Over the course of the last two decades, the role of the private sector in the field of education has become very pivotal, especially in countries like Pakistan where the state is reluctant to spend more budget on higher education and even on the education of children. But it has its challenges as well, because the private sector tends to focus more on profit making and as a result can become a tool to just serve the elite of the country, neglecting the people from low economic and social background. Like it happened in the US, where only 4% of low-income families send their children to private schools compared to 19% of rich kids, and of parents with less high school education, only 3 percent send their children to private schools whereas, the percentage increases to 19 percent when we talk about parents who have high school or professional degrees and this trend is not unique to only US.
But in South Asia, we see a slightly different pattern, where we see a high share of private enrollment in primary schools. Countries such as Zimbabwe in Sub-Saharan Africa as well as Lebanon and the gulf-states in the Middle East also stand out, with both high private school enrollment and a larger private sector share at the primary level.
As per the Millennium Development Goals (2000) of the United Nations, the countries vowed to ensure that all children would complete primary education by 2015 and eliminate the gender disparities in primary and secondary education by 2005. But we can clearly see that even in 2022, Pakistan is struggling and severely off-track in achieving the MDG’s and even then, the discourse around the role of private schools is widely politicized because of their high-fees and their unviability in rural areas.
But a report published by the World Bank presents a different picture of the events. According to the World Bank report, there was a phenomenal rise in the share of the private sector in educational provision during the 1990’s and a large number of students from rural areas and poor families got enrolled in private schools. It proves that private schools can solve the problem of illiteracy in rural areas in an efficient way and also can use the local labor market to reduce the cost. In 2000, the number of children enrolled in primary private schools was 35%, and this number fell by a third for middle and high schools to 25%. The impact of Private schools at the primary level is huge and is only increasing.
Quality and Diversity
A diverse country like Pakistan, a home to people ranging from different cultures and ethnicities, it only makes sense that the private sector cannot and should not be defined in some simplistic terms, rather it has its own diversity and variations. We see private schools in remote areas of South Punjab that are operating in a different fashion as compared to the elite schools of the mainstream Punjab and the quality of education varies from place to place too. But overall, the quality of education in the private sector in one main reason behind its rapid growth in Pakistan especially in the mainland, where the public school lacks basic infrastructure and tools, the private sector not only fills that void but also, with the increasing number of private schools and colleges, the competition is now on another level and no private instituted can take a risk on the quality of education as it will lead them to economic loss.
But some might argue that the quality of education is only good in the schools that are of high-cost and only serving people from strong economic backgrounds, and also, often the point of comparison is the public sector, hence we overlook the shortcomings of private schools. Having said that, we can always increase the quality of education in the private sector by gathering more data and information and by increasing the competition among different private entities and also by making parents and students more aware about the private market and how they can maximize their learning experiences without spending a huge chunk of their money on education.
Public Private Partnership
Another step that we can take to meet our MDG’s is to bridge the gaps between Public and Private sector in order to maximize the potential of our youth in education and skill development and the idea of public-private partnership (PPPs) goes back to 1854, the Wood’s dispatch, which laid the foundations of modern education system in India before the partition. After independence, the government of Pakistan consistently called for and supported the development of private sector education through a laissez faire policy toward private schools including generous tax exemptions. State’s disposition toward the private sector was only interrupted during the 1970s in a bid to nationalize private schools. The major breakthrough in the support to the private sector was made during the early 1990s with the formation of national and provincial level education foundations. The foundations support the private education sector through the PPPs. Over the course of 75 years, there were several modalities proposed and adapted by different regimes of different times to strengthen the public-private partnership, the most common modality was public financing-private provisions. An example of unsuccessful PPP is a contract between Pakistan Railways and the Beaconhouse School System (a for-profit private education provider) to manage 19 schools of Pakistan Railways for 33years. This partnership, however, was unsuccessful and was terminated only after three years of contract.
What’s the Way Forward? Policy Recommendations
It’s an undeniable fact that the private sector all across the world has made a huge contribution in the field of education and Pakistan’s private sector has the potential to enhance the efficiency in education and to help Pakistan in achieving its MDGs. For that, the Govt has to take some necessary steps to ensure the working partnership between public and private sector.
They should facilitate more private groups to enter the market by proactively taking measures to put more responsibility on diverse private sector groups and by making them accountable towards citizens and the state institutions. When citizens will be provided with a greater number of choices, it will be easier for them to choose and Greater competition can have favourable effects on students in both public and private schools. Higher private school competitiveness has been shown to raise the quality of public schools as measured by educational attainment, wages, and high school graduation rates of public-school students.
The core components to ensure a workable PPPs model are, efficiency, accountability and quality, and the assessment of both teachers and students is of the utmost importance. At the primary level, most private schools have effectively used less educated and low paid teachers, though this can work in primary schools but not in middle schools and especially not in higher education. Hence a proper mechanism is required that should be under the constraint of the state, to ensure the training and development of teachers, both middle school and high school. More funds should be allocated to upgrade the primary schools to middle and high schools and to make them more cost-effective.
In case of higher education, there is a need to strengthen the PPPs and to ensure that more people from rural areas get enrolled in the universities and for that, Private sector must be given funds, to give scholarships to students who come from the peripheries but also to equip them with more AI and digital tools to normalize the distant learning. With that, not only we as a country would be able to meet our MDGs but also, we will have a more digitally equipped and talented youth that will play their part in the country’s economic progress.
The writer, Muhammad Saad, is an M.Phil scholor of Political Science at GCU Lahore.