Education Reform in Pakistan
Asia Report N°257
23 Jun 2014
In April 2010, the eighteenth constitutional amendment committed Pakistan to free and compulsory education for all children between the ages of five and sixteen. Yet, millions are still out of school, and the education system remains alarmingly impoverished. The madrasa (religious school) sector flourishes, with no meaningful efforts made to regulate the seminaries, many of which propagate religious and sectarian hatred. Militant violence and natural disasters have exacerbated the dismal state of education. Earthquakes and floods have destroyed school buildings in Balochistan, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) and Punjab, disrupting the education of hundreds of thousands of children. Militant jihadi groups have destroyed buildings, closed girls’ schools and terrorised parents into keeping daughters at home; their attacks made global headlines with the shooting of schoolgirl and education activist Malala Yousafzai in October 2012. The public education system needs to foster a tolerant citizenry, capable of competing in the labour market and supportive of democratic norms within the country and peace with the outside world.
More than nine million children do not receive primary or secondary education, and literacy rates are stagnant. Pakistan is far from meeting its Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of providing universal primary education by 2015. The net primary school enrolment rate in 2012-2013 is a mere 1 per cent increase from 2010-2011. There are significant gender disparities and differences between rural and urban areas. The combined federal/provincial budgetary allocation to education is the lowest in South Asia, at 2 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
If Pakistan is to provide all children between five and sixteen free and compulsory education, as its law requires, it must reform a system marred by teacher absenteeism, poorly maintained or “ghost schools” that exist only on paper and a curriculum that encourages intolerance and fails to produce citizens who are competitive in the job market. Private schools, increasing largely in response to these shortcomings, account for 26 per cent of enrolment in rural areas and 59 per cent in urban centres but vary greatly in methodology, tuition and teacher qualifications.
The eighteenth constitutional amendment devolved legislative and executive authority over education to the provinces to make it more responsive to local needs. Given the scale of those needs, donors and the private sector must be key partners, but provincial governments need to become the principal drivers of reform. They should reverse decades of neglect by giving government-run schools adequate materials and basic facilities such as boundary walls and toilets. They should also tackle teacher absenteeism and curb nepotism and corruption in appointments, postings and transfers.
To counter the challenge from the private schools, and madrasas and religious schools of Islamic parties and foundations that fill the gaps of a dilapidated public education sector but contribute to religious extremism and sectarian violence, the state will have to do far more than just increase the numbers of schools and teachers. Curriculum reform is essential and overdue. Provincial governments must ensure that textbooks and teachers no longer convey an intolerant religious discourse and a distorted narrative, based on hatred of imagined enemies, local and foreign.
Islamabad/Brussels, 23 June 2014