An Overview of School Exclusion and Dropout Trends

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Evolving Systemic Motivational Framework for Arresting these Trends in Rural Pakistan

Air Commodore (R) Khalid Iqbal TI (M)*

*The writer is a former assistant chief of Air Staff, Pakistan Air Force and a regular contributor to Criterion Quarterly. An abridged version of this paper was read by him in an international conference organized by Iqra University, Karachi on May 20-21, 2017. Paper has since been enlarged, it was last updated on August 14, 2017.


Despite religious obligation to acquire education and constitutional facilitation for free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to sixteen years 1, as a fundamental right, the ground realities are abysmal. Pakistan has the dubious distinction of being amongst those countries which have alarming school drop-out and school exclusion figures, especially with regard to its rural areas. Causes are numerous which cumulatively contribute towards low level of motivation to educate. Overwhelming segments of rural population belong to lower socio-economic strata, where earning is less and families are large. Influential segments of rural population feel insecure because once the right to education is availed by every child, the compelling influence by this powerful elite over the underprivileged segment of rural society would gradually erode. Thus they covertly, and at times, overtly impede government efforts to educate every child through: formulation of flawed education policies; turning a blind eye towards absentee teachers; letting ghost schools flourish; usurpation of school properties for personal use; and in extreme cases even not allowing setting up of schools within their respective territory of influence. The Private schools system is not affordable and hence not sustainable in rural areas. Religious and philanthropy based non-government funded schools tend to fill in the void to some extent. However, the current trend of associating this stream of education with extremism has, both, reduced the appeal of this stream and impacted the financial base of entities which manage it. The strongest demotivating factor is incompatibility of the curriculum with socio-economic realities of rural lifestyle. Parents are not sure about what the prevailing schooling system would make out of their children. Even those who succeed to matriculate do not have any skill to earn. Due to poor quality of education, the ratio of rural students ending up into professional colleges is rather low. Thus, those who qualify secondary level, together with those who cannot, cumulatively, add to a snowballing crowd of angry young persons—jobless and disillusioned. They look down upon traditional family skills to earn. Hence, instead of volunteering to expose to such nightmare, most parents like to absorb most of their children into their own trade skills, at the most after grade V. It will be unfair not to acknowledge the selfless and relentless efforts of numerous individuals and NGOs who are doing their bit to contribute towards educating the children and youth of Pakistan, however their cumulative effort makes up only for a micro level contribution towards an issue which is macro in nature that may be even beyond the state’s capacity, hence warranting participation by international effort.

There is a need to systematically erode and eliminate the influence of each factor that contributes towards lowering the motivation to educate and replace these with attractive incentives. The objective of this paper is to evolve a systemic motivational framework by converting inhibitors into promoters of education amongst the rural population by making them stake holders by floating worthwhile incentives, by absorbing contemporary international best practices.


Goal 4 of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) states: “Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning” 2. This goal envisions a broad range of objectives and specifies corresponding milestones. Specifics of this goal include an undertaking to “ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes’ and to ‘eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations’ by 2030” 3. However, without the creation of proper education systems and an educated young generation, true progress is a difficult thing to achieve. One wonders from which end to begin. The answer to this dilemma may be to commence work on both these components simultaneously.

Out-of-School children: Drop out and Exclusion Trends

A new set of indicators was floated by UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS), in July 2016. It covers children of primary school stage, adolescents going through secondary education as well as the youth going through upper secondary phase. UIS was, inter alia, mandated to come up with requisite “frameworks and methodologies” for these indicators for monitoring “SDG 4 and Education 2030” 4. Findings indicate that across the World 263 million children, falling in the age bracket of 6-17 years, are not school going 5, due to both drop out and exclusion. The task of getting all these into respective education streams by 2030 poses a Herculean contest. Estimates by “Global Education Monitoring Report team”, point towards a financial gap of US$39 billion per annum, if the objective is to be accomplished in all low to middle-income countries 6. Besides funding, key obstacles to achieving universal education are persistent disparities related to wealth, location and gender— all three are more pronounced at secondary echelon of education. 7

In the regional context, “58 percent of all youth between the ages of about 15 and 17 are out of school in sub-Saharan Africa, followed by South Asia (50 percent), South-East Asia (37 percent) and West Asia (33 percent). Only the developed regions have a relatively low out-of-school rate, but even here where the upper secondary level is largely considered part of compulsory education, 8 percent of youth is not in (such) school”. 8

Most of the out-of-school children live in a small number of countries 9. Only six states account for over one third of the World’s out-of-school youngsters 10: Nigeria has 8.7 million such children of primary school age 11; Pakistan accounts for 5.6 million; India houses 2.9 million, Sudan has 2.7 million; Ethiopia lodges 2.1 million; and the number for Indonesia is 2.0 million. Moreover, conflict inflicted countries like Afghanistan 12 and Congo have a large number of such children; however, their precise data is not available 13.

Girls to boys’ dropout rates are also not very different; Pakistan takes the top spot with an alarming 41.1 per cent of girls dropping out, followed by 40.2 per cent Nepalese girls. This brings to fore aspects that need to be tackled by respective governments, like the poor girl to boy drop out ratios, the difference between urban and rich households and rural and poor ones. Figures of 2014 indicate that three countries account for South Asia’s largest higher secondary level number; 47 million youth in India are not in school, in Pakistan the figure is 10 million and Bangladesh accounts for 8 million. African Sub-Sahara has the maximum exclusion number— 21 percent of children of primary level are denied the education right, next are Oceania region—12 percent, and West Asia— 11 percent. As per UIS figure “out-of-school children” of primary stage has been stagnant over the past five years. “Of the 61 million out-of-school children, 34 million or more than half live in sub-Saharan Africa, due in part to high population growth rates in the region. Southern Asia has the second highest number of out-of-school children with 11 million”. 14

The “Global Education Digestive 2012” by UNESCO contains some important findings. “School systems are reaching out to more children than ever but losing them due to inefficiencies, which lead to grade repetition and early school leaving. It is far more difficult and costly to reach children once they leave school than to address the barriers and bottlenecks in the systems.” 15 One of the major concerns that arise out of the report is that drop-out rates do not seem to have gone down over the years. Across the world, there are high rates of students leaving school, these are especially pronounced in the developing world but also have there presence in developed countries 16.

In Sub-Saharan Africa 42 per cent of pupils end-up leaving school prematurely— one sixth school entrants leaving before completing grade 2. In South and West Asia, out of every 100 pupils who start primary school, 33 will leave before reaching the last grade. While in Latin America and the Caribbean, 17 per cent of pupils leave school before completing primary education 17.

In South Asian countries 13.54 million children are leaving school before completing primary education. 18 Of these, Pakistan has the highest rate of dropouts at 38.5 per cent. Due to religious intolerance and extremism, education has suffered the most in the country. Then comes Nepal, with 38.3 per cent and Bangladesh is a close third with 33.8 per cent. The regional dropout rate is the highest for South Asia at 33 per cent. Pakistan, Bhutan an India have made much progress where repetitions are concerned by abolishing exams till grade 5 19.

During 2014, the breakdown of children staying out of school was: 61 million of primary age, 60 million of lower secondary bracket and 142 million of upper secondary slot 20. Numbers of school excluded boys and girls declined steadily and reasonably, between 2000 and 2007. Then-on, advancement has slowed down 21. Between 2000 and 2007, the primary level exclusion rate dropped from 15 to 10 percent but declined only to 9 percent during the following seven years. Likewise, lower secondary out of school rate fell from 25 to 18 percent during 2000-7 and dropped to only 16 percent by 2014. However, rate of upper secondary level went down steadily over this entire period (49 to 37 percent). “Today, 1 out of 11 primary school age children, 1 out of 6 lower secondary school age adolescents, and 1 out of 3 upper secondary school age youth are not in school” 22. On the whole, out of school rates for upper secondary age are much greater than primary and lower secondary school age.

Global trends indicate that lower-secondary-agers are almost twice as likely to be out of school (16 percent) as compared to primary-agers (9 percent). And upper-secondary age groups are four times as likely to be out of school (37 percent) as children of primary school agers 23. Enhanced “out-of-school” tendency with aging is visible all over the World, though extent varies from region to region. In South Asia and Africa’s sub-Saharan territories, almost 50 percent of the entire youth is not in school. In South Asia, teens of upper secondary stage are alarmingly eight folds as likely to be out of school as compared to primary level children.

For correct interpretation of this data, it is essential to perceive the peculiarities of higher secondary stage youth. While primary and lower secondary education are mandatory in almost all countries, this does not hold in case of upper secondary stage. Moreover, upper secondary youth often concurrently crosses into legally permitted working age, therefore, they have the option of availing one right out of two—right to education and right to employment; hence they make their choice. Malice in South Asia spreads to even primary level due to lax implementation of anti-child-labour laws.

Global figure of “out-of-school adolescents of lower secondary school age (60 million) are nearly identical to the number for primary school age. However, the global lower secondary out-of-school rate (16%) is twice as high as the primary out-of-school rate. The large majority of these adolescents live in two regions: sub-Saharan Africa (24 million) and Southern Asia (21 million). Eastern and South-Eastern Asia combined account for another 8 million out-of-school adolescents. The regions with the highest percentages of out-of-school adolescents are sub-Saharan Africa (34%), Southern Asia (20%), Western Asia (16%) and South-Eastern Asia (14%)” 24.

Moreover, “it is necessary to analyse the upper secondary out-of-school rate in combination with labor market data and other sources of information. The high upper secondary out-of-school numbers are also a result of the complete lack of education among many youth. In 2005, about 75 million – or 1 out of 9 children of primary age – were out of school. These children are now in the age range of upper secondary education and many have never attended school, highlighting the urgency of achieving universal primary education. While it is important to address the needs of upper-secondary-age youth, it is essential that these efforts do not divert resources from primary and lower secondary education” 25.

Gender Dimension

World level “out-of-school” figures are similar for the two genders. But going by averages only obscures disparities amongst regions. “Western Asia has 20 percent of adolescent girls excluded from education compared to 13% of boys. In sub-Saharan Africa, the female rate is 36% compared to 32% for males. To a lesser extent, boys face a disadvantage in Latin America and the Caribbean, South-Eastern Asia and Southern Asia” 26.

“Gender disparities vary by region. Overall, young women face greater gender barriers than young men. Young women are more likely to be out of school in the Caucasus and Central Asia, Northern Africa, Southern Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and Western Asia. Young men face a disadvantage in the developed regions, Eastern Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean” 27. In 2000, 54% of the 375 million “out of school children, adolescents and youth were female. By 2014, there was virtually no difference in the global rates: 19% of girls of primary and secondary age were out of school, compared to 18% of boys” 28. However, a closer look shows that “girls are more likely to remain excluded from education while out of school boys stand a greater chance of eventually entering school” 29.

Sub-Saharan Africa, Western Asia and Oceania also have the worst gender incompatibilities. In sub-Saharan Africa, 23 percent of all girls and 19 percent of all boys are out of school. “In Oceania and Western Asia, the out-of-school rates are 14 percent (female) and 9 percent (male), and 14 percent (female) and 8 percent (male), respectively” 30.

Also, “more girls than boys will never go to school. When assessing the number of children out of school it is important to remember that each of these children has varying exposure to education 31. Some out-of-school children have attended school in the past but dropped out 32. Some are likely to enter school some time later while some may not have the chance to make an entry in to the school system. According to UIS estimates, “41 percent or 25 million of all out of school children of primary school age have never attended school and will probably never start if current trends continue. About 20% of these children attended school in the past but could not continue their education, and 39% are likely to start late” 33 and will have some kind of limited exposure.

According to UIS data: “Girls are more likely than boys to remain completely excluded from education, despite the efforts and progress made over the past two decades, 15 million girls of primary school age will never have the opportunity to learn to read and write in primary school, compared to about 10 million boys. Across sub-Saharan Africa, 9 million girls will never attend school compared to 6 million boys. In total, 34 million children between the ages of 6 and 11 are out of school across this region. One-third of these children will start at a later age, but almost half will remain entirely excluded, with girls facing the biggest barriers” 34. And “the gender gap is even wider in Southern Asia, where four out of five out-of-school girls will never enter the formal education system, compared to two out of five out-of-school boys. About 5 million girls compared to 2 million boys are permanently excluded from education. More than half of the 11 million out-of-school children in the South Asia will never enroll. About 12 percent of out-of-school children began primary school but dropped out and 26 percent are likely to enter school late” 35.

South-East Asia is the only regional exception where boys outnumber girls in “never to enter school” category. Of Girls not in school, a majority consist of early drop-outs. “Challenges also remain for children enrolled in school, as many are at risk of dropping out for various reasons. In Eastern Asia, Northern Africa, South-Eastern Asia and Western Asia, at least one-third of out-of-school children left school early” 36.

Economic Factors: Major Contributor

World Bank data indicates that “global poverty fell from a high of 50 per cent in 1990 to 14 per cent in 2010” 37. But at the “global level as well as in Pakistan, poverty reduction has not been equal across the regions. For example, in Pakistan, 31.4 per cent of households live in multidimensional poverty in Punjab, a mammoth 73.7 per cent live in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and 71.2 per cent live in Balochistan” 38. Alarming discrepancy is that “Overall multidimensional poverty in the rural areas as a whole is almost six times that in urban areas” 39. Abject poverty is one of the causes keeping the students away from school, and may also be making the dropout as an attractive option for those who enter schools.

Reasons behind the cumulative impact towards drop out could be: multiple streams of education; lack of trust in the public sector education available to socio-economically lower strata of society as there is well spread perception that this system may not enable the students to compete with others who have access to better streams of education, and hence they would be perpetually disadvantaged with regard to entry to professional colleges and elite jobs ; lack of due focus on the purposes of education i.e. beside lofty and abstract ideals like: “acquisition of knowledge”, “becoming better human being” etc. Parents and students are bound to question as to what all would be achievable after finishing the public sector provided education—especially in terms of economic wellbeing and social uplift etc.; then there is dilemma of non-comprehensive format of education. For example religious and vocational components are at best half-baked, often necessitating engaging additional institutions/teachers privately. Failure to qualify a class and the trauma to repeat and, hence, fall behind has been identified as the biggest factor contributing towards drop-out.

Prevalent tuition and Academy cultures further dampen the desire of those parents to send their children to schools who cannot afford these additives; such children are ignored and hissed upon by teachers who do not engage them for tuition and unduly favour those—even in grades— who become their paying clients.

No nation has been able to completely overcome the challenges of dropout from nationally mandated compulsory education programmes; however percentages vary from region to region and country to country, drop-out percentages are minimum in the US and the EU while these are maximum in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

Contemporary motivational frameworks generally focus on free books, free school meal, accessibility of school, and attendance based stipend for parents, skill teaching, religious education, adopting rural focused education curriculum, assured post education placement etc. Challenge of attracting all children to school is a mammoth one, and then retaining them there till completion of secondary or higher secondary levels needs herculean efforts. This essentially requires global effort drawing strength and resources through a pre coordinated multi-disciplinary approach.

Impact of conflict

Data for the year 2014 indicates that conflict spots in 32 countries accounted for 21.5 million or 35 percent of the entire World’s school-less kids and teens. Moreover, 25 percent of “out-of-school adolescents of lower secondary age” and 18 percent of all “out of school youth of upper secondary age” resided in conflict inflicted zones. In West Asia, the most conflict prone region, 89 percent children and teenagers without schooling, were from conflict ridden areas 40.

Fallout of various conflicts has thrown-up approximately “20 million refugees and more than 30 million internally displaced persons” in the world 41, of these, around 50 percent are below 18 years of age. Data on “educational needs and current provision of educational services” for such persons—especially refugees is quite scanty. Estimates show that around “half of refugees of primary school age and three-quarters of refugees of secondary school age are not in school”. 42 For example, in the Syrian conflict zone, at least 50 public sector and volunteer entities 43 are conjointly trying to put together education services for displaced children. 44 Internal displacement is a frequent phenomenon in Pakistan. Military operation in North Waziristan alone, displaced more than one million persons, during other similar operations such displacement were, at times, multiple times as some areas were exchanged between militants and law enforcing agencies more than once.

At some places, refugees’ education is “integrated into national education systems, but in others they are excluded, depending on their nationality”. Another difficulty is posed by the mobility factor of refugees and internally displaced persons which make it cumbersome to “track their education over time across different systems”.

Impact of late start

Starting the school late has serious implications; it reduces the chances of transitioning into secondary education. Over age factor due to late entry is further accentuated by likelihood of repeating the class (es). It is also “strongly linked to leaving school, especially at secondary level”. Late start impacts girl’s education more adversely in some countries. Ratios of abandoning education by those students who are at least two years older than their class fellows is higher from the outset, and it increases if such students repeat class(es), hence, leading to further lag 45. Late start is more pronounced among poor households.

Student Entry and Retention Strategy

A number of policy approaches could augment student entry into the education system and their subsequent retention. At primary level, factors hurting the initial entry are mostly related to parents’ perception about education, while later on the child’s keenness and performance also begin to factor in with regard to continuation of schooling. “National Education Systems” need to focus on both these factors. State and society need to combine efforts for making education purpose-oriented and attractive. Some of the enabling measures are: “increasing supply, notably classroom construction and provision of competent and sufficient teachers; improvements in school infrastructure related to water, sanitation and accessibility” 46. And ways and means to enhance demand include: “removal of fees, unconditional and conditional cash transfers; scholarships or ease of restrictions to progression” 47, developing curriculum that focuses on post-education placement.

Some policy options in the regulatory domain, especially secondary education are:

  1. “Extending the coverage of compulsory education to at least nine years of age and beyond” 48;
  2. Encouraging community participation and voluntary work;
  3. Improving quality of rural teachers;
  4. Evolving a potent child support programme focused on education;
  5. Teaching Arabic as compulsory language for two years, and enabling students in practically performing essential religious rites.
  6. “Raising the minimum age for admission to employment and enforcing the implementation of conventions on child labour” 49;
  7. Preventing child marriages—especially girls;
  8. Implementing ILO recommendations on child labour;
  9. Implementing evening education programme for working children and youth;
  10. “Providing financial support to poor families to cover the direct and indirect costs of schooling” 50;
  11. Making secondary education compatible with socio-economic realities.
  12. Mainstreaming marginalized sub-streams of education by curricula control and facilitation.
  13. “The Education 2030 Framework for Action” calls upon governments to “‘ensure the provision of 12 years of free, publicly funded, equitable quality primary and secondary education, of which at least nine years are compulsory’. While most countries provide at least nine years of compulsory primary and secondary education, upper secondary education is not compulsory in many countries, especially in Africa and Asia. Extending compulsory schooling laws has historically proven effective in high-income countries, especially for disadvantaged individuals” 51.

To encourage the continuation of education to secondary level, a number of countries have done away with annual examination system. “In the Gambia, where examinations at the end of primary education were discontinued in 2002, enrolment in lower secondary education 52 increased from 44 percent in 2002 to 63 percent in 2004. Fiji phased out standardized examinations at the end of lower secondary education in 2010 that partly explains the increase in survival to the last grade of lower secondary from 79 percent to 87 percent between 2008 and 2012, as well as the increase in the upper secondary enrolment rate from 54 to 63 percent over this period” 53.

Challenge of educating working children

ILO’s 2012 estimates indicated existence of 168 million child (5-17 years) labourers. It was a big decline from year 2000 estimates— 246 million. Concurrently doing work and school together is an improvement over skipping school altogether. Yet, it adversely impacts learning and grades proportionate to the time spent by such students on respective job related chores. The more the hours on job the greater the performance gap as compared to those peers who attend school only. Hence, chances to repeat the class also increase for working class students. Overall chances of absenteeism and dropout increase exponentially for working children. Such negative linkage between employment and academic performance is lesser amongst the students of the countries which had ratified the ILO “Minimum Age Convention”. The availability and enforcement of legislation can reduce child labour and improve education outcomes 54.

Provision of generous incentives for poor

Theoretically, most countries, including Pakistan, are committed to provision of free education up to secondary stage. Practically, limitations continue to haunt the poor house-holds. Though fees may be abolished, still multiple costs exist, which cumulatively make education cost prohibitive, especially in poor households which generally have a larger number of children. Other competing necessities like feeding, healthcare and marrying off children etc. have higher priorities on parent’s minds than providing education to all children. Share of total expenditure chipped in by the family is the real determinant of the extent of education being cost free. Initiatives like cash transfers, family or child allowances etc. do help in reducing direct costs for lesser privileged children, however these may not totally stop them from the necessity to work—whole and part-time.

Many such programmes have refocused their effort on the senior age group. South Africa has progressively enhanced the child support eligibility age from 7 to 14 years, 15 years and then to 18.

Cash support to poor households is generally made contingent upon the child’s school attendance and performance. Such programmes in middle-income states like Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and the Philippines cover about 50 percent of poor families. Similar efforts in low-income states, say in sub-Saharan Africa, have also proliferated, but their scale is smaller and support is not linked to milestones with regard to child education; generally unconditional grants are provided which do not motivate parents towards educating their children. Many programmes that target primary and secondary school-age children tend to have a larger impact on secondary than primary school attendance. Bolsa Familia programme in Brazil has contributed towards curtailing dropout rates by 7.8 percent. Similar effort in Colombia helped in enhancing secondary school attendance by 17.5 percent for rural and 7.8 percent for urban adolescents – and has increased the likelihood of graduation — especially in case of girls.

In Pakistan, a number of family income support initiatives like Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP), Zakat Ushr, Waseela-e-Haq etc., are heard about alongside stunning irregularities in their management; of these, some are functional while others are dormant. All of these are general purpose ventures and none is focused on education. And about erstwhile Iqra surcharge, no one hears about the disposal of fund collected under this head. These programmes could be reoriented to take some education related load as well, like provision for school meals, school healthcare and family support for meeting indirect cost of educating the children. Lump-sum grant to families whose children achieve secondary and higher secondary education could have a positive impact.

Making secondary education more attractive

Overcoming perceptional disconnect between what is taught in the schools and what students think is relevant for their future careers and living standard could go a long way in cultivating and sustaining their interest in staring their education processes and then continuing with these. A broad based and comprehensive curriculum reflecting wider student interests is more likely to attract the children and keep them in education through their youth.

The “European Commission’s Working Group on School Policy” (2014–2015) recommended “engaging and relevant curricula’ as a key mechanism to prevent early school leaving, with an emphasis on curricula that allow more learner-centred approaches and collaborative teaching and learning. Curriculum diversification should not occur at the expense of foundation skills essential for success in the job market” 55 and schooling. Likewise, “core curriculum at lower secondary education can empower all learners with the necessary skills – an approach adopted by many countries” 56. For example, “Botswana reformed its basic education system to ensure a core curriculum for all lower secondary students, including subjects such as languages, sciences, agriculture and technology 57. In contrast, burdening lower secondary school goers both with academic and vocational programmes seems to have a negative impact on completion” rates 58.

Take away ‘Points to Ponder’: Snapshot Appraisal of Pakistan’s Education System

Representative survey reports reflecting upon the country’s current status of education are summarized below. A deliberate effort has been made to retain the original tenor and tempo of each report by largely excerpting the reports and by desisting to add comments.

Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement Survey 2013-14

According to “Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement Survey 2013-14” findings, “Pakistan’s progress on the education front has been severely lagging”. Findings of this survey are mentioned below:-

“It has not achieved any of the targets set for 2015 in all three indicators: to improve literacy rate, retain enrollment and increase net primary enrollment 59 . Currently [at the time of survey], the literacy rate in Pakistan is 57%, while the target was to increase it to 88%. It was also pledged that the survival rate of enrolled children from Grade 1 to 5 would be brought to its maximum, but the retention rate is currently only 67%. Similarly, the net primary enrollment is 58% in Pakistan and the target of 100% remained a distant dream. The figure of 25 million children not enrolled in school could not be reduced for the past decade given the increase in population. In the 2015-2016 budget, the combined federal and provincial allocations for education are almost Rs 734 billion. This constitutes 2.68% of the GDP, an embarrassingly low amount when compared to other countries in the region. Sindh and Balochistan are home to the highest proportion of out-of-school children. As many as 66% of children in Balochistan and 51% in Sindh are out of school, followed by Punjab and K-P with 47% and 34% out-of-school children respectively. In the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), 62% are out of school; while in Gilgit-Baltistan 48% are out of school. Some 43% of such children live in Azad Jammu and Kashmir. As per the Ministry of Education’s 2013-14 data, at the primary level, 5.7 million children are out of schools in all four provinces, AJK, G-B and Fata; and 6.2 million children are out of primary schools. As per the break up, 2.9 million children live in Punjab, 0.4 million in K-P, 1.8 million in Sindh and 0.54 million in Balochistan. The latest plan of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government is to enroll six million children between the ages of five and nine years in school. The National Plan of Action 2013-16 has a budget of Rs188.7 billion ($1.7 billion). It includes incentives to control dropout rates, build new schools, add classrooms and train teachers in existing schools”.

National Education Management Information System (NEMIS) 2013-14 Report

NEMIS 2013-14 report has pointed out that:

“There are 11, 096 government schools in Pakistan which do not have buildings and students have no option but to sit on floors. There is no authentic data regime in the country due to which officials are in a state of denial as regards school exclusion and dropout figures. The few small initiatives, taken particularly after the devolution of education to provinces, were also unable to ensure any significant change. Despite the inclusion of article 25 A in the Constitution (which calls on the State to provide free and compulsory education to all children aged five-16 years in such manner as may be determined by law), there has not been any progress on this provision and provinces have yet to frame legislation to implement it. Successive governments’ incompetence is the only reason for the educational crisis in Pakistan. Rampant corruption in government departments further worsens the situation” 60.

Kaiser Bengali, an expert in education system from Sindh, is of the opinion that “Pakistan is good at setting ambitious targets but inept at following through. Successive governments have abandoned policies of the previous administration and adopted new and more ambitious targets, wreaking havoc on the education system and squandering millions of dollar” 61. That’s why Pakistan could not succeed in achieving the MDG of “primary education for all children by 2015”.

According to Muhammad Aatif Khan Minister for “Elementary and Secondary Education in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa”, his ministry has introduced “an effective monitoring mechanism to check the teachers’ absence”. Provincial authorities of KP also claimed that “in the first of phase of its campaign #GharAyaUstaad, 400,000 children were brought back to schools” and the effort is in the process 62. This ministry is also running a programme “Speed Literacy Programme” for attracting overage (9-16) school excluded children to realize their dream of getting educated through evening schools 63.

Master Ayub’s open-sky school

A representative micro level success story of Master Ayub is summarized below:-

“Children sit under the open sky to receive their education. This humble school in posh super market of Islamabad belongs to career counselor Master Muhammad Ayub, a low-ranked government employee at the fire brigade directorate. For the last three decades, the 58-year-old has been teaching underprivileged street children at a vacant plot near capital city’s elite area Super Market in his free time. The number of students fluctuates between 100 and 300 throughout the year. For his decades-long struggle for education, Ayub was conferred the ‘Pride of Performance Award’ by President Mamnoon Hussain. He believes his cause is neglected and the future of his students remains uncertain”. 64

Teacher-less Ghost Schools

Chancher Redhar is a small village – two hours’ drive from Karachi. Here, “Bushra valiantly struggles to keep discipline as a dozen girls run and scream around her. With no teacher for the past eight months, the 10-year-old has been forced to step in to teacher’s role”. 65 “I teach them lessons from the Quran, I teach them Sindhi, I teach them to count one-two, I teach them the alphabet A-B-C-D,” Bushra stated. She says “she dreams of becoming a doctor and learning about computers. But her academic ambitions risk being scuppered after her own teacher fled. Authorities have not appointed a new one, making Bushra’s situation typical for a student at one of Pakistan’s 7,000 so-called “ghost schools”, where no formal classes can be taught. These abandoned pupils are part of a growing education crisis in the country. In the cramped class, Bushra’s attempted lesson is over in just a few minutes, ending with a rendition of the national anthem. Then the girls continue to play as they have done every day since their teacher left, waiting for the arrival of another who may never come” 66.

Local residents of Chancher worry that “another generation will grow up without the skills” they need 67.

“These kids of ours, they don’t know anything. They don’t know the meaning of their names, they don’t know the basics, they know nothing,” said Kazoo Samoon, a villager in Chancher Redhar. “My other daughter grew up without an education and now these children will grow up without any education.”

Damage caused by “ghost schools” across Pakistan, is “self-inflicted: a new generation of children growing up without an education, either because the schools have been abandoned, destroyed, or because teachers are not turning up”. The Supreme Court of Pakistan asked the provinces (in 2012) to scrutinize institutions that took students and were officially regarded as schools. The outcome, in the form of a report in November was rather ugly: “In most of the basic teaching units of the district, the situation is very alarming”. (There are) “…teachers who received salary but did not teach, other schools failed to appoint teachers, properties were appropriated by wealthy landowners, or had budget irregularities, such as ‘paid-for’ computers which never arrived”. Excerpts of the report are 68:

“Most of these schools are teaching institutions only in name, but virtually no student is being admitted there to seek education and the teaching staff is taking salary at home.”.. “The government and bureaucrats have no willingness to solve the problem”… “The money that the government gives to the school is consumed by bureaucrats”… “The budget might tell you what the money has been used for in the schools, but you don’t see it get spent and then the money is gone.” “School funds are split ‘50-50’ between feudal lords and bureaucrats, partly to ensure that there is no threat to the feudal lords’ power base by seeing the poor receive education”… “Those politicians who are actively trying to raise the issue say that it is not a priority for the government”. These ghost schools also “remove incentive for poor families to ensure their children get an education. Instead, many see more value in sending them to work in the fields or bazaars”. “I do not like this school, this is why I do not go,” “I go to fetch and buy water, and then I sell it,” said Arbab, not yet a teenager 69. We see likes of Arbab, in numbers, working at automobile workshops, carpet weaving facilities, brick kilns, selling toys near traffic signals, begging in and around posh markets and employed for household errands etc.”

Chashma Goth UC 30

Chashma Goth is a remote place in district Mianwali in northern Punjab. The Government provides free books to more than 250 children of the school; “the families are so poor that they can’t even afford the expenses for notebooks, bags, shoes, uniform and stationary” 70. The principal of the school died nine months back, he is the signing authority of the school budget, since then the school has not been provided with any money, even Zakat and Ushr committee chairpersons have not responded. Attendance rate is dropping and dropout rates are on the rise. However not everything is bad in Chashma Goth. The Indus Resource Centre has adopted nine schools in the vicinity, an NGO is doing a lot for the uplift of girl’s education – 15 girls have completed matriculation, and one special child has joined the school as teacher as well 71.

ASER Survey 2016: More students enrolling in public schools in ICT 72

“Even as the government enhanced the education budget and is seen to be making concerted efforts to boost school enrollment in the country, the proportion of out-of-school children is still the same when compared to 2015. This was stated in Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2016 national survey report launched on August 02, 2017. The seventh version of the citizen-led household-based survey, managed by the Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA) in partnership with a number of key civil society and semi-autonomous bodies including the National Commission for Human Development (NCHD) and others, found that 19% of children between the ages of 6-16 are still out-of-school. The remaining 81% which are attending school are not learning much either…The report noted that almost all parts of Pakistan including Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Sindh, Gilgit-Baltistan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) recorded some increase in enrollment figures from 1.4% to 4.5%. However, at the same time, there was a considerable shift from public to private schools in most parts of the country. The ASER 2016 rural results showed that 26% of children between the ages 6-16 years of age go to non-state schools. This was up from 24% last year. Only the Punjab and the Islamabad Capital Territory registered a positive shift in enrollment in public schools. Early Childhood Education (ECE) in rural parts of Pakistan has been on a declining trend, falling from 39% in 2014 to 36% in 2016. Overall, government schools have witnessed a fall of 7.5% (63% overall) in enrollment for ECE, while the private sector continues to hold a 37% slice of total enrollment…As many as 48% of children from class V cannot read a class-II-level-story written in Urdu, Sindhi or Pashto. In English, only 46% Class V students surveyed could read sentences, which should ideally be read by students of the second grade. Arithmetic learning levels too showed a decline with only 48% of class V children able to complete a two-digit division, something which is expected in the second grade…The report revealed that only AJK showed substantial improvement in English and Arithmetic with 17% and 29% respective increase from 2015 results. Punjab registered a solitary increase in Arithmetic learnings over scores from 2015. The survey further showed that children enrolled in private schools continued to perform better as compared to those studying in government-run schools. As many as 66% of children enrolled in Class-V in private schools were able to read a story written in Urdu, Sindhi or Pashto. The difference in learning levels for English was starker with 65% of grade V students able to read a class-II-level sentence. For arithmetic, 64% of children enrolled in class V could complete a two-digit division. While the gap was narrower in some provinces, the gap was a consistent feature. Despite the secondary and higher secondary school results showing a dominance of girls, the survey found that boys continue to outperform girls in literacy and arithmetic skills. As many as 43% of boys could make sentences in Urdu, Sindhi and Pashto, as compared to 36% of girls. In arithmetic, 44% of boys in class V could complete a class-II-level subtraction as compared to only 36% of girls in the same grade. Overall, girls’ enrolment in rural areas has seen an increase from 35% in 2014 to 38% in 2016 in government schools. Correspondingly, in the private sector, this figure has risen from 37% to 40%. Apart from students, the ASER report also surveyed teachers and found that more teachers attend private schools than public schools at 92% and 87% respectively. Moreover, school teachers in the private sector were reported to be better qualified with 38% of teachers graduates when compared to 33% in the government sector. However, more teachers had a post-graduate degree than those in private sector.”

Religious seminaries outnumber schools in Islamabad 73

“During the last four years, the federal government did not open any new school in Islamabad but a number of madressahs cropped up in the capital territory. According to a latest survey, the number of seminaries in the federal capital stands at 374… the government had no influence over a majority of the seminaries as 205 of the religious institutions were unregistered. Interestingly, the religious seminaries (374) outnumbered the capital’s 348 educational institutions (191 primary, 60 middle and 97 high schools). However, 43 higher secondary schools, which are generally considered as inter-colleges, are not included in the list of schools. The new residential sectors of G-13 and G-14 have no public schools but a number of seminaries are operating there…However, an official of CADD said for the forthcoming budget the establishment of five new secondary schools (two in G-13, one each in sector G-14, Margalla Town and Pakistan Town) had been approved”.

Madressahs galore 74

“Over the years, one of the state’s many sins of omission that have had a direct bearing on where Pakistan finds itself today is its neglect of the education sector… Add to this the information that the federal government has opened not a single new school in the city during the past four years, during which time a number of madressahs have come up in Islamabad… This shocking dereliction of duty in the education sector is not localized but extends to the rest of Pakistan as well…For low-income households, the option is either to send their children to free but substandard government schools or to better quality private schools — even the most modest of which charge fees that are beyond the means of a large family. Madressahs offer the perfect formula; free board and lodging, coupled with education of at least an acceptable quality. The geo-tagging of madressahs on a provincial level has revealed an alarming growth of these institutions, many of them unregistered. The government has for too long outsourced the critical task of educating the population to religious organisations. Now that the disastrous results are before us, the state must pick up the gauntlet without further delay.”

Access to education 75

“Annual State of Education Report (ASER) [for the year 2106] notes [that] there has been progress in increasing access to education in Pakistan as the number of out-of-school children has dropped from 25 million to 22 million as per government data. However, more remains to be done. Without compromising on access to school, the focus should be on improving the quality. The education budget allocation is now 3.02% of GDP, up from 2.83% last year but is still short of the target. The down side of the situation is that 19% children aged 6-16 still remain out of school. The remaining 81% that are enrolled in the 6-16 age bracket are not learning much either… children enrolled in private schools are performing better compared to those studying in government schools… It is quite obvious that poverty is the main cause that keeps children away from schools and forces them to do some work to help supplement income of their families. The problem can be addressed to a great extent if number of government schools is increased meaningfully. Government schools charge little or no fee but these are not enough to cater to the needs of growing population… Private schools have mushroomed both in urban and rural areas and they are catering to the need of middle and high income segments of the society but poor families cannot afford to get their kids admitted in these schools…There are also issues of facilities, qualifications of teaching staff and the quality of education being imparted and government should, at least, offer training facilities to all teachers including those employed by private schools.”

Education related MDGs: A flopped Story

The MDGs have officially ended in 2015, but MDGs acceleration framework will continue till 2018. “Pakistan adopted 16 targets and 41 indicators against which progress towards achieving eight goals of MDGs is measured.” Pakistan failed to achieve the MDGs in health, education, social welfare and other areas, as progress on 24 indicators was way off track with only four appearing achievable 76. “Seen in the regional context, Pakistan’s performance on MDGs remained less satisfactory as compared to other countries.” According to the Ministry of Finance, from FY 2012-13 till the ongoing fiscal year, a total of Rs 4.06 trillion has been spent in five major sectors: education, health, social security, welfare and population planning at the federal and provincial levels. The governments have spent Rs 2.58 trillion – the highest amongst all sectors – for education. Despite the failures, successive governments have been increasing the budget to achieve the goals; the expenditure was Rs 707 billion for the said areas in FY 2012-13 that surged to Rs 1,144.2 billion in FY 2015-16 while the current government has spent Rs 473 billion till December 2016. The Federal budget has been enhanced by Rs 800 billion for Fiscal year 2017-8. Yet there remains a resource gap between requirement and allocation. Province-wise, Punjab has achieved one-third of the universal primary education goal and one-fifth on reduction of child mortality while it missed the rest of the goals. Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh have also achieved marginal achievement in those goals. Sindh was one-fifth successful in achieving the goal of reducing the child mortality rate while it was off track in the rest of the goals 77.


The numbers are staggering. More than half of all excluded children and youth are between the ages of 15 and 17. While it is essential to meet their specific needs, every stakeholder must ensure that resources are not diverted from primary and lower secondary education, and that interventions needed to reach the most marginalized children obtain necessary financing. The international community cannot break yet another promise and deny children their basic human right to education. It is essential to bridge the annual financing gap needed to provide 12 years of quality education to all children and youth, including marginalized groups. There are no shortcuts” 78. On July 07, 2015, during the UN Education Summit held at Oslo, to mobilize a strong and renewed political commitment to reach the 58 million children who are still being denied their right to education and to strengthen learning outcomes for children and young people of all ages; Pakistan’s Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Malala Yousafzai, called upon World Leadership “to cut eight days of military spending to give all children access to 12 years of free education” 79. She added: “About $39 billion would be needed each year to fund the schooling, It may appear as a huge number but the reality is it is not much at all… In fact, and unfortunately, $39 billion is spent on (the) military in only eight days… The money to send each child to primary and secondary education for twelve years for free is already there.” 80 However, Malala’s prescription may not be applicable to Pakistan, keeping in view its internal and external security concerns. There is a need for massive funding to overcome Pakistan’s resource constraint, it warrants an international monetary intervention much similar to a marshal plan.


1- Constitution of Pakistan 1973, Article 25 A, inserted through 18th Amendment, April 19, 2010, declaring. “[25A. Right to education.—The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to sixteen years in such manner as may be determined by law.]”

2- United Nations, “Sustainable Development Goals: 17 Goals To Transform Our World”, “

3- “Leaving no one behind: How far on the way to universal primary and secondary education?” UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) and the Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report, Policy Paper 27/ Fact sheet 37, UNESCO Institute of Statics(UIS), Policy Paper 27 fact Sheet 34, July 2016.

4- Ibid.

5- Ibid.

6- AFP, “Basic rights: Cut ‘8 days of military spending’ for universal education: Malala”, Express Tribune, July 08, 2015.

7- “Leaving no one behind: How far on the way to universal primary and secondary education?”, UNESCO Institute of Statics(UIS).

8- “Contemporary Challenges facing Young People”. Global survey about the contemporary challenges facing young people. (NEW WAY research Switzerland: 2015).

9- “A growing number of children and adolescents are out of school as aid fails to meet the mark”, UIS Policy paper 22, fact sheet 31, July 2015. “This paper, jointly released by the UIS, and the Education for All Global Monitoring Report”.

10- “A growing number of children and adolescents are out of school as aid fails to meet the mark”, UIS Policy paper 22, fact sheet 31, July 2015.

11- Ruby Leo, “Nigeria Has 10.5 Million Children Out of School-Unicef”, Daily Trust, June 16, 2014.

12- M. Siddieq Noorzoy, “ Afghanistan’s Children: The Tragic Victims of 30 Years of War”. Middle East Institute, University of Alberta (Canada) | Apr 20, 2012.

13- Ibid.


15- UNESCO Institute for Statistics, “The Global Education Digestive 2012: Opportunities lost: The impact of grade repetition and early school leaving”, (UNESCO Institute for Statistics: 2012).

16- Ibid.

17- Ibid.

18- Ibid.

19- Ibid.

20- Ibid.

21- Ibid.

22- Ibid.

23- Ibid.


25- Ibid.

26- “Unicef, Education, Girls’ education and gender equality”,

27- United Nations, “The World’s Women 2010: Trends and Statistics”,

28- “The World’s Youth 2013 Data Sheet”, Population Reference Bureau,

29- “Global Education Monitoring Report: 2016 Gender Review”, Global Education Advocacy, Report, October 03, 2016.

30- “The Millennium Development Goals Report 2014”, United Nations, New York, 2014.

31- Quizlet, “Special ed – Sara 2”,

32- “Out-of-school Children”, Global Partnership for education,

33- “Education Data, Data & Results Education Data”, Global Partnership for education,

34- Ruby Leo, “Nigeria Has 10.5 Million Children Out of School-Unicef”, Daily Trust, June 16, 2014.

35- Ibid.

36- Frances Hunt, “School Drop out: “Patterns, Causes, Changes and Policies”,

37- Shakeel Ahmad, “The Tyranny of Aggregates”, Express Tribune, April 06, 2017.

38- Ibid.

39- Ibid.

40- “Out-of-School Youth in Sub-Saharan Africa”, World Bank Publications, ISSUU, March 5, 2015, ,

41- “Over 60 million refugees worldwide”, The News Line: Feature, December 22, 2015.!topic/alt.politics.socialism.trotsky/a41VV2x_Sd0

42- Xanthe Ackerman, “Education for Syrian Refugees in Turkey – Beyond Camps”, Brookings, January 17, 2014.

43- Ibid.

44- Foreword by António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees “2014 Syria Regional Response Plan, Strategic Overview”. Browse Books. Scribd.

45- “Opportunities lost: The impact of grade repetition and early school leaving”, Global Education Digest 2012, UISP,

46- Teresa H. Stuart & Cheryl Achterberg,” Education and communication strategies for different groups and settings” FAO Corporate Document Repository, http://

47- Ibid.

48- “Report on Review of 9-year Compulsory October 1997 Education (Revised Version)”. Education Bureau, The Government of the Hong Kong Specail Administrative Region.

49- “Elimination of Child Labour,” Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan, Report No 28.

50- Kassahun Admassu, PhD , “Primary School Completion and Grade Repetition Among Disadvantaged Groups:A Challenge to Achieving UPE by 2015”. African Population and Health Research Center, Briefing Paper, Octber 2013.

51- “Education 2030 Incheon Declaration and Framework for Action Towards inclusive and equitable quality education And lifelong learning for all (Final draft for adoption)”. UNESCO ED-2015/Education 2030/1.

52- “Leaving no one behind: How far on the way to universal primary and secondary education?”, DOCPLAYER, Policy Paper 27/Fact Sheet 37, July 2016. This paper was jointly released by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) and the Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report.

53- Ibid.

54- “Leaving no one behind: How far on the way to universal primary and secondary education?”, DOCPLAYER, Policy Paper 27/Fact Sheet 37, July 2016. This paper was jointly released by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) and the Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report.

55- “European Commission’s Working Group on School Policy (2014–2015)”, Education and Training,

56- Ibid.

57- UNESCO, 2012.

58- “Reducing early school leaving: Key messages and policy support”, Final Report of the Thematic Working Group on Early School Leaving, European Commission, Education and Training, November 2013. More information can be found at:

59- Azam Khan / Creative: Aamir Khan, “ Why 25 million children are out of school in Pakistan”, Express Tribune, August 31, 2015,

60- Academy of Educational Planning and Management, “Pakistan Education Statistics 2013-14National Education Management Information System”, April 2015. (PowerPoint Presentation).

61- Ibid.

62- Ibid.

63- Department of Elementary & Secondary Education, Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, “It is my 13th birthday…and the first day at school!”, Express Tribune, May 06, 2017. Sec. Ad., 1

64- Ibid.

65- “Education: Pakistan’s ‘ghost schools’ threaten next generation” The Express Tribune, December 13, 2013.

66- Ibid.

67- “Education: Pakistan’s ‘ghost schools’ threaten next generation”, The Express Tribune, December 13, 2013.

68- Ibid.

69- Ibid.

70- Yusra Salim, “No money for kids’ education”, Express Tribune, NN, p5, April 21, 2017.

71- Ibid.

72- “ASER Survey 2016: More students enrolling in public schools in ICT”, Express Tribune, August 3rd, 2017.

73- Kashif Abbasi, “Religious seminaries outnumber schools in Islamabad”, Dawn, March 18, 2017.

74- Madressahs galore, Dawn, Ed, March 19th, 2017.

75- Access to education, Pakistan Observer, Ed, Aug 04, 2017.

76- Riazul Haq, “Pakistan way off track on MDGs”, Express Tribune, April 24, 2017.

77- Ibid.

78- “No more broken promises”, UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS),  .

79- AFP, “Basic rights : Cut ‘8 days of military spending’ for universal education: Malala”, Express Tribune, July 08, 2015.

80- “Oslo Summit on Education for Development”, July 06-07, 2015.