What Perpetautes Low Income Mobility In Pakistan From Childhood? By A Z

What Perpetautes Low Income Mobility In Pakistan From Childhood? By A Z

Corruption? Nepotism? Lack of meritocracy? Low GDP growth? Yes, all of these and more. But in the final analysis two factors are more responsible for the widening gap between the rich and poor than anything else.

These two factors are Pakistan’s unjust education system and the respective manners in which poor and rich kids are brought up in their families. Below, let’s see how these two factors play an important role in keeping poor as poor and rich as rich.


Pakistan’s education has been woefully underfunded by the state for decades and very little has been done to change that. Our national budgets generally focus resources on higher education while having little to show for the basic education. Higher Education is very important but how building a pyramid top down makes sense? What this approach ensures is providing opportunities to the higher and middle class kids living in the cities. What about the millions of non-school going kids in rural areas and millions of illiterate adults in rural areas and urban slums? These millions will remain prone to contributing to the country’s major problems such as population growth, terrorism, crimes, drugs, and healthcare. The only way Pakistan can find its way out of the hole it is in is through climbing the ladder of democracy and education. While focus on Higher Education and distributing laptops is productive, what is needed even more is to provide immediate Basic K-5 Child Education and Adult Literacy combined with Skills Training. The idea must be to inculcate desire and provide opportunities at mass level.

Walk through the labyrinth of alleys, concrete structures, and corrugated shacks in the sprawling Karachi slum of Orangi Town, and you get a sense of the power of education. In a settlement of 1.5 million people there are hardly any government schools in sight. Deprived of their right to a free public education, some of the world’s poorest people have to pay for the privilege of sending their kids to private schools that lack qualified teachers, books, pencils, clean water, and toilets. Bilqis Khatoon, a widow with four children who lost her husband to the continuous violence in the city, has no doubt that the sacrifice is worthwhile. By doing two jobs she can just about keep two of the children in school. The elder of the two, Hadi, is fully committed to the value of education. “If I can make it through school, my future will be brighter. Maybe I can go on to become a doctor because then I will be big enough to work and finance my education.” But the truth is that Hadi is already working. He helps his mother pay the school fees by working for six hours a day at a shop in the nearby market. His biggest fear is that he will have to drop out of school, like his elder brother who, at 15, is already a fulltime worker in a garment factory. Every day, across the country, parents like Bilqis make huge sacrifices for their children’s education as, like other poor countries, in Pakistan appallingly poor parents are struggling to get their kids an education that will help them escape poverty. They know learning offers a route to higher income and expanded opportunity.

Having pledged, as part of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), to achieve universal primary education by 2015, Pakistan is trying to keep pace with the international community. However, I do not understand how Pakistan is going to achieve that goal if the country’s resources are not veered towards its achievement. To make matters worse, there is a gathering body of evidence highlighting the shocking quality of education endured by millions of children. What is being offered to children is often mock education. This schooling does nothing to assist the growth of children as rational human beings and as productive members of society. One study in rural Pakistan found that, after five years of schooling, half of the children were unable to write a sentence including the word “school”. Also, education will be worthless if it does not give children the tools to defeat the culture of violence and intolerance. The foundations of such education have obviously to be laid at primary-school level. The curricula in our public schools have to emphasize equality of human beings instead of blessing divisions based on religion and gender. The qualitative improvements are just as important as the quantitative ones. In most areas there are basic educational resources, as the schools are there.  However, many villages and urban areas suffer from other factors that inhibit education, like malnutrition or resource scarcity. As an instrument of hope, education is also most threatening to the Taliban, an organisation who can only thrive on despair. The efforts of the Taliban to damage existing institutions and structures in the areas where they have some control appear even more infuriating when one sees the comparative data that shows progress of the countries and regions with no systems or existing resources.

With the date for the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) less than three years away, it seems ever more likely that Pakistan will not make its targets. Especially, in progress towards goal number two to achieve universal primary education. Despite the appearance that the government is making headway with enrolments, many girls are still being left behind. Reviving progress towards the MDG targets will require a far stronger commitment to equity on the part of the new government. Progress, over the past decade, by countries like Ethiopia, Tanzania and Bangladesh show that poverty does not have to be a barrier to education. But political leaders must demonstrate a commitment to reaching those who have been left behind. So must donors. Over the past few years, the record of the aid community for Pakistan has gone from bad to lamentable. While the country receives billions of dollars, apart from the disaster-relief, most of the aid is provided either to the Pakistan Military (the US) or to the religious establishments (Saudi Arabia and Gulf countries). The educational development assistance has been dismal in country with large swathes or territory where young girls are more likely to die in childbirth than make it through primary school.

In a country like Pakistan, where there is a clearly established link between educational disadvantage and poverty, today’s inequalities in education are clearly perpetuated to guard tomorrow’s disparities in opportunities. Breaking down those inequalities would act as a catalyst for growth and poverty reduction. Getting all of Pakistan’s girls into secondary school would prevent an estimated 200,000 deaths annually. Achieving universal basic education means breaking down the deprivation that forces over 7 million children out of school and into labour markets. It means confronting the public attitudes to gender that result in more than 1 million more girls being out of school than boys. And it means designing policies that extend opportunities to hard-to-reach children, such as those living in poor rural areas and slums like Orangi Town. The current demographic pressures in Pakistan, namely an increased population and an overrepresentation of youth, are placing unreasonable demands on the country’s infrastructure. With about 40% of Pakistan’s population aged under 15, and the country’s fertility rate of around 4, providing free primary education is having a negative impact on educational standards. Thus increased enrolment has placed enormous stress on the country’s education system with overcrowding, increased student-to-teacher ratios and inadequate resources.

What Pakistan needs is to declare universal education its foremost national priority backed by a fund for education like those that have delivered such striking results in the health sector in some other countries. This will create a platform to bring together the country’s government, donor governments, NGOs, and the private sector and can thus spur international action and deliver results.

Improved governance is also essential. It is a fact that the public schools teachers can generally earn much more than qualified private school teachers and 4 times the average per capita income of Pakistan. However, a lack of meritocracy in recruitment and the absence of effective performance controls have meant that public education’s higher salaries at the basic levels have not translated into a higher level of commitment among teachers.

Also, while we endeavour to alleviate inequalities in access to education we pay no heed to another type of inequality: namely, inequality in learning. Despite increased enrolment and attendance, inequalities between the rich and poor still persist and the move towards universal primary education has resulted in more parents sending their children to private schools as reports of low educational standards within government schools emerge. There are real fears that the quality of education within government schools is diminishing in order to cater for more students. Several years after the passage of Article 25A to the constitution, under the 18th Amendment, the provincial governments seem to be struggling to establish implementation mechanisms.

It is therefore imperative to continually conduct reality checks on the state of education in Pakistan to remind ourselves that while making real steps towards the goal of universal primary education, it is important that the education system as a whole does not suffer. This is a tall order and a long-term challenge. Spending a mere 2-3% of the budget on education and half-hearted planning will not get us anywhere.

Unless we address these issues on war footing, our education system will continue to perpetuate income inequalities instead of being an effective tool to overcome disparities by providing less-advantaged kids with access to the enrichment opportunities they’re increasingly not getting.  If you argue that in other countries too richer kids are more likely to do better at the school than you have got it wrong. The issue here is that in our country the poor kids can’t even dream of getting the same education, even at most basic level, which the wealthier kids do.


The skill that allows you to talk your way up the ladder in the corporate or civil service world or sound convincing enough in an interview to land the job is best learned at home. This is even truer in a below par educational environment like ours, as we have seen above, and a society that has no or little public recreational and educational facilities for children. This is what the psychologist Robert Sternberg calls ‘practical intelligence.’ It’s not knowledge for its own sake. It’s knowledge that helps you read situations correctly and get what you want. The place where we are most likely to get these kinds of attitudes and skills is from our families.

In Pakistan the parenting philosophies of upper middle class and the poor are, in general, entirely different. The wealthier parents are deeply engaged in their children’s free time, escorting them from one activity to the next, asking them about their school, sports, teachers, and friends. This kind of involvement and intensive scheduling is entirely absent from the lives of poor children. Play for them isn’t a scheduled activity, it’s an activity with their siblings and friends in the muddy streets of the neighbourhood. In poor households what a child does is considered something totally disconnected from the adult world and of little consequence. Poor parents don’t have the luxury to look into their children’ interests to help them develop that interest into a formal talent. Instead they frame their children’ interests as character traits as a way for the children to get attention. I am not at all trying to say that any of the two styles is better than the other. All I want to show how one is better suited to inculcate social savvy and practical intelligence which are sets of skills to be learned rather than an innate ability like the IQ.

The upper middle class parents talk things through with their children, helping them to reason. This is an attempt to actively assess and foster a child’s talents, opinions, and skills. They expect their children to talk back to them, to discuss, and to question. If their children are not doing well at the school these parents are not reluctant to challenge their teachers. All this inculcates in the children an ability to question authority. They learn to shift the balance of power away from adults and towards themselves. When confronted with authority outside home they behave as they do with their parents – reasoning, negotiating, and joking with equal ease. By contrast poor parents let their children accomplish their natural growth. For them their responsibility resides in caring for their children and they let them grow and develop on their own.

As a result of the above the poorer children are often better behaved, less complaining, more creative in making use of their time and resources, and more independent. However, overall, wealthier children’s upbringing entails more valuable advantages. The heavily scheduled upper middle-class child is exposed to a constantly changing set of experiences. They learn teamwork and how to cope in highly structured environment. They are taught how to interact comfortably with adults and to speak up when warranted. Hence, they grow up with a sense of entitlement. The feel they have a right to follow their own individual preferences and to interact in institutional settings. They are open to share information and ask for attention. They are at ease in shifting interactions to suit their preferences. In Karachi Grammar School, for instance, you will find even fifth graders acting in their own behalf to gain advantages. They know the rules and are at ease in making requests of teachers to adjust procedures to accommodate their desires.

At the same time the poorer children are growing up with an emerging sense of distance, distrust, and constraint. They are not skilled at getting their way or adapting to differing environments for their best purposes. They are not taught how to speak up for themselves or how to reason and negotiate with those in positions of authority. They don’t learn entitlement, they learn constraint. It is a crippling handicap in navigating the world beyond their own little surroundings.

So, it is not only about going to better schools. The ‘practical intelligence’ and the sense of entitlement the richer kids have been taught by their families is an attitude perfectly suited to succeeding in the modern competitive world. It is therefore no wonder that these children handle the challenges of their life brilliantly. A child who has seen his father make his way up in business or politics learns first-hand to negotiate his way out of a tight spot.

This shows how, in general, wealthier kids in Pakistan enter adulthood more disposed to succeed in practical life than their poorer counterparts. Of course, the significant ‘help’ many of them are likely to receive along the way further lengthens the odds

Source :


18 responses to “What Perpetautes Low Income Mobility In Pakistan From Childhood? By A Z”

  1. This is true, Asif.
    In many countries rich kids are more likely to get a better education, which translates into being richer and wealthier as adults. It is certainly the case that richer kids are more likely to get a college degree, and it is certainly the case that getting a college degree leaves you much better off on average than not getting one.
    But in countries like Pakistan you are still many times more likely to be a rich adult if you were born rich and never bothered to go to college than if you were born poor and, against all odds, went to college and graduated. The disparity in the outcomes of rich and poor kids persists, not only when you control for college attainment, but even when you compare non-degreed rich kids to degreed poor kids!

  2. Asif, your study ignores the corrupting power of wealth in Pakistan. The wealthy are not even taxed in this country. The pigs use their wealth to corrupt ALL governments to insure that won’t happen. You might want to talk about equal economic opportunity as a good thing… on the surface it sound nice.
    But NOBODY who gets to decide (top 20% in Pakistan) actually wants it. They want their kid to have advantages.

  3. The prize for winning isn’t gong to change because of the effect on the losers. No one cares about the kids who don’t get trophies.

    Thanks for reminding.

  5. genetic inheritance is a much stronger predictor of future income than parent income. This makes intuitive sense; if your parents have traits that command a high income and you share the same gene pool, then one might expect those same traits to generate a hefty income for you too.

  6. I agree. and let’s not be fooled by rags-to-riches fables.
    what I don’t think is appropriate is the obsession with rags-to-riches jumps. There are personal challenges to travelling far, socially from ones own background, and mobility 1 or 2 quintiles is very high. What would be fascinating to know would be whether 2nd generation mobility is essentially the same as 1st generation mobility, or exhibits reversion, or exhibits freedom from any ‘distance of travel’ constraints.

  7. what i don’t agree with is ignoring the evidenced link between social environment and genetic traits. They are mutually reinforcing. That means what is true of India and what is true of Pakistan where generations worth of hyper-segregated social spaces and the consequent effects are built into the mutually reinforcing character of genetics and society makes imposing the findings of the former on the latter pretty sloppy.

  8. Asif, this is a good display of the situation. What I’d really love to see and haven’t found: a similar display by wealth instead of income. As with wealth disparity in general, I imagine the gap is vastly wider than the income gap. Also: you use “poor” and “wealthy” rather loosely, here, would recommend being more careful.

  9. If we are a partial meritocracy, and if innate metal ability has some degree of inheritability, then it is plausible that a disproportionate percentage of those born in the lowest segment of society do not have identical potential as those born in the top segment. This is not the whole story, and perhaps not even a major part of the story, but it is a factor.
    Along with the above, there is evidence that being born poor but smart, which occurs every day, does fail to be followed by the upward mobility that a fully functioning meritocracy would encourage. A great many things impact the success of the poor, the category into which I was born. S
    How many poor mothers mothers read to their children, and have books in the house? Schools are not equal, nor are one’s peers. Children of the rich grow up imbued with the contacts, norms, and habits of success. Children of the poor sometimes lack social skills and suffer for that lack.
    Current concerns over the extent of lack of upward mobility are, in my view, justified.

  10. I basically do not believe in this genetics stuff in the sense of inherited intelligence even though according to all intelligence tests high up there. Reason is I was born in the developing world and had the opportunity to live in several of them. Clearly the cohort I grew up was highly favored by and in our generation was able to see that they were not any cleverer than rest of society simply selected based on favoritism. Difference was that after this happened (nurture) kicked in big time where special schools and teachers and set up connections with the right people and a culture of discipline and achievement orientation. Most who stuck to this formula were very successful. Those whose parents where wealthy even though were not the best in the equivalent of Atchison or Grammar school went on to Ivy League, Oxbridge and other schools abroad and have been very successful.
    To argue that this was due to genetics is simple BS. But it does support one conservative plank which is that discipline, hard work and character generally pays off but that this tends to favor the middle and upper classes where families are strong even where divorces and so forth happen as there is still enough money to support an enduring social structure in a way that does not happen for lower class children.
    In other words this research is right that being born rich matters. Having said that a small minority of ultra rich fail due to ill discipline or angst or just lack of motivation. But they did not end up poor in the main unless they went into drugs…….
    So those who want to push justifications of inequalities based on genetics should look at emerging economies where the children of say communist China do manage to achieve and end up at the top in the West based on graduating from top schools with good grades. The argument that they graduated in this manner mainly due to genetics would be laughable if it were not taken seriously by Ivy League Professors. Unfortunately give ideological blinkers in that case the Professors would no doubt agree that the progeny of communists clearly did not have genetic advantage but those of well connected capitalists did!

  11. To be very precise here we are not talking about “people with wealthy parents.” We are talking bout people with high-income parents, which is a different thing, although I am sure there is lots of overlap. It could be the case that the reason rich kids wind up with high incomes even when they don’t get a college education is because of, for instance, family. That is a theory. Asif doesn’t go into how they manage to have such high incomes though.

  12. Asif, it’s a brilliant explanation of how we are widening inequality today, and keeping it wide tomorrow.
    Pakistan has turned into a place Jinnah would scarcely recognize: we have more inequality and less mobility than once completely stratified India, particularly the south. It’s what Alan Krueger has dubbed the “Great Gatsby Curve” — the more inequality there is, the less mobility there is. It’s harder to climb our social ladder where the rungs are further apart.
    And it’s getting worse.

    Inequality is breeding more inequality. Now, it’s not entirely clear why the top 1 percent have pulled so far away from everyone else, but there’s a long list of suspects. Briberies, corruption are behind all of them. But wealthy in Pakistan aren’t just wealtheir today; they’re also marrying each other more. It’s what economists romantically call “assortative mating.”
    Pakistan is a basket case of assertive mating.

  13. It’s the same in the US.
    Well-off couples get married more, stay together more, read to their children more, and otherwise have more time and money to spend on their children’s education. Economists Richard Murname and Greg Duncan have found that high-income couples have poured resources into the educational arms race at a prodigious pace the past generation. For one, the amount of time college-educated parents spend with their kids has grown at double the rate of others since 1975; for another, high-income households invested 150 percent more in “enrichment activities” for their kids from 1972 to 2006, compared to a 57 percent increase for low-income households.

    It’s paying off. Early cognitive development has long-lasting consequences that can leave less-lucky children behind from the moment they start school — and keep them there. But even when kids from low-income households do outperform those from high-income households, it’s far from a guarantee that they’ll end up earning more as an adult.

  14. Now, it’s no secret that the rich are different from you and me — they have more money to leave to their kids — or that they have a special jobs program called “working for dad”. Almost 70 percent of the sons of top 1 percent had work where their fathers worked. In other words, it’s clear enough why so many well-off kids who don’t get a college degree stay well-off. But it’s less clear why higher education isn’t more of a path to prosperity for low-income children.

    Well, what kind of higher education are we talking about?
    It’s a totally different game for high-achieving, low-income students, because nobody tells them how to play it. Aside from magnet school kids, they mostly don’t have parents or teachers or counselors with much experience. applying to selective colleges. Often they want to stay close to home to help their parents or be near a husband.

    This has to be the most boneheaded way we as a society perpetuate the people at the top. The deck is already more than stacked against kids growing up in low-income households — their parents often aren’t as involved or even around — and we’re not helping the ones who do succeed to succeed more.

    Ask anyone about inequality, and you’re likely to hear three words in response: education, education, education. Oh, and education. And it’s true: school should be the ladder out of poverty. But too often it’s not; if anything, the reverse. We need to stop failing early and failing late. In other words, we need to reach kids during those formative years before school begins, and to keep kids who are thriving in high school to keep thriving in the right college.

  15. As someone who went to an elite university – LUMS and was fortunate enough to graduate with the help of their scholarship I can attest to the generous aid offered by these schools like LUMS, IBA etc. While it may be true that the majority of students come from high income families, the admissions process is “need blind”; that is, the admission decision is made without consideration to any student financial data. Once the student is accepted, financial need is then considered. More likely, the reason that the student bodies at these universities are more heavily weighted toward children from wealthier families is that wealthier families have the means to provide a multitude of services for their children such as test preparation, tutoring, etc, and these students often live in areas in which the schools are generally superior to those in poorer regions of the country. Still, as a LUMS graduate from a low income background I can see there are some inherent advantages that wealthier students have over students from poorer families. One of the biggest advantages takes place after graduation; wealthier students often have the proper connections that make the transition to a successful career much easier.
    That said, an education from one of these universities is not for everyone and many students can get an outstanding education at a lesser known school with some self-motivation. I am a firm believer that you get out of an education what you put into it.

  16. Wealthier families tend to be more invested -literally- in their children’s education, and also more involved. Why? They have the disposable income, as well as the free time, while a poor parent working two or three full-time, low-paying jobs has neither. So, they can afford to do little.
    The attitude that parents have towards their children’s education seems to be different between the classes, as well. Just ask any government school teacher about the woeful state of parental involvement! Whether it is due to a lack of time, lack of parental education, cultural attitudes, or just general apathy, the result is the same: their kids get the short end of the stick.
    I came from a lower-middle income home; my father was low-ranking army officer. though his job paid not so well it had excellent benefits. I consider myself to be exceptionally fortunate in that my parents considered a proper education to be THE top priority (aside from paying the bills). I wish I could say that I held up my end of the bargain by becoming a top student and, eventually, a financially independent success story- but I would be lying. The blame isn’t on society, or my parents, or my teachers, or my bosses, however…it’s 100% on my own shoulders.

  17. An excellent comparison of the two types of educational systems in Pakistan, which is very well reasoning the context. No doubt, the richer children avail the best facilities from the grass root level. There is a remarkable difference in the inquiry, and reasoning skills of a 5th grader of KGS and his/her counterpart from a Government or from a school with low fee structure. The same difference lies in the quality of the teaching faculty in both systems too. It would definitely enable the former to acquire the necessary skills needed to develop the ‘Practical Intelligence’ A very well written and reasoned article.