Education in Pakistan has not geared up to the level it is required to be or as compared to other countries in the region. As per a study by the UNESCO, although the overall literacy rate stands at 46 per cent, independent sources and educational experts, however, are sceptical. They place the overall literacy rate at 26 per cent and the rate for girls and women at 12 per cent, contending that the higher figures include people who can handle little more than a signature. There are 163,000 primary schools in Pakistan, of which merely 40,000 cater to girls. Of these, 15,000 are in Punjab Province, 13,000 in Sind, 8,000 in North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and 4,000 in Balochistan. Similarly, out of a total 14,000 lower secondary schools and 10,000 higher secondary schools, 5,000 and 3,000 respectively are for girls, in the same decreasing proportions as above in the four provinces. There are around 250 girls colleges, and two medical colleges for women in the public sector of 125 districts. Some 7 million girls under 10 go to primary schools, 5.4 million between 10 and 14 attend lower secondary school, and 3 million go to higher secondary schools. About 1.5 million and 0.5 million girls respectively go to higher secondary schools/colleges and universities.
The situation gets worse in rural areas due to social and cultural obstacles. In some places, particularly northern tribal areas, the education of girls is strictly prohibited on religious grounds. The situation is the most critical in NWFP and Balochistan, where the female literacy rate stands between 3 per cent and 8 per cent. Some government organizations and non-governmental organizations have tried to open formal and informal schools in these areas, but the local landlords, even when they have little or nothing to do with religion or religious parties, oppose such measures, apparently out of fear that people who become literate will cease to follow them with blind faith.
The present government has however taken some very concrete steps to boost education, specially the basic and higher education in the country by establishing the Higher Education Commission under veteran Dr Atta ur Rehman. The Commission has been set up to facilitate the development of the universities of Pakistan to be world-class centres of education, research and development. The Commission is also making concerted efforts to encourage individuals to undertake doctorate studies. Due to liberal policies of the government, recently the trends in education are changing and a large number of educational institutes have come up in the private sector. This includes chain of schools, medical colleges and universities in all major cities of Pakistan. However, standardization of the education system remains a big challenge for the governments, since the basic education rests on two streams, that is the government sponsored schools, where the medium of instruction is in Urdu and the private sector sponsored schools where medium of instruction is English.
The present government has established 987 Community primary schools at Union Council level, along with 5,953 Literacy Centers, 554 Early Childhood Education Centers (ECE), 8,400 Non-formal basic education Community schools. Education has been declared free up to matric level in two provinces and free text books distributed to primary school children throughout the country. Additionally, 441 Technical Workshops established in secondary schools and 6,240 schools have been upgraded through Public-Private Partnerships; 60.7% such schools are for girls. PhD output increased from 60 p.a. to 250 p.a. Seven new IT universities and degree awarding institutes have recently been set up, while two new educational channels launched in June 2004 under Virtual University Endowment Fund of over Rs.1.3 billion set up for public sector engineering universities. Budget for higher education increased from Rs. 800 million to Rs. 9.1 billion.