Forty-eight percent of students in Karachi who passed the matriculation exam last year were unable to continue their education, according to statistics from the Sindh Central College Admissions Program (Seccap) and the Karachi Secondary Education Council (BSEK).
Due to the unavailability of seats, mainly due to the success rate of more than 99 percent in the High School Annual Examination (SSC), 91,173 students cannot be admitted to tertiary institutions.
According to educators, child rights activists and economists, poverty is one of the main causes of the decline in higher education enrollment rates, while the government has also not taken adequate steps to suppress other factors.
Based on statistics, 112,372 students passed the 2018 SSC annual exam which was held under the BSEK. The success rate for the science group was 63 percent, while the general group was 62.5 percent.
More than 81 percent (91,453) of students were granted admission to public tertiary institutions, but the remaining 20,919 (19 percent) were not considered for admission or they did not apply for it.
The following year, 161,882 students in the science group took the matrix test and 68.5 percent of them passed, while 20,468 students in the general group took the exam and 64 percent of them passed.
Of the total 124,081 students who completed their matrices, 88,575 (more than 71 percent) were granted admission to different public universities through Seccap, but 35,506 (29 percent) were unable to enter tertiary institutions.
In 2020, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, BSEK issued results without carrying out the SSC exam. Therefore, the passing percentages last year were 99.8 percent for the science group and 99.5 percent for the general group.
In the current academic year, 99,593 (more than 52 percent) of the 190,766 students who graduated were enrolled in public universities. But the unavailability of seats has made the remaining 91,173 (48 percent) students unacceptable.
This shows that since 2018, around 35 percent of students have been unable to continue their education after passing the SSC exam. And according to statistics, among these students, there are more girls than boys.
Child rights educators and activists cite poverty, child marriage, rigid family boundaries, poor academic results, attending professional and vocational courses, college location, transportation and additional academic costs as major factors for the decline in college enrollment.
However, for female students, they cited family restrictions, poverty and child marriage as the main reasons forcing them not to continue their education after secondary school.
Rana Asif Habib, who works for the welfare of street children, believes that poverty is one of the main causes for the decline in college enrollment rates.
He said that low-income families living in disadvantaged areas, slums and suburbs force their children into the labor force. He gave an example, some families who live in emergency homes even involve their children in begging.
Habib said that in the last three years Pakistan had experienced a very large surge of inflation, which left the majority of working class parents unable to send their children to college. “They can’t afford the hefty fees and other expenses.”
Habib gave an example, the rigid family boundaries and child marriage also resulted in students not continuing their education after the matrix, by saying that in traditional families, parents restrict their children, especially girls, from leaving.
He said that they would rather arrange marriages for their daughters than educate them. In some cases, he added, a heavy responsibility rests on the shoulders of the underage boys, who end up stopping their education.
According to Girls Not Brides, a global partnership of more than 1,500 civil society organizations, 18 percent of girls in Pakistan are married before their 18th birthday and 4 percent before the age of 15.
Nadeem Hussain, who is an education economist and policy commentator, said challenges such as poverty, the location of higher education institutions, unsatisfactory academic arrangements and additional financial costs were the root causes of declining enrollments.
He explained that the transport system in Karachi was pathetic, saying that over the years the number of buses in the city had fallen from 35,000 to 8,000.
He also said that students used to be charged half the fare, but the buses are gradually disappearing, while no alternative transportation is provided. So, he added, families, especially those of conservative backgrounds, usually do not allow their female members to travel long distances to study.
Hussain points out that parents and students don’t just depend on what is taught in college, saying they also need to study at an education center for additional academic support to ensure good results.
He said that because most colleges cannot perform equally, those from low-income backgrounds see admissions causing additional costs, and thus discontinuing their education.
Hussain also pointed out that thousands of families have moved to the city but they have lived according to their own traditions. He said that in such a family, very few women even studied to the matrix.
He explains that this is why other ethnic, social, traditional and conservative norms have also decreased college enrollments. Regarding child marriage, he said that they limit girls’ education 100 percent.
Directorate of Inspection & Registration of Private Institutions Registrar Sindh Rafia Javed rejects the notion that many students stop their education after the matrix.
He pointed out that thousands of students enroll in private high schools and colleges, as well as in technical education institutions and vocational training centers.
He also pointed out that several thousand students take the High School Certificate (HSSC) exam as external candidates every year. So, he explained, many students who were considered not continuing their education were candidates from outside or registered at other learning institutions.
Rafia said that currently, around 20 secondary schools and colleges are operating across the city, while 17 institutes are providing technical education and vocational training.
But scholar Asim Bashir Khan, who has done a lot of work preparing government reports on education, disagrees with Rafia’s view. He said that SSC was not a prerequisite for obtaining recognition for vocational training or short courses.
In addition, he added, nearly three or four percent of the total number of students who are not admitted to public universities enter another institute.
Khan said the number of students taking the HSSC exam as external candidates does not exceed 5,000, while the Sindh Technical Education Board (SBTE) conducts examinations for all districts in the province.
So, he explained, the statistics of students who did not enter public tertiary institutions could not compare to the SBTE and HSSC external examinations held under the Karachi Secondary Education Council.