Although education is steadily improving in Pakistan, the country still needs to make many changes, especially in higher education. The current target for Pakistan is to improve enrollment and retention in primary and secondary schools. However, it is essential that Pakistan makes improvements in higher education as well, by addressing current obstacles within its education system.
The Importance of Improving Higher Education
Firstly, Pakistan is in an economically precarious situation. The floods in 2022 greatly reduced agricultural output, the main source of income for rural families. Hence, more people need an alternative source of income. This requires education to build skills so that more young people can enter the job market in a variety of sectors.
Pakistan has one of the largest youth populations in the world with nearly a third of the population between the ages of 15-29. The working-age population is expected to rise to 5 million by 2035. All these young people need jobs but currently, nearly 11% are unemployed. With this large working-age population, Pakistan has the potential to boost the economy.
Higher education provides young people with quality employment opportunities that are highly fulfilling, pay well and help to break free from the poverty cycle. The Pakistan National Human Development Report states that compared to the less educated youth, those with tertiary education secure higher earnings. Currently, 48% of the working population falls into the unskilled worker category. Higher education has the power to change that.
Barriers to Accessing Education
Primary and secondary schools have low retention rates and this disproportionately affects those in poverty. For example, in Sindh, 52% of impoverished children are out of school. Of note, 53% have never received formal education in their lives.
Parents and guardians are not able to guide or prepare children on how to complete applications for higher education. In fact, parents are more likely to discuss how children can follow in their footsteps in jobs that are like theirs, instead of breaking free of the poverty cycle. Parents’ perceptions of education for those living in poverty can drastically shape their children’s progress in education. Many young people are taken out of school to work in a variety of industries, from agriculture to hospitality.
Girls face even greater barriers. Due to the patriarchal norms, elderly members of the family regard their further education to be less of an investment than boys, which can even result in child marriage. Women living in rural areas often become victims sexual harassment while traveling to schools in cities.
- Open universities, like the Allama Iqbal Open University, provide a flexible approach to higher education and offer online classes. This allows students who are in remote locations or those who are unable to leave their jobs an opportunity to access higher education. Allama Iqbal Open University currently has a student population of 1 million and 42 % of its students are from rural areas, suggesting that the university has been successful in broadening access to higher education. Notably, 50% of the student body is female. More than 70% of its graduates are employed, suggesting that the curriculum is designed to successfully equip students with skills to enhance their employability.
- Women’s universities, such as the Fatima Jinnah Women’s University are opening across the country. These institutions empower women and prepare students for professional development. These also provide access to higher education to women whose parents are reluctant to allow them to learn in a co-educational environment. Fatima Jinnah Women’s University provides substantial financial support, finds new donors to fund scholarships and offers its own resources to students.
- Improving the Technical and Vocational Education (TVET) program helps students who are looking to be employed straight after completing their education and provides an alternative to university for those who feel less suited to academics. Currently, there are only 3,700 technical and vocational institutes and 2,600 are privately run, which is costly. Thus, those from lower-income families are less able to access TVET. The quality of the curriculum also needs to be improved to better equip students with the necessary skills for employment. This can be done through more hands-on experiences as opposed to rote learning.
- Established in 2013, The Shibli Trust is a nonprofit organization that provides affordable boarding packages to students in Islamabad so that students living in rural areas do not have to travel long distances to attend top universities. They provide three meals a day, gender-separated hostels and free wifi. They also provide scholarships so that lower- and middle-class students can attend high-ranking universities.
It seems that there are many successful schemes being put in place to improve access to higher education in Pakistan. With more young people furthering their education, Pakistan’s economy has the potential to grow exponentially. This change can also create a nation full of successful and fulfilled citizens.
– Sharvari Patil