Photo via United Nations Development Programme.
The following essay on Pakistani schoolchildren is an accompaniment to the article Why Young Pakistanis Don’t Read, by Sumbal Naveed.
These photographs illustrate school life in what was previously Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), now merged with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). The former FATA is bordered by Afghanistan to the north and west with the border marked by the Durand Line, KP to the east, and Balochistan to the south. The largest city nearby is Peshawar. All statistics cited in this photo portfolio are national statistics, derived from the 2018 ASER-Pakistan survey.
In most countries, girls outperform boys in learning to read in early primary grades. However, in Pakistan boys outperform girls. One reading measure of the ASER protocol is the ability to read a short paragraph at the Grade 1 level. Among Grade 3 children in the 2018 survey, 47 per cent of boys could read a paragraph in Urdu; 43 per cent of girls could do so.
The Millennium Development Goals were launched in 2000; the second goal was universal primary education. Over the next 15 years, enrolment dramatically increased across South Asia. By 2018, the enrolment rate for children ages 5–16 was 81 per cent. However, South Asia is facing a serious “learning problem.” Most children are in school, but not necessarily learning.
Pakistan’s patriarchal culture results in important gender gaps in enrolment. The gaps are accentuated after accounting for family income as well as gender. Among the lowest quarter of families in terms of income, in 2018, only 46 per cent of girls ages 5–16 were enrolled, as compared with 67 per cent of boys. Only at the top income quarter were gender gaps more or less eliminated – 83 per cent for girls, 87 per cent for boys.
Among young children ages 6–10, the share of children who had either never enrolled or dropped out was 13 per cent. This rose to 17 per cent among children ages 11–13, and 27 per cent among ages 14–16.
There is a wide range of ages at which children enter Grade 1, and grade repetition is common. In the 2018 ASER sample, the grade distribution of children aged 9 years is 10 per cent in Grade 1, 19 per cent in Grade 2, 31 per cent in Grade 3, 27 per cent in Grade 4, 10 per cent in Grade 5 and 2 per cent in Grade 6.
A good teaching tactic at all grades is to organize the class into small groups and encourage peer learning to take place.
The UN’s Social Development Goals call for all countries to achieve universal primary and lower secondary education by 2030. On the basis of present trends, this goal will not be met in most developing countries, including Pakistan. Over the entire 6–16 age cohort surveyed by ASER-Pakistan in 2018, approximately 11 per cent never enrolled. The dropout rate was only 3 per cent in the primary age cohort (ages 6–10), but it rose to 8 per cent in the lower secondary cohort (ages 11–13) and 16 per cent in the upper secondary cohort (ages 14–16).
The two “foundation skills” for all formal learning are reading and mathematics. In Grade 3, 28 per cent of children could perform two-digit subtraction and divide a two-digit by a one-digit number. By Grade 5, the share of children able to perform these operations rose to 53 per cent.
A crucial feature of a “good” primary school is that children have fun.
Like India, Pakistan faces the problem of multiple languages. Urdu is the national language, but in many regions the dominant language is not Urdu. Pashto is important in the Territories, as is Sindhi in Sindh; in Punjab, the most populous state, the dominant language is Punjabi. In addition, English is an important language for secondary and tertiary education.
While you’re here, why not read the rest of our section on Literacy: In South Asia, Literacy is Crucial by John Richards.