The State of Education in Pakistan: Progress and Setbacks


Education is a cornerstone of national development, playing a crucial role in shaping the future of any country. In Pakistan, the education system has seen various reforms and initiatives aimed at improving literacy rates and educational outcomes. However, significant challenges persist, hindering progress. This essay examines the state of education in Pakistan, highlighting both the progress made and the setbacks encountered.

Historical Context

Early Development and Colonial Legacy

The foundations of Pakistan’s education system were laid during the British colonial period. The colonial education policy primarily focused on producing a limited number of educated individuals to serve in the colonial administration, which led to significant regional and gender disparities. Post-independence, Pakistan inherited these structural issues and has since struggled to create an inclusive and equitable education system.

Post-Independence Reforms

Following its independence in 1947, Pakistan embarked on various educational reforms aimed at expanding access and improving quality. The National Education Policy of 1979 and subsequent policies focused on increasing literacy rates, enhancing technical and vocational education, and promoting higher education. Despite these efforts, the implementation of these policies often fell short due to political instability, lack of funding, and administrative inefficiencies.

Current State of Education

Literacy Rates and Enrollment

As of 2024, Pakistan’s literacy rate stands at approximately 60%, with significant disparities between urban and rural areas, and between genders. While there has been progress in increasing enrollment rates, particularly at the primary level, dropout rates remain high. According to recent data, nearly 22.8 million children are out of school, making Pakistan one of the countries with the highest number of out-of-school children globally.

Educational Infrastructure

Educational infrastructure in Pakistan varies widely. Urban areas generally have better facilities, but many rural schools lack basic amenities such as clean drinking water, sanitation, and electricity. Additionally, there are disparities in the availability of educational resources, with many schools facing shortages of qualified teachers, textbooks, and teaching materials.

Quality of Education

The quality of education in Pakistan is a significant concern. Many students, particularly in public schools, do not acquire basic literacy and numeracy skills. The curriculum is often outdated, rote learning is prevalent, and there is a lack of emphasis on critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Teacher training is also inadequate, with many teachers lacking the necessary qualifications and pedagogical skills.

Higher Education

Pakistan’s higher education sector has expanded considerably over the past few decades, with the establishment of numerous universities and higher education institutions. However, challenges remain, including issues related to quality, relevance of curricula, and research output. The Higher Education Commission (HEC) has made efforts to improve standards, but resource constraints and governance issues persist.

Progress in Education

Government Initiatives

The Pakistani government has launched several initiatives aimed at improving education. Programs such as the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) include education stipends to encourage school attendance among low-income families. The Punjab Education Foundation (PEF) and Sindh Education Foundation (SEF) have also implemented successful public-private partnership models to increase access to education.

Technological Advancements

The integration of technology in education has shown promise. The rise of e-learning platforms and digital resources has helped bridge some gaps, particularly in remote areas. Initiatives such as the Allama Iqbal Open University’s online programs and various private sector e-learning platforms have increased access to education.

International Support

International organizations and donor agencies have played a crucial role in supporting Pakistan’s education sector. The Global Partnership for Education (GPE), UNICEF, and USAID, among others, have provided funding and technical assistance for educational projects aimed at increasing access and improving quality.

Setbacks and Challenges

Socio-Economic Barriers

Socio-economic barriers remain a significant obstacle to education in Pakistan. Poverty, child labor, and early marriages are prevalent, particularly in rural areas, and prevent many children from attending school. Additionally, gender discrimination and cultural norms often restrict girls’ access to education.

Political Instability and Governance Issues

Political instability and governance issues have significantly hindered educational progress. Frequent changes in government and inconsistent policies disrupt long-term planning and implementation. Corruption and mismanagement of funds also impede the effectiveness of educational programs.

Security Concerns

Security concerns, particularly in conflict-affected areas, pose a significant challenge to education. Terrorist attacks on schools, particularly those targeting girls’ education, have created an environment of fear and have led to the closure of many schools in affected regions.

Inequitable Resource Allocation

Resource allocation in Pakistan’s education sector is often inequitable. Urban areas and more affluent regions tend to receive more funding and better resources, while rural and underprivileged areas are neglected. This disparity exacerbates educational inequalities and limits opportunities for children in disadvantaged areas.

Policy Recommendations

Increasing Investment in Education

To address the educational challenges, Pakistan needs to significantly increase investment in education. This includes allocating a larger portion of the national budget to education, ensuring timely disbursement of funds, and prioritizing education in national development plans.

Improving Teacher Training

Enhancing the quality of teacher training programs is crucial. Comprehensive training programs that focus on modern pedagogical techniques, subject matter expertise, and classroom management should be implemented. Continuous professional development and performance-based incentives can also help improve teaching standards.

Curriculum Reform

Curriculum reform is essential to ensure that the education system meets the needs of the 21st century. The curriculum should be updated to emphasize critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving skills. Incorporating technology and digital literacy into the curriculum can also help prepare students for the modern workforce.

Promoting Inclusive Education

Promoting inclusive education involves addressing the specific needs of marginalized groups, including girls, children with disabilities, and those from minority communities. This can be achieved through targeted policies, awareness campaigns, and the provision of necessary resources and support services.

Strengthening Public-Private Partnerships

Strengthening public-private partnerships can help leverage resources and expertise from the private sector to improve education. Successful models, such as those implemented by the Punjab and Sindh Education Foundations, should be expanded and replicated in other regions.

Enhancing Governance and Accountability

Improving governance and accountability in the education sector is critical. This includes establishing transparent and efficient mechanisms for fund allocation, monitoring and evaluating educational programs, and holding officials accountable for their performance. Anti-corruption measures should also be strengthened to ensure that resources are used effectively.

Addressing Security Issues

Addressing security issues requires a multi-faceted approach. This includes improving physical security measures at schools, promoting community involvement in school safety, and addressing the root causes of conflict and violence. Ensuring that all children, particularly girls, feel safe attending school is crucial for improving educational outcomes.

Case Studies of Successful Initiatives

Punjab Education Foundation (PEF)

The Punjab Education Foundation (PEF) has been successful in improving access to quality education through public-private partnerships. PEF’s initiatives, such as the Foundation Assisted Schools (FAS) program, provide funding and support to low-cost private schools, enabling them to offer free education to disadvantaged children. This model has helped increase enrollment rates and improve educational outcomes in Punjab.

TCF (The Citizens Foundation)

The Citizens Foundation (TCF) is one of Pakistan’s largest non-profit organizations dedicated to providing quality education to underprivileged children. TCF operates over 1,600 schools across Pakistan, offering free or subsidized education to nearly 266,000 students. TCF’s focus on community involvement, teacher training, and holistic education has made it a model of success in the education sector.

Teach For Pakistan

Teach For Pakistan, part of the global Teach For All network, recruits and trains young professionals to teach in under-resourced schools. The program aims to address educational inequities by placing motivated individuals in schools where they can make a significant impact. Teach For Pakistan fellows not only improve educational outcomes but also work on leadership and community development initiatives.

The Role of Technology in Education

E-Learning Platforms

The advent of e-learning platforms has transformed the educational landscape in Pakistan. Platforms such as Sabaq Foundation and TeleTaleem provide digital lessons and resources that are accessible to students in remote areas. These platforms have been particularly useful during the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring continuity of education despite school closures.

Mobile Learning Initiatives

Mobile learning initiatives, such as SMS-based educational programs, have helped reach students in areas with limited internet access. Programs like Mobilink’s m-Learning project offer educational content via mobile phones, making learning accessible to a broader audience.

Online Teacher Training

Online teacher training programs have emerged as a viable solution to improve teacher quality. Organizations like the Pakistan Education Foundation and Aga Khan University offer online courses and certifications for teachers, enhancing their skills and knowledge without requiring them to leave their communities.


The state of education in Pakistan is characterized by a blend of progress and setbacks. While significant strides have been made in increasing access to education and improving infrastructure, numerous challenges persist. Socio-economic barriers, political instability, governance issues, and security concerns continue to hinder educational progress. However, with targeted policies, increased investment, and a commitment to inclusive and quality education, Pakistan can overcome these challenges and build a more robust and equitable education system. The future of Pakistan depends on its ability to educate and empower its youth, making education a national priority and a driving force for sustainable development.

This article is written by Shaan Abbas. Shaan is a research analyst at the Iqbal Institute of Policy Studies (IIPS).

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