Public and private education in Pakistan
June 2008: Recently a spate of publications on primary level education sector in
Pakistan have highlighted the facts that a) percentage of children going to
private schools in Pakistan has risen rapidly to about 1/3rd of total by now, b)
private schools are not just in urban areas but in rural as well, and c) private
schools are not just for the rich and even the poor can afford fees of Rs 50-100
per month. These publications have also argued that a) quality of education, on
average, is better in private schools than public (gauged through testing) even
when one controls for income and such factors, and b) cost of provision of this
education, per child, is lower than in the public sector.
Given the above,
some of the researchers have concluded that since private sector can reach (some
of) the poor, can do a better job of providing quality education, and at cheaper
rates (more efficiently), the case for rethinking the role of public sector in
primary and secondary education becomes stronger.
At the same time, none of
these publications go far enough to make the case for private provision of
education only. They acknowledge that though quality of private education is
better than public, it is not good on any absolute scale. They also acknowledge
that a) private education, being mostly provided on for-profit basis, charges
fees that though low still act as a barrier to access for the poor, and b)
private schools tend to locate in richer and more densely populated areas. So, a
number of these researchers have suggested that a) private education should be
encouraged and in places where we have a number of private schools government
should facilitate access by the poor through instruments like vouchers, b)
public education should be seen as a compliment to private education, and c)
public schools should try to serve locations and people who cannot or do not
have access to private education.
But there are problems with this view of
education and educational provision. Education, at primary and secondary level,
according to our constitution (and this holds for a number of other
constitutions as well) is considered to be a "right" of people. That is, we, the
government and the society, owe an obligation to the children of Pakistan: they
have a right to demand access to reasonable quality educational facilities for
themselves, irrespective of their income, geographical location and other
caveats. It is true that the constitution does not recognise the right to
education as a fundamental right, and so far the courts have not taken the right
to education as justiciable (though Indian courts did it a while back and then
the government moved a constitutional amendment to recognise the right to
education as a basic right) but it is recognised as a right nonetheless. In
fact, given the evidence on the importance of education for functional reasons
(i.e. given the connections between education and poverty reduction as well as
national growth) it is hard how one can see the right to Life, accepted as a
basic right in all constitutions, without a right to basic education. But
leaving this debate aside, given that education is a right, the responsibility
of the government cannot be seen as just a compliment to the private sector. It
is the government that is primarily responsible for ensuring that all children
get access to reasonable educational facilities.
The story gets a lot more
complicated when we allow for the fact that a) millions of children are out of
schools currently, b) millions more drop out before they get any education, c)
millions are going to poor quality educational institutions, d) poverty and
access are linked negatively, e) poverty and dropouts are linked positively, f)
development of an area and access are also linked negatively. And we know that
Pakistan does not have any credible social protection nets, safety nets, ways of
identifying the poor, ways of monitoring the poor or targeting subsidies to the
poor. So how can we ensure that the private sector, suitably complimented by the
public, can be made to provide quality education to all children across the
We have to grant that most of the public sector education system,
and across the country, is currently dysfunctional and of very poor quality: it
is underfunded, mismanaged, has poor standards, does not have proper monitoring
and evaluation systems, does not have proper human resource systems, the
teachers working the system have low morale, provision of infrastructure is
patchy and on average poor, provision of software (books, furniture and so on)
is also poor and there is a general lack of direction and motivation in the
education departments at all levels. It is no wonder that any comparison with
the private schools shows that private schools are better, and that, given the
choice and resources, people choose to send their children to private schools.
But, given the responsibility of the state with regard to education, and the
scale of the issue we are talking about, are the conclusions about the role of
private-public given above the only ones or the right ones to draw?
one alternative. Given that private for-profit as well as non-governmental
sector (NGOs) can deliver quality education, given that the public sector is
able to deliver reasonable quality education across the world (from Canada and
US to Sri Lanka and China), why can the Pakistani government not fix the public
education system? Clearly there are no impossibility issues at play here. Why
should we not draw the conclusion, from the research quoted, that the imperative
to improve the quality of public education has become even more urgent and
pressing now, given the evidence that it can be done, and at lower cost, and in
some of the same areas where public sector is failing. The scale at which we
need to provide education, the importance of regulating its content as well as
quality, the importance of ensuring that each child has a "fair" and "equitable"
chance of getting education, all of the above imply that we cannot let the
matter be managed by the private sector, while the public sector complements
services. It has to be the other way around. The public sector education system
has to set the minimum standards, it has to monitor and enforce these standards,
and it has to ensure that every child has a certainty of receiving education of
that minimum standard at least. If private sector wants to complement the
services provided and can offer alternatives by raising the bar for the public
sector that is wonderful. Those who can afford to and/or are willing to pay for
it can choose the private over the public then.
In the 1980s and 1990s
people used to argue that the poor performance of the public sector, in certain
areas, was justification enough for privatisation. But the experience of the
last couple of decades has shown us that this is a poor way of selecting which
areas to privatise. Areas where there are large public good elements and/or
significant non-competitive forces, privatisation with and/or without regulation
and restraint, can be quite disastrous. Education is a very special area: due to
its functional as well as rights-based importance. If commercial areas were a
problem, blind and unthinking support of private education, at the cost of
making the public system better, can and will be even more disastrous.
Private education is surely here to stay, and it should be allowed to
flourish and expand. But private education should not be seen as a panacea for
the education sector problems that we face. Private education is not the
solution for our national education problems and the fact that private education
is "better" than the current public sector education should not be taken as a
reason for jettisoning public sector, rather it should be seen as a challenge
for the public sector: we have to get the public sector in order. Rather than
lessen the pressure on government, the way I read it, the quoted research gives
us even more reason to increase the pressure on government to improve the
quality and extent of provision of public education. If we are to address the
problems of the education system in Pakistan, there seems to be a need for
advocacy for creating a movement for demanding quality from the public sector
By DR FAISAL BARI
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org (The Nation)
"hi mr.faisal hru. i read your artical.but i want to know that how much importance this issue have in our country.if any student want to do research work on it so what would be the benifit of this issue.and can u suggest me any good topic 4 research that much have importance and applicable after the work.thank u"
City, Country: Lhr, Pakistan
"how r u.i red ur artical its vry gud. im student of mass comm.i have to make a doumentry and i hve decided to work on "diffrent education stander in pakistan"i need ur help.can u. "
City, Country: rawalpindi, Pakistan
"hi mr.faisal. i read your artical.but i want to read some article on the topic of my thesis opinion of youth regarding private and public education.if any student want to do research work on it so what would be the benifit of this issue.and can u suggest me any good alternate of my topic and plz send me related articles.i will be very thankful to you"
City, Country: lahore,pakistan
"Dr. Faisal your article touches upon very fundmental questions indeed. Would be so kind to provide some data as to what proportion of public as compare to private goes to professional Schools like NED, Jamia Karachi..etc. In my personal view, we would like to see some graphs and stats. Govt and its afiliates should be presenting the latest data or else they are simply not doing their job."
City, Country:Karachi, Pakistan
"aslamoalaikum mr.faisal i read your article and it gives me alot of information because i am the student of msc.psychology and make a research on LEVEL OF DEPRESSION AMOUNG THE PEOPLE WORKING IN PUBLIC AND PRIVATE SECTOR IN PAKISTAN if you please tell me the total number of people doing jobs in above sector so my research come easy to me, thank you"
City, Country:islamabad pakistan
"dear dr. faisal bari, i read your article that is wonderful, very informative, actually i was looking for such topic as i am research student and working on a topic, my topic is "ict education in secondary schools in pakistan" so if you find any article regarding this please email me at email@example.com ict education in provate & public achools."
Name: Muhammad Nawaz Tunio
City, Country: tandojam, pakistan
"i read your artical and i appreciat it verymuch due to the material in need found in it but still like to send me complete notes on " THE ROLE OF PRIVATE SECTOR IN EDUCATION IN PAKIKISTAN" Its importance need demand suggestion and conclusions at the end. pls reply must. kashoo"
Name: kashif Ahmad Khan
City, Country: Hazara University Mansehra KPK Pakistan