Preprimary & Primary Education
Preschool education up to the age of five mostly takes place in nurseries and kindergarten schools run by the private sector, some of them by Christian missionaries. The traditional practice of training a child at home while in the preprimary stage is increasingly giving way to preprimary schools, necessitated in urban areas in homes where both the parents are working or because the parents see the value of children learning social skills in situations away from the sheltered conditions of home. In 1988 the Seventh Five Year Plan integrated the preprimary classes into the formal system of education.
Despite the government's aim of making primary education universal among children aged five to nine, the participation rate has only a little more than one-third in that age group. In 1991 there were 87,545 primary schools, with an enrollment of 7.768 million students and a teacher-student ratio of 1:41. In the same year, there were 11,978 secondary schools, with an enrollment of 2,995,000 students and a teacher-student ratio of 1:19. Significant in this respect are the primary school dropout rates, which remained consistently high in the 1970s and 1980s at over 50 percent for boys and 60 percent for girls. Experts indicate that the middle school dropout rate, which had been relatively equal for both boys and girls at 14 percent in 1975, altered noticeably after President Zia's policy of Islamization affecting the boys (25 percent) more than the girls (16 percent). After Zia's death, there was a dramatic reversal: the dropout rate for boys plummeted to 7 percent while the rate for girls remained steady at 15 percent.
The generally low rate of student enrollment in primary schools is attributed to a variety of factors: a high rate of increase in population (over three percent) and, therefore, burgeoning numbers in the five to nine age group; lack of access to primary schools in rural areas, where one has sometimes to walk two or three miles to school, often in inclement weather; poor finances; unsafe school buildings; a high dropout rate due to poverty; and habitual teacher absenteeism. The reasons for the low rate of education among females is primarily attributed to religious and social conservatism, which inhibits the movement of girls away from home, and the generally perceived irrelevance of the curriculum to their future role as housewives.
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