Pakistan is subsiding entrepreneurs and charities to set up low-cost private schools in an effort to make up a yawning gap in education. Around half the children in one of the provinces involved are not in school, and illiteracy rates are high. The project pays around $3 per child per month to organisations setting up new low-cost schools, and statistics from 2016 indicate that the program in Sindh province has enabled the creation of 150 primary schools with nearly 15,000 students and 346 teachers.
Results & Impact
150 primary schools have been established, catering to 14,868 students and 346 teachers. Around half the children in Sindh are not in school
Sindh Education Foundation, World Bank, independent education entrepreneurs in Sindh province
The Sindh Education Foundation is paying private entrepreneurs and organisations to set up and run schools, awarding subsidies of 500 Rs ($3) per child per month to institutions offering low cost education. In the face of a huge gap in infrastructure, knowledge, training and facilities in government education funding, advocates hope that it will compel the private sector to compete to provide better educational facilities, while keeping costs low for families
Sindh Province, Pakistan
Cost & Value
The governments pays subsidies of $3 per child per month
Running since 2007
The program is based on similar work in the Punjab, but an underdeveloped network of private schools in Sindh made it necessary to alter the structure of the project. Instead of increasing enrolment organisers initially focused on assessing the existing system and building new schools. Teachers have protested the changes, partly thanks to a fear that private schools are threatening government education systems
Schools in Pakistan’s Punjab and Sindh are using public money to fund private schools for poor families who would otherwise be unable to afford them.
The project encourages entrepreneurs and businesses to set up private schools by offering a monetary subsidy of around $3 for each child each month. Organisations presenting proposals to build and run schools apply using a publicly accessible tender process, and their schools must meet minimum criteria for quality and access to qualify for the subsidies.
The idea is to catalyse the development of schools, and to make places in low-cost private education accessible for everyone – although even the poorest students usually have to pay for uniforms and equipment, their places at school are free. In Pakistan, private education is not only the preserve of the very rich and poorer families often pay for low-cost private education, particularly where government education provision is not adequate.
In Sindh, where the newer iteration of the project is being carried out, public education is still extremely dysfunctional. A lack of trained teachers, equipment and even infrastructure like buildings and books mean that schools are often unavailable; or that education is of such poor quality that parents prefer to keep children at home. Studies have shown that children who go to private schools tend to out-perform their peers at government schools, and for a lower cost.
Under the project, which started in Sindh in 2007, at least 250 community-based schools are scheduled to be built with at least 500 trained teachers and 25,000 students educated to basic competency levels in literacy, numeracy and life skills through lessons well suited to the local community.
The most recent available statistics indicate that 150 primary schools have been established so far, with 14,868 students and 346 teachers.
“They have a lot of direction,” Jawad Asghar, who has worked extensively with private school subsidies programs with the Punjab Education Foundation, where they have been running subsidy programs since 1992, said. Although in Punjab the focus of the project is about increasing enrolment and quality, he explained, the approach in Sindh is about figuring how existing infrastructure functions then building up new schools. “The World Bank wanted Sindh to have something of the same sort as the Punjab Education Foundation, but knowing there are not a lot of low cost private schools of quality in Sindh they restructured the model.” Asghar said.
SEF states that the private schools are subject to rigorous examination and monitoring. Whether they receive the per child subsidy or not is dependent on meeting certain quality and achievement criteria, as well as the number of students enrolled at the school. Each classroom is required to provide each student with a minimum of 6 square feet of space, and the teacher to pupil ratio should be capped at 1:40. In each cohort 80% of students should progress to the next year, and teachers are offered additional training and support by SEF, as well as textbooks and equipment from Oxford University Press.
“In Punjab there is a lot of momentum and the conversation has moved from access to quality of education,” Asghar said. “But in Sindh the conversation is still about how to overcome the access problem. They’re focusing on what the system looks like, working on getting more qualified teachers into the system.”
Public schooling in Pakistan is in crisis. The rate of children completing grades one to five stands at around 67%, and in rural areas the situation is even more grim – 51% of children in Sindh province are out of school. That’s led to Pakistan falling seriously behind in reaching the education targets in the Millennium Development Goals: illiteracy nationwide is estimated at about 57%.
As well as thinking about new ways for funding education, the privatisation programs have looked at different ways of increasing equity in education. Further development in the SEF project zeroed in on the education of girls, prioritising recruitment of female teachers and running trials that offered higher subsidies for the enrolment of female students, encouraging schools to bring more girls to the classroom.
As well as encouraging entrepreneurs to set up new ones, the project in Sindh is inviting private individuals and organisations to “adopt a school“, bringing private money to support the government system as well as using public funds to support low-cost private schools for public benefit.
“It’s two pronged. They are basically regulating private entities that are willing to take up a government school, and as well as they are trying to regulate government money in trying to bring more children into private schools,” Asghar said.
The approach has not been without controversy. In Punjab, teachers have protested government strategy for private schools, in part out of fears that the new institutions are “poaching” their pupils. Parents, Asghar explained, tend to prefer low-cost private schools to government schools, despite the fact that teachers may have a higher level of education in the state system.
But advocates hope that the approach will yield results by allowing for greater autonomy in education — but with clear and tightly enforced expectations on standards. In Sindh advocates are hoping that the greater freedom will make for an education that’s not just more widely available, but that’s better for all too. “One of the reasons SEF went into this idea is they would have complete autonomy in terms of that school. They will have their own principle. They’ll have their own teachers, they’ll have complete autonomy about all the decisions of that school,” Asghar said. “These private entities they expect to have this level of control.”
(Photo: Dan Casperz/DFID)