Giving every child the right to education



Pakistan is facing a serious challenge to ensure all children, particularly the most disadvantaged, attend, stay and learn in school. While enrollment and retention rates are improving, progress has been slow to improve education indicators in Pakistan. 

An estimated 22.8 million children aged 5-16 are out-of-school.

Currently, Pakistan has the world’s second-highest number of out-of-school children (OOSC) with an estimated 22.8 million children aged 5-16 not attending school, representing 44 per cent of the total population in this age group. In the 5-9 age group, 5 million children are not enrolled in schools and after primary-school age, the number of OOSC doubles, with 11.4 million adolescents between the ages of 10-14 not receiving formal education. Disparities based on gender, socio-economic status, and geography are significant; in Sindh, 52 percent of the poorest children (58 percent girls) are out of school, and in Balochistan, 78 percent of girls are out of school.

Nearly 10.7 million boys and 8.6 million girls are enrolled at the primary level and this drops to 3.6 million boys and 2.8 million girls at the lower secondary level.

Gender-wise, boys outnumber girls at every stage of education.

Gaps in service provision at all education levels is a major constraint to education access.  Socio-cultural demand-side barriers combined with economic factors and supply-related issues (such as availability of school facility), together hamper access and retention of certain marginalized groups, in particular adolescent girls. Putting in place a credible data system and monitoring measures to track retention and prevent drop-out of out-of-school children is still a challenge.

At systems level, inadequate financing, limited enforcement of policy commitments and challenges in equitable implementation impede reaching the most disadvantaged. An encouraging increase in education budgets has been observed though at 2.8 percent of the total GDP, it is still well short of the 4 percent target.

Young girls and boys attend their class in UNICEF supported Government primary school Kalpani dagger, Buner district Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan


In order to accelerate progress and ensure the equitable expansion of quality education, UNICEF supports the Government of Pakistan’s efforts to significantly reduce the number of OOSC at pre-primary, primary and lower secondary levels. Our education programme is focusing on Early Childhood Education (ECE) to improve school readiness; expansion of equitable and quality alternative learning pathways (ALP) at basic education levels; and nurturing of school-community linkages to increase on-time enrolment, reduce drop-outs, and ensure completion and transition for all students. At systems levels, we are contributing to more equity-focused provincial sector planning and budgeting; strengthening data and assessment systems; and evidence-based policy advocacy.

Early Childhood Education (ECE)

Investment in quality early learning/pre-primary education so that young children are ‘ready for school’ has high positive impacts on primary school enrolment, survival and learning, and is cost-effective.

The benefits of ECE are highest for children from poor and vulnerable households.

Given the limited reach and inequities in the provision of pre-primary education, Pakistan is increasingly recognizing early learning as a policy priority, and several provinces have already developed ECCE policies, plans, and standards.

Alternative Learning Pathways (ALP)

While several models exist for ALPs, these are still scattered and limited in scale. UNICEF is addressing the issue of OOSC through studies, supporting provincial sector plan development, development or review of non-formal education policy and direct programme implementation. This wealth of experience now provides the evidence, know-how, and momentum for UNICEF to support federal and provincial governments in broadening ALPs within education systems to bring OOSC into primary education, with a specific focus on adolescent girls.

School-Community Linkages

Socio-cultural demand-side barriers combined with economic factors together drive education deprivation for certain groups of children in Pakistan, particularly girls. These barriers are further exacerbated by a lack of parental awareness of early learning, importance of on-time enrolment, and lack of social protection schemes. UNICEF is therefore focusing more closely on the obstacles to on-time enrolment, retention, completion and transition.

Equity in Education

Equity-based investments by government continue to be the key way to ensure education systems include the most disadvantaged girls and boys. Considering insufficient and ineffective allocation of budgets, UNICEF strategically engages in sector planning, to capitalise on opportunities to influence decision-making on equity issues.

UNICEF’s growing technical capacity and focus on assessment of learning, and international expertise also provides an opportunity to add value to Pakistan’s efforts to improve assessment systems. System reforms help in improving accountability and evidence-based decision making. UNICEF supports healthy dialogue on education budgeting and public financing, to highlight areas of improvement for better planning and improvement in the education sector.

Iram Akmal, a trained ECE teacher teaching Kanhaiya Krichan (4) and Muskan Ishaq (5) during the Early Childhood class (ECE) in Government Community Model Elementary School, Dari Ali Akber Sanghi, Rahim Yar Khan district, Punjab province, Pakistan.