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Pakistani schools (especially government schools) are producing unacceptably low levels of learning outcomes in maths and science — a stark reality which represents a significant and deep-rooted challenge to Pakistan’s economic growth.

“We gave telescopes to a school but the head master would not take them for there were no teachers up to the task of visiting the school after sunset for lunar or stellar observation," says Dr Sabieh Anwar, Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), Lahore.

In a report titled 'Powering Pakistan For The 21st Century', Alif Ailaan published the state of education in mathematics and science across Pakistan. Here are the key findings:

1. The average maths score for Class IV students in the National Education Assessment System (NEAS) exams conducted in 2014 was 433 out of 1,000 .
NEAS 2014 mean scores in Maths
NEAS 2014 mean scores in Maths

2. Science results are in an equally deplorable state: Out of four provinces and four regions, not a single one showed an average science score of over 50 percent.
NEAS 2015 Mean Scores in Science
NEAS 2015 Mean Scores in Science

Here is a percentage breakdown of children who can:
  • recognise numbers from 1-9 and 10-99
  • do two digit subtractions
  • do two digit divisions
  • cannot do any of the three basic numerical operations.
ASER (Rural) Results 2015
ASER (Rural) Results 2015

Students fared most poorly on questions that involved measurement and geometry.

Islamiat is the subject in which students do best

Science teachers regard certain topics as harder to teach

What are the reasons for such low levels of math and science learning? The report says:
  1. A political economy in which the odds are stacked against maths and science education

  2. Government structures and systems, at both the policy level and the administrative level, that privilege inputs and those delivering them, and therefore prevent a greater focus on children and on learning outcomes, especially in maths and science

  3. The standard of education in governments being so low that they are the least preferred option

  4. A national stock of teachers that, although improving in recent years, has been historically so bad that it has produced an intergenerational problem of low quality teaching in today’s classrooms, perpetuating low quality teaching endured by teachers when they were students

  5. The challenge of low quality content being taught in maths and science, and how the assessments and examinations systems are reinforcing poor learning outcomes; in addition to the quality of content, how material is taught is also a significant challenge. Pedagogical improvement is another area that needs attention

Pictures, statistics and graphs courtesy of Alif Ailaan.

Comments (82) Closed

Khalid Feb 17, 2017 02:48pm

I am not surprised. That is the reason Pakistan is behind every other nation in the region. In these columns, I have been saying the same thing for many years. We need to focus on science subjects but given the current situation, there is no one who believes that learning science subjects is the ONLY way forward for our children.

SadFaces Feb 17, 2017 03:03pm

Other countries leaped on these fields when their entrepreneurs started investing in R&D. Government agencies would later pick this up and invest heavily on them. Now in this global world, only the global powers use money and visas to attract inventors who are doing R&D of future applications.

Ijaz Feb 17, 2017 03:22pm

My experience teaching science at Masters level at a European University included Pakistani students who graduated in Pakistan and Pakistani students who were born and brought up in the UK and graduated there.

From a genetic and cultural perspective the two sets of 'Pakistani' students were identical. However, UK based Pakistani students were for more inquisitive and questioning whilst home based Pakistanis relied more on rote learning and relied less on critical thinking.

Ultimately that is the issue: our education system in Pakistan places far too much emphasis on learning facts and deference rather than learning to question and learning 'how to learn'.

All science (physical and social) relies on challenge. Because we resist challenge we produce technicians rather than scientists.

akram Feb 17, 2017 03:22pm

@Khalid saying this in online newspapers does not lead to action. Action is required. Waiting for action by government will never happen.

A fellow Pakistani here in the UK talked to me that he dreamed of building a school back in his home town funded by himself and other fellow Pakistanis. If you can find a formula where the children of the poor are also educated with the fee paying, this is what will bring change, rather it will bring a revolution. For those that can do this in their mohalla, this will over a generation transform your local areas.

I now have a similar dream to bring change, in my own mohallah. Some day I will try. Words are cheap, actions lead to change.

stranger Feb 17, 2017 03:34pm

It is our love affair with mullahs that has harmed the nation so greatly. Even today people have some sympathy with the Taliban and Qadri is defended by some. Is it strange that students in rural and backward areas are poor in sciences and mathematics?. Having said that, I must add there are plenty of good science and engineering students in the country. We just need to improve our education standard. There is no need to be disappointed or to panic.

No Comments Feb 17, 2017 03:44pm

deploring at every stage!

Mady Feb 17, 2017 03:44pm

@SadFaces First the local Govt focuses on primary then high education for the society. Later eco-systems for specialized education develops. At some point the society develops to know the importance of R&D. When some societies conclude that they already got solutions 2000 years ago to all problem of this/after life and no one should dare to debate/challenge their solutions then you got very little scope to progress in science.

Seeker Feb 17, 2017 04:17pm

@akram Noble dream bro. Best luck from India.

NIKHIL Feb 17, 2017 04:23pm

Pakistan does not have a society where its adults give importance to scientific development. Then, how can you expect its children to have a scientific mind?

Ali Feb 17, 2017 04:33pm

The priorities of the current government do not even take into account human development. Before the elections we were promised 4% of GDP on eductaion, we are still stuck at under 2% and there don't appear to be any chances of change in the near future. At the moment what little spare resources the state has are being squandered on motorways, and metros. Very short sighted.

M. Emad Feb 17, 2017 04:42pm

Science, Maths are the basic of reason, logic and rational thinking.

Amer Feb 17, 2017 04:44pm

Quality education standard needs to be raised in Pakistan.

jA-Australia Feb 17, 2017 04:47pm

The problem with bad teachers is symptomatic of Pakistani society at large, where the name of the game is to do the least amount of work to get by. Cheating the "system" is seen as an achievement. We see this happening from the highest levels of authority down to private businesses (quality of cooking oil, milk and bread were highlighted recently). When the top politicians get away with stealing, and private businesses cheat their customer and the taxman, is it any wonder that teachers are also lackadaisical?

Harmony-1© Feb 17, 2017 04:47pm

@Ali - Well said. This government's only vision is limited to motorways and metros!

jiyala Feb 17, 2017 04:48pm

And our ministers think learning Arabic is the solution. One can't help but facepalm at the ignorance of our so-called leaders.

Mango man Feb 17, 2017 05:07pm

@Ijaz "Ultimately that is the issue: our education system in Pakistan places far too much emphasis on learning facts and deference rather than learning to question and learning 'how to learn'."

Agree with you, in fact, I think they dont even learn facts, they just memorize them.

BAXAR Feb 17, 2017 05:12pm

"What are the reasons for such low levels of math and science learning? " In our culture, everything is decided without going through the process of explanation. It can work, more or less, with other subjects, but certainly not with math and sciences.

Imtiaz Feb 17, 2017 05:15pm

We indoctrinate our children with WHAT to think instead of HOW to think. This kills science aptitude in the bud. Questioning and skepticism is the soul of science.

Random Feb 17, 2017 05:19pm

Students excel in Islamiat, the rest does not matter.

Farhan Feb 17, 2017 05:20pm

Probable cause can be inbreeding aka cousin marriages, most prevalent in countries like Pakistan.

Studies have proven offspring of such couples are not just plagued with physical disabilities but also mental retardation.

It's probably too late to fix this.

zeea Feb 17, 2017 05:49pm

So how we think we are going to have any development in the near future if the conditions remain the same and we remain ignorant of the cries

Imtiaz Feb 17, 2017 05:55pm

@Farhan UK Muslim population is 5% but population of abnormal kids is 30%. This is because 50% of UK Muslim population marries cousins. We can deduce that abnormal kids because of cousin marriage is 12 times compared to non cousin marriage offspring.

Imtiaz Feb 17, 2017 06:10pm

Science and scientific method is evidence based, whereas faith doesn't do evidence.

We are a strong 'faith based' nation and that is how our mindset is trained and works.

Only three Muslims in 1.5 billion Muslim population have won science Nobel prizes and that do while working in West and not while working in a Muslim country.

Jews (80% atheists) are only 15 million (1/100 of Muslims) they have 90 science Nobel Prizes. 90/3 x 100 = 3000 times. Proof of pudding is in eating.

Ali Feb 17, 2017 06:13pm

Because most of our maths and science teachers cannt teach. They r intelligent and master in the subjects, but dont have teaching skills to make others understand the concepts. They always focus on bright students and dont pay attention low performers that remain low profile in class.

Suraj Feb 17, 2017 06:14pm

It has always fascinated me as to why students want to major in a subject that has bleak job employment opportunity. In my case I found out that chemistry and medicine. So I prepared my self for chemistry with some struggle I was able to understand subject. With a scholarship from a top university got Ph.D . I got many many job offers and finally decided to take a job in a university . The point is nothing is difficult when you have a goal and are willing to work. for it. Pakistani student get up and start moving.

SanA Feb 17, 2017 06:19pm

They aren't any good in literature, social studies or even in Urdu. The decline is uniform and all encompassing

Abdul Hameed Nayyar Feb 17, 2017 06:38pm

The report gives 5 reasons for the outcome of this survey. However, the first three reason are either not convincing or make no sense at all. The remaining two reasons are very sound, and should be the focus of education planners in the country. Enormous numbers of unqualified teachers were stuffed in public education departments as political favour during the past three decades or so. And there is a strong vested interest that prevents any positive change in the examination system. I wonder if anyone, even among our educational planners and mangers, knows how to overcome these difficulties.

tkh Feb 17, 2017 06:45pm

...And the reporter producers are not making excellent impression as well by asking 2 digit division question from class 1 (and 2 students). Division should start from class 3 (can be introduced at 2). The right sped progression in the syllabus is key to successful learning, but syllabus writers are pathetically poor. The saddest part of the story is those researching about it are the worst; They do not appear specialized at all.

Mukesh Feb 17, 2017 06:49pm

very good analytical report from the dawn. Hope indian media comes with such news. Right to education bill made quality of education worse in India. There are no compulsory exams till 8 standard. so every student who attends classes considered pass for class. Some students are unable to read English till 8 standard, but promoted to next class.

concerned Feb 17, 2017 07:19pm

The fact that PPP ruled over Sindh and didn't do anything to provide basic education is evident here. However, same could be said about failure of ruling parties in other provinces.

R S Chakravarti Feb 17, 2017 07:43pm

@Ijaz The situation is similar in India and probably in all 3rd world countries.

Mustafa Feb 17, 2017 07:47pm

@Farhan I agree that inbreeding could be a major cause of reduced analytical capabilities and critical reasoning. But this can be established only after a detailed study of inbreeding against family IQ and individual IQ

omveer Feb 17, 2017 07:51pm

Nothing new actually. Looking at the budget for education, Pakistan will continue with their deplorable standards in education. Modernization of education and allocation sufficient funds is the answer and not madrasa education. As you sow so shall you reap. I wonder if any Pakistani university is among the top 500. The oncoming generations will never forgive for this dismal inheritance.

omveer Feb 17, 2017 07:56pm

@stranger Love with religious zealots is optional. Even in India we have these elements. We choose to ignore and avoid them and focus on what's necessary. My religion is my personal matter in my private space for spiritual growth and nothing more. It teaches me tolerance for ambiguity. I am free to contribute positively for my country through modern education and development.

jasim Feb 17, 2017 08:18pm

how about the curriculum? Lack of innovation in teaching? or the fact student try to "memorize" experiments. The lack of creativity and critical thinking in the way we teach is critical to the failures of students.

Still curioUs Feb 17, 2017 08:23pm

@Imtiaz you are so right. I attended a lecture at a literary festival. The speaker was a well known writer and he said that we must think and question rather than be indoctrinated. God would not have given us a brain if he didn't want us to think.

MG in washington Feb 17, 2017 08:29pm

@Mustafa there is tons of scientific literature on the subject. You do not need to re-invent the wheel but be open minded to see the evidence and apply critical reasoning.

pakistani Feb 17, 2017 08:49pm

Don't worry that govt banned valentine's day, new year's celebrations and imposed arabic we will be fine and produce highest number in math and science.

RUCHIMAH Feb 17, 2017 08:54pm

@SanA very realistic and honest opinion.

my Comments Feb 17, 2017 08:54pm

Poor education system, different school systems, About 30% children do not go to school, child labour and so on. They are all contributing factors. Unless people responsible for education take their responsibility seriously, children would continue to suffer with poor education system.

Faizan Feb 17, 2017 09:00pm

The specialists must be recruted for these subjects because it will definetely ruin our education system

ZAID Feb 17, 2017 09:32pm

But the students have scored highest in Islamiyat. Proud of you children. We can be number 1 producers of religous scholars globally. The world can hire religous sholars from us

ROUSHAN KUMAR Feb 17, 2017 10:36pm

@Akram: a noble effort...let's get over this hatred and move forward together...Education is the Key...we have understood it hopefully pakistan understands it too before it's too late..we are fighting like step brothers when we really are maternal brothers...let's end this and progress together !!

sahas Feb 17, 2017 10:41pm

nice article

masyed Feb 17, 2017 10:50pm

One word, Corruption in the education system, and no dedication in the teachers !

karachi Wally Feb 17, 2017 11:12pm

We need Education emergency as promised by PTI.

thought Feb 17, 2017 11:43pm

@Khalid Science is not the only way. You need to have science plus civic responsibilities

Bahadur Feb 18, 2017 12:28am

In my opinion, we need to teach English, computers, math, and science from very early.
How can we, Pakistanis in the West help? I hope our federal education minister and provincial education ministers are reading this and will respond.

Abdulla Hussain Feb 18, 2017 12:28am

I think we should worry more if these poor students of government managed schools are getting enough essentials of life. In Pakistan 99% of children learning in government schools are from poor & illiterate or semi-literate back ground, how can in general these students become star performers in maths & science. With only around 2.2% of GDP allocation for education only a miracle can make these poor students A graders.

Harambe of Cincinnati Feb 18, 2017 12:53am

@Amer : Tell us something NEW!

Harambe of Cincinnati Feb 18, 2017 01:02am

@Seeker : Many of us dream of building good schools in poor countries but we are afraid of the socio-political obstacles to obtain land, builders, and security to do the teaching safely And not blown up by loud, two-bit ideologues. We know about organizations that face corruption, and interminable demands and interference in establishing schools. Leave the teaching of religion to the families and the clergy. Give schools and teachers time and pay them to teach critical thinking , mathematics and sciences. I see you kids are tops in Islamiat and Hudjatism!

Harambe of Cincinnati Feb 18, 2017 01:04am

Until Dr.Pervez Hoodbhoy becomes the Minister of Education,Pakistani children and economy will not change. He has written plenty about your problems. BUT, why are you afraid to trust him?

Karim Feb 18, 2017 02:54am

@ZAID lol absolutely

AXH Feb 18, 2017 03:12am

BUT, the government is spending all this money on building motorways which will make all kids smart and proficient in Math and Science. What a brilliant plan.

Abdul rehman Feb 18, 2017 03:36am

Why compare India?. Even Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka are far ahead.

Abdul rehman Feb 18, 2017 03:39am

Most of our ministers will fail in basic math and science.

Just Someone Feb 18, 2017 04:07am

@Ijaz : the problem is that we are also not producing technicians.

Just Someone Feb 18, 2017 04:11am

@akram : perhaps the easiest way would be to give the money to TCF and have them build a school on your locality.

Sohail Feb 18, 2017 05:32am

@NIKHIL I always try to find and indian who speaks with an agenda.

planettrekker Feb 18, 2017 05:40am

@Imtiaz : Having 'abnormal' kids with disabilities and mental retardations in the UK (because of foolish close-blood marriages) means being on the public welfare tap as the parents of these unfortunate kids get monthly disability support checks. If that is even remotely the motivation, then that is sad indeed.

Suraj Feb 18, 2017 06:04am

This problem is not limited to Pakistan, this problem persists across the sub-continent (India + Pakistan). The government schools in India are in deplorable condition and teachers have been so accustomed to 'cramming system' and 'Politically motivated education' system that we produce donkeys by heaps and bounds. There is colossal lack of interest in lower middle class and lower classes for education. I think, lack of good education system has led to lack of good understanding and which in turn allows idiots (political + bureaucratic) ruling the masses. Education should be un-biased, un-political, understanding based and not limited to Maths and Science. Humanities too should be taken very seriously as people from these streams help understanding societies, dispel ages of myths and hence in turn opens the windows to understand our own shortcomings. All this will lead to peace, harmony and more cohesive society.

kdp Feb 18, 2017 06:24am

Ban on kite flying will provide time needed to study math and science

Sudhir Feb 18, 2017 06:35am

From early 1800's to late 1900's india has great mathematician like Ramanujan,komaravelu Chandrasekhar and many.So these people act as role models for generations.But now I see a lack of such great quality pure minds.Need to work on it. Jai hind

kit kit Feb 18, 2017 06:56am

Teachers who are not skilled at teaching the subjects well may be a key factor. Furthermore in many village schools especially there is a culture of fear and authority within which pupils may struggle to learn as fear prevents the focus on actually learning. Also issues like dyselxia or other learning disabilities not identified or dealt with

kit kit Feb 18, 2017 07:01am

@Ijaz Fear and authoritarian approach of the teacher prevents students for being creative too. A scared child cannot think. I dont see the point of sending these poor kids to school with sometimes sadistic teachers taking out their anger upon them. It just makes them lose confidence and hope.

Truth Feb 18, 2017 07:43am

No offense but learn from india, Search NCERT books on internet they are free and i openly dare anyone to disprove the quality of NCERT books , you can compare NCERT books to it's counter parts from other countries like US, UK, Australia, Canada. Even i am amazed that our county produced such a high quality content .

Also i am very impressed with india's education infrastructure(considering the high population and the GDP per capita) , every district have atleast 1 Kendri vidyalaya it's a government school which really provide high quality education.

the most notable thing i would like to say about indian education is the quality of books from lowest level to the highest IIT level the books are state of the art .

and there is no such thing as involvement of religion in the education/books . also the cultural crazy of education is very high and the every day news from IITs and ISRO just boosts it further.

BBW Feb 18, 2017 08:25am

The elite controlling the Pakistani state is unwilling to invest serious funds in mass education. This is arguably the single biggest factor holding back young Pakistanis. The money could go into teacher training, higher salaries (to attract better people), curriculum development, equipped labs, libraries, and better texts.

A question also arises a propos the language of instruction. If science teaching is in English, it's one more hurdle for Pakistani students, and lack of language fluency means a tendency towards rote memorisation. Why can science teaching not be in the national language (Urdu)? That's what the Chinese, Japanese, and Germans do. Why not Pakistanis? Trying to learn science in a language which you have a very limited grasp of is a huge and possibly insurmountable problem.

IMTIAZ ALI KHAN Feb 18, 2017 08:36am

Because of Corruption. Corruption of the government at a mega scale ppp/pmln leads the show.

Corruption is the biggest enemy we have in Pakistan. Nawaz/Zardari the two faces of the same corruption coin.

ahmed41 Feb 18, 2017 08:57am


Sir, even the teachers have come out from schools where " our education system in Pakistan places far too much emphasis on learning facts and deference rather than learning to question and learning 'how to learn'".

What comes first the egg or the hen ?

Mian M Amin(Old Ravian) Feb 18, 2017 09:15am

Where education has no priority ,and matriculates have been Education Ministers ,any wonder at the results ,so well explained ? Education in caught up in a vicious cycle :poor quality teachers ,poor out put and poorer teachers further lowering the out put quality . Wither Pakistan ?

Zeeshan Feb 18, 2017 09:21am

Performance by subject chart should be the other way round.

Om Feb 18, 2017 09:26am

Superb analysis and eye opener.

rrd Feb 18, 2017 09:51am

@Mukesh .if that system is wrong how come we are producing world class scientists,engineers ,doctors.ceos of some of the major companies in us are indians.

Hasan Habib Feb 18, 2017 11:14am

Poor inputs and poor output. We had neglected the education and health system. It is on the lowest of our priority and this will happen.

Ritika singh Feb 18, 2017 03:29pm

@Imtiaz True amigo ..

sourav Ghosh Feb 18, 2017 03:34pm

@rrd Cmon Mate these are the exceptions Our primary education is in shambles especially in the rural areas We in India need to invest much much more in education and healthcare

navi Feb 18, 2017 05:42pm

@ZAID Great Idea.

Truth Feb 18, 2017 07:00pm

@Suraj 'Politically motivated education' which india you are living in? there is no such thing as "Politically motivated education" Which country are you from? NCERT books are available online and everybody can see whats written in it , your claims are baseless.

Tariq, Lahore Feb 18, 2017 07:32pm

I am afraid our curse to lack of success in the field of Science are the 'Mullah brigade'! Islam dictates 'seek knowledge' but our preachers' tell us otherwise! Science does not replace religion it merely is a means to 'understanding' how nature works and advancement in technology to make life 'better' in this world!

Qasim Feb 18, 2017 09:36pm

I'm not a stats expert here but i think mean(avg) isn't the best metric here. A median would've been better.

Dr Yahya Feb 18, 2017 10:19pm

"Islamiat" 75%. And again the students have no idea about Islam and can't discuss about it. Why? Because our teachers are teaching the pupils and students "rata marna". With this you can't survive in this world. The difference in quality education is that you are asked to THINK. But most of our teachers can't think and if a child would think and give an answer of his own it is marked as wrong because it is not 100% the same sentence which you find in the book. Dr yahya Lecturer at european universities and colleges / an is Pakistan...

illawarrior Feb 20, 2017 08:48am

Science relies on constant questioning, challenging, testing and experimentation. Pakistanis, and many other Muslims, are raised on submission and acceptance, and thus never develop their analytical thinking capacity.