Educational challenges in Pakistan

Written by Sara Ahmed



Education lays the foundation for political, social and economic development of any country.[1] As a developing country, Pakistan has faced many critical problems when it comes to education and has one of the world’s highest numbers of out-of-school children (OOSC). There are various factors responsible for the educational situation in Pakistan. This article explores some of the challenges that Pakistan faces when it comes to the educational sector.

The Pakistani educational system

The Pakistani educational system exists of public schools, private schools and madrassas. Madrassas are working as Islamic Seminaries; they are imparting Islamic education at graduation level and are often found in more rural areas of Pakistan. These different institutions all have different mediums of teaching, curricula, and also examination systems. This is a barrier in the countries education sector, because it has become a dividing force between the privileged and underprivileged people in the society, leading to economic disparity.[2]

Across all levels of education, the public sector remains the main provider for educational services in Pakistan. Except for the pre-primary level, total enrollment in public schools is almost double compared to private schools.[3] The majority of public schools in Pakistan are primary schools; only 20% are middle and secondary schools. Limited and uneven school access is one of the most daunting challenges for augmenting school enrollment and completion.

Image 1

As can be seen from Image 1, The United Nations Development Program mentioned that in 2020, 64% of the Pakistani youth lived in urban areas and 26% in rural areas. 70% of the Pakistani youth was literate, while 30% was illiterate in 2020. Furthermore, 39% of the youth was employed, while the majority (61%) was unemployed and only 4% looking for a job. Another issue is the access to internet. Only 15% of the youth had access to internet in 2020, while 85% did not. 48% of the youth did not even have a mobile phone. The latter was a huge issue during the COVID-19 Pandemic in Pakistan.


Another important issue is that of gender disparity. Throughout Pakistan’s educational system, there is a gender disparity between males and females. According to the 2016 Global Gender Gap Report, Pakistan was ranked the second worst country in the world regarding gender inequality.[4] This is of most concern in more rural areas where access to education for girls is limited.

Out-of-school children (OOSC) and literacy rates

Another major problem that Pakistan faces is that it has one of the world highest numbers of OOSC. Estimated is that 22.8 million children between the age of 5-16 are not attending school; representing 44 per cent of the total population in this age group.[5] The disparities based on gender, socio-economic status and geography are significant. In Sindh for example, 52 per cent of the poorest children (of which 58 per cent are girls) are out of school. The figures are even higher in Balochistan, where 78 per cent of girls are out of school.[6]

Image 2.

On image 2, one can see the different stages of education; the number of children enrolled in the type of education and the number of out-of-school children in that stage.

The socio-economic disparities in Pakistan do not only exist between rural an urban regions, but also between the different provinces in Pakistan. This has an impact on educational outcomes, including gaps in access to education and overall education attainment. A good example is the literacy rate in Pakistan. In the bigger cities, such as Lahore and Islamabad and Karachi, the literacy rates are almost 75%. On the other hand, we have the tribal regions in Balochistan (Pakistan’s poorest and largest province) where the literacy rates can be as low as 9%.[7]

Quality of education

According to a report of UNESCO, the quality of educational institutions and teachers in Pakistan is very low. In remote parts of Pakistan, the availability of teachers is drastically lower.[8] There are also a lot of so called ‘ghost teachers’ that sap public payrolls by not showing up for work. While most of these problems are worse at the elementary level, where most of Pakistan’s students are enrolled, they have ripple effects for the entire education system and depress enrollment rates at all levels.

Furthermore, teachers are often not provided with the necessary equipment’s and training for the knowledge and skills. The main reason is the poor management, lack of finding and improper training standards. In addition to this, the curriculum is often outdated, resulting in a major lack of professional development.

Most students in Pakistan attend public schools. Public schools often do not contribute to a positive learning environment. The classrooms tend to be overcrowded, the electricity and air conditioning is not always working, insufficient use of playgrounds and libraries and most schools do not have commuting systems in place, which exacerbated female drop-out rates. Long home- to-school distances and poor transportation and communication facilities are among the important causes of dropout at the primary level in Pakistan. Poor children, especially girls who are not allowed to travel long distances alone, suffer the most as commuting costs and time increase.

In an interview with TCM Originals, Tariq Banury (a Pakistani educationist, professor and economist), opens up about the current struggles of the Pakistani educational system. He explains that a lot of students, after finishing their degree, do not have the basic skills they should possess. He blames the process in which professors are hired and the outdated curriculum. He continues to explain that professors and curriculum should not stand still, but should evolve with time and science available.[9]

Another major issue is the government’s annual spending on the educational field. Most of the United Nation’s agencies recommend countries to spend a minimum expenditure of 4% on education. Pakistan had only spent 1,77% of GDP on education in 2021-2022. In recent years, the highest percentage of GDP Pakistan has spent on education was in 2017-18, when education expenditures were raised to 2.12%. The usual argument given for lack of spending on education has always been and still is that Pakistan does not have the resources to increase the level of spending on the educational field.[10]

The effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 Pandemic also had its effect on Pakistan and its educational system. Because of COVID-19, Pakistan had to consider using online classes. However, many students, especially in rural areas, do not and did not have access to the Internet. Students who are on the lower ladder of the economical circle and students who live in rural areas had been greatly disadvantaged by this new learning method. Many students did not have access to a laptop or even internet. This has greatly impacted the lives of many students in Pakistan, who therefore could not access their education online.[11] This has also resulted in high drop-out rates across the various levels of education in Pakistan.[12]

Low-income families have been the hardest hit by the pandemic. High rates of poverty have put more burden on adolescent girls to stay at home to reduce schooling costs. Coupled with household chores and early marriage, many may never return to the classrooms.[13]  Pakistan was already struggling with high illiteracy rates, the Pandemic has made this situation even worse and has affected the learning of approximately 40 million students across Pakistan.[14]


Pakistan’s educational system has improved over the years, but still tends to rely too heavily on outdated teaching and examination methods. While great strides have been made in improving literacy and participation rates, the education system remains largely elitist with access to the best educational opportunities available only to the more affluent or well-connected students. Furthermore, the COVID-19 Pandemic has had a great impact on the lives of many students who could not access education at the time and increased the drop-out rates across all educational levels in Pakistan. Additionally, Pakistan does not spend the suggested minimum amount of 4% of GDP on education, the percentage is not even half of the suggested amount by the United Nations Bodies. Pakistan does have the intention to increase its annually spending on the educational field. Is this a feasible goal? Only time can tell. In the meantime, many students will still struggle to access the educational system of Pakistan.





[1] Iqbal Ahmad et al, ‘Critical analysis of the problems of education in Pakistan: possible solutions’, IJERE (3:2) June 2014, p 79.

[2] Robert Hunter, World Education Services: Education in Pakistan (2020), >< accessed on 5 March 2023.

[3] ADB Briefs, ‘Access Challenges to Education in Pakistan’ (2022), NO. 27, << accessed on 6 March 2023.

[4] World Economic Forum, ‘Global Gender Gap Report 2016’ (2016) p 22.

[5] Unicef, ‘Education: giving every child the right to education’, <> accessed on 6 March 2023.

[6] Idem.

[7] Robert Hunter, World Education Services: Education in Pakistan (2020), >< accessed on 5 March 2023.

[8] Unicef, ‘Education: giving every child the right to education’, <> accessed on 6 March 2023.

[9] TCM Orginals, ‘Does Pakistan’s Higher Education System Need Reform? Educationist Tariq Banuri’ (2021),

[10] Sahiba Abid, ‘Education in Pakistan: problems, challenges and perspectives (2022) >< accessed on 3 March 2023.

[11] Adnan Muhammad “Online learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic: Students perspectives” (2020) Journal of Pedagogical Sociology and Psychology. 1 (2): 45–51.

[12] Rabea Malik, ‘The Impact of COVID-19 on education in Pakistan’ (2020),

[13] Anooshay Abid, ‘How has COVID impacted Pakistans’s education system?’ (2021),

[14] Idem.