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Comparison of public-private education in Pakistan

Education plays a pivotal role in the rise and fall of the nations especially in the 21st century importance of education influence much to meet the fast growing challenges. It is mainly due to the emergence of global competition in education and technology. This competitive environment is the core need for progress of any country. All countries including Pakistan have different school systems but when we divide them we find two major categories of school systems: private and public schools. In Pakistan, private schools are getting mass acceptance today to ensure sustained progress of the country.

During 1990s and 2000s, private sector emerged as a key provider of education services in Pakistan both in absolute terms and relative to the public sector. Private educational institutions are playing key role not only in eradicating illiteracy but also enhancing the level of students as well as teachers by providing better academic environment. Private sector contributed significantly in eradicating illiteracy in the emerging economies. If private schools are properly managed they can uplift educational standard in Pakistan as well.

The educational landscape of Pakistan has gone through numerous transformations in the past two decades. Enrollment levels and gender parity index have been on the rise. The changes in the education sector that have been taking place in Pakistan have created an environment with numerous opportunities as well as challenges in terms of policy development. Even though the enrollment in government schools is much bigger than any other sector, the declining trend in favor of non –state providers is significant.

Education, especially primary education is mostly considered a public service which should be provided to the citizens without discrimination, irrespective of affordability and mainly as the government’s responsibility. This ideology was behind the nationalization of all education institutions in 1972, which severely interrupted the role of the robust private sector particularly at the post elementary level. However, like other services provided by the government, education provision has been severely constrained by governance, quality and effectiveness.

After the end of nationalization in 1979, Pakistan has witnessed an exponential increase in the role of private sector service providers. The negative experiences of government schools have instigated parents to shift children from government to private schools. Private schools no longer remain an urban or elite phenomenon, but rather poor households also use these facilities to a large extent, due to their better locations, reasonable fees, teachers’ presence and better-quality learning, especially in the fields of mathematics and language. Even though private schools started off as an urban phenomenon, more recently they have mushroomed in rural areas as well.

Several characteristics are responsible for making private schooling more attractive to parents compared to government schools; these include better test scores, better physical infrastructure, and lower rates of teacher absenteeism. Some of the other factors are:

1- Income of parents
2- Teacher quality factors influencing school choice:

(i) Parents’ knowledge of the teacher’s educational qualifications
(ii) Parents’ opinion of the teacher’s regularity
(iii) Parents’ rating of the teacher’s teaching skills

3- Facilities in School
4- Child safety
5- Quality of education
6- School Fee
7- Medium of Instruction
8- Better results

Even if we disregard the debate of whether the learning levels are better in private or government schools, the fact remains that the learning levels for both types of institutes remain poor in an absolute sense. The private schools advantage over the public schools is marginal up if we look at the problems of education in the country holistically speaking. Therefore, the policy developers should cater to supporting and improving both the sectors and not either of the two.

The outcomes of private versus public schools’ debate may be a popular discourse, however, at a policy level it is essential to understand that the current education emergency in Pakistan cannot be confronted with just a single player in the education sector. Multiple players, other than the government alone are required in the process to combat the problems. The government needs private sector’s help to contest the challenges. Various other challenges including the flood, security issues and dislocations of citizens due to the regional conflicts in the country also pose major concerns that the households and state need to plan around in the future. The need of the hour is a collective action by all the stakeholders, including the households, government, private sector and the civil society.

It can be a better option if the government uses its resources not on increasing the number of schools but rather on the quality of existing schools. Increasing access to education for children by increasing the number of schools should be a policy left for the private sector and the government itself should concentrate on improving the quality of physical facilities and teachers in the existing schools. By doing this, the benchmark for the private schools will also increase, thus increasing both access to, and quality of education.

The writer is a Karachi based freelance columnist and is a banker by profession. He could be reached on Twitter @ReluctantAhsan

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