Delivering Education: How the Rise of Private Schooling Changes Everything

‘Delivering Education: How the Rise of Private
Schooling Changes Everything’

Summary of the talk by Jishnu Das
Senior Economist, World Bank and Visiting Fellow, Centre for Policy Research

Wednesday, 20 November 2013
Constitution Club of India, Rafi Marg, New Delhi 110001

Organised by Centre for Civil Society, Jishnu Das delivered a talk on ‘Delivering Education: How the rise of private schooling changes everything’ on 20 November 2013 at The Constitution Club, New Delhi. Dr Jishnu Das received his Ph.D. from Harvard University in Economics in 2001 and has since worked on issues related to the delivery of basic services, particularly health and education. His work draws upon data collected in Zambia (education), India (health and education), Pakistan (education) and Paraguay (health).

‘Delivering Education: How the rise of private schooling changes everything’ is based upon Dr. Das’ Learning and Educational Achievement in Punjab School (LEAPS) project done with Tahir Andrabi, Asim Khwaja, Tara Viswanath (original team) and Tristan Zajonc (original team).

The talk started off with a presentation of evidence that private schooling is indeed a large and increasingly important factor in education in Pakistan both in absolute terms and relative to public schooling. Moreover, both the stock and growth of private schooling was found to be relatively more at the primary level and while the rural-urban gap still remains, the growth trends showed a marked improvement in rural areas. Another area that he focused on through his data was to demonstrate that “the idea, that parents do not make good choices, is an extremely poor approximation of reality. There is very little evidence and there is more to suggest that the government makes worse choices than parents.”

Next he examined school fees and argued that contrary to expectations, private schools are not an urban elite phenomenon. Not only are they prevalent in rural areas but the fees charged in private schools make them affordable to middle and even low income groups.

A related issue was that of school quality. Based on the data examined, he stated that while private schools did have a large number of untrained teachers and were mostly self-owned, there was little evidence to suggest that they were providing very poor quality education. In fact not only did the data indicate that private schools had reasonably well educated teachers, expenditures-per-students, teacher-student ratios and school facilities but on many counts, private schools fared better than public schools. Most notably, private schools had almost twice as good teacher-student ratios. Even more reassuringly, the data suggested that school fees do respond in predictable ways to these observable measures of school inputs, which suggests that parents are indeed willing to pay for and hence gauge school quality.

Finally, he examined gender patterns in private schooling. In terms of girl enrollment, private schools seem to cater just as much to girl as boy students and in fact the majority of private schools are co-educational, dispelling the notion held by the government that the public demands gender segregated schooling. We find little evidence for this, at least at the primary level. In identifying factors due to which private schools are able to attract relatively more girls (due to distance proximity), he noted that these schools have much higher female teacher ratios as compared to public schools and this is significantly correlated with girl enrollment.

Perhaps one of the most intriguing findings of his study was of the role that educated women play in education. Not only do we find that areas with a greater ratio of educated women (to educated men) have greater relative ratios of female teachers, but that such regions also boast a significantly greater number of schools and higher levels of overall – male and female – enrollment. This suggests that it is areas that have educated women that are able to respond very effectively to the growing demand for education.

These findings were echoed half a century earlier:

“It is especially important that provincial State Governments should, despite well-known obstacles, undertake a special drive for encouraging qualified women to take to the teaching profession. I suggest that their recruitment should be made on local basis so that after training they could be posted to the schools of the area to which they belong.”

Thus the pattern established in the private school phenomenon in Pakistan is that of a (young) moderately educated rural woman, who has emerged in the private schooling scene. Rural Punjab typifies this pattern. With its high percentage of female, moderately educated teachers, primary self-owned schools and low fees, it seems to be the front runner in delivering affordable and accessible education to the masses. What needs to be examined far more carefully is what quality of education these schools impart. In order to do this, not only do we need to employ and better match existing data-sets (household level information with schooling and population census data) but also develop and conduct more careful and in-depth surveys to get at these issues more carefully and with the hope of understanding what role these private schools are playing and how that role can be improved and strengthened by policy.

“So, can we do better? And this is where Centre for Civil Society has really come in, which is the fact that private schools have better test scores and civic values and they’re cheaper has often led to a call for a centrally financing provision. The problem has been – and this is an enormous problem – is that it’s very hard to bring in public money without bringing in administrative accountability and that’s really what is creating an issue.”

Conclusions from his study:

  1. There have been dramatic changes in the educational landscape of Pakistan in the new millennium.
    Enrollments are starting to look up with a 10 percent point jump in net enrollments between 2001 and 2005. In addition, secular, co-educational and for-profit private schools have become a widespread presence in both urban and rural areas. Between 2000 and 2005, the number of private schools increased from 32,000 to 47,000 and by the end of 2005, one in every 3 enrolled children at the primary level was studying in a private school.
  2. These changes represent an opportunity and a challenge for educational policy in the country.
    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, for instance, lives in villages where parents routinely have 7-8 schools to choose from. This new educational landscape is best described as an active educational marketplace with multiple schools vying for students whose parents are actively making educational decisions. From evaluating policy reform to understanding how the private sector can help educate the poor, the rise of such schools represents a significant opportunity and challenge, not only in Pakistan but also in the wider South-Asian context.
  3. Furthermore, with enrollments looking up, the debate will likely shift to what children are learning in school.
    Enrollment does not imply learning. Low-income countries routinely place at the bottom of the charts in international comparisons. Measuring what children are learning in public and private schools and understanding how the educational marketplace can foster learning is a first step towards formulating policy in the new millennium.
  4. Relative strengths and weaknesses of private and government schooling
    Driven by higher teacher salaries, government schools require twice the resources to educate a child compared to private schools. Furthermore, children studying in private schools report higher test-scores in all subjects—partly because their teachers exert greater effort. Private schooling alone, however, cannot be the solution. 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. Since children who receive less attention and educational investments at home are also more likely to be enrolled in government schools (if they are enrolled at all), government school reform could ensure that no child is left behind.
  5. Modified role of the government for discussion
    This modified role envisions the government as complementary to, rather than in competition with, the private sector. It advances three spheres for government intervention. The first is as a provider of information on the quality of every school—public or private—in the country. This will enable households to make informed decisions and increase beneficial competition between schools. The second is as an actor who corrects the imbalances arising from unequal geographical access to private schools and ensures that all children acquire a set of basic competencies. Inevitably, this requires reform of government teacher hiring and compensation schemes. The third is as an innovator willing to experiment with and evaluate “out-of-the-box” reforms such as public-private partnerships where financial support is given to children regardless of the school chosen. Moving from such proposals to operational feasibility requires debate and discussion; both on the proposals presented here and to better understand the concrete steps that such a transition might require.