Universal Primary Education: The Key to Socio-Economic Development
By Dr. Ahmed S. Khan
Addison, IL


At the Millennium Summit in 2000, the international community adopted the Millennium Declaration and pledged to “spare no effort to free our fellow men, women, and children from the abject and dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty.”

The Summit set time-bound goals to improve the condition of the poor. These goals are known as Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). There are eight goals to be achieved by year 2015: (1) Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, (2) Achieve universal primary education, (3) Promote gender equality, (4) Reduce child mortality, (5) Improve maternal health, (6) Combat HIV/AIDS Malaria and other diseases, (7) Ensure environmental sustainability, and (8) Develop a global partnership for development.

According to the Millennium Development Goals report 2008, Pakistan is lagging behind other South Asian counties in achieving MDGs by 2015. The UN Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 2 is about promoting education for all (EFA). The goal is to achieve Universal Primary education, and its target is to ensure that by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling. A recent report by the independent evaluation group of the World Bank states that Pakistan is far from reaching the education for all MDG by the target year 2015.

According to UNESCO’s EFA global monitor report 2008, Pakistan, India, Nigeria and Bangladesh - the four countries belonging to the E9 group - are far from achieving EFA by 2015. The report further states that in Pakistan there are more than six million children who are out of school, and Pakistan, along with Nigeria, lags behind E9 countries in net enrollment ratio (NER), which is less than 70 percent.

During the past six decades in Pakistan, many governments claiming to improve the literacy and to bring the socio-economic change have come and gone. Every government bragged about increasing the literacy rate but the reality remained contrary to the hyped claims and the masses have continued to remain poor and illiterate.

In today’s world, technology is the key to economic development. And education is the engine of technology; it is one of the requisites for socio-economic change. Education should be given the same priority as defense of the country and the revival of the economy. A well-developed and properly implemented education system is the cornerstone of a country's developmental blueprint. The government should take bold initiatives to improve literacy and the state of education in Pakistan. One giant step towards this objective would be to develop and implement plans to achieve universal primary education.  The plans should be developed by experts and professionals and not by politicians, generals and bureaucrats. Primary education should be mandatory for every child of school-going age, with the goal of achieving universal primary education by 2015.

The most important factors that ought to be addressed regarding the primary and secondary education in Pakistan are: disparity between public and private schools, access, teacher salary and training, curricula, quality and assessment, and application of technology.

 Like other developing countries Pakistan too presents a great disparity between private and public, urban and rural schools. And the educational achievement of a child depends on the economic condition of the parents.  For the privileged the medium of instruction is English, and for the non-privileged, it is Urdu.

This disparity must be addressed by providing all children from different backgrounds an opportunity to attain an education in order to reach their fullest potential. To achieve the goal of universal primary education, primary education must be made mandatory for all children. And child labor should be banned for all children of primary-school-going age. This should be enforced with strict penalties for offenders.

The problems of child labor and illiteracy have a common denominator: economic circumstance of parents. The poor cannot afford to send their children to schools and hence thousands of children end up helping their parents financially by getting exploited by the economic forces of supply and demand of cheap labor. Even the parents belonging to Pakistan’s shrinking middle class find it difficult to afford the high tuition fees of certain private schools, where the monthly tuition fee equals or exceeds the salary of a parent. The government should offer some kind of financial assistance to parents as an incentive to send their children to school.  Every child of primary-school-going age should be offered a monthly stipend. The government should also establish book banks so that parents do not have to buy expensive books but can obtain them on loan.

Another factor that can play an important role in the promotion of education is an increase in teacher salaries. Currently a ma’see in Karachi typically demands Rs. 800-1500 per chore and ends up making Rs. 5,000-10,000 per month whereas a teacher with a master’s degree is offered Rs. 3,000-8,000 by most private primary/secondary schools to teach all courses to a class. Educators are the most important organ of the society and should be offered suitable salaries in recognition of their contribution.

Teachers are lifelong learners. They should undergo proper training to learn and acquire new skills and methodologies to teach effectively and efficiently in a world of changing technology and rich knowledge-base. A national teacher-training program should be developed and implemented to make teachers familiar with the changing demands of new technology, curricula, teaching methodologies and assessment techniques.

National curricula for primary and secondary education must be developed and implemented. All public and private schools across the country must be required to teach the same core courses in order to provide a solid foundation in reading, writing, arithmetic, science and computer skills. The most important aspect of the national curricula should be that it reflects our values and culture. It must also specify standards of what students are expected to know at different grade and age levels. National Tests for primary and secondary education should be developed and implemented as an assessment tool for measuring teaching/learning effectiveness at various grade levels.


To meet the challenges of a dynamic world, the curricula and testing techniques should promote critical and creative thinking, and enhance analytical and problem-solving skills of students in contrast to the existing approach which is heavily based on memorization.

After completing primary education, if a student does not become proficient in basic skills, then this deficiency persists throughout his or her educational career. Thus the student lacks appropriate communication skills. In this regard Pakistan's celebrated scientist, the late Dr. Salimuzzaman Siddiqui, observed, "Every year five to seven students earn their PhDs in the HEJ Post-Graduate Institute of Chemistry, University of Karachi. Their research work is quite up to the highest standards, but the writing in their thesis is so poor that I have to re-write every word. In fact, I myself should be awarded five to seven PhDs every year."

To make educational opportunities available in an equitable way to the entire population, in addition to opening the new schools, the innovative use of new telecommunications technologies should be incorporated through distance education strategies. An educational television channel should be established to broadcast primary/secondary level course to target rural population and to reinforce the national curricula in private and public schools.

There is no doubt that computers are the future. But computers can create a “digital divide” between the rich and the poor, thus further increasing inequality. Poorer children are less likely to have access to computers at home or school and so they will be handicapped in their ability to acquire computing skills. This “digital divide” should be addressed in the blueprint of the universal primary education strategy.

Government alone cannot make the dream of universal primary education come true. The problems of lack of resources and inadequate funding could be overcome with the innovative use of telecommunication technologies and by developing a partnership with the private sector and tapping into the vast resource of oversees Pakistanis. Non-resident Pakistanis all over the world can contribute significantly to make the dream of universal primary education come true by rendering help in the form of funds, educational equipment, computers, etc. In this regard a mechanism of a transparent interface needs to be established between the donors and acceptors, bypassing the red tape of bureaucracy.

In the first decade of the 21st century the global educational system has been greatly influenced by the two major factors: technological change and the creation of knowledge-based economy. This new economy relies on continually advancing technology and requires a highly skilled and informed work force. Education holds the key to the solution of many problems: be it economic revival, sowing the seeds of a true democracy, abolishment of feudalism, or preparing a skilled workforce for the knowledge-based economy of the 21st century.


Primary Education Data: Pakistan versus South Asia (Source: World Bank)



Youth (15-24 years) literacy rate, 2000-2006*, male

Youth (15-24 years) literacy rate, 2000-2006*, female

Primary school enrolment ratio 2000-2006*, net, male

Primary school enrolment ratio 2000-2006*, net, female

Primary school attendance ratio (2000-2006*) ratio, net, male

Primary school attendance ratio (2000-2006*) ratio, net, female

Youth (15-24 years) literacy rate, 2000-2006*, male


















South Asia
















(Dr. Ahmed S. Khan is a Professor in the Department of EET at DeVry University, Addison, IL 60101, USA. He is a senior member of IEEE and serves as a program evaluator for the Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology  - ABET).



Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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