Pakistan is reported to have the world’s second-highest number of out-of-school children, with almost 23 million children between the ages of 5 and 16 not attending school, representing 44% of the total population in this age group.
To help tackle this issue, EduQuality, a program of Opportunity EduFinance, has launched in Pakistan, and is currently partnering with 150 schools in areas across the province of Punjab including, Rajanpur, Khanewal, Vehari, Nankana, Pakpattan, Okara, Multan, Sheikhupura, Gujranwala, and Bahawalpur. The EduQuality program is being implemented in partnership with Pakistan Microfinance Investment Company (PMIC) and three financial institution partners; AGAHE, RCDP, and Taleem Finance.
The program's objective is to enhance the quality of education children receive and create a conducive learning environment. This is achieved through a three-year school development program implemented in local, affordable non-state schools. The program uses a mix of digital tablet content for school leaders and teacher mentors, along with in-person training and support.
Notably, in 2017-2018, private schools played a substantial role in Pakistan's education system, comprising 37.9% of all schools and enrolling 44.3% of students. This complex landscape underscores the importance of programs like EduQuality in transforming Pakistan's education sector.
What does the education landscape currently look like in Pakistan?
Shahab: Pakistan has a large non-formal education sector, specifically ‘madrasas’, which are religious educational institutions. Since in some of the rural areas there is no proper infrastructure for schools - government and private both - these madrassas often play a role in filling the education gap, but they often do not have all the required resources, including qualified and skilled teachers to help provide quality education. Some of these madrassas are registered with government and some are not. However, in the recent years the national and provincial government levels have provided millions in funds to help support these madrassas and have also been trying to bring all madrassas into mainstream education.
In my two decades in education and humanitarian work, I've witnessed a positive shift in Pakistan's approach to enhancing education quality. Initially, there was little awareness or regulation in government schools, and education lacked proper attention. Now, we've seen significant progress, thanks in part to NGOs influencing government officials to prioritize education. Extensive training has been provided to education officials, teachers, and parent-teacher councils, resulting in increased awareness and better teaching practices.
Why do you think it was important to introduce EduQuality in Pakistan?
Naeem: Pakistan has a major challenge to decrease the number of out-of-school children in public and private schools. While access remains a concern, addressing the issue of out-of-school children requires initiative from the Pakistani government or other potential international partners. EduQuality in Pakistan is purely focused on low-cost private schools. Since the role of the private sector in education in Pakistan has grown significantly in recent years, introducing the program here will hopefully reap many benefits.
What kind of background do school leaders have?
Naeem: Most school leaders have established their schools in remote areas where there is a lack of basic such as water, or stable infrastructure. Although they are committed to running a school for children in their communities, and contributing to the education sector, they have less experience in school management.
Shahab: It's a mixed situation. Many school owners are distant from daily school operations and view their schools as businesses rather than educational institutions. They often appoint experienced educators like principals or directors to manage the schools. Some retired public school teachers take on leadership roles due to their expertise. In smaller budget schools, I've encountered school leaders who involve family members, like spouses, siblings, and children, in school management. This can also involve passing down school ownership within the family. In rural areas, some individuals establish schools to fill the gap in educational institutions. They become agents of change, providing education with whatever resources are available.
Could you elaborate on female school leaders' experiences? What has their engagement been like so far?
Shahab: I encountered many schools where women take the lead. For example, in a recent cluster leadership meeting, I was the only male among several females - in that cluster, there's only one male leader, while the rest of the schools are all managed by women who oversee everything.
This trend isn't unique but quite common. In a rural area like Pakpattan, most school leaders are men, which makes sense given the local culture. However, there was a unique case where one school was run by a husband and another by his wife. The couple attended the cluster leadership meeting (CLM) session together, but his wife decided to leave the program as she felt it was culturally unusual to regularly attend the meetings. Despite this, both schools still follow the program's guidelines because the husband is involved.
In rural areas, almost all schools have male leaders. In contrast, in places like Sheikhupura and Nankana, many schools have female leaders. I remember one school run by a mother and her daughter, who both manage the school while the daughter attends school.
What has school leaders' reaction to the program been so far?
Naeem: School leaders certainly value our program, particularly because most international organizations tend to focus on collaborating with publicly funded schools in the education sector. EduQuality, however, addresses the unique aspect of low-cost private schooling, which is a first.
We used various communication channels, including brochures, to convey the concept of EduQuality to private schools. Additionally, we reached out to union representatives of schools in Punjab, seeking their help in spreading this information and encouraging school leaders to attend introductory seminars. Thanks to these efforts, a significant number of schools expressed interest in the program. I believe this is the reason we have exceeded our target for school enrollments.
Shahab: Initially, during the introductory seminars, it was just a gathering for the school leaders. They thought it was a teacher training session because this program was launching in Pakistan for the first time, and people were unsure about what to expect. However, as we've worked with schools over the past few months, they've become genuinely pleased.
Recently, a lady from the Christian community in Lahore expressed interest in the program, and within a cluster leadership meeting, another lady wanted to join. As people learn more about the program, they become more enthusiastic. Even our current school leaders within the program speak highly of it, encouraging others to join. The response has been phenomenal.
CAPTION: Ruqia Sultana (Principal) giving a speech during an intro seminar.
We should definitely take the help these experts are offering us to ensure and enhance the quality of education we are providing as educators in Pakistan.” - Ruqia Sultana, Principal, Brit International School Mian Channu, Khanewal.
What do you hope for the future of education in Pakistan?
Shahab: I'm quite optimistic about the direction Pakistan is heading in terms of both private and government schools. One of the significant challenges in the past was the lack of awareness, especially regarding female education. However, I've seen a positive shift in recent years. People now understand the importance of education for all, regardless of gender.
The saying that ‘educating a female educates the entire family’ resonates even more now." - Shahab Ahmad
There have been improvements in resources and affordability. At the primary level, education is free, and the government provides essentials like notebooks, books, uniforms, and more. This accessibility is a positive sign for the future.
Of course, Pakistan faces political uncertainties, which can impact various aspects, but overall, the population's awareness about education is growing. When people understand the value of education, they tend to pursue it, and that's why I'm genuinely optimistic that Pakistan will continue to progress in the field of education.
Read our blog on access to education for girls in Pakistan here.