Pakistans public schools systems deteriorating infrastructure, falling educational standards and distorted educational system impact mostly, if not entirely, on the countrys poor, thus widening the linguistic, social and economic divisions between the privileged and the underprivileged, simultaneously increasing ethnic and religious alienation that has led to violent protests. Far from curtailing extremism, the public school system risks provoking an upsurge of violence, if its problems are not quickly and comprehensively addressed. The deterioration in the government managed institutions has assumed scandalous proportions. The growing network of private sector institutions is a testimony of the complete failure of government managed institutions; whereas private sector schooling can be afforded only by the rich and affluent classes in Pakistan. As a result, today nearly 90 million Pakistanis - half the adult population - cannot read or write. Firm and reliable female literacy rate figures are not available. However, there is a substantial disparity between male and female literacy rates. This disparity is more pronounced in rural areas, where only 31 percent of women are claimed to be literate. Some of the major factors that keep children uneducated are the limited access to education specifically for girls; the recent phenomenon of destruction of educational institutions by elements opposed to all types of education, except what they were taught in religious seminaries they attended; illiterate and semi-literate teachers recruited on the basis of political patronage; teacher absenteeism; low quality of education; poverty; corporal punishment and a high student-to-teacher ratio. Also, the audit reports contain widespread and massive corruption in the use of development funds. Non-developmental expenditures are hardly ever provided. These are meant for the maintenance of school buildings, meeting recurring expenditure such as purchase of chalks, blackboards, disinfectants for the toilets, newspapers, periodicals and books for the libraries where they exist. There are numerous instances on record where classrooms have no blackboards and teachers are not provided with chalks; where books were not issued for 10 years or more after their purchase. The textbooks are outdated, as is the syllabus. Many of the teachers are familiar with neither. Ghost schools and ghost teachers are of recent origin. No impartial inquiry was ordered by our commando President General Pervez Musharraf, even though the problem initially emerged during his tenure. The culprits responsible for inflicting enormous financial losses in an under funded sector were neither identified, nor punished. Furthermore, parents in our rural and partly urban setting do not see our education system as relevant to their needs. Poverty forces a very large number of parents to send their children to seminaries whose number has been growing at a phenomenal pace in recent times. These institutions feed and clothe their students, provide them shelter where needed and some of them inculcate dogma contrary to Islamic values. Although the provinces had exercised full control in the matter, or recruitment and training of teachers for the public schools under their administrative and financial control a non-transparent procedure of teacher recruitment has been adopted across the provinces. The state of affairs in the Textbook Boards and Boards of Examinations has assumed scandalous proportions. Corruption and mismanagement has taken a very heavy toll of the system. Our young boys and girls have lost all credibility in the outcome of their efforts. While enrolment at the primary and secondary level presents a dismal picture, higher education fares no better. Policymakers do not realise that it plays a central role in the development of both human beings and modern societies, as it enhances social, cultural and economic development; it promotes active citizenship and inculcates ethical values; it serves both public and private purposes. From an earlier focus mainly on primary and secondary education, those in power should have placed the highest emphasis on higher education, as one of the most potent means of achieving sustainable development. There is a worldwide realisation that though primary and secondary education is important, it is the quality and size of the higher education system that will differentiate a dynamic economy from a marginalised one. According to UNESCO, without more and better higher education, developing countries will find it increasingly difficult to benefit from the global knowledge-based economy. So with a population of about 1,800 million, Pakistan had a total enrolment in higher education (including that in affiliated colleges) of 6.48 million in 2006/07. In addition, about 200,000 students were enrolled in distance education programmes at the Open University and Virtual University. A large majority of students (78 percent) were enrolled in general and science universities. With a growth rate of more than 16 percent, general universities would bear the bulk of increase and would cater to 90 percent of the students by 2015. Only 40 percent of the new enrolments will be in purely science programmes. This would be at variance with the demand of the labour market, which requires graduates with professional skills. A change in the enrolment pattern is necessary to ensure that higher education adapts to the changing economic structure. Given the current trends, Pakistans non-elitist class is unlikely to benefit from the demands of the labour market. The writer is a retired secretary of the Government of Pakistan. Email: