Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) ranks first among eight Pakistani territories with respect to the provision of quality education, according to the Pakistan District Education Rankings 2017 released by Alif Ailaan, an education campaign, on Thursday.
AJK is followed by Islamabad Capital Territory, Punjab and Gilgit-Baltistan. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) ranks fifth on the list. Sindh and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) have fallen to seventh and eighth positions, respectively, as Balochistan jumped two places from last year's rankings to sixth position.
According to Alif Ailaan, the education index covers retention from primary to middle and middle to high schools, learning among students and gender parity.
"The 2017 rankings show that while certain parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab have made marked improvements in school infrastructure, the pace of progress in Sindh, Balochistan and Fata remains a concern," the report noted.
It also highlighted that "authorities continue to prioritise school infrastructure at the expense of what happens in classrooms."
Soon after the report was released, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan tweeted: "Alif Ailaan has put out these amazing figures on District Education Rankings for 2017. Nine of the 10 top districts are from KP; only 1 from Punjab. In same survey for 2016, nine of top 10 were from Punjab; none from KP. A great achievement by PTI govt in KP in critical field of education."
However, seemingly validating the concern raised by Alif Ailaan, Khan chose to highlight the "primary school infrastructure scores" instead of overall education scores. Under the latter measure, only one KP district, Haripur — which is placed at the top of the rankings — is among the top 10. Five AJK districts and four districts from Punjab make up the remaining list.
According to the rankings, Faisalabad is Punjab's best performing district for the year while Karachi West (ranked 14 in the country) is the top-ranked district in Sindh.
In Balochistan, the provincial capital is top-ranked (ranked 45 in Pakistan) while Awaran is the worst performing district for the year. Awaran is also ranked at 137 in the country, two places above Sindh's lowest-ranked district for the metric, Sujawal.
"Strides to improve primary school infrastructure in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province are demonstrated by the fact that their lowest ranked district is Shangla at 62," the report highlighted.
Punjab and KP also dominate the "middle school infrastructure scores", with two top districts for the metric being Malakand and Swabi, while the next eight are from Punjab.
The rankings also reveal that a lot of school-going children are out of schools because of a lack of schools above the primary level, confirming previous concerns by the campaign on education.
"For every four primary schools in Pakistan, there is only one school above primary level. This means that most children who pass Class 5 do not have schools to continue their education. The large out of school population of the country is a direct product of this failure."
The report said that the disparities between districts within a province reflect the "failure of programming at the provincial level."
In a stark reminder about the gender gap prevalent in the country, the report revealed "there are more than 55 districts in Pakistan where the total number of girls enrolled in high schools is less than one thousand."