Where Do We Go From Here? Education Sector’s Recovery from COVID-19

COVID-19 has left a deep gash on the already faltering education system of Pakistan. COVID-related lockdowns affected large chunks of the school-going population, leaving almost 50 million children in Pakistan and 12 million children in the province of Punjab out of school (Zakaria 2020). By the third school reopenings (September–October 2021), 21% of adolescent boys and 8% of adolescent girls in Punjab had dropped out of school (Geven et al., 2021). Those that remain within the education system have incurred major learning losses. As the economy opens up, it is important to think about the ways in which COVID has impacted education, and how the losses incurred can be overcome.

Why have so many children dropped out of school?

The increase in dropouts can be attributed to a number of factors. First, the pandemic has left families financially vulnerable, due to which many children were forced out of school. Many students, particularly boys, also had to enter the labour force prematurely to make up for income losses, resulting in a higher dropout rate for boys (21%) as compared to girls (8%) in Punjab. Second, lockdowns have increased the gendered burden of work. Girls spent more time doing household chores instead of studying, which can encourage parents to keep their daughters at home even after school reopenings, particularly in a cultural milieu which puts a lower value on girls’ education. Third, many students were not able to continue learning through remote learning programs (TeleSchool and TaleemGhar) due to a lack of access to technology and the absence of conducive learning environments at home. This has made catching up difficult, resulting in many families opting not to send their children back to school (Geven et al., 2022). Finally, many families have also opted to engage their children in religious education, which many consider an alternative to formal schooling in Pakistan.

How effective was Pakistan’s remote learning program?

While there is yet to be a comprehensive study on the extent of learning losses incurred during the pandemic, some recent studies shed light on the gravity of the situation. A 2020 study on the 2005 earthquake and its impact on learning outcomes reports that the closure of schools post-earthquake resulted in 1.5 to 2 years of learning losses, which could result in children earning 15% less in every year of their adult lives (Andrabi et al., 2020). Since COVID-related school closures are more prolonged, there are likely to be greater learning losses, at a larger scale.

In response to the onslaught of COVID-19, federal and provincial governments decided to air curricular content for K-12 (kindergarten to 12th grade) through television, as part of the TeleSchool and Taleem Ghar programs. However, its uptake has been limited due to a number of factors:

  1. Access to technology is severely limited in Pakistan, especially in remote regions, and within disadvantaged groups. According to the Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) 2017, only about 15% of households of the poorest quintile owned a television. Comparatively, within the wealthiest quintile, around 96% owned televisions. Access to the internet and smartphones is even more unequal; only 12% of Pakistani households have access to the internet.
  2. Even where households have access to technology, devices may have to be shared between family members. Additionally, most houses lack spaces which are conducive to learning which make it difficult to keep students engaged with distractions around.
  3. Most curricular content is scripted in Urdu, which can make it inaccessible to families fluent only in regional languages.
  4. Due to COVID-related income shocks, many boys may be prematurely pushed into the labour force, which can limit the amount of time dedicated to learning.
  5. Girls are expected to do household chores. Since school reopenings in September 2021, girls spent about twice as much time as boys on family care (Geven et al., 2022).
  6. Societal attitudes towards watching television have also impacted uptake. A recent study noted that television in Pakistan is considered to be a medium to access entertainment, which adds to the hesitation in its use for education. Some fathers also prohibit their daughters from accessing television (Malik et al., 2022).
  7. Alternatives like private tutoring are costly, and can only be accessed by relatively advantaged groups.

How do we catch up?

In a recent webinar held jointly by the Consortium for Development Policy Research and the World Bank, measures for the recovery of the education sector from COVID-19  were discussed. Some important insights and considerations from the webinar were highlighted. First and foremost, there is a need to make sure schools remain open during future waves of the pandemic, which can ensure that there is no further damage to learning outcomes. Evidence suggests that transmission of COVID can be greatly limited with the use of masks, distancing and ventilation of classrooms. Additionally, the government must draft a comprehensive plan to re-integrate dropouts into the education system. In Kenya, low re-enrollment numbers led the government to appoint an inter-ministerial task force that led community-based household mobilizations. Over 96 percent of learners eventually re-enrolled. Conditional cash transfers have also proved effective in Brazil and Mexico in this regard (UNESCO, UNICEF and World Bank, 2021).

To address learning losses, children must be taught according to their current learning levels, regardless of the grade they are in. Under the current system, teachers are instructed to stick to the curriculum, without adjusting to the individual learning needs of students, which can exacerbate students’ learning ability in the long-run. Furthermore, governments must make an active effort to dedicate time in the academic calendar for remedial learning, either through extending school times or by allocating space in current timetables. In Kenya, the government announced a two-year accelerated “crash program” that adds a fourth term to the usual three-term school year by shortening school holidays (UNESCO, UNICEF and World Bank, 2021). To establish a remedial learning program, the government must provide teachers adequate resources and a structured plan which can help them address learning losses categorically. Underlying all these measures, there should be an effort to initiate dialogue between all stakeholders–parents, students, teachers, school administration, local leaders and members of the wider community to craft a recovery plan that is most suited to the community’s needs. In addition to this, care must be taken to address the needs of students from marginalized communities, who are often doubly burdened.

The education sector continues to pay for the price for uncertainty within the federal government. As the new government takes charge, tackling learning losses and re-integrating drop-outs must assume the highest priority.

Zohra Aslam is a Research Assistant at the Consortium for Development Policy Research

How should we think about Pakistan’s middle class?


By Shehryar Nabi

Pakistan’s expanding, largely urban middle class shows a country far different from its traditional poles of poor and elite.

How should we understand Pakistan’s middle class – a phenomenon inseparable from its economic and political future?

On October 31st, the Lahore-based Consortium for Development Policy Research co-organized an event with the Urban Institute in Washington D.C. to assess this question. The event featured a panel of researchers studying middle class trends both globally and in Pakistan.

Here are key takeaways from the conversation:

We know the middle class is growing, but it remains ill-defined

There is plenty of anecdotal evidence of the middle class in Pakistan. Go to any major city, and you will see consumerist lifestyles that, as described by World Bank Economist Ghazala Mansuri at the event, are free from the depravations of poverty but still depend on public services that the rich opt-out of.

But how big is the middle class in numbers?

There are two government sources used to size up Pakistan’s middle class: National income accounts and household consumption surveys. Combining these measures, and using the global middle class definition of $11 to $110 in daily income[1], Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Homi Kharas found that about 50 million Pakistanis are middle class, comprising 27 percent of the population. By 2030, that number is forecast to reach 160 million people, 66 percent of its population. That would make it the 13th largest middle class in the world.[2]

Mansuri commented that economic definitions of the middle class can vary wildly, making these figures imprecise. But existing measures at least confirm that Pakistan’s transition to a middle class society is in full swing.

How the middle class changes society

The rise of Pakistan’s middle class has broad implications for society, detailed at the event by Homi Kharas.

Firstly, the rise of the middle class has a varied effect on climate change. On the one hand, a growing middle class exacerbates climate change by increasing overall consumption, and thus carbon emissions. On the other hand, the middle class tends to be educated and live in smaller households, both of which are associated with lower carbon footprints.

The middle class also has an important effect on population growth. Pakistan’s fertility rate has been declining since the 1980s, and a growing middle class is likely to slow down population growth even more. If this is indeed the case, then the projection of the middle class described above would be too high because it does not account for a lower fertility rate.

Demand for education, the surest pathway for moving up the socioeconomic ladder, is driven up by the middle class.

Will the middle class strengthen democratic institutions? Kharas remarked that global experience suggests that rising prosperity and authoritarian government are by no means mutually exclusive. Nor are existing democratic institutions necessarily safeguarded by the middle class.

Kharas observed that because the middle class tends to demand public services, political tensions can stem from service delivery failures that spark distrust in the government. The evidence on this is in Pakistan mixed. A recent survey in Lahore shows that public service delivery is high on the minds of voters. Yet despite public service delivery failures – which Ghazala Mansuri pointed out have remained especially dire in Karachi despite a growing middle class – the expected political reaction has not been pronounced. This suggests that the middle class is not mobilized to demand accountability for service delivery through the political system.

The rise of the middle class does not guarantee gender equality

There are intuitive reasons why a rising middle class anticipates better outcomes for women. Middle class incomes may be driven by women earners in the family, increasing demand for their education, and in effect empowering them to make choices beyond the constraints of patriarchal norms.

But the evidence from Pakistan shows the path to empowerment is not so straightforward.

Drawing on data from 2005 to 2015, Urban Institute Research Associate Reehana Raza first pointed to trends that suggest a positive impact of middle class growth on women’s empowerment. In urban areas, which are strongly associated with the middle class, women’s enrollment in secondary education increased by 10 percent. Women’s enrollment in tertiary education grew from 200,000 to 600,000. Raza also found that income returns for each additional year of schooling are higher for women than for men.

However, this isn’t translating into substantial gains in employment. Although women’s employment is on an upward trend, only 25 percent participate in the labor market. Just 20 percent of women with a bachelor’s degree enter the labor market. Women who seek employment tend to do so after receiving at least ten years of schooling, whereas men can find work at any level of education. Raza concluded that while high income returns demonstrate an opportunity for women to benefit from education, it isn’t being reflected in Pakistan’s workforce.

Does the middle class increase women’s political representation? According to ongoing research in Lahore led by Ali Cheema, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives, the gender gap between men and women’s votes remains high in urban areas where the middle class has grown. Ali Cheema discussed what his research shows about the gender gap at the event.

One theory is that patriarchal norms at the household deny women their right to vote, or their votes are decided for them. But Cheema’s team found a different story. Women are in fact not prohibited from voting, and voting decisions are largely their own. They also found that divergences in women and men’s votes can have important consequences for electoral outcomes.

A different explanation offered by Cheema is the persistence of patriarchal norms at the party level. Cheema’s team found that party organizers and the movements they build are overwhelmingly male. This suggests they are unengaged with potential women voters.

Surveys conducted earlier this year by Cheema’s team show that women feel invisible to political parties, leaving them unenthusiastic about elections. Women are 21 percent more likely than their male counterparts to strongly agree that political parties are only interested in men’s votes.

Cheema argued that to reduce the gender gap in voter turnout, there needs to be a greater focus on the exclusionary tendencies of existing political structures even where the middle class is growing.

What we need to sustain middle class growth

Pakistan’s middle class surge is not inevitable if economic, social, and political structures remain as they are. At the event, ways to ensure the middle class’s continued expansion were floated with the audience for discussion.

Homi Kharas argued that the future of middle class jobs will not be in the manufacturing sector, the conventional pathway from lower to middle-income country status. Rather it will be in services – education, health, banking, telecommunications, etc. Kharas highlighted that the dynamism of the services sector creates wide opportunities in the job market. However, services will have to be tradable to drive middle class growth. Right now, however, Pakistan does not have internationally competitive services other than migrant labor.

A neglected avenue of middle class growth, Ghazala Mansuri argued, is agriculture. Mansuri stressed that the largely urban phenomenon of the middle class should not lead to the neglect of rural areas, which currently suffer from low productivity and poor service delivery.

The final, but highly important priority emphasized by Kharas is increasing women’s employment. Pakistan’s middle class is exceptional in how few women enter the labor market. For other middle-income countries, like China and Malaysia, incorporating women into the workforce was pivotal for overcoming widespread poverty and raising living standards. Unless social and structural barriers that prevent women’s labor force participation are removed, sustaining Pakistan’s middle class will be a challenge.

Shehryar Nabi is a communications associate at the Consortium for Development Policy Research.

[1] However, middle class trends have been observed among Pakistanis earning $5 to $10 per day.

[2] Kharas added a big caveat to his methodology. If you judged Pakistan’s by its national income accounts, it would be slightly richer than Bangladesh. But if you just looked at household consumption surveys, which do not account for 60 percent of national income, Pakistan would be poorer than Kenya or Cameroon. Household surveys fall short because questionnaires miss several modes of consumption, omit the informal sector, and are often unanswered by the top 10 percent.  

Interview with Madiha Afzal: How does education influence views about terrorism in Pakistan?


By Shehryar Nabi and Rabea Malik

It’s an intuitive notion: Educate people more, and they become less swayed by extremist ideologies. But the evidence on education and support for terrorism paints a more complicated picture.

Madiha Afzal, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy, has mined through public opinion surveys to parse out where years of education matter, and where they don’t. She argues that providing education alone won’t be enough to reduce support for terrorism in Pakistan. Rather, schools should counter extremist narratives through curriculum reform.

In our latest expert conversation, Afzal explained her research and its policy implications to Rabea Malik, Research Fellow at the Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives (IDEAS).

You can listen to the interview here, or read the transcript below.

Audio of the interview:

Interview highlights:

[1:51] The conventional wisdom on the relationship between education and support for terrorism.

[4:54] How favorability and un-favorability toward terror groups, and non-responses to questions about terrorist groups (from polling data), correlate with education.

[6:20] When more education is correlated with negative views towards terrorism.

[7:56] Within terrorist organizations, are thought leaders educated and privileged, while the foot soldiers are uneducated and under-privileged?

[12:26] Examples of educational content that could foster extremism.

[17:34] We can’t say educational content causes support for terrorism, but rather it creates an environment that doesn’t challenge it enough.

[20:49] Why educational content that could foster extremism exists in the first place.

[22:57] Why people are resistant to reforming curricula.

[24:38] Beyond educational content, is rote memorization and hierarchical culture adding to the problem?

[29:17] What are the prospects for future curriculum reform? Is this on the government’s agenda?

[This transcript has been lightly edited for length and clarity].

Rabea Malik: Thank you Madiha for recording this podcast with us, I’ll begin by asking what got you interested in researching the relationship between education and support for terrorism?

Madiha Afzal: For a number of years I have been interested in looking at the roots of support for terrorism in Pakistan because of the poor security situation there. And the idea for looking at support for terrorism is because support matters in the Pakistani context. It legitimizes terror groups, it delegitimizes government action against these groups.

The way people have looked at this topic in general is to relate the support for terrorism to socio-demographics: years of education, income levels, and so on. And the way they’ve done this is correlated these variables with measures of support that are gleaned using polling data: What are your views towards the Taliban, what are your views towards Al-Qaeda, and so on.

­­­­The conventional wisdom that less education or less income are correlated with support for terrorism – according to these studies and even in the Pakistani context all of the work that had been done did not bear out the conventional wisdom. Essentially the evidence did not really say much, but it did not say that we cannot definitively say that less education or less income predicts support for terrorism.

I wanted to re-test this a little more carefully in the Pakistani context. The intuition is that years of education do matter. The fact that you’re going to school should matter for predicting attitudes. Yet in Pakistan we have very counter-intuitive aspects to this issue, like anecdotal support for terrorist groups for the Taliban from very educated people.

When I went ahead and looked at this using polling data from Pew which used data from the program on international policy attitudes, I found some really interesting results that then prompted me to start looking at this question in more detail. I realized it is not only years of education that matter, in fact they hide something. I wanted to look much more closely at curricula, and be able to say something more about what it is in the content of education that impacts attitudes. That’s when I started doing fieldwork in Pakistani schools and looked at textbooks and curricula and related that to attitudes of students.

If education and economic background do not necessarily determine support for terrorism, do they influence the role that someone plays in terrorism? Perhaps the underprivileged are more likely to commit acts, while the privileged are more likely to be thought leaders or organizers. For example, during the Mumbai terrorist attacks, the soldiers on the ground were commenting on all the expensive things that they saw in the hotel to a commander who could speak in English. So is this something we can be certain of given available evidence?

Yeah so let me actually briefly explain – they don’t influence support for terrorism, that’s what the data found up till my research. I found some interesting results that then prompted to look a little deeper so I’ll go through some of those results with you and then we can get to the question about the role someone plays in terrorism.

When polling data asks the question about people’s views towards the Taliban they can respond in one of three ways. They can say I have favorable views, they can say I have unfavorable views, or they choose not to respond. So a lot of this analysis that had found no effect essentially just chose to look at favorability along one dimension. But this is a three-dimensional issue if you look at favorability, un-favorability, and non-responses, which basically say that people choose not to respond either out of fear or perhaps because they don’t have enough information to respond.

What I found is if you split up the responses into these three dimensions, what you see is that favorability for terrorist groups does not vary much with education, that is true. It does go up slightly towards the middle levels of education which is basically secondary education: matric and intermediate education (Figure 1). So some secondary school, secondary school, and going to grades 11 and 12. That effect is not very strong, but it exists. That’s what prompted me to look at the secondary education further.

Figure 1: Pakistani views on the Pakistani Taliban, by education level, 2013


But the other interesting thing that you do find is that un-favorability is driven up with years of education because non-response rates go down. So basically, uneducated people will have low favorability, and also low un-favorability towards terror groups because many of them will just choose not to answer the question. But as you move forward in the years of education, essentially favorability has a bit of an upside down U, where it goes only up for secondary school a little bit and then comes down again.

But un-favorability – negative views towards terrorist groups – do increase and non-response rates do go down. So people become more confident in expressing their views and certainly their views do become more negative as education increases. That result is a little bit heartening and in some sense it shows you that part of what education is supposed to accomplish – make people more negative towards these groups – is being accomplished.

On the link between the role that someone plays and terrorism?

That’s a very interesting question and definitely an important angle with which to examine the question.

It makes logical sense: That the privileged are the ones who can think more about the grander schemes and the under-privileged are the foot soldiers, if you will. But I think that thinking just in general about what makes someone a terrorist regardless of whatever role they’re playing in terrorism, is not something that can be predicted by their education or their income quite simply. There’s usually something else that has gone on when somebody becomes a terrorist. There’s some sense of deep alienation, something flipping their head to the other side. So support for terrorism – while it may be linked to someone becoming a terrorist – is usually something that flips which basically means that the link is quite tenuous. I think these factors are usually much more important than social demographics.

But thinking a little bit more about the social demographics: Are people who are committing acts of terror, are they more likely to be more under-privileged relative to the general population that they are coming from? I think that’s sort of an important question there.

In the Pakistani context, there have been some studies (non-systematic) done on terrorists about a few years ago. But more recently, because the data on terrorists is pretty secretive – by the government, by the intelligence agencies – the data isn’t really out there for us to examine. What we have are reports of people like Saad Aziz who was by all accounts educated and privileged, who did go on to become a foot solider, right?

And then we also have the thought leaders, let’s say Mullah Omar who is not educated, not privileged. So we have those anecdotal accounts. We don’t really have a systematic understanding of these issues in Pakistan. That being said, I think even in the context of looking at recruits over the world, for recruits going to ISIS for instance, what the research is finding is that the foot soldiers aren’t necessarily those who are under-privileged. They’re usually either enrolled in college – we have examples of terrorists committing acts in the United States – we have Omar Mateen, we have the San Bernardino killer. Again, who are not necessarily under-privileged relative to the population that they come from but there is a deep sense of alienation and resentment. And again, something flipping in their head, which prompts them to go the other way.

You argue that anti-extremism efforts within education should focus on content in Pakistan’s curriculum, is that an correct assumption of what you’ve written?

Yes. In the public education system there’s some nuance to that, and I can elaborate on that. But I think in particular, in some of the work I’ve done more recently, I would argue that one of the ways to counter extremism in Pakistan is actually very simply to direct the efforts at madrasas that propagate extremist ideologies. So that is the direct link and the link with public education as I can explain in a little bit is a little bit more nuanced but it certainly is a place where anti-extremism efforts can be directed.

Can you give us some prominent examples of educational content that could influence people towards extremist and hateful ideologies?

Sure. Concentrating on public education or the government education system, where I’ve examined textbooks, it’s not that these textbooks have anything directly on terrorist groups. It’s not like they’re saying anything on current events and even the mentions on terrorism are literally numbered – one or two mentions of terrorism saying Pakistan’s playing a good role in the world in countering terrorism or Pakistan is a victim of terrorism. So there is nothing directly mentioning terrorist groups.

But what I argue influences people’s views, influences students’ views, are a number of structures in the Pakistani educational curricula. In particular I focus on the Pakistan Studies curriculum at the secondary level.

The first thing the curriculum starts out with is that the Pakistan ideology is Islam. Pakistan is created for Islam. And it goes on to say that Muslims are good, that non-Muslims are not, even though there’s some lip service to the view that minorities are equal. But essentially the content of the first few chapters where it’s explaining the creation of the country and Partition is that Muslims were good, Hindus were bad, and hence Pakistan needed to be created. There are references to jihad as an armed struggle against those of a different religion in the colonial context: fighting against the Sikhs, fighting against the British.

The references to India are pretty starkly negative, and Hindus before Partition: evil, calling them the enemy, and so on. There’s a sense that pervades the textbooks that the world is out to get Pakistan – when it came to 1971 the world was out to get Pakistan and in particular India conspired against Pakistan. And so what this kind of skeleton of a narrative that is set up – without any critical thinking or any views from the other side, any views on what might Indians think being put in there – what this sets up is a view of the world where a terrorist group comes out and says that we are only committing acts of terror because we want to purge Pakistan of foreign influences and western influences and impose Islam. And we are engaging in jihad against an infidel state to impose an Islamic system. A student who has not really understood the nuances of the Pakistan argument will hear that narrative coming from terrorists and say, “What’s wrong with that?”

It causes them to develop a narrative in their heads that when they encounter hateful propaganda or terrorist propaganda, they can’t counter that.

Can we say that this content has been causal for supporting terrorism, couldn’t support also be a reaction to global politics and foreign policy?

One thing I will say that it is not causal in the sense that many countries – Pakistan is not exclusive in having this narrative in its textbooks, this hyper-nationalist narrative, this negativity towards other countries, other religions. There examples in Israeli and Palestinian textbooks. There are plenty of examples in Indian textbooks, where there are examples that would coincide with the trends that we see in Pakistani textbooks.

It’s not causal for developing support for terrorism. One thing I will say is that despite the fact the majority of the country reads these textbooks, actual support for terrorism when you measure it is pretty low in these polls. Maybe we should have discussed that up front. But support for terrorism is on average around 10 to 15 percent of people who will say yes we have favorable views towards the Taliban. Of course their narratives are much more worrying, that’s one thing I argue about in my work.

But coming back to your question, we cannot say then that it’s causal in developing support for terrorism. However, given that Pakistan has this curriculum, and given that Pakistan has an environment where certain terrorist groups are able to propagate their narratives freely (there’s hate literature, there are magazines of these jihadist groups that you can buy literally in stores in some parts of Lahore, there are certainly mosques and madrasas where the narratives are being propagated sometimes during Friday prayers), there is a sense that if this curriculum did not exist – or if there were critical thinking in this system – then people could counter some of the narratives in that environment. So while curriculum may not be causal towards developing support towards terrorism, had the curriculum been different, people might have been able to counter some of the narratives that are out there.

I think it would be fair to say that an enabling environment is created, while not everybody chooses to act outside of the law or violently, there is an enabling environment that’s created, particularly in weak states or parts of the state that are weak.

Yeah absolutely.

Why do textbooks have this content in the first place and what prevents them from changing?

That’s a great question because why don’t we just engage in a curriculum reform? And a curriculum reform has been tried but essentially failed, though there have been some improvements at the margins.

The reason textbooks have this content in the first place is because this is a conscious effort by the Pakistani state to promote its narrative, a narrative that it considers to be of use to it. Essentially, textbooks weren’t always this way. Pakistan studies only became compulsory at the higher secondary levels and beyond around the late 1970s. This happened during Zia’s regime. General Zia – along with the help of Jamaat-e-Islami, inserted these notions of the Pakistan ideology. Not the two-nation theory, the two-nation theory already exists in these textbooks. But the fact that the Pakistan ideology is something identical to Islam was inserted into these textbooks in the late 70s, early 1980s.

Certainly the more negative content towards India was also inserted in the textbooks at that time. And the idea is that it serves Pakistan’s interests to be a country that identifies itself or defines in opposition to India. And that it defines itself on the basis of religion because that cements the Pakistani identity – an identity that the state felt was threatened in particular, post 1971 when East Pakistan seceded from it.

Essentially what prevents it from changing is that this is the conscious narrative of the Pakistani establishment. The establishment is pretty constant through military and civilian regimes, through various democratic governments.

But what prevents it from changing is also the fact that now an entire generation and more now have been schooled in this. When Musharraf came in and argued for curriculum reform in Pakistan and argued for the word “jihad” to be taken out of the curriculum – in fact the 2006 curriculum document does not have the word jihad to be included in the Pakistan Studies curriculum. Those suggestions to textbook writers were not taken into account because an entire generation of textbook writers or people working in the curriculum wing of textbook boards has been schooled in this curriculum. And in interviews they said, “We saw the document which says the word jihad should not be included but why not? We think it should be included.” So there’s pushback on various levels against this reform because people buy into the narrative.

In the conversation we discussed how the culture of learning is such that it discourages critical thinking and questioning. That’s linked to rote memorization and unquestioning acceptance of the narrative. Is this not a wider issue in society and a broader cultural characteristic? Is it fair to think that changing curricula and what is taught in schools bring change to society? Or does the sequencing need to be the other way around?

That’s a great question. I think you’re absolutely right – we are a culture that is very hierarchical, which tends to take things the way they’re presented to us, not to question people in positions of authority – they could be adults in your household or they could be your teachers. You’re taught not to question. I think part of what I argue the curriculum reform should be is a change in this culture.

I’ll give you some examples – even in Pakistan this kind of questioning does exist. I found in my research that public schools tend to have much more of this authoritative teacher culture whereas private – the low-cost private schools and non-profit schools – had a much more friendly teacher who was teaching in a more informal environment where students were asking him or her questions and engaging with them.

This may be, to some, a marginal difference compared to how teaching happens in other contexts. But I would argue at it makes a difference. So that’s one dimension: More teacher engagement, being able to ask questions, just being able to understand things logically in your head instead of memorizing them without any questions.

I think another example I would give, again in the Pakistani context is O-levels curricula. Compared to other contexts, I think the O-levels curriculum, while it encourages learning as opposed to a lot of questioning or going outside the box (I studied the Pakistan Studies textbooks for the O-levels curriculum) the textbooks themselves have so many differences with the Pakistan Studies textbooks at the matric level where they are presenting the other sides of the story. They are presenting things as not being black and white. So it’s not that those on the Muslim side, when it came to Partition, made no mistakes. In fact there were mistakes on both sides. Saying simple things like this can actually make a difference.

While it is true that on one hand it is a culture that discourages critical thinking. I think that a) loosening up the way things are taught – and again in Pakistan it does happen it’s only the government schools that are extremely strict – and b) trying to elaborate on and insert some nuances in the history of things in the curriculum can make a difference.

What do you think is the way forward, has there been any engagement at the policy level and realistically what kind of engagement can we envision?

That’s a tough question. I think when it comes to education in Pakistan there is a sense that curricula are on the back burner because Pakistan has so many issues when it comes to access to education. Because it’s often on the news: Issues of access to education first and then issues of learning at the elementary school, at the primary school level – learning math, learning English. It seems that the government is concentrating its efforts on those two issues. Policy does not seem to be concerned with looking at curricula as an important initiative.

There is a sense that people know this work is being done, it’s prominently written about in opinion articles that I’m sure are being read. The reports are disseminated. The government is certainly aware that scholars argue the curriculum is a problem in Pakistan.

To the extent that it would run in the face of the state’s narrative, which does not show any signs of changing, no I don’t think that it’s going to change substantially at any point soon. In fact, even when it comes to madrasas that are more extremist and hateful curricula being taught in extremist madrasas where the link is actually much more direct, that was actually part of the National Action Plan – to completely eliminate any sense of that. The work that’s been done by the government on that has been pretty haphazard. We see newspaper reports, “100 madrasas shut down here”, “50 parcels of hate material seized there”, but no evidence that the action against these things has been systematic.

In some sense, that should be the primary or first target by the government especially because the government itself acknowledged it and put it in the National Action Plan. But to the extent that public school curricula are not even on the government’s list of things that they say are going to be tackled anytime soon, I think any hope for that at this point is pretty muted.

Podcast edited and transcribed by Shehryar Nabi, a communications officer at the Consortium for Development Policy Research (CDPR) and the Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives (IDEAS).

What the government is (and isn’t) doing to fix urban issues

(Credit: JimC, CC BY-NC 2.0)

By Ijaz Nabi and Hina Shaikh

What is the government currently doing about Pakistan’s staggering urban challenges? Where is more work needed? Here is an overview per issue:


Pakistan faces a growing housing shortfall of approximately 4.4 million units. When provided, the quality is often substandard and low income groups receive little benefit. To redress chronic housing problems, Pakistan’s only housing policy was announced in 2002. The government’s attempt in 2005 to update the housing plan with a comprehensive policy framework remains unexecuted. Until a new, official policy is adopted and implemented, the provision of low-cost urban housing will be an elusive goal.

Local governments have a limited role in resolving the urban housing crisis. They have little control over urban land[1], a lack resources to fund schemes and are unable to borrow independently from international donors.

Many announcements of government-sponsored housing projects have made headlines (such as Ashiana[2] and Apna Ghar[3]) but remain uncompleted. The Housing and Works Ministry openly admits its failure to complete various projects. Most face bureaucratic and or administrative delays or are mired by corruption scandals and lack of political will. Where construction has taken place, low income groups have received little attention.[4] To complete one housing project, Punjab is now seeking assistance from TOKI – the Turkish Housing Development Administration. Punjab also plans to sell public land to fund low-cost housing. Several schemes are underway in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Sindh as well but progress is slow.

The House Building Finance Company (HBFC) decided in October to extend housing finance to low and middle-income groups by introducing a new priority lending scheme. The State Bank of Pakistan has issued guidelines for housing finance. Donors like the World Bank are also stepping in to help launch innovative housing products targeting under-served communities. While partial attempts like these have been made to address housing problems,,  chronic housing shortages and poor quality remain unaddressed.

Water and Sanitation

In most Pakistani cities, water supply is limited and unsafe for drinking while access to waste management services remains poor.

A National Drinking Water Policy was announced in 2009 that promises safe and sustainable drinking water to all by 2025, and a Sanitation Policy was declared in 2006 aligning goals with the relevant Millennium Development Goal targets. Provincial commitment to ensuring water and sanitation services are formalized is seen in WASH[5] sector plans in Punjab and Baluchistan[6], sectoral roadmaps in Punjab[7] and other policy initiatives[8].

Initiatives have also been announced to improve waste disposal in urban centers. Karachi and Lahore, the two largest cities of Pakistan, have privatized garbage collection[9] with varying degrees of control at the local level[10]. Punjab plans to establish solid waste management companies across seven cities  as part of its sanitation roadmap and commence a district-level survey to earmark sites for waste disposal.

Provinces are also improving access to clean water. The Saaf Paani company is restoring non-functional water schemes in 37 rural tehsils of South Punjab and is keen to scale-up the program across all districts (rural and urban). Water quality testing is also routinely conducted in most cities by the Pakistan Council of Research on Water Resources (PCRWR). Its most recent report  estimates that 10 to 15 percent of bottled water is contaminated with excessive levels of either arsenic or sodium.[11] Most filtration plants  in cities are only capable of cleaning arsenic.

Untreated industrial and municipal waste water remains a major health hazard in cities.[12] In smaller cities, sewage treatment facilities are virtually non-existent. The situation is not much different in larger urban centers.[13]


As use of basic public health services remains low in both rural and urban areas, key health indicators among Pakistan’s urban poor are only marginally better than the rural poor.

After a hiatus of several years following the 18th amendment, Pakistan finally has a National Health Vision (NHV) 2016-2025 to help prioritize health interventions post-devolution. All four provinces have a Health Sector Strategy. Healthcare commissions are functional in each province, regulating public and private health facilities while ensuring their compliance to minimum standards.

Technology and improved data collection at both the federal and provincial levels are significantly changing health service delivery. Islamabad has a Health Policy Strengthening and Information Analysis Unit[14] to collect health data  while health information systems are functional across all provinces. The use of internet communications technology, particularly supported by the Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB), is helping improve healthcare in the province especially for controlling dengue[15] and enhancing immunization[16]. Polio cases are declining steadily as both KP Punjab have launched successful inactivated polio vaccination (IPV) campaigns.

Health insurance is big on the cards as the Prime Minister launched the first ever national health insurance scheme in Pakistan last year while KP has introduced its own program via the Sehat Insaf Card[17].

Efforts to improve tertiary healthcare, however, remain inadequate as several large-scale projects remain incomplete.[18] Provinces are now engaging with the private sector to establish modern hospitals just as several primary health care services are also being outsourced.


Pakistan’s mega urban centers like Karachi are without a mass public transport system and investments in roads in place of public transport have  led to an unregulated rise in private vehicles with fewer options of public transport for the poor.[19]

The federal government has only recently signed a two-year project to formulate the first National Transport Policy with support from the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) for a safe, efficient and sustainable transport system. Provincial governments are making significant investments in low-cost public transport. These include mass transit projects in Islamabad, Lahore, Multan, Karachi and Peshawar.[20] Specialized transport bodies such as the Lahore Transport Company, Karachi Urban Transport Corporation and Punjab Metrobus Authority are helping manage city travel. But given the transportation needs of megacities, further investment in feeder or connecting routes is required. Currently, the construction of feeder-route networks to connect to Islamabad and Lahore are in the pipeline but facing administrative delays.

Inadequate public transport has fueled a rise in private taxi services (Albayrak, Uber and Careem). New provincial regulations in Sindh and Punjab will require these services to acquire route permits, fitness certificates and be subject to taxes. Vehicle inspection regime remains weak. Punjab has taken the lead by setting up vehicle inspection and certification system centers across the province.

Pakistan’s transport sector needs to prepare for the rise in economic activity expected in urban centers following investments under CPEC. Introducing the right land-use policies and investing in low-cost public transport can help meet the likely increase in demand.


Although urban areas have better enrolment and learning outcomes, a significant number of children remain out of school.[21] The preference for private schools remains high, reflecting in part the low quality of public schooling.

The National Education Policy was announced in 2009 and provides broad goals. Provinces, responsible for education after the 18th amendment, have failed to reach a consensus on a revised policy. There are four education plans, one for each province.[22] Punjab’s expires this year and Sindh’s next year. The status of Article 25-A of the constitution that ensures the right to free and compulsory education post-18th amendment is still pending in KP, Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad-Jammu and Kashmir (AJK).

Provincial education departments are embedding education reforms within broader provincial plans. Punjab has adopted the roadmap approach for improving public schools. [23] The Schools Reforms Roadmap is based on “stock-takes” that track progress on education outcomes. Sindh and KP are implementing a similar model. The approach however varies across provinces in terms of leadership and management style. For example, progress in Punjab, unlike KP, is managed personally by the Chief Minister. This raises the question of whether centralized control is the right way to achieve outcomes as opposed to granting more responsibility at the local level.

All four provinces are now relying on technology-driven, “smart” monitoring techniques to manage the performance of public schools.[24] Provinces are also moving towards the merit-based hiring of teachers, now being recruited through rigorous testing conducted by a third-party service.

While the overall impact of these reforms is yet to be seen in terms of increased enrollment and learning outcomes, education roadmaps are helping to create a culture of evidence-based policymaking.

Land Management

Unregulated land use remains one of the top causes of ill-planned urbanization.

A policy mandate to manage urbanization has been slow to emerge at the federal and provincial levels. The need for smarter urban development first appeared at the heart of Planning Commission’s New Framework for Economic Growth in 2012. The incumbent government’s “Vision 2025” and 11th Five Year Plan (2013-18) roll out a similar agenda. Vision 2025 particularly emphasizes legal reforms for zoning, commercialization, taxation and improving urban infrastructure.

The Planning Commission recently established the Urban Planning & Policy Center to pursue smart, sustainable urban development in Pakistan. Provinces are also gearing up. The Punjab Growth Strategy endorses support for dense urban centers to attract investment and boost productivity while urban policy units in KP and Punjab are conducting research to inform urban policies. Provinces are also digitizing land records to facilitate administrative and economic decision-making and improve land allocation in urban centers.[25]

However, provinces have not designed industrial policy that looks at land usage and development of new cities[26], especially as industrial investments under CPEC are already being made[27]. While Punjab is currently identifying areas with the best potential to develop into cities and industrial estates, other provinces need to follow suit to align economically with CPEC.

What Next?

While there are many real and headline-grabbing urban initiatives (some are successful, many are not), they are not being pursued in a systematic framework for urban development. This has led to the poor prioritization of initiatives. Sensible urban development strategies are thus now essential for all provinces.

Pakistan will launch “The State of Pakistan Cities Report 2016”[28] this year to provide updated data on key urban indicators. The rollout of the population census, after a gap of 19 years, will also be very helpful. A fresh census will depict the true extent of urbanization and the size of the urban vote bank[29].

Given the size of the urban vote bank, there are political incentives to bring about sustained change. Responding to these incentives will require being guided by evidence to pursue the right development path – and learning from best local and international experience. This makes for excellent opportunities for collaboration between researchers and policy makers and will be taken up in the final blog in this series.

Ijaz Nabi is the Pakistan country director at the International Growth Centre.

Hina Shaikh is a Pakistan country economist at the International Growth Centre.

[1] Urban land in Lahore remains under the control of the Lahore Development Authority while only a third of Karachi’s land is under the city government.

[2] Aims to provide 50,000 low-cost housing units in the next 2 years. If completed the scheme will meet no more than 0.6 percent of Pakistan’s housing shortage. The government launched a similar housing scheme back in 2010 as well. Original target was to build 50,000 housing units in 21 cities of the province but in the past 5 years the government built just 370 units in only 3 cities.

[3] The Rs 500 million Apna Ghar Scheme announced in Punjab in 2013 remains limited to files. Under this scheme, the federal government was to construct 500,000 housing units in five years, under a PPP-mode, on land to be provided free of charge by the province.

[4] Pakistan Housing Authority (under the Ministry of Housing and Works) has over the past 15 years constructed only a few thousand housing units with none for low income groups. While the federal ministry is responsible for acquisition and development of sites as well as construction and maintenance of federal government buildings it bears no direct responsibility for provision of shelter to the poor.

[5] Water, Sanitation and Hygiene services

[6] Punjab WASH sector Development Plan 2014-2024, Baluchistan has also developed a 10-year WASH sector plan undergoing approval

[7] Punjab has launched a separate road map for water and solid waste management

[8] Sindh has a drinking water and sanitation policy 2016 awaiting approval while KP’s drinking water policy 2015 stands approved. Punjab has a drinking policy 2011.

[9] In Lahore, two Turkish companies were awarded a seven-year contract, by the Lahore Solid Waste Management Company valuing USD320 mn for solid waste collection, disposal and washing, back in 2012. After five years, the Sindh Solid Waste Management Board followed suit by awarding a Chinese company a USD25 mn contract for garbage collection in 2 districts of Karachi.

[10] By appointing political leaders from Lahore on the board of the waste management company, mayor of Lahore is directly engaged in supervising efforts to keep the city clean. Sindh however is centralizing the function of waste collection at the provincial level.

[11] The water quality control cell of the civic agency in Islamabad also found 53% of the water samples collected from various parts of the city unfit for human consumption.

[12] In Karachi, only two of its three waste water treatment plants are working, processing around 11% of the city’s sewage with more than 400 million gallons of waste water being dumped untreated into the rivers and, ultimately, into the ocean every day. A survey conducted by the AJK environmental protection agency has said that more than 70% spring water is being contaminated by sewerage lines running close to springs.

[13] After about seven years in operation, the only sewage treatment plant in the federal capital was closed down due to the faulty equipment and insufficient inflow of sewage. AJK government also claims to spend millions of rupees on water supply schemes but there has no visible change. Karachi has only recently launched a Sewage Treatment project, to be completed by 2018, for treating 460 mn gallons of sewage per day

[14] Established in 2015, it is equipped with a dashboard to collect credible data related to healthcare with support from USAID.

[15] A specialised Dengue Tracking System, based on an Android phone application given to field workers helps them keep records of dengue-related spraying activities by uploading geo-tagged photos of the spraying through the application.

[16] A digital system, E-Vaccs, launched in 2014 is monitoring the attendance of all vaccinators sent out into the field making immunization campaigns especially effective leading to rapid rise in coverage and increasing attendance of vaccinators from 36 to 94%.

[17] Plans to provide 1.8 million families across the province free treatment facility in public and private sector hospitals.

[18] A maternity healthcare project the Mother and Child Hospital, much needed for Rawalpindi, was started in 2005 at a cost of Rs2.5bn by the federal government remains unfinished to date. Other projects that remain incomplete include the construction of Surgical Tower at Mayo Hospital and extension of Services Hospital OPD in Lahore.

[19] Overall, inefficiencies in the performance of the transport sector costs Pakistan’s economy 4 to 6 percent of GDP – ADB estimates – Werner E. Liepach, ADB Country Director

[20]Metro Bus projects (orange and green lines) in Lahore, Multan, Islamabad-Rawalpindi and now Peshawar. Under transport infrastructure, these projects are now included within the CPEC framework such as rail based mass transit projects for all provincial capitals under which comes the Peshawar greater circular railway, Quetta circular railway, Karachi Circular Railway (KCR) and Lahore Orange Line train projects

[21] Close to 10 percent of all children in Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar remain out of school. Currently Pakistan has the highest number of out of school children in the world estimated at 12.3 million at primary level.

[22] These plans can be accessed from the provincial education department websites

[23] Sir Michael Barber’s ‘deliverology approach is based on first understanding the service delivery chain from top to bottom and then establishing a small team in a central delivery unit, gathering performance data to set targets and then tracking them periodically

[24] KP has launched the first ever automated management system for schools. Punjab has launched a smart monitoring of school initiative, employing over 900 monitoring and evaluation assistants to make field visits and collect data on android tablets. Sindh’s clustering policy 2016 aims to centralize control of government schools by grouping schools within close proximity to ease coordination and monitoring and developed a directorate of monitoring and evaluation. Balochistan is using its BEMIS cell to engage in software-based monitoring activities.

[25] The Sindh Revenue Board has computerized close to 95 percent of the province’s rural and urban land, while Punjab plans to do the same for urban land following complete digitization of all rural land records. KP, AJK and Balochistan are also computerizing their land records though progress has been slower.

[26] Punjab is looking at the potential to develop a new city to act as an industrial zone[26] along the Lahore-Islamabad motorway

[27] The Planning Commission confirms nine industrial parks, to act as primary hubs of industrial activity in the country, are included in the CPEC framework to be built across four provinces

[28] Report is being spearheaded by the Ministry of Climate Change (MOCC) with technical assistance from the United Nations Human Settlements Program (UN-Habitat) and funded by the Australian Government. This will provide updated information on key urban indicators for first level cities across Pakistan, establish appropriate urban baselines, analyze development trends and challenges to estimate the potential for investment and growth.

[29] Current estimates suggest that about 40% of the total electorate is now urban

Making school reformers of head teachers

(Credit: Hashoo Foundation USA CC BY-SA 2.0)

Amal Aslam 

Policymakers in Punjab are increasingly convinced that real change in education will emanate from head teachers within schools instead of through top-down approaches where government officials push changes that affect classrooms. This idea has been captured by the latest buzz term in the education reform discourse, “effective school leadership”, with policy makers seeing a vivid connection between school leadership and school improvement (and ultimately student learning outcomes).

Any reform effort in this direction will need to first map and study the configuration of head teachers in the current education landscape to understand their autonomy and to see what type, level and extent of decentralization of decision making to head teachers is required moving forward. Such a study involves a thorough understanding of how head teachers are recruited, what salary they draw, how their roles and responsibilities are conceived in job descriptions, how they are monitored as per Standard Operating Procedures and reporting protocols and the level and type of access that they have to policy makers and officials at the top of the bureaucratic hierarchy.

The Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives (IDEAS) has currently undertaken such a study for its School Leadership project to inform future reform efforts aimed at empowering head teachers to effect change.

Here is what we know so far about how head teachers operate:

The head teacher selection process is problematic

The criteria for appointing head teachers are not applied consistently and are missing an emphasis on personal traits and other qualities that makes for good head teachers.

In the past, head teachers in the public sector have been recruited or promoted to their posts entirely on the basis of seniority. There has recently been a shift, in some cases, with more educated teachers being designated as head teachers regardless of seniority. A substantial proportion of head teachers at all levels of schooling now possess a Master’s degree, although this trend is much more pronounced in middle and high schools (Figure 1).

Moreover, unlike primary schools, where 36 percent of head teachers have only completed their education till matric or intermediate levels, there are virtually no such head teachers in middle and high schools. Does a more educated head teacher, however, necessarily make for a better leader? Selection criteria right now do not consider other relevant qualities such as personality traits, attitudes and enthusiasm at the time of appointment.

Figure 1

Head teachers in Punjab
Level Number Qualifications (%)
Matric FA/FSc BA/BSc MA/MSc
Primary 34,091 24 12 30 34
Middle 7,841 1 1 21 71
High 5,692 0 0 13 86
Source: Punjab EMIS (2014)

Header teacher responsibilities are open-ended

There are currently no official job descriptions or Terms of Reference for head teachers. Whether this is deliberate or not is unknown. Head teacher roles and responsibilities originate in various government “notifications”. On paper, they have a variety of responsibilities split between two identifiable roles – “manager” and “instructional leader”. As managers and in the day-to-day running of schools, head teachers must see to the following: a safe physical and psychological climate, health and hygiene, the implementation of new government initiatives, community involvement and the management and appraisal of teachers amongst other duties.

There has recently been some devolution of financial management powers to head teachers as well. For example, they have been granted use of the Farogh-e-Taleem fund[1] at their own discretion, and they can use the school’s Non-Salary Budget in conjunction with School Council members. Head teachers are also expected to take charge of enrollment drives in March of every year and to effectively engage with the community to increase enrollment and prevent dropout. This is important for their use of funds, because the Non-Salary Budget is in fact tied to enrollment levels. Higher enrollment increases available funds that head teachers can use to improve school environment and infrastructure.

As instructional leaders, head teachers are expected to create a positive school environment where teachers and students are motivated to excel and share a long-term vision for the school with them. They are to mentor and train staff in skills and attitudes that will help realize organizational goals and groom future leaders. How much time head teachers spend, however, on managing as opposed to coaching or leading in practice remains to be seen.

Head teacher salaries are not commensurate with duties

Current salaries and allowances may not be enough to incentivize and drive good leadership in head teachers. The only difference at present between the salaries of head teachers and other teachers is that of a negligible monthly allowance of 500, 700 and 1000 rupees for primary, middle and high school head teachers respectively despite their significant responsibilities (Figure 2).

Figure 2

RoleResponsibilitiesHeadTeachers(Source: Head teacher guides (developed by the Directorate of Staff Development, Punjab)

Head teacher evaluation could be part of the problem

Right now, head teachers are monitored, ranked, and rewarded or penalized by provincial, district and sub-district education authorities based on their schools’ performance on a number of indicators. These include student enrollment and retention, student attendance, student results, teacher attendance, implementation of the school timetable and their own attendance. Head teachers collect and report data on these indicators to numerous forums and officials at frequent intervals.

Accountability measures are important but there are many potential problems that could undermine their usefulness. For example, is such reporting more intensive and invasive than necessary? Is it conducive to head teachers innovating and leading from the front or does it reduce them to mere recorders and suppliers of data to the powers that be? Is it having a motivating or demotivating effect on heads? Is reporting on these indicators comprehensive and does it capture behaviors of good head teachers effectively? Is such reporting superficial in nature and/or making head teachers complacent, causing them to perform at the bare minimum of what is required?

Apart from being answerable to higher authorities, it remains to be seen whether head teachers are able to meaningfully engage with them and to share their opinions, experiences and recommendations in policy making circles at the time of policy design and implementation. Do head teachers have grievances regarding their exclusion from these circles and are there sufficient and effective channels and mechanisms in place for them to articulate these and have them redressed?

How do we define a school leader?

In order for head teachers to be good leaders and the main agents of change in the education system, it also becomes paramount to define what exactly we mean by ‘leadership’ with illustrations and examples of good leadership by head teachers. Is there consensus on who makes a “good leader”? Is a good leader merely an effective administrator or something more? Depending on our understanding and expectations of a good leader we can set about reforming and re-imagining their space in the education landscape of Punjab.

Amal Aslam is a research manager at the Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives (IDEAS). She can be reached at amal.aslam@ideaspak.org

[1] A school fund raised by charging students 20 rupees a month