Although PPP In Education Sector Have Proliferated In Recent Years, Pakistan Needs To Look Towards Building Such Partnerships.

By Sara Ali

Since the Covid-19 outbreak, the education sector in Pakistan has been witnessing unprecedented disruptions adversely affecting students’ learning. School closures have forced 40 million children to rely on virtual learning, however there are still many without access to technology required for continued learning.

With school closures, it became mandatory for the government to ensure adequate resources for remote learning. Nonetheless, funds required for virtual learning were not included in the recent budget. In fact, the education budget was reduced as resources had to be diverted to the health sector. The HEC alone suffered a budget cut of approximately Rs6 billion as the federal government allocated only Rs64 billion to it.

The stagnation of public funds in Pakistan indicates the government cannot prioritise education spending nor devote funds towards EdTech (digital infrastructure for education to support remote learning especially in public schools in rural areas.) Given the surge in e-learning, the government is responsible for supporting this new mode by ensuring a consistent availability of internet connectivity, laptops, smart phones and tablets. This could be achieved either through introducing direct government programmes supporting e-learning or facilitating public-private partnerships (PPP). Although PPP In The Education Sector Have Proliferated In Recent Years, Pakistan Needs To Look Towards Building Such Partnerships Involving Online Learning Platforms To Overcome Digital Divide.

Covid-19 is an opportunity for Pakistan to reform its education system and it should not let it slip away. Following Hong Kong’s example, it should build partnerships with various community stakeholders including civil society organisations, teachers and academics and corporations to develop plans for the education sector. The government shall explore opportunities to partner with the telecommunication sector to equip schools in rural areas with internet connection and skills development programmes for teachers, as some companies have launched an affordable smart feature phone for underprivileged students.

A smooth transition to virtual learning is possible through effective PPP amidst Covid-19 funding crises. International development agencies like the World Bank and UN also view these as important development financing mechanisms. SDG-17 also promotes partnerships between the government, private sector and civil society organisations “built upon principles and values, upon a shared vision and shared goals placing people and planet at the centre”. While Pakistan may feel the need to work towards building strong educational PPP during Covid, it shall also ensure that PPP formation follows transparent and competitive bidding process, allowing the PPP executor to select the most suitable partners, thus doing away with bias.

Pakistan already has a strong public-private legal framework; however, it should continue striving towards enhancing transparency, clearly outlining the parties’ roles and responsibilities and building sustainable partnerships. The PPPs formed in the education sector after the Covid outbreak have to be continuously monitored to gauge their efficiency. Moreover, before embarking upon a PPP project in the education sector, its cost effectiveness must be considered against other social and economic aspects. As in the case of Covid, the education PPP will rely heavily on technology policies which shall be designed to ensure secure use of technology and protection against cybercrimes.

Despite the important role PPP can play in addressing financial shortfalls in the education sector, they are faced with lax oversight, accountability issues, increased inequality and higher costs. The case of Liberian Education Advancement Partnership (LEAP) is an example, where the education ministry, in an attempt to provide free quality education to low-income students partnered with various organisations to manage public schools. Evaluations revealed lack of transparency and competitiveness in the bidding process and absence of accountability to the community with regard to school activities, etc. Pakistan needs to recognise that PPP in the education sector will pose some challenges. However, by learning from international case studies and local experiences it can be successful.

This news was originally published at Tribune.