Apr 21 - 27, 2008

LAHORE: World Bank released a report on ""Learning and Educational Achievements in Punjab Schools"" at a special function held at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) Lahore. The report is a joint effort of the World Bank and researchers from the Harvard University and the Pomona College at the Lahore University of Management Sciences.

The LEAPS report released by the World Bank calls for a reevaluation of education policies in the context of a dramatic increase in private schools for primary education in Pakistan. The report presents facts and findings from a survey of all public and private primary schools in 112 villages in Pakistan's Punjab province, and lays out important policy options based on detailed data to facilitate evidence-based policymaking.

National Commission on Government Reforms Chairman and former State Bank governor Dr Ishrat Hussain was the chief guest at the launching of the report.

Addressing on the occasion, Ishrat said there should be decenteralisation of powers at the grass root level and the commission proposes the establishment of district education boards to be headed by a nominee of Zila Nazim selected through a process of search committee. There should be a separation of teaching and management cadres. He stressed the need for empowerment of educational managers, giving administrative powers to head teachers and principals.

Ishrat said that according to the reform suggestions there should be increase in the female enrolment ratio in the rural and backward areas in the country and female teachers should be given preference in employment at primary school level. There should be school management committees and parent-teacher associations. "According to the suggestions the other provincial governments should adopt the same steps adopted by the Punjab government for infrastructure development," he added.

He appreciated the private sector for playing an important role in providing education at all levels of education. He appreciated programmes by the Punjab Education Foundation to fund private schools, catering to less affluent households by providing such institutions RS 300 per child per month and it is linked with the performance of child in monthly tests.

The Learning and Educational Achievement in Punjab Schools report, the result of collaboration between the World Bank and researchers from the Harvard University and the Pomona College, says profit seeking private schools have made a widespread presence in both urban and rural areas, providing parents another option for investing in their children's education. Between 2000 and 2005, the number of private schools increased from 32,000 to 47,000, and by the end of 2005, one-third of enrolled children at the primary level was studying in a private school.

"This survey provides critical information on every aspect of the educational marketplace, including performance of all types of schools in Punjab," said Dr Tara Vishwanath representative of Yusupha Crookes, World Bank Country Director for Pakistan. "It documents the dramatic changes in the educational landscape that has taken place in Pakistan in recent years. This report provides an excellent starting point for guiding educational policies which need to take into account the relative strengths and weaknesses of private and government schooling."

The report says a large fraction of rural Pakistani households no longer lives in a village with one or two government schools. Half the population of rural Punjab lives in villages where parents can choose from 7 or 8 schools.

"Public schools, despite being staffed with better-educated and better-paid teachers, are now competing for the same segment of students, even in rural areas," said Tahir Andrabi, Associate Professor Pomona College and an author of the report. "Some 18 percent of the poor people send their children to private schools in villages where they live. This is partly because private schools are cheap - one month's fee in a private school is roughly the equivalent of one day's wage for an unskilled labourer. This emerging reality is an opportunity and a challenge for educational policy."

While overall enrollments increased by 10 percent between 2001 and 2005, the report says quality of education is lagging and children perform significantly below curricular standards for common subjects and concepts at their grade-level. Children in private schools score significantly higher than those in government schools, even when they are from the same village. In fact, it will take children in government schools 1.5 - 2.5 years of additional schooling to catch up to where private school children are in Class 3. Better learning results in private schools do not arise from higher costs - it costs half as much to educate a child in a private school (Rs 1000 per year) compared to a government school (Rs 2000 per year).

"Nevertheless, private schooling alone cannot be the solution," said Tara Vishwanath, World Bank Lead Economist and an author of the report. "Access to private schools is not universal. Private schools choose to locate in richer villages and richer settlements within villages, limiting access for poor households. In contrast, a laudable feature of the government school system is that it ensures equal geographical access to schools for all. The policy imperative is how we ensure inclusion and quality education for all children in Pakistan."

The report advances a modified role of the government for discussion and debate. This modified role of the government would focus on policies complementary to, rather than in competition with, the private sector. One strand of this modified role would be for the government to provide information. The report suggests, for instance, that information on the quality of every school - public or private - would enable households to make informed decisions and increase beneficial competition between schools.

The suggestion is based, in part, on the results of an ongoing Randomized Control Treatment Experiment.

Former finance minister Sartaj Aziz said education should be given a priority and it is the right time for given proposals about the education sector because the new government has just sworn in and they will add good points in their education policy. He also said enrollment is a big issue and for providing good education teachers training. "We need to increase the amount for education in the budget and there is also a need to improve the infrastructure," he added.

Lahore University of Management Sciences Pro Vice-Chancellor Syed Babar Ali said, "We welcome research in every field but education is our priority because without giving priority universal education could not be achieved."