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Project description

A study to compare the learning levels of children who attended early years of formal education with those who have had no chance of attending formal education.

Primary participants

Dr Nadia Siddiqui

Professor Stephen Gorard

Dr Beng Huat See


The project has successfully completed and published a final report in which a Foreword is contributed by Ziauddin Yousafzai (Malala's father and author of Let her Fly)

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3-6 age range studied
Under 50% attend formal schools
Children from 2 largest regions of Punjab and State of Gujarat
COVID 19 has impacted the project

I am delighted to see that this report on early childhood education in Pakistan and India has 
highlighted the challenges of access to school with a particular focus on the advantages of 
school for children. It is heart-wrenching to read in this report how children who do not attend 
school are missing so much learning, and most importantly are deprived of the experience of 
growing up in an environment of safety, friendship, and support from teachers.

Ziauddin Yousafzai, Malala's father and Author of Let Her Fly: A Father’s Journey

Project summary

The project is an opportunity for us to investigate the importance and function of school in children’s lives in the two largest regions of Punjab, Pakistan and the State of Gujarat, India. It is a comparative study of children’s learning outcomes at 3 to 6 years of age. We are assessing children in this study regardless of their school enrolment status (less than 50% attend formal schools), so that we can compare the learning levels of children who attended early years of formal education with those who have had no chance of attending formal education. This comparison will carefully match children based on their family socioeconomic status, family size, parental education, access to schools and regional characteristics. The analysis of these factors will give us an indication of differences among children and their learning patterns and how much early years of education can determine children’s readiness to attend formal school.  

The project has been successfully launched in the State of Gujarat, India and the province of Punjab, Pakistan under most unfortunate and critical circumstance due to the Covid 19 crisis. Before the global pandemic hit these two regions, we were able to complete the preparatory work such as identification of regions for sampling, development of assessment tools, signing memorandum of understanding with partners, website development, ethics approval, and approval from the local government regions to conduct this activity. In addition, we completed a comprehensive pilot of the instruments in Gujarat and Punjab. We are in the process of conducting the work now using mobile technology.  

Collaborators from India and Pakistan are playing a very active role in informing regional education policy. 

Principal Investigator: Dr Nadia Siddiqui

Co-Investigators: Professor Stephen Gorard, Dr Beng Huat See, Professor Pauline Dixon, Dr Smruti Bulsari, Saba Saeed, Hamza Sarfaraz  

Project Advisory: Professor Kiran Pandya, Baela Raza Jamil


The study has published final report available here. The foreword of this report is contributed by Ziauddin Yousafzai (Malala's father and the author of Let Her Fly).

The collaboration involves academics and practitioners from various countries and disciplines coming together and forming a research partnerships in the DAC-listed countries. This has allowed us to increase our research capacity networks and have a wider impact through involving research active teams that are actually doing the grass-roots level work in regions of economic deprivation and poor literacy. This will be relevant to users at all levels from policy-makers to families, and to settings beyond India and Pakistan.

The study is the first chance to see children's readiness for, and the impact of, attending early years’ schooling. The added value from this research is generating an evidence base for policies to make informed recommendations for early childhood education.

Dr Nadia Siddiqui
School of Education


  1. Children’s enrolment in schools showed positive impact for their literacy and numeracy skills. However, within these two domains some aspects of learning were not related to children’s school enrolment/attendance.  
  2. Children aged 3 to 6 years of age who were never enrolled in school were equally as good in story comprehension (read aloud) as their counterparts who were attending schools.  
  3. Children who had a delay in language, struggled to communicate and to engage in activities. There could be several reasons of delay in language in the early years but children from families with modest educational attainments augmented with high level of poverty and deprivation clearly had limited opportunities of verbal engagement with parents.   
  4. We also observed that some children, who were not attending school and whose parents were not at home during the day, had long hours spent in isolation or with other siblings without presence of an adult in the house every day. This was observed in immigrant workers who moved from rural to urban settings and lived in temporary accommodation or rented servant quarters.  
  5. Mostly immigrant women worked as domestic helpers while men worked as guards, drivers or domestic helpers. There was very limited verbal interaction between parents and children and possibly that was one of the reasons that children were behind their age in speech and language development.   
  6. Enrolment and attendance in school was important for children where both parents were working outside. However, in cases where children were not attending school but spent time with mother at home or accompanied her to the homes where she worked as a domestic helper, the children still showed a limited vocabulary and skills for verbal communication.  
  7. In India and Pakistan, joint families are common, more so in rural areas. Children living with grandparents are found to have better vocabulary and reading skills compared to children in the nuclear families. Children who live in extended (two brothers’ families living in the same house) families also seem to have better vocabulary because of interaction with cousin siblings.  
  8. There is a big difference in the quality of private and government school early years learning provisions. The learning spaces of private schools are equipped with better resources and trained teaching staff. However, government provisions of nurseries lack in resources and quality of teaching. However, one stark resemblance was observed in Anganwadi centres and pre-schools of international boards – both focus on cognition rather than reading abilities. Children attending Anganwadis as well as international board pre-schools were not taught how to read until attainment of six years of age.  
  9. A large number of children attend state funded early years learning centres in Punjab, Pakistan and Anganwadi  centres in Gujarat, India. However, the conditions of these state funded provisions do not fully support the true purpose of conventional learning.  

Pilot study findings of remote assessment (due to lockdown) 

  1. It is possible to conduct a modified children’s assessment and household activity using smart phones and internet technology. However, in order to reach the most disadvantaged groups, additional measures are required such as extra technology equipment and enumerators’ availability in those areas.  
  2. Internet range is accessible to a large population in Gujarat, India and Punjab, Pakistan   
  3. Urban rural differences are clearly visible in the types of access to conventional learning opportunities. Children in rural background are better trained on life skills like swimming or climbing up / down a tree, where as children in urban areas exhibit better numeracy and reading skills.  
  4. Covid 19 crisis has stopped children to attend schools in both the countries. It is likely that schools will start in September and those who will attend will catch up the learning process quickly. However, we have observed that families with high income resources, parents having educational background and parents having awareness about importance of education have continued their efforts to home school their children. Disadvantaged families, who have to spend long hours working for a daily wage, do not have much resources and awareness to engage children in learning activities. So  this crisis would likely effect children to an extent that they will be equally the same as children not enrolled in schools.   

Funded by GCRF British Academy Reference ECE190026 
Collaborators: India, Pakistan 

More information 

Several outputs have been produced from this project in the form of peer reviewed journals and conference papers. 

  • Siddiqui, NadiaBulsariSmrutiGorard, StephenSee, Beng Huat, Dixon, Pauline, Pandya, Kiran, Saeed, Saba & Saeed, Sahar (2020). Pilot study report 2020 Assessing Early Years Schooling, Access and Student Outcomes (AESAS): Establishing routes for sustainable education in Pakistan and India 
  • Siddiqui, N. (2018) What do we know about children’s access to education in Pakistan, 2013-16? Understanding Society, Essex University   
  • Siddiqui, N. (2018) Segregation between state, private and no schooling (Pakistan), European Conference of Education Research (ECER), Bolzano