Inequity in education is a worldwide concern and there is a growing need to investigate educational achievement inequality in a nuanced and contextual manner. This study aims to elucidate the growing educational achievement inequality within Pakistan by addressing two key questions: What can be revealed about the influence of family socioeconomic condition and household characteristics on children’s disparate educational achievement in Pakistan? And what role do private schools and paid tuition play in exacerbating disparity in learning outcomes? In this study, we applied the concept of Equity in Education, particularly the impartiality approach, to consider disadvantaged conditions among children. We have analyzed the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) Pakistan household-based survey data (N = 247,978) conducted in 2021. Our analysis involved both descriptive and logistic regression techniques. Students’ achievement in the local language, arithmetic, and English language served as a dependent variable, while household factors remained a predictable variable. The results revealed that family socioeconomic factors including parents’ education and income, household facilities, and school types have a significant influence on children’s learning achievement and contribute to educational inequality. This study provides further insights for researchers and policymakers to better understand and address educational inequality in its specific context.
The global discourse on education has gradually shifted from out-of-school children to emphasizing equitable learning for all kids (Akmal and Pritchett, 2021). Along with access to education, there is also a growing focus on learning outcomes, with an emphasis on these outcomes not being affected by individual controls such as gender, income, ethnicity, region, and other circumstances (Alcott et al., 2018). The education systems of several countries depict a severe problem of inequitable access and disparity in students’ achievement (Akmal and Pritchett, 2021; OECD, 2018). The achievement gap requires a clear equity approach to accommodate historically disadvantaged kids (Lynch and Baker, 2005), as unequal educational outcomes of schooling have serious repercussions on students’ admission to further education and employment opportunities (Crouch et al., 2021; UNESCO, 2021). Those scholars and organizations advocating for minority and disadvantaged groups are demanding greater equity in education through affirmative action (Alcott et al., 2018; Brennan and Naidoo, 2008; Lynch and Baker, 2005). Pakistan is grappling with economic and social challenges due to its high number of out-of-school children and inequitable learning outcomes. Consequentially, the Pakistan Human Capital Review by the World Bank in 2023 reported that low socioeconomic indicators and poor education and health issues resulted because of the poor education system and learning.
Greater equity and inclusion in educational outcomes cannot be achieved unless the educational system has the data of all households especially those children who are being missed in regular administrative survey (Alcott et al., 2018; Goodnight and Bobde, 2018). However, the availability of actual household data is also scarce in several underdeveloped countries including Pakistan (Crouch et al., 2021; Goodnight and Bobde, 2018). While there are several studies on students’ achievement disparity while analyzing the data of Program for International Student Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Studies (TIMSS), and progress in International Reading Literacy Studies (PIRLS), these studies primarily discuss the context of advanced/OECD countries. The disaggregated data and studies that explain the achievement inequality nuances in the context of global south are scarce. Furthermore, the discussion of equity in education also lacks depth in addressing issues of historically marginalized groups (Alcott et al., 2018).
The aim of this study is to bridge the gap in literature by discussing the inequality issue in the context of Pakistan and applying equity approach using household data. The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) Pakistan is one of the largest household surveys in Pakistan and other countries which collect large-scale data through a household survey on students’ achievement and their family socioeconomic background. Thus, the purpose of this study is to investigate the inequality in education contributed by these several including socioeconomic and demographic factors, family background, and school types by analyzing ASER Pakistan’s household data. We used descriptive and binary regression analysis method to answer the following questions:
What can be revealed about the contribution of family socioeconomic conditions and household characteristics toward the children’s inequitable educational achievement in Pakistan?
What is the contribution of private schools and paid tuition in creating inequality in learning achievement?
The next section of this study briefly discusses the literature on inequity in education and the educational status of Pakistan. The third section broadly discusses the concept of equity in education with focus on the operational aspect of educational equity to be used to analyze the currently available data. The fourth section of the study will explain the methodology including the data collection and analysis part, later followed by results and conclusions.
State of education in Pakistan and inequality in learning
Pakistan is the fifth largest country in population, and it has also the highest number of out-of-school children. There are an estimated 20.3 million school-age children out of school which makes it 44% of the total population (UNICEF, 2023; World Bank, 2023). Pakistan’s social and education systems also show greater inequality based on geographic regions, and income, which show serious implications for human development. According to the World Bank (2023), North Punjab has the highest Human Capital Index (HCI) value (about 0.50), while Rural Sindh and Baluchistan are home to districts with some of Pakistan’s lowest HCI values (about 0.25). In other words, children born in the top-performing districts of Pakistan today can expect to have, on average, twice as much human capital (be twice as productive) by age 18 as children born in the lowest-performing districts. Without urgent remedial action, this will reinforce the inter-generational cycle of inequality (ibid). The children who are out of school and not learning also widely vary based on socioeconomic and geographic factors. The number of children out of school from Baluchistan and Rural Sindh is quite higher than in developed regions such as Punjab as shown in Table 1.
The inequality in education access and achievement can be traced to the creation of the country in 1947 (Khalid and Khan, 2006). Soon after the creation of Pakistan, it continued the colonial legacy, and efforts toward ensuring a fair education system were less found, resultantly it has created several school systems that supported the elite to enroll their kids in so-called better private schools and these schools outperformed the government schools (which are still in shambled form) in achievement (Rind, 2023; Rahman, 2004).
In 2017, UNESCO reported that more than half of children worldwide (estimated at 617 million children) are not able to read and perform basic levels of reading and mathematics. In addition to the above recently related organizations including World Bank estimated that about half of children in low- and lower-middle-income countries including Pakistan cannot read a simple paragraph at age 10. The inequality in learning within developing countries is higher than in developed or OECD countries (Crouch et al., 2021). The UN in SDG-4.5 explicitly focuses on equity in educational access and its achievement. In this connection its emphasis is on all member countries to remove barriers of inequality in basic and technical and vocational education for girls, persons with disability, and vulnerable populations (Alcott et al., 2018). Learning is not just limited to children’s cognitive skills development but also social and emotional development including an active process of continuous inquiry (ibid, 2018).
The recent World Bank (2023) Human Capital Review Report alerts that inequalities in human capital outcomes have persisted or widened over time between the rich and poor men and women, rural and urban areas, and among the provinces. Currently, Pakistan stands out with a very low Human Capital Index (HCI) value which is 0.41. Due to low human capital utilization by inadequate education, Pakistan is currently wasting the benefits of its human resources, health system, and social protection. Pakistan’s education investment is only 2.5% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and it is recommended at least 5.4% along with targeted interventions to reduce inequality (ibid). The children from low socioeconomic families ended up having low-literacy comprehension, less participation in schools, and low mathematics understanding. Parents from low socioeconomic backgrounds found less time to spend on their children’s development and visiting schools and were unaware of the school’s requirements (Considine and Zappalà, 2002). In addition, the role of quality teacher is crucial in reducing students’ achievement gap (Darling-Hammond, 2000). However, in Pakistan, the role teacher training institutes are ineffective in producing quality teachers for public schools (Chang, 2014). Further, there is no body teacher training boy or professional qualification conditions for private schools in Pakistan.
In the education system where students’ success and achievement strongly correlate to family background and income, rather students’ efforts and fair opportunity generate fewer chances in these countries to promote socioeconomic mobility and simply reproduce existing inequality (Alcott et al., 2018). Similarly, OECD (2018) report revealed that children who are living in disadvantaged socioeconomic conditions also have disadvantaged schools, which also affects their learning. In the context of Pakistan, the ASER (2021) report reveals that 55% of children (age 5–16) of class 5 are unable to read a sentence in their mother tongue and perform arithmetic. This is more than 16% points above the average for South Asia and more than 19% points above the average for lower-middle-income countries (World Bank, 2023). Pakistan’s learning poverty is 16% points above the average for South Asia and more than 19% points above the average for lower-middle-income countries (World Bank, 2023).
After family socioeconomic status, the determinant factors which create equality in education significantly are types of school (Considine and Zappalà, 2002). Pakistan’s education system is quite uneven and there are different kinds of schooling systems for children. Mostly middle class and elites are sending their kids to private and elite schools and their learning quality is quite better than government schools that cater to educating working-class kids (Rahman, 2004; Rind and Knight Abowitz, 2022). The opening of more private schools and ensuring the choice of selecting schools buttressed the existing inequity and disadvantaged those who have constraints due to socioeconomic factors (Önder and Önder, 2022; Rind and Knight Abowitz, 2022. In Pakistan, government schools offer free education, but the private schools’ rate is also persistently rising. Despite free education, there are other costs in education such as school bags, meals, and paid supplementary tuition costs (Rind and Knight Abowitz, 2022; Siddiqui, 2017). Due to poverty and child labor, kids’ education becomes the sole choice of their parents. Those children who are from well-off families their parents have enough resources to spend on their children’s education and other related needs. Further, they are also aware of the children’s needs and learning issues and have the option to choose a better school (Siddiqui, 2017).
The education system of Pakistan creates inequalities in learning both from the supply side as well as the demand side. The supply side constraints include a limited supply of schools, and low-quality in learning due to a shortage of quality teachers, less professional school leaders, and corruption. Demand side constraints as parents’ lack of interest in education as education low hope for social mobility, household poverty, child labor, and gender discrimination (World Bank, 2018). However, the government has put efforts on access to education and increasing enrollment. Still, less attention was paid to learning inequality which occurred due to poor teaching and school management (Akmal and Pritchett, 2021). The cost of inequality in education is very high for the countries. The Country which shows more inequality in the education system tends to waste its’ talent show low social mobility and have slim opportunities to take the population out of poverty. The higher inequality in income and social justice reproduces more privileged and oppressed/disadvantaged classes (Jerrim and Macmillan, 2015; Sahlberg and Cobbold, 2021). Pakistan is a developing country and has a diverse population. It needs greater social mobility to absorb its growing population and reduce the multi-faceted poverty.