In Pakistan, direct cash payments to families are key to helping more girls stay in school
Conditional cash transfer programs, in coordination with strategic policies, can improve the educational opportunities of millions of children in Pakistan, especially girls.
Poverty is the strongest constraint to reaching universal primary education in Pakistan. Children belonging to economically better-off families have higher school enrolment rates and lower dropout rates than their poorer counterparts.
Impoverished families often cannot afford the costs associated with schooling. Also, as a result, many parents prefer that children contribute towards income generation by joining the labor market at an early age. Much of this is unpaid family labor, such as helping with household chores.
Poverty is one of the leading causes of high dropout rates among girls in Pakistan. Education indicators are generally much worse for girls than for boys. Female students are increasingly more likely to drop out of school than males at higher levels of education. Average learning levels in rural areas are lower among girls compared to boys in all subjects.
Long home-to-school distances and poor transportation and communication facilities are also key causes for high dropout rates, especially for female students. Parents are reluctant to have girls walk long distances to schools alone, especially after they have reached puberty, on account of their security and reputation. Safety-related concerns include sexual harassment, physical abuse, and violence in and en route to school. At the secondary school level and above, the absence of separate toilets becomes a major impediment to school completion for girls.
The low educational attainment of parents is another crucial contributor to low enrolment in schools and low retention rates. Higher educational attainment levels among parents mean greater exposure and awareness, a more open mindset (especially towards girls’ education), and a greater ability to improve learning at school by after-school assistance offered at home.
Increasing girls’ school enrolment and reducing their dropout rates would have long-lasting effects across generations to improve girls’ education, gender equality, and human development.
A lack of education among parents often translates into a conservative attitude toward education, characterized by an unwillingness to invest in girls’ education and girls’ early marriages, leading to girls’ higher dropout rates. Parents’ educational attainment also plays a fundamental role in determining family size, i.e., more educated parents tend to have fewer offspring. As a result, they have more resources available to invest in their children’s education.
The provision of all-girls schools, especially at the secondary level and higher, can improve enrolment and retention rates in rural communities. In co-educational institutions, schools should provide separate sanitation facilities for girls and well-trained female teachers. Increasing female administrative staff (such as school principals) should be prioritized, given its favorable impact on girls’ participation in school. School-based programs to address menstrual management, sexual and reproductive health, gender-equitable behavior, and mental well-being could help boost girls’ and parents’ confidence by portraying the school environment as safe.
It is known that mothers’ educational attainment, rather than fathers’, has a more significant impact on the decision to send daughters to school. Thus, increasing girls’ school enrolment and reducing their dropout rates would have long-lasting effects across generations to improve girls’ education, gender equality, and human development.
For poor families, conditional cash transfers (CCTs) – direct cash payments made to families whose children remain enrolled in school and reach other education goals – should be expanded. In some countries, CCTs have improved educational attainment for disadvantaged and vulnerable groups, particularly girls, by making families want to send their daughters to school in part for financial assistance. In Pakistan, enrollment of girls of secondary school age increased by approximately 11 percentage points, according to one study.
An example of this method is Waseela-e-Taleem, an education-related conditional cash transfer initiative under the government’s flagship Ehsaas (Poverty Alleviation and Social Safety) Program. This should be expanded countrywide to include post-primary schools. In addition, initiatives focusing on girls’ secondary school enrollment and retention rates, such as tuition waivers and stipends, will prove fruitful under this program.
Conditional cash transfer programs, in coordination with strategic policies, are powerful tools for improving the education of millions of children in Pakistan, especially girls.