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March 15, 2015

Comparing The Incomparable:
Pakistan’s Education System with the Rest of the World

By Wajid Hassan

Pakistan enjoys an important strategic location in Asia and hence plays an important role in the geo-politics of the region. It is bordered by Iran to the west, Afghanistan on its northwest border, India to the south and China to its east. It is also geographically very close to the Tajikistan/Russian border, separated only by a narrow strip of Wakhan Corridor. Because of its location as well as ethnic and religious connections with the bordering countries, Pakistan has continued to play a critical role in the region since the 1950's. It has been regarded as an important strategic partner in several major conflicts in the world.

The country which has such an immense geo-political potential and has an abundance of natural resources is plagued with the issues of peace and security. Furthermore a huge young population and economic instability due to the armed conflicts and proxy wars are a cause of concern for the international organizations as well as western countries as it directly affects world peace. Recent Pakistani governments have been actively working to bring economic stability but the goalshave been short sighted.

We think that one of the most important ways to curtail these issues is by raising true literacy and educational standards in Pakistan. This education will have twin fold purpose firstly it will direct the young minds towards creative academic activities while producing skilled manpower and secondly it will inspire the tolerance towards other cultures, countries, religions and religious sects.

It’s not like Pakistan has not done much in this sector but the educational policies have largely been inconsistent hence most of its population is not qualified to work in advanced fields outside their social environment. They lack skills and academic degrees which disables them from thriving in a personal and with an entrepreneurial spirit. UNICEF estimates that the literate population of Pakistan is at 54.9%. Many Pakistanis believe that percentage is too low but all conclude that a large proportion of the adult population is literate but a majority of those are unskilled and lack education.

Concerned Pakistan's citizens and government officials need to compare and contrast not only the current status of Pakistan's education system but also the policies and regulations with other countries that are considered to have the best educationalsystems while making future decisions about the direction to take. Here we present the compare and contrast with two such countries: Finland and Singapore. It must be noted however that it is not in the education system that is in need of reform but the management thereof. There are many countries that fund the social programs of Islamabad but there is very little result in manner of improvements throughout the country. This article expands further on this topic and provides a clearer picture than what has already been written regarding Pakistan’s education system.

First we will compare the education management systems of these two countries with Pakistanand later illustrate and explain the disparaging differences between the education systems.






196,174, 380



Country size (Sq.mi)




GDP Per Capita (PPP) ( US dollars)




GDP allocated to education




Literacy rate




Higher institutes of learning –Universities




Table 1: World Bank/UN, (2013). Data From Around the World.


Pakistan Education System Similarities with Singapore

There are only a few similarities between the education system of Pakistan and that of its distant cousin, Singapore. In essence, the following illustrates the dissimilarities but tries to make some point of reference at which both countries agree on education.

  • Singapore utilizesall of its fundsdedicated foreducation in the most appropriate manner. It does not use these funds for any other purposes or redirects them in cases of emergencies. Pakistan does try to appropriate funds in a more regulatory function but often comes up against factious communities of the rural areas that are highly sectarian.Politics play a major role in appropriating educational funds in Pakistan and are at the whim of the rulers instead of being directed by a constant educational policy. Pakistan should implement educational emergency instead and focus its attention towards its improvement.
  • In Singapore teaching profession is regarded equivalent toprofessions in medicine, law and engineering whereas in Pakistan, teachers are called derogatory names and looked down upon,they rarely achieve the status of the privileged elite. On governmental level there is less emphasis on acknowledging the contribution of the researchers and professors who have achieved high acclaim in science.
  • The population of Pakistan is markedly larger and ethnically diverse than Singapore. This in and of itself is the major reason why it is hard to compare and establish an education system in Pakistan that resembles that of Singapore.
  • The amount of GDP that Singapore allocates foreducation sector is 6.8% compared to Pakistan’s 2.1%.
  • Investment is seen in the GDP per capita of which almost $65,000 notes Singapore’s individual investment against the little over $3,000 for Pakistan. It is clear that Pakistan despite being a larger country in size is much poorer compared to Singapore.
  • Not surprisingly is the huge difference in literacy rates between the two countries, Pakistan has an estimated rate at 54.9% compared to 100% of Singapore; having a large literate and skilled population is like a chain reaction cycle in continuously producing better literate and skilled population every year resulting in Singapore having been able to continuously progress in terms of GDP over the last couple of years.
  • Education is a priority for the Singapore and it invests heavily in education and always has since its conception, for example both Singapore and Pakistan have universities, colleges and teacher training institutions but the quality of graduates produced by Singapore is way better. The previous offices of Pakistan’s HEC recognized 203 institutions of higher education compared to  fewer in Singapore but some of these Singaporean universities are in the in the ranking of world’s top universities, example includes National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU). The simplest reason for this is that Singapore invests more into a university’s capability to research at a higher level by investing in state of the art technology and enhancing research and development capabilities. This directly results in industrial development of the country.

Pakistan Education System Similarities with Finland

Finland has relatively the same geographical area and homogenous ethnic populationas Singapore and enjoys the same prestige as an elite educational system that serves every citizen regardless of class or culture. Some of the other differences between Pakistan and Finland’s education system are as follows:

  • Finland spends a little bit more of its GDP on education than Pakistan but surpasses Pakistan’s education system in a truly remarkable manner. One definite reason for this is its population. Finland has a much smaller population andits population growth rate is 0.29%, compared to Pakistan’s which stands a much higher population and with a growth rate of 1.84%.Finland doesn’t receive substantial amount of funding from the UN, World Bank or the US like Pakistan but its education system is doing much better and extremely well, thanks to the established educational policies and practices.
  • The amount that each individual can spend on local goods as noted in the GDP/PPP for Finland is $36,395 compared to Pakistan whose GDP per capita is less than one tenth of Finland. This is surprising because Finland is more like an island country with much less natural resources and human power compared to Pakistan. Pakistan also has the ability to trade across borders with Afghanistan, China, India and Iran. This should make for an extremely rich country dripping with money from such a trade market however the continuous conflicts have kept this area of the world so busy that it has spent little time in development of its industries and hence GDP. It is now torn apart with the Taliban and the conflict in AJK.
  • Like Pakistan, Finland has teacher training institutions but teachers in Finland as in Singapore are highly regarded and monetarily better compensated compared to the “phatechar” derogatory comments towards those who take up teaching as profession in Pakistan. This further discourages the people entering the profession of teaching. Teachers in Finland are careful to stay close to the curriculum that doesn’t allow any actual teaching until the 1st grade. Teachers in Finland teach their children through play for the first 10 years of their life. Each teacher in Finland gets to know its students very well and from this interaction can devise an academic program just for them. It is just the opposite in Pakistan where teachers don’t want to know the kids, teachers often have two schools or more to teach at and teachers don’t spend any time at all getting to know their students.  

What can be done ?

Pakistan needs to gain courage, dedicate 4% GDP to education as recommended by UN, stick to the  educational policies drafted by earlier governments and educate its populace regardless of religion, culture or whether the village elders want to educate the poorest people in their village or not. Islamabad needs to step up and take on the challenge to fully educate the Pakistani people of which two thirds are under the age of 30.

Many parents are unable to send their kids to school and instead send to work because of economic difficulties hence the ideal solution would be to have a nationwide stipend program that pays parents to send their children to school so that the parents can afford their meals and provide better healthcare. This may also cause the local landowners to send hundreds of their villagers to school. This program will have a lasting effect on the progress of Pakistan.

In many locations in Pakistan especially rural settings people are limited by the powerful from attending school hence Islamabad needs to stand its ground and help protect and insure that people are being allowed to attend school. The government should also further stop waiting for educational aid assistance because itdevolves the country further into debt and instead divert the funds from other non-progressive sectors.

Pakistan needs to invite proposals from countries which shared a similar fate as Pakistan in the past and take their help in this domain. Their approach anddirection will help design a course of action that can make the next generation literate and skilled. It will lead it to become a successful nation without the pigment of considered extremist in any regard.

It is of most important to note that the war-torn and natural calamities hit Pakistan can’t achieve an educational revolution on its own; it needs financial support with strong transparency to keep its politicians honest. Western countries needs to get involved by contribution of advanced IT equipment, long term financial loansfor education only and should also invest in the development of educational institutes of Pakistan on a continued and for a long term basis. This will turn the attention of the young minds to more productive and valuable causes in life, resulting eventually in the peace and security of the region.

Wajid Hassan is a Ph.D. Student in Technology Management at Indiana State University, USA. Wajid Hassan is a concerned Pakistani Citizen who has deep passion for the betterment of the lives of the people of Pakistan and thinks attainment of higher literacy rates and quality education is the only solution for this matter.