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Pakistan, or in official circles, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, is a large sovereign country in Southern Asia, with a total geographic area of just over 307,300 square miles. Strategically situated at the crossroads of South and Central Asia and the Middle east, the country shares land borders with India to the east, Afghanistan to the west and north, Iran to the southeast and China to the far northeast. To the south of Pakistan is approximately 650 miles of coastline, formed by the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman, and the country is separated from Tajikistan by Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor in the north, where it also shares a maritime border with Oman. Pakistan is a federal parliamentary republic consisting of four provinces and four federal territories, each consisting of urban and rural areas. The capital and government seat of Pakistan is Islamabad, while its largest city is Karachi.
With a population that exceeds 170 million, Pakistan is the sixth-most populous country in the world and has the largest Muslim population worldwide, save for Indonesia. Pakistan is very ethnically and linguistically diverse. As of the last census, conducted in 2009, the Punjabi people were the largest ethnic group in the country, accounting for roughly 44 percent of the population. They were followed by the Pashtun (15.4%), Sindhi (14.1%), Seraki (10.5%), Muhajir (7.6%) and the Baloch people (3.6%), in order of prevalence. The remaining 4.7 percent of the population is comprised of various ethnic minorities, and there are also an estimated 7 million Pakistanis currently living abroad.
More than 60 languages are spoken throughout Pakistan, including a number of provincial languages. Urdu, a language that symbolizes Muslim identity is the lingua franca of the country, understood by over 75 percent of the population, while English is the official language of Pakistan and is used in business and commerce, government and for legal contracts. A variety of provincial languages can be heard in the various regions of the country, including Punjabi, Pashto, Seraki, and Balochi. Approximately 97 percent of Pakistanis are Muslims, primarily of the Sunni branch of the religion, with Shia Muslims accounting for between 5 and 20 percent of the population. Hinduism and Christianity are the two largest religious minorities in the country.
Education in Pakistan
Education in Pakistan is under the supervision of the national Ministry of Education and is administered by the four provinces and four federal territories. Under the Pakistani constitution, education is provided free for all children at both the primary and secondary levels and compulsory until age 16.
The education system in Pakistan is divided between six main levels: pre-primary (preparatory classes); primary education, grades one through 5; middle school, grades six through eight; high school, grades nine and ten, ultimately leading to the Secondary School Certificate; intermediate education, grades eleven and twelve, leading to the Higher Secondary School Certificate; and tertiary or university programs, in which students can earn undergraduate and post-graduate degrees in a variety of academic and professional fields. Some private schools in Pakistan also offer a parallel system of secondary education, one based on the curriculum of Great Britain and administered by the Cambridge International Examinations.
Following independence from the United Kingdom, Pakistan had only one university, but today there are 136 universities in operation, 74 public and 62 private, together serving over a million students each year.
Despite recent advances in education, Pakistan still faces many challenges and problems, including poverty, sectarian violence, poor teacher training, lack of resources and discrimination, particularly against female students. Currently the adult literacy rate in the country is only about 58 percent (69 percent for males and 45 percent for females), which is well below the global average.