NationalVOLUME 18 ISSUE # 35

The role and impact of private institutions in Pakistan

In Pakistan, the state’s failure to fulfill its responsibilities in the education sector has created an opportunity for non-state actors to step in and play a significant role. While Article 25-A of the Constitution mandates the provision of free and compulsory education, both the federal and provincial governments have struggled to meet this obligation. As a result, private educational institutions, including for-profit and non-profit schools, community-owned schools, and religious/faith-based schools, have emerged as key players in the country’s education landscape.

Similar to the healthcare and other sectors, Pakistan has also failed in fulfilling its responsibilities in the field of education. Article 25-A of the Constitution of Pakistan states that the state should provide free and compulsory education. The definition of the state, as outlined in Article 7 of the Constitution, includes the Federal Government, Provincial Governments, Provincial Assemblies, and other authorities empowered to impose taxes or levies.

Unfortunately, both the federal and provincial governments have not fulfilled their responsibility of providing free and compulsory education to all children between the ages of five and sixteen, as determined by law. Consequently, non-state actors, such as for-profit schools, non-profit schools operated by NGOs or foundations, publicly-funded schools managed by private boards, community-owned schools, and religious/faith-based schools, have filled this void.

In November 2022, the Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA) presented a research report commissioned by the Global Education Monitoring Report. The report focused on the role and presence of private educational institutions in Pakistan, as part of the “Regional Report on non-state actors in education in South Asia.”

The report highlights that private schools, which represent 38% of educational institutions and 44% of enrolments in Pakistan, have expanded their role beyond formal education. Private educational institutions have become vital and innovative pillars of the country’s education sector. The prevalence of private schools is higher in urbanized provinces like Punjab and Sindh compared to less urbanized areas like Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) play a significant role in supporting the state in imparting education to its citizens. Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) institutions, which provide specialized technical and vocational education, consist of both public (30%) and private (70%) sectors in Pakistan, according to the Pakistan Education Statistics 2017-18. The non-state sector caters to the majority (56%) of the 0.315 million enrolled students in TVET.

Non-formal basic education (NFBE) schools offer early education, and students graduating from these schools can usually transfer to formal education at a certain grade level. Approximately 1.24 million students are enrolled in NFBE institutions, which employ 30,653 teachers.

Deeni Madaris, privately funded Islamic religious institutes, are also part of the non-state education providers. With 31,115 Deeni Madaris operating in Pakistan, it is challenging to determine their exact number due to the lack of registration mechanisms. Madrasas account for less than 1% of all enrollments in Pakistan, with 2.362 million male students (58%) and 1.737 million female students (42%).

The report also compares the provision of education and facilities between public and private educational institutions. Data collected from both sectors reveals that the non-state sector generally performs better in providing basic facilities at their institutes. In terms of reading skills in the local language, such as Urdu or Pashto/Sindhi, both government and non-state schools show similar high levels of proficiency. However, the non-state sector demonstrates greater proficiency in reading English. Additionally, the non-state sector has a larger proportion of students capable of conducting division operations, indicating better arithmetic skills.

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

The report acknowledges that government school teachers have better qualifications compared to their non-state sector counterparts. Over the past decades, the market share of non-state educational institutions has grown rapidly. Private schooling has tripled within a decade, expanding its market share from elite and urban regions to low and low-middle class and rural settings. According to the Pakistan Education Statistics 2017-18, the non-state sector operates 38% of schools, 40% of universities, 56% of TVET institutes, 27% of teacher training institutes, and 10% of degree colleges.

Non-state education providers are often preferred by individuals across the country, regardless of whether they reside in rural or urban areas. Private institutes tend to be more result-oriented, have stronger management teams, and offer more locally relevant approaches compared to state-run institutions.

The report acknowledges the state’s efforts to regulate the non-state sector, primarily through registration requirements. However, in practice, regulation mainly occurs during registration and renewal processes, making it difficult to implement stricter regulations due to the sector’s size and the provinces’ capacities.

Corruption is a significant concern, as officials responsible for regulating education institutes can be bribed for favorable outcomes during their visits. Tension between regulators and non-state institutes further exacerbates the challenges faced by private schools.

The rise of non-state actors in Pakistan’s education sector, particularly private educational institutions, has brought about both challenges and opportunities. While the state has struggled to provide free and compulsory education as mandated by the Constitution, private schools have filled this void and expanded their role beyond formal education. They have demonstrated innovation, flexibility, and a results-oriented approach that appeals to many individuals across the country, regardless of their urban or rural location. However, the regulation of these non-state institutions remains a complex task, and efforts to ensure quality education and address issues such as corruption and tension between regulators and private schools are ongoing. Moving forward, a balanced and collaborative approach between the state and non-state actors is essential to ensure inclusive and quality education for all children in Pakistan.