5.5 million children out of school in Pakistan: UNESCO report

Published: February 1, 2014
Report paints gloomy picture of education in country. PHOTO: AFP

Report paints gloomy picture of education in country. PHOTO: AFP

Pakistan has almost 5.5 million children that are out of school, the second highest number in the world only after Nigeria. Pakistan also has the highest number of illiterate adults in the world, after India and China.

These are just some of the findings of UNESCO’s latest report on the state of global primary education that puts Pakistan’s current educational crisis in a glaring, damning light.

Pakistan is among the 21 countries facing an “extensive” learning crisis, according to the report. This encapsulates a number of indices, such as enrolment, dropout rates, academic performance and literacy. Pakistan scores low in every index.

Broadly, global standards of primary education seemed particularly severe in South and West Asia, and Western Africa. The countries in these regions, including Pakistan, are behind in virtually every index. Pakistan features along with 17 countries from sub-Saharan Africa, Mauritania, Morocco and India.

Public vs Private

Children in a low-fee private school outperform those that are enrolled in the top tier of government schools, laying bare the government’s crumbling educational infrastructure. However, even in private schools, 36% of grade 5 students cannot read a sentence in English, which they should have been able to do by grade 2.

Provincial Divides

The report exposed the inequalities in education within the country as well:

“Geographical disadvantage is often aggravated by poverty and gender. In Balochistan province, Pakistan, only 45% of children of grade 5 age could solve a two-digit subtraction, compared with 73% in wealthier Punjab province. Only around one-quarter of girls from poor households in Balochistan achieved basic numeracy skills, while boys from rich households in the province fared much better, approaching the average in Punjab.”

Teaching crisis

The children were not the only problematic indicators. In a list of countries that have the highest shortfall of teachers, Pakistan was the only non-African country to be on the list. Nigeria was highest on the list, requiring 212,000 teachers. The study said that between 2011 and 2015, 5.2 million primary school teachers are required globally to make sure that universal primary education is guaranteed.

Women’s health, education tied together

The report also provided further evidence to the relationship between education and health. In Pakistan, only 30% of women with no education believe they have a say over how many children they have, compared with 52% of women with primary education and 63% of those with lower secondary education.

Silver lining?

Amidst the crisis, the report also recommended programs that have mitigated the crisis. Save the Children’s Literacy Boost was fairly successful in implementing early grade reading programs in government schools. Similarly, children who had attended after-school reading camps coordinated by community volunteers showed greater learning gains in reading fluency and accuracy in both Pashto and Urdu than classmates in the same schools.

Despite the implementation of promising programs, the report stated that Pakistan is far away from achieving the 80% enrollment target it had set for 2015.

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Reader Comments (15)

  • Ch. Allah Daad
    Feb 1, 2014 - 9:18PM

    There is no incentive for poor people to send their kids to schools. When they watch that westernized and Oxford graduates are as stupid as illiterate people, they lose all interest in education.Recommend

  • achieved
    Feb 1, 2014 - 9:41PM

    There seems Punjab government achieved the target. Advise for other provinces leadership is to concentrate on their business.Recommend

  • Nadir
    Feb 1, 2014 - 9:48PM

    These children should be proud to live in a nuclear power and our enemies cannot even look at us with an evil eye! The people making the real sacrifices, the generals, should be thanked, not wasting time on these children.Recommend

  • Jibran
    Feb 1, 2014 - 10:06PM

    When the dudes destroying the schools are being rewarded, people get perfect idea about the priority of the government.Recommend

  • Imran Takkar
    Feb 1, 2014 - 10:38PM

    According to UNESCO Convention Against Discrimination in Education 1960, the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 1966 and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989 have all instituted the basic Right of all individuals to get meaningful education, in addition to being a signatory to these conventions, Pakistan has also endorsed the MDGs and Education for All EFA goals. While after the 18thAmendment in the Constitution, making the provinces responsible for the education till higher secondary levels and claiming free and compulsory education for each child from age 5 to 16, But ironically in Pakistan even after more than 60 years the education ratio is not yet reached to 60 percent, while in FATA the situation is so worse than that, where there is saying that the education ratio is only 17 percents for boys and for girls only 3 percent.

    It has become an evident that only making changes in the constitution or signing and ratifying conventions can never bring educational reforms but it needs real political will and practical intentions i-e investment in education particularly at primary level.

    Therefore, Keeping in view the best interest of the child and prosperous Pakistan the current governments should take effective administrative, financial and policy level initiatives to upgrade and redesign education structure according to the needs, and the requirements of the nation and the country. In fact it became a dire need to call education emergency in the country i-e mass mobility of the general public as education being the basic step towards country’s overall development.Recommend

  • Rex Minor
    Feb 1, 2014 - 11:00PM

    Why not talk about the positives about Pakistan? It has the largest army made up of large militias built on the concept and the structure of the former colonial structures to control and run the life of politicians. UNESCO should undertake the necessary steps to first educate this army before measuring the civilian population on literacy standards.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Ishrat salim
    Feb 1, 2014 - 11:02PM

    Most of our politicians being feudals, we can not expect them to be serious ñor have the will to implement constitution clause 25 A, which,envisages our leaders to ensure that free education is imparted to kids from 5 years up to 15 years, yet 60 years on we have not done that,hence constitution is nothing but a piece of paper destined to dustbin…..what is use of this paper called constitution when its articiles and clauses are trampled right, left,and center by our Senators, MNAs and MPAs….,Recommend

  • rkfrom ny
    Feb 1, 2014 - 11:11PM

    …school in pakistan means madrassas..???..dont tell me there is a real school in there..Recommend

  • Alikaa Sohail
    Feb 1, 2014 - 11:14PM

    There is no incentive for poor people to send their kids to school when people [email protected] Allah Daad post stupid illiterate comments that degrade the conversation of educating Pakistani kids.
    We are aware that Pakistanis priorities are screwed up. Basic services work for the connected rich, the poor struggle we spend millions on Sindhi festivals while many Sindhi villages have raw sewer run through them. Our media spends more time on Veena Malik then do daily expose-investigative stories about corruption that has become the fabric of our society, so alas why are we surprised that we have so many uneducated kids, when people who attempt to kill girls are celebrated & their victims are accused of being Western stooges ? Pakistan does NOT surprise the world & the world expects no more from Pakistan!Recommend

  • lol
    Feb 1, 2014 - 11:50PM

    education quality is much of a concern in india…..especially for the poor……. we must strengthen our quality…pakistan is seriously in crisis…. looking at the figures of number of dropouts……..


  • Israr
    Feb 2, 2014 - 12:33AM

    As long as we let Sardars, Waderas, Saains and Zamindars rule over their clans, there is no chance to expect any progress in literacy rate across the nation. The educated in Pakistan understands this problem very well. The onus of fixing this rests with them as well.


  • rizwan
    Feb 2, 2014 - 4:21AM

    we don’t need education we need metro bus in every city.


  • Rex Minor
    Feb 2, 2014 - 6:40AM

    @rkfrom ny:

    If there would be enough Madrassas, there would be less illetracy!! Both Oxford and Harward elite universities were original set up as Madrassas, to teach religion.

    Rex Minor


  • Justice Denied
    Feb 2, 2014 - 8:55AM

    If the countries like US and its Allied countries exploiting and preaching terrorism, weapon culture and marketing, unrealistic and fantasy media culture, when the power and rights of U.N.O in few hands, when the un-ended suppression, exploitation and capitalistic approach persists. The standers of education, the role of religion and the respect for humanity doesn’t exists. If the US and Allied has been spending billions on occupying other state, creating insecurity and diminishing diversity then the voice for education…education which really brings the real change and respect for humanity, diversity, culture, society, faith and believes and equality is totally useless and wasting of time.


  • Sexton Blake
    Feb 2, 2014 - 6:01PM

    Dear ET,
    I have tried before, so will put it another way. The current children not at school in Pakistan work out at approximately 8%. I will make an even money bet that most of them are girls.


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