New Report Clarifies Pakistani Religious School Enrollment: Study is first to utilize nationally representative data sources to estimate enrollment in madrassas

Contact: Doug Gavel
Phone: 617-495-1115
Date: March 15, 2005

Cambridge, MA — A new research study co-authored by an assistant professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government challenges commonly accepted assertions about the popularity of religious schools, commonly known as madrassas, in Pakistan.
The report, titled "Religious School Enrollment in Pakistan: A look at the Data," is the first study to use publicly available and nationally representative data sources to examine the enrollment trends of Pakistani students at religious schools. Kennedy School Assistant Professor Asim Ijaz Khwaja and co-authors Tahir Andrabi, Jishnu Das, and Tristan Zajonc found that madrassas account for less than one percent of the total student enrollment in the country, with 200,000 children enrolled full-time before 2001. They also concluded that there is no evidence of a dramatic increase in madrassa enrollment in recent years.
These findings contradict many recent press accounts. The Washington Post, for example, reported in July 2002 that as many as 1.5 million schoolchildren were enrolled in madrassas. Also in 2002, the International Crisis Group (ICC) reported that as many as a third of all enrolled Pakistani children attended these madrassas.
"We felt compelled to examine the data carefully to determine precisely the popularity of madrassas in Pakistan," Khwaja said. "And our conclusions run counter to the numbers reported in many newspapers and by influential publications like the 9-11 Commission report."
According to the authors, enrollment in madrassas accounts for just 0.3 percent of all Pakistani children between ages 5 and 19. Since overall school enrollment rate in this age group is 42 percent, this represents less than 0.7 percent of all Pakistani children attending school. Even in regions that border Afghanistan, where madrassa enrollment is relatively the highest, it is less than 7.5 percent of all enrolled children. The authors conclude that the real revolution in the Pakistani educational landscape in recent years has been the rise of affordable and mainstream private schools.
Asim Ijaz Khwaja is an assistant professor of public policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. His research interests include economic development, emerging markets, corporate finance, political economy, industrial organization, and policy/mechanism design.
The study is available as a working paper on the Kennedy School website at


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