NationalVOLUME 18 ISSUE # 43

Deepening crisis in school enrollment

In 2016, Pakistan set an ambitious goal: to achieve 100% enrollment in primary schools by 2018, aligning itself with international Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). However, as we fast-forward to 2023, it’s evident that this aspiration remains unfulfilled. Despite constitutional mandates and international commitments, Pakistan grapples with a severe education crisis, with millions of children out of school, particularly in marginalized regions.

This report delves into the grim realities of Pakistan’s education landscape, highlighting disparities in enrollment based on gender, socioeconomic status, and geographical location. It also sheds light on the commendable efforts of an NGO working to combat this crisis, emphasizing the urgency of addressing the issue.

According to education authorities, Pakistan had set a target to achieve 100% primary school enrollment by 2018. This commitment was made on March 8, 2016, when the Prime Minister and the four Chief Ministers jointly announced a national campaign to reach this goal, aligning with international targets set under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Minister for Planning and Development had also pledged to allocate 4% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to education by 2018.

Unfortunately, despite more than seven years passing, none of these objectives was met. Official data indicates that as of the year 2022-23, the primary enrollment rate stands at 95.48%, and the country’s literacy rate is 59.13%. According to Article 25-A of the Constitution of Pakistan, the state is obligated to provide free and compulsory education to all children aged 5 to 16 in the country.

Pakistan is also a signatory to various international education conventions, including the ‘Education for All’ commitment signed in 1990, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) joint declaration on education, and the Dakar Framework for Action from April 2000. These conventions mandate that the state ensures the fundamental right to education for all citizens without discrimination.

After the promulgation of the 18th Amendment, Pakistan’s federating units, including Azad Jammu and Kashmir, made a joint commitment to uphold all international commitments, including the MDGs, related to education. Provincial governments also affirmed their commitment to implement legislation ensuring children’s right to free and compulsory education.

However, recently released data, shared in the first week of September 2023 by the Junior Jinnah Trust (JJT), an NGO working in collaboration with the capital’s administration, paints a grim picture of the country’s education and literacy landscape. The data reveals that over 83,000 children in the federal capital, Islamabad, are not attending school. Furthermore, a staggering 25 million children across the country are out of school, with this number increasing daily due to the current economic situation.

The data also indicates that in the 5-9 age group in Pakistan, over 5 million children are not enrolled in schools, and after the primary-school age, the number of out-of-school children doubles, with 11.4 million adolescents between the ages of 10-14 not receiving formal education. The study results reflect that nearly 10.7 million boys and 8.6 million girls are enrolled at the primary level, which drops to 3.6 million boys and 2.8 million girls at the lower secondary level.

According to another report by UNICEF, significant disparities based on gender, socioeconomic status, and geography persist. In Sindh, 52% of the poorest children (58% of whom are girls) are out of school, while in Balochistan, a staggering 78% of girls are not attending school.

The NGO, which commenced its work in 2016, has successfully enrolled over 2,000 children in 15 campuses established in various parts of Islamabad and Rawalpindi. It was a part of the ‘Zero out-of-school children’ campaign in the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) and collaborated with the Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training (MoFEPT) to establish five model union council level zones with the goal of reaching every out-of-school child, ultimately enrolling more than 2,000 of them.

Currently, Pakistan has the unfortunate distinction of having the world’s second-highest number of out-of-school children, totaling 22.8 million children aged between 5 and 16, representing 44% of the children not attending school.

There are two categories of out-of-school children: those who never attend school at an early age and continue to remain out of school, and those who initially attend school but quickly drop out. The Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE) report reveals that approximately 1 in 4 (23.45%) children in Pakistan never get the opportunity to attend school, and around 7% enroll but drop out each year.

Data also suggests that dropouts occur primarily between the ages of 9 and 11, after the primary school age, primarily due to limited access to middle and high schools, leading to rising opportunity costs.

When comparing the four provinces of Pakistan, Balochistan stands out as the worst performer in terms of out-of-school children, with 44% of the total. In Balochistan, 64% of all out-of-school children aged 16 have never attended school, and the dropout rate increases as children get older. Balochistan reports 50% out-of-school children in 17 out of 28 districts, with the district of Shaheed Sikandarabad reporting the highest number at 76%, followed by the district of Sherani at 70%.

Pakistan faces a dire education crisis, with millions of children deprived of their fundamental right to education. Despite government pledges and international commitments, the goal of universal primary school enrollment remains elusive. Gender and socioeconomic disparities persist, with certain regions suffering disproportionately. The efforts of organizations like the Junior Jinnah Trust are commendable, but systemic change is imperative. Urgent measures are needed to ensure every child’s access to quality education, regardless of their background or location. Failure to address this crisis jeopardizes not only individual futures but also Pakistan’s broader socio-economic development and global commitments to education for all.