Optimizing education outcomes through public-private partnership

  • Punjab serves as a good example

By: Mishal-e-Noor

Four years into signing the Sustainable Development Agenda 2030 and almost a decade after introduction of Article 25-A into the Constitution of Pakistan, progress towards achieving universal access to quality education in Pakistan shows only marginal results. Participation rates continue to be low with around 23 million children of school-going age still out of school; and those enrolled, performing low on mathematics, science and languages. If the report by National Education Assessment System is anything to go by, students score below 50% on average in languages, mathematics and science at both grade-4 and grade-8. Gender disparity in access to education and other equity challenges are also stark in Pakistan.

Therefore, it is crucial to enhance and articulate the role of education foundations in the provincial education sector plans, education policies and other strategic documents till 2030 in general and for next 5 years in particular

This state of affairs exists despite the fact that education, for last several years, has witnessed highest allocation of budgetary resources by the federation and provinces combined – second only to defense budget in terms of its volume. For instance, 2018-19 saw the cumulative allocation of Rs980 billion for education. This shows an increase an of 222% compared with the allocated budget for education by the Federal and provincial governments in 2010-11. Unless there is a considerable change in government’s approach in educating our children by efficiently utilizing existing fiscal resources, in all probability we are very likely to miss out on achieving SDG-4, inclusive and equitable quality education for all children, by 2030.

Fortunately, the state can substantially optimize its approach and can achieve greater efficiency in delivering education by partnering with the private sector and leveraging its potential. In fact, the education foundations across all provinces have been playing a vital role in this regard. Punjab shows a great case study of this role by demonstrating how well public-private partnerships in education can be leveraged with greater efficiency for achieving various education objectives i.e. enhancing school enrollment and improving student learning achievement at lesser per child expenditure than mainstream public schools.

The Punjab Education Foundation (PEF), as one of the conduits for undertaking public private partnerships in education in Punjab, effectively partners with the private sector through its two major contracting arrangements: subsidies and vouchers. PEF initiated its first program in 2005, where it targeted selected private schools and started providing financial and technical assistance to improve quality of education being imparted to the students at these schools. PEF soon initiated its second program in suburban localities aimed at improving social justice and providing equitable educational opportunities to the marginalized strata. It then initiated another program specifically aimed at opening new schools in partnership with the private sector to expand access to education in areas that lacked educational facilities. Fast forward to 2019, PEF now supports the highest enrollment – around 2.6 million children – as compared to other education foundation in the country. The Foundation shoulders the burden of the State by educating these children through a network of around 7,700 partner schools across all 36 districts in the province.

However, all this improvement in access to education does not go without a strong emphasis on ensuring quality of education imparted through PEF partner schools. Apart from routine monitoring and feedback to partner schools, regular conduct of summative assessments and performance linked financing, two major factors have helped establish the merit of PEF as an effective conduit for pursuing 25-A and the SDG-4 2030 agenda in Punjab: 1) PEF has proved to be a cost effective alternative to the regular public schooling in the province. Average cost of educating a child in PEF schools per month is as low as Rs705, in comparison with the cost of Rs1,659 per student per month in public schools; 2) students enrolled in PEF schools outperform their counterparts enrolled in government schools. The official statistics show that PEF students have achieved an average score of 83% in six-monthly assessments as compared to the average score of 68% attained by students enrolled in public schools. In other words, PEF offers a more quality focused and cost effective vehicle in order to ensure increased access to education.

Despite the fact that the socio-economic context varies from province to province, the evolution of PEF as a response to the challenges of access, quality and equity remains relevant for other education foundations in other provinces. Increased dialogue and experience sharing across education foundations will go a long way in positioning these agencies to take on greater role in the pursuit of SDG-4 and 25-A. Taking PEF as a case-study, there is a need for provincial governments to leverage the potential of private sector through public-private partnership. Therefore, it is crucial to enhance and articulate the role of education foundations in the provincial education sector plans, education policies and other strategic documents till 2030 in general and for next 5 years in particular. Moreover, it is equally important that this is complemented with increased allocation of budgetary resources in upcoming years.

Mishal-e-Noor is a research fellow at the Institute of Social and Policy Sciences, Islamabad.