Collective Failure

Pakistan has the most out-of-school children in the world.

By Dr. Qasim Sodhar | October 2023

Thanks to the emerging trends in technology and other communication means, the importance of education has widely been accentuated across the world. Unfortunately, Pakistan is still grappling with the problem of Out-Of-School Children (OOSC), which is a collective failure of the state. At the same time, much onus lies on the government unable to provide education to the children of the country.

Under Article 25-A of the Pakistan Constitution, the prime responsibility of the state is to provide free and compulsory education to children of five to sixteen years of age group. Yet, this is very strange and unfortunate that more than 20 million children in the country are not attending school due to a mélange of factors. In this regard, mainly, there are two types of OOSC:

1. Those children who have never attended school.
2. Schoolchildren dropped out due to some reasons.

The ratio of OOSC in Pakistan, in comparison with the other countries, according to UNICEF, is 22.8 million, which is the second highest ratio in the world. On the other hand, the former Federal Minister for Education and Professional Training, Rana Tanveer Hussain, said in the National Assembly in June 2022 that “Pakistan has the most out-of-school children in the world”. It is indeed surprising that the Minister for Education was narrating this statement that was corroborating the failure of his own ministry. Now, we have an interim government, and still, the situation has not changed at all.

The Pakistan Social and Living Measurements Standards carried out a survey for 2019-2020, in which they revealed that in Pakistan, 32 per cent of children, which is one-third of all children of the 5-16 years age group, are out of school. If we look at this in the context of different provinces, Balochistan has the highest proportion of out-of-school children, which is 47 percent. In this regard, 17 out of 28 districts of the province are affected, where more than 50 percent of the children of Balochistan are not going to school. If we see the OOSC ratio district-wise, District Sikandarabad has the highest ratio of 76 per cent in Balochistan, while District Nushki has the lowest one in the province at 23 per cent.

Sindh has the second-highest ratio of OOSC at 44 percent, where more than 50 per cent of children of the entire province belong to only 13 out of 29 districts. Among all the districts, seven are at the lowest ratio, in which six districts of Karachi and Hyderabad are also included. It simply means that only districts of the two biggest cities have the lowest ratio, but the situation in the remaining districts of the province is not satisfactory.

Likewise, District Kohistan has the highest proportion at 60 percent, while District Abbottabad has the lowest at 9 per cent in KPK province. As far as the largest province in terms of population, i.e., Punjab, is concerned, District Rajanpur has the highest proportion of OOSC at 48 percent, and District Muzaffargarh has the second highest ratio in this regard. The part of Southern Punjab faces more problems, where 10 districts that are in the worst condition regarding OOSC are from Southern Punjab. On the other hand, districts like Chakwal and Narowal both have the lowest ratio at 9 percent.

In this whole scenario, it is very important to analyze the situation as to why Pakistan as a country has not yet provided the basic needs, which is also mentioned in the Constitution. In this context, if we compare Pakistan with other countries like China and India, Pakistan came into existence in 1947. India also gained independence from British imperialism in the same year. Likewise, even though China gained independence two years later, in 1949, China is leading the world in different fields, including education.

At the same time, India is also thriving in technology and other types of education. The major reason is their economic standing, as both countries tend to spend a good portion of their GDP on education. On the contrary, Pakistan is merely spending 1 per cent of its GDP on education. Likewise, we do not have similar kinds of policies for every province and district, which is clearly visible by looking at the above situation of how most districts are deprived of necessities like education.

Therefore, it should be the prime responsibility of the state to pay serious attention to the OOSC issue, and it must come up with a valid and solid solution so that all the children of the country may properly acquire primary and secondary education. The relevant authorities must ensure that the standards of education in public schools and colleges are enhanced so that the difference in class-based education, where children of humble as well as financially well-off backgrounds may have equal opportunities because, according to Article 25-A of the Constitution, that is a basic right of every child without any difference of class, cast, and creed, etc., that education must be provided to every child.