By Advait Praturi
Dr. Asim Khwaja, associate professor and economist from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, spoke at IICAS about the state of education of children in Pakistan and the Learning and Educational Achievement in Punjab Schools (LEAPS) project. As its name implies, the goal of the LEAPS project is to understand the extent of learning that is actually taking place in Pakistani schools, and to identify what factors determine the quality of the education children receive. Through a survey of 823 schools in 112 villages in three different provinces in the Punjab region, LEAPS studies four critical factors: parents, teachers, schools and the students themselves. The purpose of the survey and the study is to provide a broad glimpse of educational trends in Pakistan and strengthen policymakers’ understanding of the current situation. His talk at IICAS explored the dynamics of education in Pakistan, particularly from an economics standpoint, drawing upon the key economic drivers that push the supply and demand of education towards equilibrium, and the implications of that for parents, students, teachers, schools and the policymakers attempting to create effective educational policies.
Professor Khwaja challenged the norms and conventional thinking about the state of education in Pakistan and explored the on-the-ground realities that policymakers need to know in order to create policies. Much of what policymakers need to understand, according to Professor Khwaja, are the decisions that parents, teachers, schools, and students have to make in order to receive education. For example, conventional wisdom states that the only decisions parents in Pakistan currently are facing is simply whether they should enroll their students in school or not. That is to say, if they are poor they will not enroll in school. If they can afford to send their children to school, they will. The real on-the-ground reality is that parents want their children to have a primary education, regardless of class or wealth, but issues such as the quality of teachers and schools are of real concern to them. Dr. Khwaja goes on to state that much of the parental decision depends not on whether parents can afford to enroll their students in schools but on other factors, such as the quality of the institution and teachers.
Another major theme in his study of Pakistani education is the increasing prevalence of private schools. Where the public schools fall short due to inflexibility and lack of accountability, private schools are extremely good at removing teachers who are not qualified. The reality is that in public schools in Pakistan, teachers receive money based on seniority rather than any sense of qualification; a teacher who is unqualified is simply moved into a place of higher administrative responsibility. The seniority effect is a result of lax accountability, an issue that policymakers in Pakistan will need to tackle in coming years. In direct contrast, teachers of private schools generally teach out of their own homes or small rooms, and they are usually women who need work and have decided to teach. These schools have the potential to provide more competition in the market for education and in some cases, provide more quality education, which is to say, parents are more likely to pull a child out of a public school if they believe that their child will have a more quality education in a private school.
The hope for Pakistan’s rural young lies in the interaction of the free market and government regulation. As the supply and demand for education increases over time, the government needs to provide more accountability and access to information for parents and teachers making critical decisions for their children. There is much hope for public-private partnership in the educational industry and economic development. The Pakistani government in many ways has a long way to go towards developing quality education policies, but Professor Khwaja and others have embarked on a bold and ambitious project to strengthen, inform, and empower Pakistan’s rural poor.
Photos courtesy of Prospect.