Providing quality education is pivotal to sustainable development. Quality education can enable communities to contribute proactively in socioeconomic development. A well-educated nation can also contribute in solving world’s greatest problems by providing innovative solutions and help improving quality of life.
The education system of a country is supposed to evolve in tandem with the ever changing needs of the nation and the global market. Some important factors affecting education system include its quality, affordability and access to all. To compete globally, relevance of the national education system with international market needs is also important. Education is also primarily a key to preparing the much needed workforce for the economic development. Globalization, rapid changes in market patterns and technology require immediate policy responses and public intervention.
The 2030 agenda for sustainable development, adopted by all United Nations member states in 2015, provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity of people around the globe. Amongst 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), SDG 4 is targeted to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. Disparities still run deep in education sector, particularly in least developed countries (LDCs), where girls still don’t have access to quality education.
Moreover, population in rural areas is still lagging behind and more investments in education infrastructure are required. Access to quality education and enrolling out-of-school children, particularly girls, is the biggest challenge faced by many developing and underdeveloped countries. More out-of-school children are reported in countries having a large population below the poverty line. Having limited public funds, it becomes difficult for governments to allocate maximum budget for the education sector.
Article 25-A of the Constitution of Pakistan stipulates that the state shall provide free and compulsory education to all the children in ages from five to sixteen years. Pakistan has failed to provide free and compulsory quality education for all the children. According to UNICEF Annual Report Pakistan 2017, an estimated 22.6 million children, aged 5–16 (12 million of them girls), still remain out-of-school, representing 44 percent of the total population in this age group.
During a policy dialogue organised in 2018 with the theme of “Equity in Education Financing, Inferences, Moot Points and Policy Asks”, UNICEF’s education specialist informed that Pakistan stands on second position in the world ranking of out-of-school children, with only Nigeria ahead of it. Punjab in Pakistan is at the top among the provinces where 9.2 million children are still out of school.
As per the official figures of the Punjab School Education Department, total enrollment in public schools is around 12.2 million, out of which over 6.3 million are male and 5.9 million are female students. Annual school census report 2017, published by the Punjab government shows that there are 52,394 public schools in Punjab out of which 642 are Masjid Maktab schools (class Kachi – 5), 36,091 are primary schools (class Kachi – 5), 8,279 are elementary (class 6 – 8) and 6,663 are secondary schools (class 9 & 10). There are only 719 higher secondary (class 11 & 12).
Punjab province, having the largest population of out-of-school children, falls short of the budget to cater the needs of the school education sector. To accommodate 9.2 million out-of-school children, Punjab would require a development budget of more than PKR 300 billion to build approximately 0.3 million rooms, with each room costing at least PKR one million. Other missing facilities like labs, library and play area would require more development budget to fulfill needs and meet the standards. In addition, salaries of teachers and staff, training and annual maintenance, etc. would require billions of rupees from the recurring budget.
Having tight fiscal space, the Punjab Education Foundation (PEF) has provided a big relief to the government by enrolling more than 2.5 million children in their partner schools. Weekly The Economist has highlighted the strong role of educational reforms espoused by the Punjab government through PEF. As a flagship programme of the government, the PEF has been doing a commendable job in ensuring equitable access to children from extremely poor households. PEF has made a major contribution in providing quality education in the most neglected regions of the province, especially Southern Punjab. Poor children are provided opportunities to study in PEF-partner schools where they are financed by the foundation under Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model.
PEF model is also providing employment opportunities in the most deprived areas of Punjab. More than 0.1 million people, including teachers and staff, are working in PEF partner schools. The PEF schools in comparison with public sector schools are reported to be more cost efficient and better in terms of outcome and impact. It costs approximately PKR 635 per child a month to provide primary school education in a PEF school, whereas, it costs about three times in a government school.
The government also has no burden of capital investment or recurring expenditure under this time tested Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) model. A robust monitoring and evaluation regime exists in PEF, supported by School Information System (SIS) and physical verifications to track performance of PEF-partner schools. To have maximum geographical coverage, GIS tools are also being used to map existing as well as prospective partner schools.
Development funding stimulates overall development of the country. Investing in public infrastructure, both hard and soft core, is essential for maintaining economic growth and to achieve economic prosperity. Many governments recognise the need for public investment, but they can’t afford to undertake all important projects through public funding. With increasing level of public debt, pressure is mounting to change the standard model of public funding and procurement.
To fill the fiscal gap, governments all over the world envisage a substantive role of Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs). For broad-based and sustainable growth, the governments recognise the need to engage with the private sector in diverse sectors through PPP framework to harness private sector efficiencies in developing projects and service delivery, operations and maintenance, create opportunities to bring in innovation and technological improvements, and ultimately provide affordable and improved services to the end users in a responsible and sustainable manner.
In case of education sector, PEF model is time-tested. In the last government, this model was replicated to run poor performing and dysfunctional government-owned schools under Public Sector Support Program (PSSP). Initiated by PEF, a new authority was established under “The Punjab Education Initiatives Management Authority Act 2018”.The objectives of the programme were to fulfill obligations under article 25-A of the Constitution of Pakistan and to enhance involvement of the private sector to complement efforts of public sector in the provision of free and compulsory education.
The programme was successfully rolled-out and helped the government in increasing enrollment in low performing public sector schools, improved quality of education by providing conducive teaching and learning facilities and helped enrolling out-of-school children.
Allowing the private sector to participate with the government in providing public goods and services would help meet development goals. In the 21st century, Public-Private Partnerships, as a concept and practice, provide a unique solution. This model, focused more on ‘output’ and ‘outcome’ based service delivery, is recommended as a preferred mode than ‘input’ based traditional public procurement methods. PPPs can provide off-budget funding opportunities to the government.
Considering tight fiscal space, the government needs to expand PEF like innovative models in higher education, technical education and skill development programmes of the government. PEF model has already won the confidence of international development partners like DFID which has been providing billion of rupees for years and playing an important role in the uplift of education sector in Punjab. Engaging the private sector is inevitable for achieving SDG targets and ensuring sustainable development.
The author is former Public-Private-Partnership Policy expert of Punjab government.