NationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 52

Private schools fill the space, as the state fails

Like in the health and other sectors, the state of Pakistan has failed to fulfil its responsibilities in the education field also. Article 25-A says: the state shall provide free and compulsory education. What constitutes the “state” or what falls within the definition of the state can be traced from Article 7 of the Constitution of Pakistan 1973 which says:

“In this part, unless the context otherwise requires the state means the Federal Government (Majlis-e-shoora (Parliament), a Provincial Government, a Provincial Assembly and such local or other authorities in Pakistan as are by law empowered to impose any tax or cess.”

This means that the term “state” in Article 25-A includes not only provincial and local authorities but also the Parliament. However, it is a pity that federal as well as provincial and district governments have failed to fulfil their responsibility of providing “free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to sixteen years in such manner as may be determined by law”.

Thus the space left open by the state is occupied by non-state actors including for-profit schools that operate as enterprises, non-profit schools run by NGOs or foundations, publicly-funded schools operated by private boards, community-owned schools, and religious/faith-based schools.

In the second week of November 2022, the Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA) presented a research report on the role and share of private educational institutions in Pakistan. It was commissioned by the Global Education Monitoring Report as background research for the development of the 2022 GEM Report, under the heading of “Regional Report on non-state actors in education in South Asia”.

The report says that over the years, the role of private schools has gone broader, and their contribution is now recognised as far more than providing formal education. Private educational institutions have become one of the most critical and innovative pillars of the country’s education sector. An overview of various categories is as follows:

Private schools are the schools that are privately provided and privately financed. Such schools represent 38% of educational institutions and 44% of enrolments in the country. The urbanised provinces of Punjab and Sindh have higher prevalence of private schools compared to lesser urbanised areas like Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) play a key role in a country’s education space by supporting the state to impart education to its constituents. Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) is a specialised form of education that delivers technical education and vocational training to support students in learning trade skills and joining the workforce. According to the Pakistan Education Statistics 2017-18, there are 3,798 technical and vocational education and institutions (TVET) across the country, of which 1,139 (30%) are public sector and 2,659 (70%) are private sector. Of the 0.315 million enrolled students, 0.177 million (56%) are enrolled in TVET being provided by the non-state sector.

Non-formal basic education (NFBE) schools provide early school education and students graduating from these schools are usually eligible to transfer to formal education at a certain grade. There are about 1.24 million students enrolled in NFBE institutions with 30,653 teachers.

Deeni Madaris are Islamic religious institutes that are privately provided and privately financed, and are largely considered as less structured than traditional schools. There are 31,115 Deeni Madaris working in Pakistan. However, the exact number of such education providers is difficult to measure due to a lack of registration mechanisms. Overall, madrasas account for less than 1% of all enrolment in Pakistan. The total male enrolment in Deeni Madaris is 2.362 million (58%), whereas the female enrolment is 1.737 million (42%).

The report also compares the provision of education and facilities in public and private educational institutions. The data collected from public and private schools shows that the non-state sector fares better than the government sector in the provision of basic facilities at their educational institutes.

As far as reading skills in the local language is concerned, the highest level of reading in the local language, such as Urdu or Pashto/Sindhi is quite similar across both government and non-state schools. However, the non-state sector has a higher proficiency of reading in English overall.

As far as arithmetic skills are concerned, the non-state sector has a much larger proportion of students being able to successfully conduct division operations.

Another issue, multigrade teaching is widespread, with one out of five children in non-state schools, and one out of two children in government schools experiencing multigrade teaching at Class 2 level.

Government schoolteachers were found better qualified than their non-state sector counterparts. Also, non-state institutions were more successful at following COVID-19 SOPs than their government counterparts.

The report says that the market share of non-state educational institutions increased at a fast pace during the past decades. Within 10 years, private schooling increased three-folds, and its market share evolved from elite and urban regions to low and low-middle class and rural settings as well. Overall, 38% of schools, 40% of universities, 56% of TVET institutes, 27% of teacher training institutes and 10% of degree colleges are run by the non-state sector, according to the Pakistan Education Statistics, 2017-18.

Non-state education providers often compete with public institutes in their vicinity and are a preferred choice for many across the country, rural or urban. This is due to various reasons including, private institutes are far more results-oriented than public institutes. They generally have stronger management teams than state institutions, and non-state institutions have flexibility in their approach and thus can be more locally relevant than their state-run homogeneous counterparts.

According to the report, the state is trying to regulate the non-state sector, but this regulation is largely tied to registration requirements. The government does have some capacity to regulate, however in practice, regulation largely happens at the time of registration and renewal of registrations, given the scale of the sector and the size of the province making more-stringent regulations trickier.

The report says there is also a lot of space for corruption, as regulation ultimately boils down to visits of education institutes by designated officials, who are reported to be able to be bribed for favourable outcomes. Further, tension between regulators and non-state institutes also causes large bottlenecks for the operation of private schools.