Public-Private Partnership Schools: A Better Option for Quality Education for All in Pakistan?

By Ravish Amjad, Annual Status of Education Report, Pakistan.

pakistanThe two major problems faced by Pakistan’s education sector remain the huge number of out of school children and the poor quality of education provision to the children who are actually attending school. According to the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2013, a massive 21% of school-age children (6 to 16 years of age) either dropped out of school or have never been enrolled in the first place. Meanwhile, for those children who are actually attending school, ASER 2013 shows that only half of the Grade 5 students are able to read the Grade 2 level Urdu language text. Similarly 57% of Grade 5 students are unable to solve Grade 2 level arithmetic sums or read the Grade 5 English language text. The report finds that results are better for private sector students as compared to the government school students in the same assessment tests.

In recent years, there have been numerous approaches through which the government in Pakistan has tried to undertake education sector reform in pursuit of quality education for all. These reforms not only include direct intervention by the government, but also include making space for alternative (non-state) service providers. An increased role for the private sector in education provision is just one aspect of the government’s readiness to open its doors to privatization. The emergence of public-private partnership (PPP) schools has helped to increase access to quality education, especially in rural areas. It is widely believed that students from these foundation-assisted PPP schools academically outperform their counterparts in government schools, and perform as well as private school students. The empirical study that was conducted using the ASER data and presented in the UKFIET Conference in September 2013 also proved the same (Amjad, 2013). This means that by multiplying the number of PPP type of schools, the access and quality problems in the country could potentially be combated.

The composition of PPP schools

The PPP schools, as the name reflects, are a mixture of both public and private sector schools. They are also categorized as private schools in some cases, because the management and ownership does not come under the public sector but with private entrepreneurs. These entrepreneurs are mostly either NGOs or philanthropists interested in improving access or quality of education. The difference between a simple private school and a PPP school is the fee paying entity in each of the two types of schools. In a simple private school, the fee is paid by the students’ parents or guardian, however in the case of PPP schools even though there is a fee paid per student, the entity paying the fees is the government. The students are provided with vouchers to pay the fees, or the fees are paid directly to the schools on behalf of the students, most commonly by an educational foundation provided with recurrent funding through government. This system of partnership enables the government to retain a degree of influence on this system of education, while at the same time it helps compete with the quality of the private schools. The per student cost is also lower as compared to the government schools. The best-known schemes in Pakistan are those run by the Balochistan, Punjab and Sindh Education Foundations.

Reasons for the difference in attainment levels of public-PPP schools students

The student attainment levels are seen to be better for the PPP schools as compared to the public sector schools in the study. The factors behind the difference in attainment levels between the two types of schools can be categorized in two; school and non-school factors.

The school factors include the better facilities available in the PPP schools as compared to the public sector schools. These include a lower incidence of multi-grade teaching and higher incidence of available toilets, drinking water, libraries, blackboards, supplementary materials in class, among other things. Moreover, the PPP schools preferred to hire more teachers with specialized teaching qualifications, unlike the government schools where the ratio of teachers with higher educational qualification was more than the teachers with higher professional teaching qualifications.

The non-school factors resulting in the attainment difference may be manifold. I will mention only two of them here for now. A larger proportion of students from the PPP schools attend private supplementary tuition (15%) as compared to the government school students (9%). If this figure does not sound very convincing then the difference in the average tuition fee being paid across the two types of school will definitely sound substantial. PPP school students were paying Rs. 319 per month (even more than the private schools students Rs. 308/month) as compared to the government school students who were paying on average Rs. 258/month (around 25% more!).

Is it the case that the family savings on fees for PPP school students was being applied to private supplementary tuition here?

Furthermore, it was also found in the analysis that a majority students in the government schools belonged to poorer families, while in the case of PPP schools, students from poorer backgrounds were a minority. Are there any additional hidden costs here that the parents are not sending their children to the PPP schools? For example, there might be costs such as uniform, transportation, stationary etc. which the government subsidy was not catering for.

Therefore, to conclude, I will say that just by looking at the difference in attainment across different types of schools, the picture may look very clear and tidy. Empirical studies show that private school students perform better than public school students (Amjad, 2011); the public school students perform better than the madrassah school students (Amjad, 2013). However once we start digging into the factors causing the difference; the picture starts to become hazy.

Ravish Amjad, Research and Policy Analyst, Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), Pakistan. Email:

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