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Primary education

New school books, new boost

Since the foundation of Pakistan in 1947, the country has aimed to achieve “Education for All”. Yet today, its public education sector counts among the less developed in the world. However, the young Islamic Republic’s post-colonial inheritance was a difficult one: only 16.4 % of the population could read and write, as indicated by the 1951 education census. Viewed in this light, there has been remarkable success. A 2006-2007 report by the German Federal Statistical Office shows that the Pakistani literacy rate has risen to 55 %.

[ By Atussa Ziai ]

“You must remove that reproach that is levelled justly against British rule, namely, the neglect of elementary education. My answer is that it is the duty of every civilised government to educate masses, and if you have to face unpopularity, if you have to face a certain amount of danger, face it boldly in the name of duty [...].”
(Mohammad Ali Jinna)

Although there has been progress, the sector is not developing as hoped for. The UN millennium goal, universal primary education for all children by 2015, seems beyond reach. Only 56 % of Pakistani children between the age of five and nine attend school.
There are various reasons. For instance, access to education is still restricted in Pakistan. In rural areas, home to roughly two thirds of the population, there are not enough accessible schools. For girls, it is especially hard to attend schools – but also, traditionally, their education is of little importance. Frequently, schools are in bad conditions. Often tables and benches are missing and children have to sit on the ground. Moreover, toilets are mostly nonexistent.

Those boys and girls who manage to attend school against all odds are taught by ill-educated teachers who are often absent. Books are obsolete. Many parents do not understand why their children should go to school, especially as many families are so poor that they cannot afford education. And beside the expenses for school material and transportation, there is one person less to contribute to the family income. Those who can afford it, send their offspring to private schools with a better reputation.

The same applies for vocational education. Only few Pakistanis have received formal education, but often even they are not qualified enough to meet the economy’s requirements. Only about 25 % of the working population have a secondary or university degree; 50 % have attended school for a maximum of one year. Access to the system is especially hard for women. Thus, most of the country’s potential workforce is not being used for development matters. Also, there is no connection between general and vocational education.

Moreover, the Pakistani education sector has institutional problems, especially with fragmented governance. Several different institutions are responsible for both general and vocational education, yet there are no reciprocal agreements. The allocations of responsibilities between the different administrative levels (state, provinces, districts) are unclear. Rigid hierarchies exacerbate the coordination of and among institutions.

The country’s political instability as well as its ailing security situation have an additional negative impact. During violent conflicts between the government and extremist groups in the Northwestern province and the tribal territories, several (primarily girls’) schools were destroyed. Fear keeps many parents from sending their children to school.

Across all administrative levels – i.e., from the state to the provinces, districts and local schools – the German Technical Cooperation (GTZ) supports the country in education policy matters, the creation of curricula and schoolbooks, and further teacher training. The aim is to enhance the general conditions and the overall education quality. Apart from GTZ’s national commitment, it is also engaged in the Northwestern provinces, in Punjab and the tribal areas close to Afghanistan – with the aim of facilitating access to relevant education opportunities for children and adolescents.

A connection of both school and vocational education would be significant for opening up the formal job market. The long-term objective is an integrated comprehensive education system. GTZ has direct representation in the government institutions. This integration of GTZ personnel makes it easier to give advice on internal processes. Most of all, it is a matter of capacity development. In the long run, partners should be able to work independently.

On the political level, GTZ has accompanied the Pakistani government on the way to developing a national education plan. For the first time, the most important representatives of the different levels – district, province and national – took part in the process. The aim was to clarify the roles and responsibilities of the different administrative levels and bring together the sectors of general, vocational and university education. The parallel national, private and religious education systems are yet to be harmonised.

In the provinces, GTZ is supporting the collection and use of data in order to optimise the ministerial planning processes. The objective is to keep sector planning consistently updated and orientated towards the strategies of the national education plan. More efficient institutional framework conditions and capacities should eventually help to enhance governance in terms of transparency, accountability and service.

Curricula and schoolbook reform

Since 2006, GTZ has also been advising the Pakistani Ministry of Education in terms of curriculum reform. The reform includes the development of curricula, the revision of framework directives and the development of curricula standards. The new curricula take up subjects such as human rights, environmental conservation, interconfessional comprehension and disaster prevention. They emphasise Pakistan’s determination to becoming a moderate and progressive knowledge economy.

Curriculum reform and schoolbook policy are closely connected. Last year, GTZ was actively involved in the reform of the national schoolbook and teaching material policy that came into force in spring 2007. Hitherto, schoolbook authorities in the various provinces were responsible for the production of all material used in public schools. Now, the authorities are responsible for quality management. Private publishers develop and produce the material. With this new competition, the government is hoping for superior quality.

GTZ provides training for those who are responsible for the implementation of the new policy. The new strategy encompasses the creation of resource centres where authors and publishers can obtain information and receive further training. Once a year, the development of children’s literature is promoted by a national writing competition. The Pakistan Publishers and Booksellers Association is encouraged to participate in international book fairs and to initiate fairs in the country itself. The aim of exchange and competition is to improve both the quality and quantity of material. As the reading culture is stimulated, Pakistani children and adolescents are provided with a more interesting learning environment.

An important aspect of the reform programme is further teacher training. After all, it is the teachers who have to convey the new content with new materials. Besides good curricula and school books, teaching quality and successful transfer are dependant on the teachers’ competence. Therefore, an integrated system of training and supervision for teachers will be launched, based upon existing structures and tested in selected districts. In order to effectively improve teaching quality, pedagogical supervision and further teacher education are closely connected. Additionally, teachers are encouraged to keep class diaries and discuss their teaching methods in regular group meetings.

Moreover, by means of parent-teacher associations, parents and communities will equally be involved in shaping their schools. They will be able to check on both student attendance and teacher performance.

Girls in Kohistan

Kohistan, a remote part of the Hindu Kush, is one of the poorest districts of the Northwestern provinces. In this rough and lofty region, there are only few possibilities to earn money. Most of the local people live on farming and goat keeping, and life is determined by a conservative system of values. Women strictly abide by the principle of “purdah”, i.e., they never leave their homes in order to avoid exposure to the sight of men. For this reason, only few girls in these regions ever go to school.

Back in 1999, when GTZ launched their project in Kohistan, the workers discovered that a lot of girls’ schools only existed on paper and lessons were not held. Either female teachers or female students were missing or the classrooms were used otherwise – e.g., as fodder storage. In confidential talks, the GTZ workers were able to persuade the parents that school education is important for their daughters.

A “master trainer” was especially commissioned by the project. She showed the hitherto barely trained teachers how to enhance their lessons. At the same time, they learned how to approach parents and integrate them into school concerns. Teachers were motivated by the training. To avoid transport problems, training courses were organised in private homes.

Already after a few years, the number of female students had considerably increased. By now, girls are attending secondary school until the age of 14. There are even five female teachers who teach classes with 16-year-olds. The parents appreciate their daughters attending school and some approve so much of the quality of girls’ schools that they would even send their boys.

Supporting vocational education

At the end of 2005, the National Vocational and Technical Education Commission NAVTEC was established under the office of the prime minister and became the institution responsible for vocational education reform. NAVTEC started a national “competence strategy” in order to enhance the economic competence of Pakistani men and women. A group of international donors, consisting of Britain (DFID), the European Commission (EC) and Germany (GTZ), is supporting NAVTEC. Members are cooperating in a “delegated partnership” where GTZ is leading the implementation and DFID and EC are “silent partners.”

By the end of 2008, two big missions were organised in preparation for the vocational education programme. Pakistani consultants have carried out various surveys, e.g., regarding the situation of vocational education in the border regions. Donors and partners have issued a final report that is currently beeing evaluated by the donor governments. Before the start of the programme, measures for capacity development are being organised for NAVTEC.

The Pakistani government has launched some important education reforms that may lead to a flexible and demand-oriented system where lifetime studying is pivotal. In the long run, this will eventually improve the living and working conditions of most Pakistanis.


The UN Sustainable Development Goals aim to transform economies in an environmentally sound manner, leaving no one behind.