Out of School children (OOSC) are defined as children of school going age that are not going to school. The compulsory range of school going age is stipulated as five to 16 years under article 25-A of the Constitution. In order to keep the analysis focused on the bare minimum, the author of this study, Pak Alliance for Maths and Science, focuses on OOSC between the ages of 5 to 16 years who are not attending school.
There are two types of OOSC:
• Children who have never attended school
• Children who have attended school in the past but have since dropped out
Each type corresponds to a different set of factors and policy implications, some of which are discussed subsequently.
The proportion of out-of-school children at the district, provincial and national level has been extracted from the Pakistan Social and Living Measurements Standards survey 2019-20 (PSLM). PSLM is conducted every two years by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, with data collection at the provincial and at the district levels in each alternate iteration.
The recently released district results of the Population Census 2017 provide us with the exact number of children in each age cohort. The census data has been used to calculate the total number of out-of-school children at the district, province, and national level.
Quantum and Proportions of OOSC
Out of all children in Pakistan between the ages of five to 16 years, 32 per cent, i.e. one third, are out of school. This amounts to an estimated total of over 20 million. Balochistan has the highest proportion of OOSC at 47 per cent followed by Sindh at 44 per cent.
In absolute terms, Punjab has the largest total population of OOSC roughly estimated at 7.7 million followed by Sindh at 6.5 million.
Proportion of OOSC varies considerably among and within provinces. District level data from all provinces identifies the enormity of the challenge facing provincial and district education apparatuses.
District Shaheed Sikandarabad has the highest proportion of OOSC in Balochistan at 76 per cent, with Sherani following at 70 per cent of out of school children between the ages of five and 16 years. More than 50 per cent of all school going age children are out of school in 17 out of 28 districts in Balochistan, with district Nushki reporting the lowest proportion of out of school children in the province at 23 per cent.
In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, district Kohistan has the highest proportion of OOSC at 60 per cent. The proportion of OOSC is 50 per cent or more in six districts of the province, with four districts among the newly-merged districts including Mohmand, Bajaur, South Waziristan and North Waziristan. The other two newly-merged districts Orakzai and Khyber have OOSC proportion of 42 per cent and 39 per cent. Among the settled districts, Kohistan and Torghar fare the worst, while Abbottabad has the lowest proportion of OOSC in the province at nine per cent.
District Rajanpur has the highest rate of OOSC in Punjab at 48 per cent, followed by district Muzaffargarh at 43 per cent. Among the 36 districts in the province, the worst 10 district in terms of the OOSC proportion are from southern Punjab. Districts Chakwal and Narowal have the lowest rate of OOSC at nine per cent.
In Sindh, 13 out of 29 districts have OOSC rate of more than 50 per cent. The seven districts with the lowest OOSC rates include six districts of Karachi and Hyderabad.
Enrolment proportions by age and gender
Of all children between the ages of 5-16, the highest enrolment rate is observed among nine years olds (82 per cent) followed by 11 year olds (81 per cent). It is interesting to note that the same trend is observed for boys and girls virtually across the range of five to 16 years. The only difference is percentage of enrolment of each age group is higher for boys than girls.
The data indicates two underlying themes:
• First time enrolments happen later than required — The data shows that enrolment rates pick up steadily from five years to nine years. It shows that more and more children are enrolled into the system much beyond the age of five. It also indicates lack of emphasis on early childhood education leading up to class 1.
• Drop outs start to happen between 9-11 years of age — The data shows a steady decline in enrolment percentages after 11 years, as children go beyond the primary school age. Possible reasons are limited access to middle and high schools which are typically fewer and farther compared to primary schools and rising opportunity costs.
The national trend is mirrored in all provinces with differences in highest and lowest points.
In Balochistan, the highest enrolment rate is observed among nine year olds (72 per cent). The enrolment rate climbs steady from ages five to nine years and falls after the age of 11 years. The same trend holds for boys and girls with the highest enrolment rate of 83 per cent for boys and 57 per cent of girls reported at nine years.
In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the highest enrolment rate is observed among nine year olds (84 per cent) followed by 11 year olds (83 per cent). The enrolment rate climbs steady from ages five to nine years and falls after the age of 11 years. The same trend holds for boys and girls with the highest enrolment rate of 92 per cent for boys, and 74 per cent and 71 per cent for girls at nine years and 11 years respectively.
In Punjab, the highest enrolment rate is observed among nine year olds (88 per cent). The enrolment rate climbs steadily from ages five to nine years and falls after the age of 11 years. The same trend holds for boys and girls with the highest enrolment rate of 90 per cent and 85 per cent for nine year old boys and girls respectively. The enrolment rates for girls are slightly lower than boys for all ages except for the ages of five and 16 where rates for boys and girls are equal.
In Sindh, the highest enrolment rate is observed among nine year olds (70 per cent) followed by 11 year olds (69 per cent). The enrolment rate climbs steady from ages five to nine years and falls after the age of 11 years. The same trend holds for boys and girls with enrolment rates for boys higher than those of girls for each age group.
Dropouts by age
The data shows that among OOSC aged five years, 100 per cent are those which have never attended school. However, among OOSC aged 16 years, the spilt between never enrolled and dropped out is virtually 50-50. The ratio of dropouts continues to rise steadily with age. The steepest increase in the proportion of dropouts constituting OOSC happens between the ages of 10-11 years.
The data shows the need to enroll children through drives and campaigns at early ages while developing programmes to curtail drop outs among higher age groups.
Analysis of never enrolled and dropped out at the provincial level reveals interesting insights. Virtually 100 per cent of all out of school five year olds in every province have never been to school. The number reduces with age as the children who have dropped out of school start making up higher proportion of the total out of school population.
In Balochistan, 64 per cent of all out of school 16 year olds have never attended school. The dropout ratio rises steadily with age. However, the proportion of children who have never attended school remains overwhelming at all age levels. First time access to school is poorer in Balochistan than in any other province. The government needs to radically improve first time enrolments at early age groups (five to nine years) and first time enrolments in accelerated programmes for children between the ages of 10-16 years. Subsequently, it needs to build on the gains in enrolment to target at-risk students in higher age groups.
Fifty-three per cent of all out of school 16 year olds in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have never been to school. The dropout ratio rises steadily with age. It rises significantly between the ages of eight and nine, 10 and 11, and 12 and 13. Early years access needs to be enhanced through aggressive targeting of pockets of OOSC population that has never been to school. The data identifies age bracket of eight to 13 years as most vulnerable to dropouts. Hence creating conditions that address factors contributing to dropouts around these ages is critical to reducing the total OOSC population in the province.
Thirty-nine per cent of all out of school 16 year olds in Punjab have never attended school. The dropout ratio rises steadily with age to constitute 61 per cent of all OOSC at the age of 16. It rises sharply between the ages of nine to 16 years indicating retention challenges by the end of primary school age. First access to education during early years is better in Punjab than in other provinces. However, there is ample room for improvement in large scale enrolment campaigns during early years. Like other provinces, the age group of nine and above is vulnerable to dropouts. Enrolment drives targeting younger OOSC should be complemented with strategies to improve retention towards the end and beyond primary school level.
In Sindh, 63 per cent of all out of school 16 year olds have never attended school, which is second only to Balochistan. This means that Sindh has a large population of young adults who have never been to school. The necessary steps to address the situation include radical improvements in early years enrolments, and first time enrolments for fast track programmes for children between the ages of 10-16. Building on these the subsequent approach should be to target at-risk students in higher age groups to improve retention.
OOSC proportions by gender
Gender disparity in education has remained a persistent challenge. Among the out of school children, 54 per cent are girls and 46 per cent are boys. This translates to 10.8 million girls and 9.2 million boys not going to schools across the country.
Girls form the majority of OOSC in 16 districts in Balochistan. Among all OOSC, Nushki has the highest percentage of girls with 74 per cent followed by Pishin with 65 per cent. Three districts (Sibi, Killa Abdullah, and Bolan) have a 50-50 split between boys and girls. There are nine districts that have a majority of boys among OOSC.
Girls constitute 50 per cent or more of total OOSC population in all 32 districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In 22 districts, girls constitute more that 60 per cent of total OOSC. District Kohistan has the highest proportion of girls among OOSC at 72 per cent.
In Punjab, girls constitute the majority of OOSC population in 22 of the 36 districts. Girls make up 60 per cent or more of the total OOSC population in four districts including Mianwali, Attock, Bhakkar, and Chiniot. There are 11 districts where boys form the majority of OOSC population. More than 60 per cent of OOSC population is constituted by boys in districts Narowal and Gujranwala.
Seventeen districts of Sindh have more out of school girls than boys as opposed to 11 districts with more boys out of school. OOSC proportions by region
More than three quarters (77 per cent) of Pakistani OOSC reside in rural areas of the country. Rural areas of the country account for 15.4 million of the total OOSC, with 4.6 million (23 per cent) of the children not going to school residing in urban areas.
The rural majority of Pakistan’s OOSC is a factor that remains uniform in many districts across the four provinces.
In Balochistan, there are 14 districts where more than 90 per cent of the total OOSC population is from areas designated as rural. District Lasbela is an outlier in that its OOSC population comprises majorly of children from urban (67 per cent) as opposed to rural areas (33 per cent).
Total OOSC population in 12 districts comes from rural areas in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. These include six newly-merged districts. Ninety per cent or more OOSC come from rural areas in 24 districts.
In Punjab, the majority of OOSC comes from rural areas — 33 out of 36 districts. Districts with children from urban areas with huge numbers of OOSC are Lahore, Rawalpindi, and Gujranwala.
Apart from six districts of largely urban Karachi and Hyderabad, the majority of OOSC in all districts of Sindh come from rural areas.
Reasons for never attending school
It is important to understand the reasons behind children being out of school. Eighty-seven per cent of the children who have not been to school reported it as ‘too expensive’ while 13 per cent gave other reasons for not enrolling in a school.
**Reasons for dropout**
Thirty-one per cent of the students who dropped out from school were not willing to continue attending school, while 19 per cent reported it as too expensive. Thirteen per cent dropped out in order to help at home or help with work. Eleven per cent of the students dropped out of school because parents/elders did not allow and six per cent stopped attending school because of long distance between school and home.
A deeper analysis of the reason of students dropping out from school at provincial level shows that distance between home and school (i.e. too far away) contributes significantly to children dropping out of school in Balochistan (15 per cent) and in some parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (11 per cent). For Punjab, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the children’s willingness and educational expenses are cited as the major reasons for dropping out of school. Conclusion
It has been over a decade since the state made a promise to every child between the ages of five and 16 years of free and compulsory education. Despite a significant push by political parties, civil society organisations, and the media to make education part of the national agenda, the needle on Pakistanis above the age of 10 years who have ever attended school has not improved a single percentage point since 2010-11.
With an increasing population and a burgeoning youth cohort, Pakistan now has more than 63 million children between five and 16 years. Of these, the public schooling system only caters to 27 million (42 per cent), with over 20 million (32 per cent) currently out of school, and over 16 million (26 per cent) enrolled in schools run by the private sector or non-profits, madaris, and non-formal educational institutions.
Eighty-two per cent of nine year old Pakistanis are in school. While the percentage varies, this age-specific statistic provides an insight into what is needed to ensure that the over 50 per cent of five year olds who are not enrolled, or the 48 per cent of 16 year olds who have dropped out or never enrolled, are provided an appropriate educational platform.
Almost 3.8 million children (6 per cent of five-16 year old), with 2.5 million between 14 and 16 years, enrolled in an educational institution but dropped out. Even though government schools cater to 62 per cent of all school going children, they account for close to 90 per cent of all children who dropped out before completing 10 years of schooling.
On the equity front, the state needs to ensure that the right to education for girls in rural areas and children with disabilities across the country is provided for. The literacy rate among persons with disabilities (15 years or older) is 31.5 per cent, or almost half of the national average. Among females with disabilities, the literacy rate falls to an abysmal 17 per cent or almost a third of the national average for Pakistani females above the age of 15 years.
Challenges in major urban centres and those in rural areas are vastly different. So will be their solutions. Building high schools or upgrading existing primary and middle schools will solve only a part of the problem. Unless the state responds to the reasons why children are not in school in specific localities and regions, a one-size fits all educational service provision model will continue to see a third of Pakistani children never having the educational and economic opportunities that should be their right.
Serious efforts need to be made to ensure that Pakistan has a large population of literate and educated girls and women. In 21 districts of the country, the literacy rate of rural female is less than 10 per cent. To ensure that the state is able to provide female teachers and healthcare workers in these districts, only building schools will not suffice. A deeper understanding of the equity challenge for these girls, and all children between the ages of five and 16 years is needed.
The Pak Alliance for Maths and Science (PAMS) is a non-profit mandated to advocate for, and develop solutions which impact improved access and quality of learning of Pakistani children.
The Missing Third is one of the studies published by the organisation. In the absence of any recent data and analysis of access to education, PAMS felt it was crucial that the recently published datasets of the Population Census 2017 and the Pakistan Social and Living Measurement Standards 2019-20 survey be used to triangulate and analyse how many and where are the children denied their right to free and compulsory education.
PAMS hopes that the data will be used to dramatically change the state’s educational services’ delivery approach, with a significant push from policy makers, education managers, civil society organisations and the media to ensure that this national security challenge is overcome.
Huma Zia Faran is a research and policy advocate with over eight years of experience in promoting girls’ education, quality of education, and right to education for children with disabilities. She is currently working as Programs Lead at the Pak Alliance for Maths and Science.
Zohair Zaidi is a policy researcher. He consults with governments, multinationals, and private sector organisations.