Introduction - This paper examines the development of non-formal education (NFE) as an important sector of education in Pakistan.

The term “Non-Formal Education” emerged in 1950s from less developed countries (Rogers, 2005) where it was nearly established that the formal education system was insufficient to meet the needs of modernization.NFE programmes have been used in low income countries for remedial purposes where formal education system was unable to educate all its citizens and illiteracy was a huge problem (Kedrayate, 2012).

Inspired by the definitions of NFE, I was inspired to look at some of the NFE programmes in a low income country like Pakistan to see if these justified their purpose and contributed to the overall literacy of the country.

Formal education in Pakistan; struggling to meet its objectives:

Pakistan’s failure, in meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and achieving the Education for All (EFA) targets, shows that Pakistan’s formal education system has been struggling in delivering quality education and ensuring equitable access to education to Pakistani children.

According to statistics, one third of South Asian children who are out of school, live in Pakistan. Girls have the higher percentage in out of school children as 38.9% as compared to 30.2% of boys.

Only 14% of the girls from the low income households can read a story in only one of the local languages with boys at a slightly higher percentage as 22%.

Higher disparity in girl’s literacy is reflective of their socio-economic differences with only 20% of the girls from poor households in school as compared to the 81% from the rich households. (UNICEF, 2015).

The literacy rate of Pakistan was 64.5% in 2012 and raised slightly to 66.8% in 2015 (World Bank, 2015). Highly centralized education system (centralized at the provincial level) of Pakistan seems to need lot of support from the non-formal and informal sectors to be part of the educational globalization and modernization by meeting the MDGs and sustainable development goals (SDGs).

Non-formal education in Pakistan:

an analytical timeline

Non-formal education in Pakistan can be traced back to 1950s when the first non-formal basic education programme was launched under the title of “Adult Basic Education”. After that many other non-formal education programmes like Village AID Programme (1953), Literacy Programmes under Basic Democracies (1964-69) and Experimental Pilot Projects (1977-78) were launched but there is little or no data available to analyze the detailed structure and success of these programmes.

However, the little data, available about these programmes, suggests that majority of these programs lacked innovation (UNESCO, 2015) and had no linkage with the regional languages and cultures and did not collaborate well with the formal primary education centers.

Iqra Pilot Programme (1986) was launched in Islamabad and Rawalpindi. The programme was based on providing monetary benefits to educated people to literate any number of people at the time and place of their mutual convenience (Fayyazuddin, Jillani, & Jillani, 1998).

The neo literate was to pass a literacy test for the teacher to be qualified for the reward money (1000 Pakistani rupees per person). The target of the programme was to make half a million people literate but the success rate was only 3.6% with only 18000 people passing the test. The cost per person turned out to be much higher than the estimated budgetary cost.

Nai Roshni Schools (1987-89) was a program started by the Federal Ministry of Education. This created drop in schools in the existing primary schools in the afternoon, for aged 10 to 14 children who never attended school or left school for some reason. The original programme was to run a two year course under the Federal Ministry of planning and development in nine school in nine districts.

Even though the programme was designed by the federal ministry of education, the actual implementation was left to provinces, over which provincial governments raised many concerns.

Some of the major concerns were about curriculum not matching the local, provincial values and cultures, the politically inspired hiring of teachers and some of the implementation issues.

The programme suffered from weak organisation, low quality education, political patronage and inept teachers. (Warwick&Reimers, 1995, p.130)

Quranic Literacy Project (1992-94) was launched with the aim of making Pakistani women literate, who already had the basic knowledge of Holy Quran (Arabic text).

To implement the project, around 500 centers were set up for the communities around the capital city Islamabad.

At the cost of Rs4.06 million, the program made 10,867 females of age 10 years and above, literate (Choudhry, 2005). However, the programme did not contribute to the overall literacy rate in the country much (UNESCO, 2004) and did not last long.

Non-Formal Basic Education Schools (NFBES) were first established in 1996 under the Prime Minister Literacy Commission Islamabad. The concept of these schools was based on involving parents, community and the non-government organisations in the promotion of education through non-formal ways. The programme was designed to help school dropouts to make their way back to school or for those with no access, to enter into the mainstream school system in few years.

These schools were based on the home school model based on one teacher one room philosophy.

Designed for minimal budget requirement, the community provided the room and the nominal salary of the teachers. The five-year curriculum of primary education was taught in 3.5 years.

These schools were open in remote areas with little to no access to education. The government provided funds to the community through NGOs. In 2004, the enrollment in these schools was around 214000. (UNESCO, 2004) which looked promising.

In 1974, Allama Iqbal Open University was established as part of adult literacy programme. The mode of instruction was distance learning which opened up the door of education for thousands of Pakistanis including women who could not leave their homes because of cultural and financial barriers.

The students had the facility to enroll according to their own schedule with minimal requirements.

This has been a very promising program which is not just running till date but is also extending its programs in the fields of professional, scientific and technical education.

It is attempting to reach out to the remote areas of Pakistan and is also attempting to integrate modern information into its curriculum and pedagogy.

New York, USA

Columbia University


Naila Shahid