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Education in Pakistan

All Demand and Little Supply  

Masooma Habib  


The is the text of Ms. Habib’s presentation at the Pakistan Economic Development Conference held on March 07 1998 at MIT. 


I would like to speak about education  in Pakistan at two ends of the spectrum-- at one end highereducation in the private sector, and at the other end NGO schooling for the very poor. In each case, I will try to identify criteria that successfully meet parents' demand foreducation , and then address the question of how successful initiatives can be sustained.


Providingeducation  to its citizens is clearly not a priority for the Government  of Pakistan . Policy makers do not seem to realize the immense importance of investing in the people of the country, and not only in roads and airports. Lack of skills and high illiteracy levels are as great a barrier to economic development as inadequate infrastructure. This will become increasingly evident asPakistan is forced to compete in world markets where most developing countries already have more skilled workers.


Low investment in girlseducation also imposes a high cost on society. When women are more educated, labor force participation rates increase, their children are better nourished and educated, and of utmost importance to Pakistan , fertility rates are lowered. The population  of Pakistan is estimated to grow to 250 million in twenty years and the country does not have the resources to sustain this increase. Female illiteracy will be an important contributor to thispopulation  increase. 


The need for colleges and universities to provide quality 
education cannot be emphasized enough. Good institutions of higher learning are essential for building leadership and professionalism in our country.


Unfortunatelygovernment institutions no longer enjoy the reputation they used to 20 years ago. The spacious campuses of Punjab University , Government  college Lahore  and Karachi University , are not perceived as institutions of high academic standards anymore. At the core of this deterioration is the public examination system. Malpractice in the system have made the Intermediate, Bachelors and Masters degrees unreliable measures of student competence. Public institutions of higher learning have also become a hotbed of student politics, and student and teacher
absenteeism is high.

The inability of degrees from
government universities and colleges to serve as screening devices for selecting graduates in the job market has led to a substantial demand by parents and employers for private higher education , where students are willing to pay high fees. We are all familiar with the traffic jams caused by private colleges and institutions that have mushroomed in rented houses in cities all overPakistan . However these institutions are mostly commercial ventures, some of them playing a role in providing marketable skills. Most serve as tuition centers to prepare students for board exams, rarely providing qualityeducation and opportunities for intellectual growth.

A few universities in the private sector have attempted to fill this vacuum for quality higher
education, of which the best known two are the Lahore 
University of Management Sciences (LUMS) and the Aga Khan Medical University  in Karachi . These universities provide successful alternatives to poor qualityeducation  in the public sector. In the case of the Lahore  University  of Management Sciences, the initiative came from businessmen, who supported and funded the setting up of a private school that they perceived would meet the demand of Pakistani industrialists and bankers for well qualified local MBAs.

I will highlight the experience of a relatively recent establishment in the private sector, the
School  of Economics. The Lahore  School originally aimed to provide a graduate degree in Economics and Management and eventually expand to an undergraduate program. TheLahore School  was established in 1993 and received a charter from the provincialgovernment  at the beginning of 1997. I wasteaching at the School during this formative stage, and it gave me an opportunity to gain some insights into the mechanics of the birth of an institution. It was clear that there is substantial demand for quality highereducation in the private sector. Parents are willing to pay over Rs. 100,000 a year for educating sons as well as daughters which is several times higher than the cost of an equivalent degree from a public university, but at the same time lower than the cost of sending students to foreign universities. Parents' demand also reflects the job market demand foreducation . For instance, bankers and industrialists often commented on the preference for well trained local MBAs over those with foreign qualifications as the local graduate adjusted better to the Pakistani businessenvironment . For this reason, banks and businesses are also willing to support private institutions because they need well trained graduates to work in their organizations.

There are many interesting features and stages in the setting up of an institution. My focus here is to identify three features that served as important criteria for meeting the demand for higher
education . 

1) obtaining a charter by the 
government  to award the institution's own

2) ensuring well qualified faculty willing to work intensively with students

3) creating an atmosphere of learning through regular assignments on
current topics, regularly inviting speakers on a variety of topics and
supplementing lectures with tutorial sessions.

1) Obtaining the Charter. The process of obtaining a federal or provincial
charter that allows a private university to award its own degrees is a
fairly rigorous one, and although the 
government  has allowed many
educational institutions to flourish, there is a long review process
before official sanction is given. Therefore a private institution's
willingness to go through this process and open itself up for review is
important for establishing credibility. One of the primary objectives of
School  was to obtain a charter from the government  to enable it
to award its own "recognized" degrees. The process of obtaining the
government  of
Punjab  charter took three years of active pursuit. This was a
frustrating experience, requiring a high level of persistence. Since the
School had announced its intention of pursuing the charter from the outset,
students and faculty participated enthusiastically in the process.
Obtaining a charter is therefore an important milestone in meeting quality
standards expected by parents and employers and setting an institution
apart from other commercial ventures. 

2) Qualifications and dedication of Faculty. Even before the charter was
obtained, enrollments were rising. The school started with a first batch
of about 20 students. Just before the charter was obtained there were
about 100 students enrolled in the program and now there are over 200
students. This was partly in anticipation of the charter, but also because
well qualified teachers were recruited and were expected to work
intensively with the students. Teachers were also given independence to
design their own courses. Recruitment of well qualified staff is one of the
biggest challenges in maintaining high standards. 

3) Creating an Atmosphere of Learning. Another criteria for success is
enabling the student to analyze the material being taught. When students
entered the Master's program, although they were bright, eager and
confident, their creative and analytical abilities had not been given an
opportunity to develop in college years where the emphasis was on
reproducing materials from textbooks for end-year examinations. 

Tutorials were an important feature of each 
teaching  session where
material covered in lectures was reinforced through assignments based on
the lecture and discussions among students divided into smaller groups. 

Inviting outside speakers regularly to discuss real world situations
relevant to the class material kept students abreast of current events and
gave them an opportunity to exchange views with professionals and 
makers. Another important feature of many courses was assignments in which
students were required do independent research. Although students were not
used to independent work, or even using libraries, with faculty guidance
and persistence, students overcame their initial reluctance and handicaps
and often came up with creative projects.

Sustaining Standards in Private Higher 

Behind successful ventures there are always individuals or a group of
people who are committed and persistent in achieving goals for their
institutions. However when the institution expands, individuals may lose
the momentum to maintain high standards. It may also not be possible for
one person or a small group of persons to effectively continue maintaining
the same level of interest and high standards. Once an institution is
successfully established it is important to also establish a clear
organization structure for sustaining quality to guide those who work in it. 

To remain financially viable, it is important to be able to cover running
costs through fees, and avoid unnecessary costly investments in facilities
since parents and students attach a lot of value to the substance of the
material taught, the competence of the instructors, and the ability of the
faculty to work intensively with students. And investment in these inputs
is in fact essential to meeting the demand for quality 
education .

In conclusion, how does one example aid us in thinking about the future of
education ? Does the solution lie in handing over higher education  to
the private sector? s to What about the public resources tied up in the
infrastructure and staffing of the many 
government  universities? Can these
be salvaged? Although the majority of Pakistanis have access only to the
cheaper state provided 
education , there is scarce evidence of reform  in
state universities. In one case, in an effort to reclaim its former
Government  College Lahore  pursued autonomous status to give
its own examinations and award its own degrees, independent from the
Punjab examination board. This will be a challenging undertaking, since
reform  of existing teaching  methods, curriculum and funding will be
required. The results of any committed efforts in this direction will be
very instructive for similar experiments in other 
government  colleges and

Let me now turn to another vital area of schooling for 
children  from low
income families. 


Only 60% primary age 
children  in Pakistan  attend school, a much lower rate
compared to neighboring countries. Moreover, the 
gender  gap is large.
There are only 56 girls to every 100 boys enrolled in primary 
education .
Although the 
government  has doubled expenditure on education  in the last
ten years the emphasis is still on construction of facilities and
recruitment of teachers without an effort to improve quality of 
education .
The vast majority of 
children  who do attend school are not able to read
and comprehend material other than what they memorize from textbooks. Nor
are they able to perform simple computational skills in mathematics. So for
a lot of 
children  who do make it to school, the education  they receive is
extremely inadequate and an inefficient use of public resources.
Dissatisfaction with 
government  schools is reflected by the low attendance
rate --20 to 30 percent of schools are either empty or have very few

The consensus of a number of studies on schooling in 
Pakistan  is that low
enrollment and low retention rates are a 
reflection  of poor supply in terms
of low quality of 
education  offered. Parents do not consider it worthwhile
to send their 
children  to school if they are not learning anything.
Children 's time is considered better used in chores at home or assisting
parents in income earning activities. Since the opportunity cost of
educating poor 
children  is high, the quality of education  also has to be
high, in order to convince parents of the value of sending 
children  to

Millions of poor families in 
Pakistan  want good schools for their children .
They demonstrate this demand enthusiastically when they are assured that
education  received is worthwhile. Participation rates are high in
successful projects. In the 
government  assisted Balochistan community
schools project, there is 87% female enrollment compared to the province
average of 18% . Successful schools established under the Baldia Home
Schools project, the Orangi Pilot project and the Aga Khan Rural Support
Program have also been in operation since the eighties. All these schools
operate with community support and involvement. 

The inadequate supply of public schools has also encouraged the growth of
private schools in the last ten to fifteen years. Two types of private
schools exist in urban areas, those catering to the elite, or educated
middle and upper classes, and schools of a much lower quality, charging low
fees, catering to the poor. Low-income families in urban areas spend a
substantial part of their budget towards educating 
children  in private
schools because they perceive these schools to be of higher quality
compared to 
government  schools. However, only 10% of all school going
children  in Pakistan  attend private schools, and the responsibility for
educating the poor still lies heavily with the 
government. The challenge is
two-fold--improving the quality of existing schools, and to increase the
number of schools.

Let me now narrate the experience of one NGO school to illustrate how a
community can be transformed if a committed effort is made to provide good
education . About a year ago, I had the opportunity to work with an NGO
school in Sheikhupura, about 40 miles out of 
Lahore . This school started
functioning in 1991 and evolved as part of a rehabilitation program for
flood devastated settlements along the 
Lahore /Sheikhupra road. This
community did not have access to any 
government  school. A new school
building was constructed, and over a 100 
children  registered on the first
day the school opened. By 1996, enrollment had reached 1500, and F.A. and
FSc. classes had also started since there was no college in the area. Now
efforts are underway to start a computer center for the senior classes. The
demand for schooling in the area led to the opening of another school
further along the Sheikhupura highway in 1995, where enrollments have
reached 500. Land for both schools was donated by factory owners of the

Some performance criteria of the school are indicated as follows:

1) Cost-effectiveness: The annual cost of schooling is about Rs. 2000 per
child, which is half the cost per student in a 

Parents are charged a voluntary tuition fee of Rs. 10 per month and Rs. 20
for those who can afford it. Despite their 
poverty , 70% of parents are
able to pay at least Rs.10 per month. In fact they pride their ability to
pay for the 
education  of their children . Since drop-out rates are also
much lower and achievement levels higher compared to 
government  schools,
society gains much more for the limited resources spent in an effective
NGO school compared to a typical 
government  school. 

2) Learning abilities: 
Children  from very poor families are assumed to come
from so-called disadvantaged backgrounds where there is lack of
intellectual stimulation due to parents illiteracy. In fact, 
entering school in the kindergarten, class 1, and class 2 levels, from
ages five to seven, were observed to be capable of learning and absorbing
material very quickly. They had well developed motor skills, and good
communication and social skills. These skills are learnt at home. For
instance, small motor skills are developed because 
children  are expected to
engage in household chores from an early age and also learn to perform
tasks for themselves such as buttoning and unbuttoning, pouring water and
so on. When asked to draw birds, vegetables or flowers, they tended to draw
examples from real life-- making very detailed drawings of crows or
carrots or roses. As a result, in the initial years of school, 
from poor backgrounds were seen to be very ready for learning, probably as
capable as the average kindergartner from a typical middle to upper class

3) High returns to early 
education : It is also in the first two or three
years of school that 
children  lose the opportunity for learning if
memorization is stressed and 
children  are intimidated by teachers.
Therefore the returns to the first two or three years of schooling can be
very high and crucial in building a strong educational foundation that
would give high dividends in terms of academic achievement in higher grades
and lower drop-out rates. 

Extra effort at the "kachi" or pre-school level, and up to the first three
classes is also important from another perspective. Poor parents face
pressure to pull 
children  out of school to help with domestic or market
related activities. If the high standard of 
education  is established at an
early stage, parents will be willing to make greater sacrifices to keep
children  in school. Even in case the child is forced to drop out, the first
three or four classes may be the only 
education  he or she will obtain.
Therefore, the more intensive 
education  is at this stage, the more useful
it will be to the child. 

4) Introducing English at an early stage: The school's 
policy  of
introducing English from the very beginning is a feature specially
attractive to parents. "English medium" schooling is sought after by
parents of all income groups, because even illiterate parents can perceive
the opportunities the knowledge of English can open up for their 
children .
Given that curriculum in Urdu is poorly developed, and most 
children  speak
Punjabi at home, there is no natural advantage in 
teaching  only Urdu in
the earlier classes. The challenge lies in training teachers to instruct
children  properly. 

5) Co-
education  works well. Classes are co-educational up to the
intermediate level. Parents do not object to co-
education , due to their
trust in the school administrators and the principal. Girls make up 50% of
most classes. 

6) Competence and training of 
teaching  staff. The success of the school
hinges on the dedication, competence and constant supervision of the
principal, or the headmistress, who in turn is motivated by NGO workers.
Some of the teachers were trained at considerable cost from private teacher
training centers in 
Lahore . These teachers then trained the other school
teachers. Recruiting, training and retaining teachers (especially after
they had received training) is a difficult challenge. The school has also
started recruiting some of its own matriculate students after they have
graduated to teach in the primary classes. 

In conclusion, the success of NGO schools depends on the commitment and
motivation of a few individuals and their ability to raise funds. And
society cannot depend on this commitment alone. What this example does
reveal is the strong demand for high quality 
education  by poor parents and
their willingness to pay for this 
education . Therefore it is important for
government  to focus on the type of education  it provides and on
improving the substance of 
education .

The main lesson to be learned from the diverse examples of 
education  given
here is that there is a positive and high response to good quality
education , at the higher and primary level, and that a high priority
should be attached to providing 
education  of substantial quality. Although
the current 
education  situation is dismal, the high demand for education
indicates that intensive investment in the right type of education  could
yield high returns in terms of enrollment and achievement rates within five
to ten years. The initiative for this would have to come from the
government , and enhanced with the help of NGOs, and the community.