuring universal access to quality education for children remains elusive.

Under Article 25-A of the 1973 Constitution, every child between the ages of five and 16 is entitled to receive free education. This constitutional provision places a duty on the relevant authorities to enact legislative, financial, and administrative measures to ensure that no child is denied this fundamental right.

The Constitution of Pakistan, which was amended almost 11 years ago through a consensus-based process leading to the passage of the 18th Amendment, clearly binds the state to uphold the “Right to Education” by providing free and compulsory education for all children aged five to sixteen. Education is now regarded as a right rather than an arbitrary entitlement.

However, despite these claims, the reality falls short. Even after more than a decade since the constitutional obligation was established, hundreds of thousands of children across the country are still deprived of this right. In response, several civil society organizations have filed a constitutional petition in the Sindh High Court, demanding the full implementation of Article 25-A and the enforcement of the fundamental right to compulsory education. The petition requests the provincial government of Sindh to establish a commission comprising respected members from civil society and government officials, which would oversee the implementation of the constitutional obligation. Additionally, the petition seeks a detailed plan of action from the government to fulfill the requirements of Article 25-A and urges the authorities to monitor and regulate the exorbitant fees charged by private schools.

Citing a report by the UNESCO Institute of Statistics in EdStats, the petition highlights that public expenditure on education in Pakistan accounts for only 2.7% of the gross domestic product, while the primary education dropout rate stands at a minimum of 39.8%.

According to a report released in March 2022, approximately 19% of children in the country were out of school in 2021, with private school enrollment decreasing by 4% compared to 2019.

However, the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) for 2021 revealed a slight reduction in the dropout rate in government schools, attributed to an increase in the number of teachers and improvements in classroom conditions. The report indicated that 81% of children were enrolled in government schools, while 19% attended private schools.

ASER’s rural results for 2021 indicated a decline in enrollment for the age groups of 3 to 5 and 6 to 16 years due to the impact of the pandemic and school closures. For the first time during the Covid-19 pandemic, more boys in Punjab are dropping out of school, presumably turning to child labor instead of pursuing their education.

ASER Pakistan has historically monitored early childhood education (ECE). Since 2014, when ECE enrollment stood at 39%, there has been a slight decline to 38% in 2021. The report emphasizes that ECE is crucial for building foundational skills in literacy and numeracy, but it remains largely neglected as a holistic sub-sector addressing physical, socio-emotional, and cognitive development.

The petition also cites the Pakistan Living Standard Measurement Survey, which indicates that the literacy rate among children aged 10 and above in Pakistan is 56%. In Sindh, the rate is 56%, while in rural Sindh, it drops to 44%. Primary enrollment in private schools is 35% nationwide, 27% in Sindh, and as low as 5% in rural Sindh.

The civil society petition connects the right to education with the right to life, arguing that a decent education is an essential aspect of the right to life. It also refers to Article 37 (b) of the 1973 Constitution, which outlines the duty of the state to eradicate illiteracy and provide free and compulsory secondary education within the shortest possible time. Highlighting the alarming and ongoing decline in literacy rates in Pakistan, the petition urges the provincial government to take immediate action to ensure that no child is denied access to education.

Even the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government, which faced a vote of no-confidence in the National Assembly in April 2022, failed to implement the 18th Amendment related to the education for all initiative. The long-term success of any education reform depends on strengthening the capacity of provincial education departments, as emphasized in the National Educational Policy Framework (NEPF) 2018.

However, almost all provinces have failed to implement the NEPF. The Punjab government introduced its education policy under the New Deal 2018-2023. While the PTI may highlight the newness of the 2018-2023 deal, its objectives, such as reducing the number of out-of-school children (OOSC), improving education quality through textbook reform and teacher training, prioritizing early education and pre-primary education, enhancing examination and evaluation processes, and building the capacity of the education sector, align with those of the previous government. Continuity in reform policies is crucial for strengthening the education sector.

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), where the PTI had been in government for nearly nine years, some education reforms have shown progress. Various regions of the province have faced neglect in education due to security challenges over the past two decades. However, as highlighted by Alif Ailaan’s analysis of KP education reforms, improvements have been made in school infrastructure, teacher training, and recruitment. The government plans to further focus on reducing OOSC, increasing secondary-level enrollment for girls, improving student learning outcomes through quality teaching and learning, ensuring better budget allocation, and addressing regional disparities in education provision and access within the province.

When it comes to the state of education in Balochistan, extreme inequality has been identified as the prominent characteristic of the education landscape, as highlighted by Alif Ailaan. Due to the security situation, the provision of education varies significantly throughout the province. While some progress was made in teacher recruitment and a slight improvement in post-primary education under the previous government’s education reforms, significant challenges remain.

The ousted PTI government also failed to address the growing lack of trust between the federal and Sindh governments, which resulted in setbacks for educational reform programmes. This is particularly significant in light of the efforts towards achieving uniformity in the education system across Pakistan. Consequently, the country is still far from achieving the goal of providing quality education to all children between the ages of five and 16 and ensuring their enrollment in schools.

In conclusion, Pakistan’s education system continues to grapple with deep-rooted challenges, including inequality and insufficient reforms. Balochistan, in particular, faces severe disparities due to the security situation. The trust deficit between federal and provincial governments has hindered the progress of educational reforms. To bridge these gaps and bring about meaningful change, it is imperative for stakeholders to prioritize collaboration, allocate adequate resources, and implement comprehensive measures. Only through sustained efforts and a commitment to providing equal educational opportunities to all children can Pakistan hope to address its education crisis and pave the way for a brighter future for its younger generation.