Feb 13, 2009
The educational system of Pakistan is among the least-developed in the world. The system was based on the British colonial educational system, which lasted until 1947. In that year, Pakistan gained independence as a result of the partition of the Indian subcontinent into the states of India and Pakistan. The colonial system was elitist; it was meant to educate a small portion of the population to run the government. Despite changes since independence, the Pakistani educational system has retained its colonial elitist character, a factor preventing the eradication of illiteracy.
The educational system in Pakistan is divided into five major levels. The pre-university education consists of four levels: the primary level (grades one to five), the middle level (grades six to eight), the high level (grades nine and ten, culminating in matriculation), and the intermediate level (grades eleven and twelve, leading to a diploma in arts or science). There is also a university level, which leads to undergraduate and graduate degrees.
A teacher takes advantage of the warm weather and teaches the class outdoors in Hunza. (CHRISTINE OSBORNE/CORBIS)
The Pakistani educational system is highly centralized. The Ministry of Education is in charge of coordinating all institutions involved in academic and technical education, up to the intermediate level. For education programs above that level, there is a government-designated university in each of four Pakistani provinces of Sind, Punjab, Baluchistan, and the North West Frontier. These universities are responsible for coordinating instruction and examinations of all post-secondary institutions in their respective province. Apart from the Ministry of Education, other ministries may oversee certain degree programs of relevance to their activities.
Private and nonprofit schools and universities have begun to appear in Pakistan. These include the Lahore University of Management Sciences and the Aga Khan Medical University in Karachi. As privately funded universities, they provide an opportunity for higher education for a small percentage of people who do not have a chance to pursue their studies at publicly funded universities, which have limited annual admissions.
Despite the intentions of the Pakistani government, the educational system has failed to eradicate illiteracy in the post-independence era. It has also failed to train an adequate number of professionals to meet the needs of the country in different fields, which has been a major hindrance to the nation's economic development. The government-implemented reforms of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s did not address these deficiencies. By and large, they focused on replacing English, the colonial language of education, with Urdu, the language of most Pakistanis. The reforms of the 1970s also led to the nationalization of schools.
Facing the continued shortcomings of the educational system, the Pakistani government implemented new reforms in the late 1980s and early 1990s. These took the form of three major initiatives. The government privatized the schools nationalized in the 1970s. It also reversed the process of promoting Urdu as the language of education and encouraged a return to English language in the elite private schools. Finally, the government emphasized Pakistani studies and Islamic studies as two major fields in the curriculum. This was a shift from colonial education's emphasis on British history and English culture and literature.
The reforms of the post-independence era have improved the educational system and have increased the number of literate Pakistanis, but there are still basic shortcomings. Educational funding is low, and there is little political will to make improvements. In the 1999–2000 school year, government spending on education was about $1.8 billion, equal to 2.1 percent of Pakistan's gross national product (GNP). This amount represents a decrease from the period 1995–1997, when government expenditure on education equaled 2.7 percent of GNP, which itself was an insignificant figure for a country of approximately 144 million (2001 estimate), whose population is increasing at the annual rate of 2.4 percent.
Pakistan's expenditure on education is even significantly lower than that of India, a nation more or less at the same developmental level, with a much larger population and a heavier financial burden. During the period 1995–1997, India's expenditure on education was 3.2 percent of its GNP. In short, Pakistan's expenditure on education is not enough to meet the growing demand for educational services for the nation's increasing young population.
According to official statistics, the Pakistani literacy rate was 47 percent in 2000. This rate may be exaggerated, as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) statistics for 1998 suggest a literacy rate of 44 percent. According to the UNDP statistics for 1998, India's literacy rate was 55.7 percent, far above that of Pakistan.
The Pakistani educational system has demonstrated a discriminatory trend against women. This bias is evident in the pattern of literacy, which shows a strong correlation between gender and literacy rates. The illiteracy rate is very high among Pakistani women of all age groups. In 1998, the adult illiteracy rates were 42 percent for males and 71.1 percent for females. In the same year, the illiteracy rate for male youth and female youth was 25 and 53 percent, respectively. This gender-based discriminatory trend in education has contributed to the persistence of illiteracy and to a chronic shortage of educated people and has had a major impact on the continued underdevelopment of Pakistan.
The education system of Pakistan has been unable to meet the educational requirements of the Pakistanis. The system needs massive investment to increase the number of educational institutions and to train and recruit adequate numbers of educators at all levels. The Pakistani government has limited financial resources, which are inadequate to meet all of its needs. Added to large defense expenditures justified by the unstable relations between India and Pakistan, rampant corruption and a huge foreign debt (about $33 billion in 1998) further reduce the available resources for educational purposes. Unless the deteriorating Pakistani economy improves, there is little, if any, hope for a significant qualitative and quantitative change in Pakistan's educational system in the foreseeable future.