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Constitutional & Legal Foundations

Pakistan has had three constitutions and has been for periods of time totaling over three decades ruled by its armed forces. Regardless of the nature and composition of the governments, however, education has been given a high priority throughout the country's history, as a vehicle essential to the needs and demands of a modern, independent sovereign state. Such motivation has unfortunately not been matched by adequate allocations of funds, not at least until the 1990s. At the time of its independence from British rule in 1947, Pakistan had 1 university, 20 professional colleges and 83 colleges of arts and science with a total enrollment of 37,102 students. In 2000, there were 35 universities. As for primary and secondary education, in 1947, the country (including the eastern half) had 11,057 schools with an enrollment of 1,053,000. By 1991, the number of primary schools had risen dramatically to 87,545 primary schools with an enrollment of more than 7.7 million students. There were 11,978 secondary schools with nearly 3 million students. The phenomenal expansion in education measured in the context of population rising from 42 million in the areas of the western half in 1947 to 129 million in 1995, is impressive but not adequate because it leaves illiteracy at 75 percent and female literacy at only 10 percent nationally and much lower in the rural areas of provinces such as Baluchistan, where only 2 percent of women are literate.

Importantly for education, there were several commissions periodically appointed by the government to review and recommend measures for improvement. They have all invariably been critical of the government's performance. The first All Pakistan Educational Conference was held within months of the country's birth in 1947.

Several commissions followed with their reports, often making contradictory recommendations. The Report of the Commission on National Education in 1959 constituted a landmark in the educational history of the country. It was arguably the most articulate and comprehensive statement on Pakistan's needs and plans for educational reform. Its elaborate recommendations formed the basis of the provisions for education in the Second Five Year Plan (1960-65), which by itself was noted for setting a vision for the country's development for nearly a decade and a half.

The educational goals of the Commission of 1959 and the Second Five Year Plan were universal literacy and universal primary education; qualitative improvement in education at all levels, with particular emphasis on science and technology; reduction of inequalities in educational opportunities; and, significantly for a Muslim nation established on a religious basis, an emphasis on Islamic ideology, observances, and character-building.

In 1972 Pakistan lost its eastern wing, which became the new nation of Bangladesh. In the following year, the new prime minister of Pakistan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, criticized the post-colonial education system and urged major changes:

Ever since we gained independence, education has remained the most neglected sector in the body politic of our country. For a long time, the obsolete idea of producing an educated class from amongst the privileged few to constitute the elite in the country remained the cornerstone of our educational system. This was a heritage of colonialism (quoted in N. A. Baloch, ed., The educational Policy 1972: Implications and Implementation, Hyderabad, University of Sind Press, 1972, p. 2).

The new policy of education Bhutto announced was designed to broaden the base of education through increased access to it by people from all strata of the society. The aim of education would be to create an equitable society based on socialism and the egalitarian values of Islam. Admission to higher education would be based on merit. Special efforts would be made to remove regional economic disparities. The government's policies would be directed toward enabling people of all provinces an opportunity through education and training to participate in the country's agricultural and industrial development and in higher levels of employment, including government. Academic freedom, limited only by considerations of national security, would be fully guaranteed to institutions of higher learning. The system would create respect for manual labor, would be more science-oriented and conscious of environmental needs, and would make the youth of the country aware of their duty to participate in social improvement programs.

Prime Minister Bhutto regretted that 50 percent of the population of the country as a whole was illiterate, with the female population being worse off, with 75 percent illiteracy. His plan introduced a number of adult literacy programs all over the country and aimed at universal primary education up to the fifth grade for boys by 1979 and for girls by 1984. The plan also aimed at redressing the imbalance in higher education, which had thus far stressed arts and humanities with an enrollment of 61 percent and grossly neglected science and technical education. In order to promote the industrial development of the country, the Bhutto administration aimed at raising the enrollment in technical education to 42 percent and in science to 30 percent.

Between 1972 and 1974 several new universities were opened and some institutions of higher education upgraded to a university status. In 1973 the University Grants Commission was established to fund all universities in the country and to help them, particularly with planning new programs. Some universities were identified as Centers of Excellence; new Area Studies Centers were established at some leading universities. Among the most notable initiatives was the establishment of the People's Open University (later named Allama Iqbal Open University) in 1974, which has blossomed into a dynamic agency for adult education open to all across the country regardless of age, gender, class, or ethnic origin. The education offered by this remarkably successful university has not only raised the level of literacy but has produced large numbers of highly qualified persons who have earned higher degrees, including the doctorate, in several fields.

Bhutto's government was toppled by General Zia-ul-Haq. Bhutto was assassinated in 1977, and along with him, his several policy initiatives, including those in the field of education, were laid to rest. Zia instituted a number of measures to win over important segments of the society, notably, the mullahs (Islamic clerics) and the large numbers of masses whom they controlled. In the late 1970s Zia ordered nationalization of private schools with the intent of providing broader access to the middle and lower classes, thereby making major dents in the elitist policies dating from the British colonial rule that had favored the middle and higher classes. Among his populist measures was making the study of Urdu compulsory at the primary and secondary levels and increasing the content of Pakistani and Islamic studies in the curriculum. Regarding these as anti-elite measures, a large number of affluent families sent their children abroad not only for university education but even for high school diplomas.

Consistent with the Zia regime's policies of Islamization of the country's polity and society, a series of educational conferences was held during 1988-89. In 1991 the government appointed the Commission on Islamization of Education to emphasize Islamic values, learning and character-building.

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Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comGlobal Education ReferencePakistan - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education