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The State of Girls’ Education in Pakistan

We all know the story of Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani girl who got shot for standing up against the Taliban, demanding that she go to school. Malala now spends her days advocating education for girls all over the world. And although this story is nothing short of a miracle. The 99% of girls who were and are in the exact situation Malala was in as a girl don't have such a miracle story. For most girls in Pakistan, education is simply an afterthought. Systemic institutional and social barriers exist that bar women from education from all levels of social life, including governments, local districts, and family systems. 

In a landmark report on girls' education in Pakistan, "Shall I Feed My Daughter, or Educate Her?", nearly 22.5 million children are out of school. With 32% of primary school-age girls out of school in Pakistan, compared to 21% of boys. By grade six, 59% of girls are out of school, and by grade 9, only 13% are still in school, with the other 87% out. Although these are national top-line numbers, statistics on girls' education, when broken provincially, can be wildly different. 

In the province of Balochistan, for example, 81% of girls still need to complete primary school, with 75% not attending school. Other regions like Punjab or Sindh have better education rates, but different educational attainment still exists there as well. Unfortunately for Pakistan, education is a provincial responsibility with little federal or local oversight. 

In addition, other factors like the need for more centralization of education and enforcement of rules in the hands of provincial and local authorities cause a patchwork of the education system, which includes private providers, public providers, religious providers, and other NGO groups to educate children. As a result, there is a form of market competition primarily between public schools attempting to maintain standards with high fees and private providers trying to recruit as many students by lowering prices resulting in poorer quality education. Religious providers often give education as community programs but must provide adequate education in non-religious subjects. Other NGO groups are quite limited in scope and suffer the same general problems as private schools of underfunding. The good schools in Pakistan are walled behind extraordinarily high fees that are only available to the country's wealthiest. Education could be much better for the country's vast majority of children, especially girls. 

As a result of this patchwork, national or provincial planning on educational improvement on outcomes needs to be revised across all levels of jurisdictions. Two areas from the same provinces can have different educational outcomes for children. Rural and urban areas can have completely different quality and curricula for education. Standardization and consistency in quality are key to improving education anywhere in the world. Moreover, ensuring education is enforced by making it compulsory will increase educational rates. If local authorities punish parents for not sending their children to school, families will be more motivated to send them. And although it may mean reduced earnings for a lower-class family in the short-term, higher incomes for those families will arrive over the long term. 

When looking at general statistics on what higher education means for girls, educational attainment is directly linked to lower mortality, higher employment rates, a better sense of belonging and purpose, lower levels of crime, lower fertility rates, better opportunities, higher incomes, higher happiness levels, etc. For girls in Pakistan, improving educational attainment from the already low rates will drastically affect girls' lives in the long term. 

Social Barriers to Girls' Education 

From personal and anecdotal experience, young girls are often removed from school by their parents under the belief that girls don't need education. In Pakistan, the culture is that girls take care of their households and are usually married off to take care of the man's households their married to. Rather than girls, boys are expected to go to school as it makes economic sense to send boys who would eventually use their education to provide for their families. The same concept is limited to girls. 

Girls in Pakistani society are also traditionally at risk of being in romantic relationships, sexual assault, or being attacked after they reach puberty. As a result, parents pull their daughters from school to ensure that their " purity " is protected ensure their daughters' " value " doesn't decrease. It leads to families constricting their daughters not to leave the house during busy hours for fear they'll be sexually harassed or attacked. And with Pakistani police authorities doing little to institute justice against perpetrators, families are becoming less willing to send their daughters to school or partake in employment. 

It is part of a larger problem of gender social norms in Pakistan, where purity is a big factor in the variability of a girl and the need for her to get out of school. In Pakistan, sons are expected to take care of their parents, whereas daughters are seen to be sent away to their husband's households. As a result, there is more economic incentive to send boys to school since daughters will take on the role of caretaker anyway. 


Pakistan's problems require systemic change at an institutional and social level. It isn't enough to assume that education for girls will improve over time. There needs to be direct legislation and guidelines made through federal and provincial collaboration. A list of solutions as per my observations include: 

  • It means federal funding and provincial funding for education tied to inflation, allowing the federal government to have funding leverage for provinces going out of line in national educational goals. 
  • Codifying education rights and making education compulsory in every province for all children until 18. 
  • Any parent not putting their children in school will be fined or have a court order instituted against them under the argument of child neglect. 
  • Developing a national school nutrition program for all children by providing adequate nutrition for their mental and physical capabilities to develop. 
  • Each province institutes a national accountability and review committee of all education curricula. 
  • Tying curriculum standards in science, math, language, civics, history, and religious classes to conditional federal funding.
  • Having provinces develop local school districts that are tasked to meet the needs of their particular community. These districts are charged with hiring and training teachers and education workers, hosting community school events and extracurricular activities, hosting donation programs for needy local children, and administrating schools. 
  • As said above, adequately developing a system of school districts will give leverage and pressure on provincial governments to go out of line in education investment. It requires school district councils, teacher's unions, and a central administrative board in every district. 
  • Universal coverage or subsidies for technology, textbooks, and uniforms.
  • Banning any fees for public schooling. Significantly reduce the amount of private education by mandating them to turn public. 
  • Investments in providing public transportation for students that live far from school. 
  • Investing in education in rural communities that have historically had little educational investment. 
  • Ensuring the commute to school is compatible with different modes of transportation, including walking, biking, public transport, and driving. 
  • Investments in all types of transportation (sidewalks, bike lanes, dedicated public transport routes, and pedestrian-friendly roads) are needed to ensure equitable success in commuting to school. 
  • Making governmental programs or advertisements targeted to girls to entice them to be educated in STEM, social sciences, or schooling in general. 
  • Every province's physical education curriculum needs to include modern sex education. Teach boys and girls neutral sexual etiquette to reduce adverse sexual behaviour against girls.
  • Universal access to period products in schools for girls. 
  • Eliminate gender segregation in schools to tackle the reenforcement of harmful gender stereotypes, reduce operational costs, and promote gender diversity in the broader society.
  • A pan-Pakistani licensing standard for people looking to gain credentials to teach and become education workers. 
  • Developing a wage grid based on experience for teachers and education workers to incentivize workers into the sector and to stay for the long term. 
  • Ensuring the funding of schools in all districts remains relatively similar and does not depend on municipal revenue policies. 
  • Ensuring schools are similar in quality across all school districts in the country. 

These recommendations are based on experience from living in the Canadian education system. Although the Canadian education system has many challenges, applying the policies and procedures of other countries with similar jurisdictional power divisions like Canada can help Pakistan understand what it needs to do to develop a world-class education system like Canada's.

Many education advocates need to recognize the benefits of cooperation between different levels of government and automatically assume that holistic national planning is always the way to go. And although national planning can get good policies done fast, it equally bares the risk of bad changes happening just as funding. Just as education can get a berate of funding, it can get defunded just as quickly from a change in government. Therefore, making sure collaboration from federal, provincial, and municipal bodies will help to solidify education based on the needs of each government and not on the behest of what's politically popular.

Pakistan needs more accountability on where and how money is used. As one of the most corrupt countries in the world, responsibility should be levied by all levels of government. Special attention must be put towards local educational groups, advocates, and school boards which represent the educational needs of their communities and truly have the motivation within them to improve education in Pakistan. 

Education is one of the core pillars that make up a society, any society that needs to pay adequate attention to its educational institutions is bound to fail in its social and economic development. 

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