In countries like Pakistan, Covid-19 has brought some unexpected challenges to the education sector. These countries now have a large number of students at risk of falling behind. However, Pakistan’s education dilemma has a long history. Ten years after constitutional amendments guaranteed the right to education, Pakistan is suspicious of the second highest number of out-of-school children in the world.
According to UNICEF, 22 million of Pakistan’s 77 million children are out of school. Although enrollment and retention rates have been slowly increasing, providing high-quality basic education for everyone is still an unattainable goal.
Pakistan has a clear education gap in terms of gender, socio-economic status and geographic location. People are euphemistic about the private sector’s potential in achieving educational goals, including improving access and improving the quality of education. However, the private sector cannot achieve the goal of ensuring universal education.
The UNDP Human Development Report 2019 specifically warns against relying on private schools (fee schools) to ensure basic education. The report draws on empirical evidence and shows how dependence on private schools can make the poorest people fall further behind, partly because of unequal access to school opportunities and reduced responsibility for quality, which often disproportionately affects poor students, especially girls hurt.
However, in the past few decades, the number of private schools in countries like Pakistan has greatly increased. More than one third of Pakistani students are currently enrolled in private schools. Entities such as the World Bank also encourage the development of private schools. The World Bank even urges the government to establish entities such as Punjab and Sindh Education Foundation, whose duty is to support private-sector efforts to provide education to the poor through public-private partnerships.
However, another way to describe the responsibilities of these entities is that they are designed to transfer very little public funding from government schools to low-income private schools. If low-income private schools are more efficient, they should probably be able to provide quality education based on the principles of efficiency and competition in the market, without government support.
Students in private schools can usually outperform students in public schools, but the level of learning in public schools and low-income private schools is shockingly low. The salary of teachers in most low-income private schools is only a small part of government schools. This explains why many parents move their children from private low-income schools to public schools when entering school, even when poverty is not a factor, because people believe that higher public schools provide better education.
Moreover, it is unfair to measure the efficiency of private and public schools based on performance alone. Unlike public schools, private schools conduct entrance exams and screen out students who are unlikely to do well, while public schools must admit almost all students who apply.
The judicial system and the provincial government have recently tried to regulate private schools. However, these attempts do not seem to be applied in a broad, systematic or meaningful way.
There is no public way to provide public quality education to achieve the noble goal of building the human capital of our growing youth population. There are many problems in public schools, including bureaucratic inefficiency, political interference, overcrowded classrooms, and insufficient school facilities. Due to more and more neoliberal development models, people no longer rely on public education to solve these problems, but increasingly rely on low-income private schools. Now is the time for international development agencies to renew their efforts to strengthen public education to help improve teacher training and support inclusiveness, especially for girls and students with disabilities.
Recognizing the urgent need for public education does not mean that private schools should be nationalized. Instead, public spending on public schools needs to be increased. At the same time, public education should avoid political interference, and should take more responsibility for public education through careful performance-based incentive measures.
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Last Updated on 10/13/2020