The education system is poor, notwithstanding a massive educational reform announced in 1972 and aimed at providing free and universal education through the 10th year of formal schooling for both boys (by 1983) and girls (by 1987). In addition, the study of Islam was to be compulsory at all levels. For the year 2000, adult illiteracy rates were estimated at 56.7% (males, 42.4%; females, 72.2%). As an initial step, private educational institutions at all levels were nationalized. Additional steps included a reform of the curriculum away from general education and in favor of agricultural and technical subjects, equality of access to formal schooling for low-income groups and females, financial aid programs for poor students, and broad expansion and improvement of higher-level facilities. Curriculum bureaus were set up at federal and provincial levels, and the National Council of Education was established to formulate and evaluate educational development policy. As of 1999, public expenditure on education was estimated at 2.7% of GDP.
As of the mid-1990s, there were 15,532,000 pupils attending primary schools; 31% were female. In that same year, 5,022,416 students attended secondary schools. Girls attend separate schools at both primary and secondary levels. The pupil-teacher ratio at the primary level was 55 to 1 in 1999.
In the same period, 1,656,815 students were enrolled at institutions of higher learning. Arts and sciences colleges are affiliated with the universities of the Punjab (at Lahore, established 1882), Sind (at Hyderabad, 1947; at Karāchi, 1951), Peshawar (1950), Baluchistan (1970), and Multan (1975). An agricultural university was established in 1961 at Lyallpur (now Faisalabad). Two engineering and technological universities have been founded at Lahore (1961) and Islamabad (1966). Research institutions include the Institute of Islamic Studies at Lahore, the Iqbal Academy at Lahore, and the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs at Karachi. In 1995, there were a total of 29 universities, seven of which are privately operated. Urdu and English are the languages of instruction. Many adult literacy centers, including women's literacy centers, have been established in recent years, the majority in Sind. In addition, the People's Open University was established at Islamabad (1974) to provide mass adult education via correspondence and the communications media.