Monday, April 21, 2008

Private school fad in Pakistan

A new WB reprot on the state of education in Pakistan (particularly a survey from Punjab)argues for reevaluation of the education sector policies and reforms. It argues that there has been a dramatic rise in private schools in Pakistan and the public schools, with similar wage rate for teachers, are vying with the private schools to attract students. The report argues that the government should reevaluate its education policies and rather than fostering neck-to-neck competition between public and private schools, it should focus on providing better information to the public by assessing the quality of education-both public and private- so that households can make better decision. This means that the government should try to narrow information asymmetry gap. The report finds that 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.

Just an increase in the number of private schools is not a stuff to celebrate. What matters is the type and quality of education in the private and public schools and their reach in the rural areas. As generally expected, the report finds out that 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.
So, why are we seeing such a tendency in Pakistan? Well, the report argues that it is because the wedge between public and private school household expenditure is decreasing, i.e. private schools are becoming cheaper- one month's fee in a private school is roughly the equivalent of one day's wage for an unskilled labor. This means that sending kids to a private school is becoming cheaper and easier. It should be noted that people in South Asia view those attending private school as "well-off" than those attending public school, even if the private and public schools are identical in all respect. It is a matter of status in the society. This might explain the influx of students to private schools despite the fact that the report shows outcome from attending private school is more than from public school.
I am wondering why the government is still operating public schools when the cost to educate a child in a private school is Rs.1000 per year whereas in a public school it is Rs.2000. The report also finds out that since 1995, 50% of all new private schools have set up in rural areas. Is it becasue of private school are biased against operating in rural areas? More