Inequality in Education

Inequality in Education

Educational opportunities available in Pakistan are of a very diverse nature. There are deep divisions based on regional disparities, rural-urban location, gender, income and wealth of parents, medium of instruction in schools, curricula and syllabi, ideological divides, type of schools, and access to extra coaching (shadow education), among others. In the last couple of decades as income and wealth inequalities have increased in Pakistani society in general, and our society has become more fragmented and divided, on various socio-economic lines, the disparities in education have also increased concurrently. The rapid growth of the private sector, over this period, has also added to the diversity and inequality of educational opportunities.


There are significant differences in access to education, dropouts and proportion of out of school children, as well as learning achievements of children. These differences should be of grave concern to policy makers in Pakistan. Where they are a reflection of the existing disparities and divisions in the country, the schooling system will cause these disparities to increase manifold over the next few years if they remain unchecked and unchallenged. It is worth highlighting this aspect of our education system.


There has always been a hierarchy of schooling in Pakistan. However, the increasing range of private schools means the difference between high and low quality education is growing. There is a mushroom growth of the English-medium schools, especially at the primary level. English still fascinates parents who feel elated when their children demonstrate verbal skills in English. However, the high tuition schools that give good quality education, meant mainly for the elite, are indirectly perpetuating class distinctions as they mainly cater to the upper strata of society. Increasingly the quality of education depends on being able to pay for private education.  Standard government schools deliver very low learning outcomes. Employment opportunities are dictated by the type of school attended.  Schools, which might confer economic opportunities on students, are beyond the reach of normal citizens. Consequently, the school system reinforces the social gap rather than offering opportunities for social mobility.


In Pakistan enrolment in private educational institutions is 34% of total enrolment[1]. The number of private schools has increased, over the last decade, in Pakistan and they are no longer restricted to urban areas. Punjab and Kyber Pakhtunkhwa have seen significant growth in privates schooling in both urban and rural areas, with higher growth in urban areas, but interior Sindh and rural Balochistan have very few private schools. The major constraint, on opening private schools in various areas, seems to be the availability of teachers locally. Private schools have opened up in large numbers where there has been an available and ready supply of matric/intermediate pass individuals. These have mainly been females in Punjab and KP. This partially explains the expansion in these two provinces, aside from demand factor differences, and it also explains the constraint in interior Sindh and Balochistan. It also explains why most of private school expansion has happened at primary level. If we want similar expansion of private schooling in other areas we have to find the supply of teachers, local or ways of transporting teachers from other areas into supply constrained areas.


Private schools cost more than their public counterparts. Though most private schools are low fee schools, barring the small number of elite schools, they are still more expensive than public schools. Parents from all income quintiles send children to private schools but there is a strong correlation between wealth and enrolment in private schools. Parents from lower income quintiles sometimes need to decide which child to send to a private school if they cannot afford to send all their children. Some data is also showing that children from private schools also get more paid coaching, after school hours, than their public school counterparts. All of these trends will exacerbate educational and later opportunity and income/wealth disparities in the society.


There are disparities in access to Education, particularly for the rural poor and girls. Substantial gender disparities continue to exist. Drop out rates between kachi and grade 5 are high. One of the reasons for low enrolment rates for girls, especially in rural areas is non-availability of local female teachers. Most of the government schools lack basic facilities like drinking water, electricity, latrines and boundary walls. Gross Enrolment Rate (GER) and Net Enrolment Rate (NER) in the middle and matric level education are at lower level than in primary education.


Article 25A promises free and compulsory education to all children. The idea behind the promise, whether it is seen in the language of rights or is seen in more functional terms as a public good argument, is to provide opportunities to all children so that they can develop their potential fully. But if the education system is as fragmented and divided as it is in Pakistan, how can any argument for opportunity for all, far less a move towards equal opportunities for all, be made or be credibly sustained. Our education system is divided on lines of geography, class, income/wealth, medium of instruction, cost, syllabi and curricula, and gender and these differences manifest themselves in differentials in access, dropouts and in the quality of education that is imparted. And existing differences in educational provision will, inevitably, create even bigger differences in the future and will further entrench differences too. If our objective is to educate all children, and at least to a minimum standard, so that these children can have some equality of opportunity, or at least a bigger set of opportunities available to each of them, we need to challenge the existing differences and divisions. 25A provides an opportunity for articulating this challenge through the subordinate legislation that will come and through the arrangements that will be made for operationalizing it.


[1] Source: Government of Pakistan,  Pakistan Education Statistics 2008-09.

Nargis Sultana

A Program Officer, Foundation Open Society Institute (FOSI).

  • Aneel Butt

    Sad but true very intresting article I must say I secned yur line private sector is getting strnger day by day and the yare increasing there fees nbudy is watching them .

  • Ibrar

    Please comments on the advantages and disadvantages of the courses being taught in public schools and govt. schools