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LAHORE: Director for Global Education Monitoring (GEM), UNESCO, Dr Manos Antoninis said on Wednesday that South Asia has the highest share of private institutions in total enrollment in the world.

He expressed these views at the launching ceremony of the report titled “Global Education Monitoring Report 2022: Role of Non-State Actors in Education who Chooses who Loses”, prepared by the Idara-e-Taleem-o-Agahi (ITA) in collaboration with UNESCO.

Dr Manos Antoninis while presenting the reports’ findings said: “South Asia has the highest share of private institutions in total enrollment in the world.” He also said 50% of secondary school students in the region study in private institutions compared to 27% around the world. He said non-state actors are influential across all education levels in the region.

The Annual Status Report (ASER) has come in handy for gathering important data between the public and private sectors, he added.

Kulsoom Saqib, Special Secretary for the School Education Department Punjab in her address talked about the importance of partnership of all stakeholders to ensure equity in education and said: “A school is a school, a teaching institution is a teaching institution without thinking about if it is public or private. We all need to pay our debt to this country through education.”

She said unregistered schools are also common.

She also said that an assessment of low-cost private schools in Pakistan in 2015 found that 18% of primary, 14% of lower secondary and 4% of upper secondary schools were unregistered.

A survey indicated that two thirds of the 5,000 private schools in Rawalpindi city were not registered. According to the 2016/17 Private School Census, some 54,000 private schools offered pre-primary education in Punjab province under various categorizations, such as pre-nursery, nursery and prep. The majority of programs operated as unregulated entities, without government supervision and oversight.

Ali Raza, Group Director for the Beaconhouse Group shared how “there is a glaring gap in the educational landscape between public and private organizations.”

Roshaneh Zafar, Founder and CEO Kashf foundation, shared, “Majority of the schools which were private schools started as tuition centers and were run by women and had a huge demand for infrastructure and finance.”

Saeed Ul Hassan, Head of SDGs Unit Punjab, UNDP said: “All sectors, departments and organisations have been directly and indirectly contributing towards the SDGs. The indicators serve as an overarching framework for where to go and giving a direction.”

Dr Tayyaba Tamim, Associate Professor, LUMS School of Education said: “Without denying the role of the non state actors, we ought to work through interventions on education and be able to differentiate between for profit and non profit state actors.”

Qaiser Rashid, Additional Secretary (Planning and Budget), School Education Department shared, “When public schools will get better then and only then the private schools will get better.”

Dr Faisal Bari, Dean LUMS School of Education shared how all stakeholders needed to establish a notion of equilibrium between all actors in education if education is to be seen as a right.

Baela Raza Jamil, CEO ITA said that in Pakistan private sector fills up critical gaps in education service provision in both urban and rural areas not just through pre-schools, schools, colleges and universities, but also in the vital areas of disability services, teacher preparation, EdTech, textbooks and assessments.

Given the huge challenges of the sector and multiple emergencies, there is an urgency to have enabling standards along with predictable regulatory regimes and support systems by the state to work as ONE for improving key metrics on access with quality, inclusion and equity; Pakistan must accelerate actions with all actors to catch up on foundational learning and SDG 4 targets in South Asia, Jamil added.

She said that Pakistani government spending is less than 2.5% of annual GDP on education throughout the 2010s, state schools are insufficient in both supply and quality. Private education has grown to fill the gaps. The report finds that one third of students in Pakistan attend privately funded schools, with 45% of those in private education, and 25% in state education in urban areas paying for additional private tutoring. Overall, 8% of students are enrolled in religious schools.

The report highlights the exponential growth of private tutoring and educational technology companies in Pakistan, predominantly due to rapid growth in the labour market and the resultant competitiveness in the education system.

In Pakistan in 2019, tutoring’s prevalence among children in urban areas attending a private school rose from 23% in grade 5 to 39% in grade 8 and 59% in grade 10. It also notes that, in comparison to other countries, a franchise model of tutoring is prevalent in Pakistan, with companies or academies running schools and tuition centres, and developing their own curriculum and textbooks. Since 2015, 288 EdTech companies have been established, with investment in this market increasing fifteen-fold.

The report notes the stark disparities in learning outcomes between privately educated and state educated students. Those attending private institutions consistently score significantly higher than those enrolled in state schools, where the student-teacher ratios are as high as 92:1.

However, it notes that, after controlling for socioeconomic status, the relative advantage in learning outcomes that private schools enjoy is reduced or eliminated.

Covid-19 dealt a blow to global economies, income levels suffered, and state schools were overwhelmed with an influx of pupils who could no longer afford private schools. Enrolment in private schools decreased from 23% in 2019 to 19% in 2021.

The report urges the government to increase its involvement in education systems, and has devised five policy recommendations to enhance the quality and equity of education across all schools in South Asia which includes government should fulfill the commitment to make 1 year pre-primary and 12 years primary and secondary education free. Most countries in the region are not nearly reaching the necessary minimum funding to ensure free access to education.

The report suggests that government should set quality standards that apply to all state and non-state education institutions and improve state capacity to ensure their implementation. Governments should also work to establish universal standards for quality of education in both state and non-state schools to promote more equitable outcomes for all learners. Governments should dedicate funding to frequent school inspections and assessments to ensure parity across sectors.

The report also suggests establishment of common monitoring and support processes that apply to all state and non-state institutions through a system of clear and standardised regulations on teacher training, curriculum, and testing. This will help to ensure that students in all education systems receive a more equitable education. Policy changes in Pakistan have emphasized flexibility, autonomy and fewer restrictions on non-state actors. In the Punjab and Sindh provinces of Pakistan, private–public partnerships are viewed as important contributors to the expansion of access to education.

The report further suggests that government should facilitate the spread of innovation through the education system for the common good. Mistrust between governments and non-state actors has negatively impacted both standardisation and student performance. Governments should recognise good practices used by non-state actors and work to incorporate them into public education systems.

The government should maintain the transparency, inclusivity and integrity of public education policy processes. Open communication between all actors should be prioritised, with the common goal of increasing education quality and access of all learners at the heart of discussions.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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