Provinces or regions within a country boasting high literacy rates tend to exhibit elevated GDP per capita figures, as evidenced by statistical data. Conversely, the same correlation holds when considering the inverse scenario. Scholars specializing in political economy assert that literacy plays a pivotal role in enabling individuals to optimize resource utilization efficiently. This, in turn, spurs heightened production, ultimately culminating in increased employment opportunities and prosperity within regions with robust literacy rates.
This assertion finds support in a study conducted by the Pak Alliance for Maths and Science (PAMS). The study’s findings placed Balochistan at the forefront of this issue, with the highest proportion of out-of-school children (OOSC) at 47%, followed closely by Sindh at 44%. It is disheartening to note that Balochistan is categorized as the most economically disadvantaged province in the country. A United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report further underscores the dire situation in Balochistan, where essential amenities are sorely lacking, resulting in its ranking atop the poverty index. Qilla Abdullah stands out as the most impoverished area within the province, with a staggering 96% of its population living below the poverty line.
Analyzing the data from the Pakistan Social and Living Measurements Standards survey 2019-20 (PSLM), the proportion of OOSC at the district, provincial, and national levels reveals that Shaheed Sikandrabad district in Balochistan registers the highest proportion of such children at 76%, closely trailed by Sherani district at 70% among children aged five to sixteen.
The biennial study carried out by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics discloses that more than half of school-age children are out of school in 17 out of 28 districts in Balochistan. Notably, the Nushki district reports the lowest proportion of OOSC in the province at 23%. Additionally, the study highlights that 64% of all out-of-school 16-year-olds in Balochistan have never received formal education.
According to these findings, a total of 32% of school-age children across Pakistan are categorized as OOSC, representing approximately one-third of the total. This figure translates to an estimated count exceeding 20 million. In terms of absolute numbers, Punjab records the highest population of OOSC, estimated at around 7.7 million, followed by Sindh at 6.5 million.
Turning attention to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the district of Kohistan exhibits the highest proportion of OOSC at 60%. Once again, this correlation holds true for this particular district within Pakistan. The UNDP report designates Kohistan as one of the most underserved areas within KP, with a staggering 95% of its populace lacking access to basic necessities, making it the second most impoverished rural region after Qilla Abdullah.
In Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, six districts report OOSC proportions exceeding 50%, including four districts among the newly merged ones: Mohmand, Bajaur, South Waziristan, and North Waziristan. The remaining two districts, Orakzai and Khyber, present OOSC proportions of 42% and 39%, respectively. Among the established districts, Kohistan and Torghar fare the worst, while Abbottabad boasts the lowest proportion of OOSC within the province, standing at 9%.
In terms of poverty, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa ranks second on the provincial level, with 49% of its population classified as living under impoverished conditions.
Moving to South Punjab, Rajanpur district exhibits the highest rate of OOSC in the Punjab region, standing at 48%, closely trailed by Muzaffargarh at 43%. Of the 36 districts within the province, the bottom 10 districts, particularly concentrated in South Punjab, display the highest proportions of OOSC. Unfortunately, this region is marked by its underdeveloped state and prevalent poverty. This is echoed in the UNDP report, which designates Muzaffargarh as the fourth-poorest area in Pakistan, with 64% of its residents residing below the poverty line.
Sindh province showcases a distinct disparity between its rural and urban areas. Disregarding Karachi, the rural areas of Sindh encounter a poverty situation that closely mirrors that of Balochistan. As per the PAMS report, 13 out of 29 districts in Sindh report OOSC rates exceeding 50%. Conversely, the seven districts with the lowest OOSC rates comprise six districts from Karachi and Hyderabad. Conversely, the UNDP report identifies Tharparkar district in Sindh as the third-poorest region, with a staggering 87% of its population living below the poverty line.
The study also highlights an intriguing observation that reinforces the inherent link between poverty and literacy. It reveals a consistent rise in dropout rates with increasing age. Essentially, as children grow older and their prospects of finding work expand, economically disadvantaged parents often withdraw them from school and engage them in workplaces. The data spotlights the age bracket of eight to 13 years as particularly susceptible to dropouts. Consequently, addressing factors that contribute to dropouts within this age range becomes pivotal in reducing the overall population of OOSC across the country.
Furthermore, the study underscores that Punjab fares better than other provinces in terms of early access to education during a child’s formative years. This discrepancy can largely be attributed to the comparatively superior financial conditions of parents within the most prosperous province in the nation.
In Sindh, a notable 63% of 16-year-olds who are out of school have never had the opportunity to attend formal education. This statistic ranks second only to Balochistan, implying that Sindh harbors a significant population of young adults who have not been exposed to formal schooling. It’s crucial to bear in mind the impoverished conditions prevalent in rural Sindh when interpreting the study’s findings.
The study also highlights a significant fact: over three-quarters (77%) of out-of-school Pakistani children reside in rural areas of the country. These rural areas account for 15.4 million out of the total OOSC count, with 4.6 million (23%) residing in urban settings.
The reasons cited by researchers for non-enrollment or dropping out from school further reinforce the intrinsic connection between poverty and education. An overwhelming 87% of children who haven’t attended school attribute it to being “too expensive,” while 13% cite other reasons for not enrolling. Additionally, 19% of those who have dropped out also attribute it to financial constraints. Thirteen percent mention wanting to contribute at home or work as the rationale. If policymakers aim to encourage parents to enroll their children in school and prevent premature dropouts, increased funding must be allocated to the education sector. This should not only encompass students and educational institutions but also extend to financially challenged parents, who find it difficult to send their children to school due to resource constraints.