Role of NGOs in primary education in Pakistan
Ghulam Qadir Arbab
This research elevates the understanding about the nature of NGOs' involvement in Pakistan's basic primary education, identifying challenges facing basic primary education in Pakistan and the role of NGOs vis-à-vis the private and public sector. There is no doubt that progress has been made in the last few decades, but progress has been slow, and universalization of primary education still remains a relatively distant goal. There are also other issues that limit the progress that has been made. The state and society in Pakistan have, in many ways, accepted the fact that they need the help of NGOs and the private sector to ensure better delivery. The experiments of today, and especially the successes of today, can thus act as guides for tomorrow. NGOs are already playing an important role that will also shift towards formal education, from the current predominantly non-formal focus, and greater involvement in both elementary and secondary education.
Note: This article was written in March 2006
§ Evolution of the role of NGOs in education
§ Factors responsible for NGO involvement
§ Current and future role of NGOs in education
§ The ways in which NGOs are addressing social needs in primary education
§ Why public-civil society partnership is needed?
§ To evaluate lessons learned
§ Major challenges in forming such partnership
Pakistan has an estimated population of 145 million and education remains inequitably distributed among various income groups and regions in the country. Literacy and participation rates are below those in other South Asian countries with similar level of economic development. Access of education to children of relevant age group is still inadequate. Educational institutions lack physical facilities. The target of minimum essential requirement of competencies for quality education has not yet been achieved. Educational institutions face shortage of qualified and motivated teachers, especially female teachers. Due to financial constraints and want of managerial capacity education targets remained unaccomplished.
Primary education has always been an important concern for society and the government. Universal literacy and the success of secondary and post-secondary education depend on how extensive and efficient the primary education system of a country is. Primary education is viewed as a service that must be provided to the populace, irrespective of affordability, and it is generally considered to be the responsibility of the state to deliver primary education. The public sector provision of primary education, like most other services delivered by the public sector, suffers from severe deficiencies in coverage, effectiveness and quality.
There has been a paradigm shift in the development strategy and policy in Pakistan to ensure improved access to physical assets, education, vocational skills, training and other education services. Pakistan has deepened its commitment to partnerships with civil society organizations by placing an emphasis on working with a wider spectrum of civil society organizations including International and National Development NGOs through global partnerships to help deliver basic social services. Civil society organizations have become critical allies in designing innovative operations, implementing solution and monitoring results.
Many NGOs provide primary education directly in neglected areas and they also provide support to the public and private sectors in various areas such as teacher training, curriculum development and informal education. Some of these interventions have the potential to alter the landscape of primary education provision in the country. The later chapters of this study will look at these opportunities in more detail.
Issues, Risks, Problems, Questions
Although successive governments have announced various programmes to promote literacy, but education in Pakistan faces a number of severe constraints which not only prevent it from reaching 100% enrolment, but also leads to high dropout rates and the provision of low quality education. Research in the last few years, suggests a substantial growth in the private sector both at the primary level of education as well as at other levels. This growth in the private sector reflects, in part, a wider paradigm shift within policymaking circles in Pakistan. Under the influence of recent decentralization in the country and the mounting recognition of the importance of civil society, there is a growing belief that the private sector is capable of providing social services that were traditionally associated with the government.
In the last decade and a half, the private sector has made major inroads in improving the provision of primary education. Here we see a range of schools, from the elite English medium institutions charging very high tuition fees, to the local private schools set up in houses which charge nominal fees. The remaining percentage of the private schools is made up of NGO and not-for-profit schools.
There is a growing consensus in Pakistan that public-private partnerships may address key shortcomings within the country’s public service-delivery system. More specifically, it has been noted that such partnerships would be better able to address issues of access, equity and quality in primary education. It is also important to note the cautionary tone of many NGO managers who are optimistic about the current phase of cooperation with the government but who, at the same time, insist that the private sector cannot and should not completely take on the role of the government.
The Role of NGOs
NGOs have several strengths. First, they have a capacity for participatory planning; monitoring and evaluation; and social transformation through grass-root interaction. Other strengths include their ability to closely monitor the schools and teachers, and their capacity and willingness to provide need based teacher training. The history of Pakistani NGOs goes back to partition in 1947, however, not referred to as NGOs at that time, many voluntary organizations were set up to provide humanitarian aid to the refugees pouring into the country and to help victims. The government of Pakistan has long recognized the importance of NGOs in terms of government’s willingness to extend cooperation to NGOS. The experience of NGOs in recent years suggests that at the level of policy planning.
Building the school is only half the story. In Pakistan what are the required ingredients to transform a building into a school? Issues that need to be addressed include: How do you encourage parents to send their kids to schools? How do you get and keep teachers? How do you discourage student and teacher absenteeism? The provision of physical infrastructure needs to be supplemented by other measures to make sure the schools function properly: that both teachers and students attend regularly and that the education is of a high standard. Common implementation problems encountered under each project include:
§ weak implementation capacity;
§ frequent staff turnover;
§ inadequate recurrent budgets;
§ implementation delays;
§ weak project management and supervision;
§ weak coordination of activities, and among government institutions;
§ incomplete training components ;
§ underutilization of loan funds for capacity building, procurements and consultants;
§ inadequate focus on qualitative changes;
§ delayed and inadequate staffing of facilities (schools etc); and
§ weak monitoring and minimal impact assessment
Working towards a common goal of improving the situation of primary education among the country’s populace, NGOs use a variety of strategies such as public-private partnership; Teacher training; Family literacy; Community participation; Community supported schools; Adopt-a-School; Running non formal/community based schools with effective community participation; and Developing human resources for the education sector.
NGOs are very clear about the fact that their role is not to replace the government but to ensure that the government effectively covers educational needs, with respect to quality, accessibility, affordability and equity in mind. NGOs assume several important roles such as advocacy, service delivery, capacity building, grass root community mobilization, innovation, social experimentation and research.
Most NGOs mobilize the community to acquire land, labor and capital for building the schools. Communities also help in hiring teachers and monitoring the overall performance of the school. This builds trust, and ownership, and it also removes any information asymmetries about the intentions of the parties involved. Sustainability of institutions is dependent on the community taking over, to an extent at least, and being involved with the institution.
To sum up, in spite of shortcomings, NGOs have an important role to play in meeting challenges of quality, access and affordability of primary education in Pakistan. Their involvement and their rapid growth spans over the last couple of decades, owing primarily to greater access to foreign and local funds.
The future role of NGOs is going to be much more dynamic. NGOs are already playing an important role in networking and creating partnerships. Their supportive role in the future will include a shift towards formal education, from the current predominantly non-formal focus, and greater involvement in both elementary and secondary education.
Conclusions & Recommendations
There is no doubt that progress has been made in the last few decades, but progress has been slow, and universalization of primary education still remains a relatively distant goal. There are also other issues that limit the progress. The state and society in Pakistan have, in many ways, accepted the fact that they need the help of NGOs and the private sector to ensure better delivery. The experiments of today, and especially the successes of today, can thus act as guides for tomorrow.
§ The level of instruction, environment and teaching has to go hand in hand with the raising of education board standards. Treating the teachers with respect and endowing them with the status of important team members creates an enabling environment for them. NGOs should hire teachers from needy families who are not over qualified for the job.
§ The most important lesson shared for making the schools a success, is effective surveillance of schools through a variety of mechanisms, including local surveillance through community education committees and through NGOs’ community mobilizers.
§ Donor dependency is the biggest challenge. Sustainability becomes hard to achieve once time-bound funds are exhausted. However, there are donors who are NGO-dependent. Careful planning and proper utilization of funds is the NGO’s responsibility as the donors are not always development experts.
§ The government must ensure that every person - child, youth and adult - shall be able to benefit from educational opportunities designed to meet their basic learning needs.
§ An expanded vision is needed to serve the basic learning needs, institutional structures, curricula, and conventional delivery systems while building on the best in current practices. New possibilities exist today which result from the convergence of the increase in information and the unprecedented capacity to communicate. We must seize them with creativity and a determination for increased effectiveness.
§ Educational authorities have a unique obligation to provide basic education for all, but they cannot be expected to supply every human, financial or organizational requirement for this task. New and revitalized partnerships at all levels will be necessary: partnerships among all sub-sectors and forms of education, recognizing the special role of teachers and that of administrators and other educational personnel; partnerships between education and other government departments, including planning, finance, labour, communications, and other social sectors; partnerships between government and non-governmental organizations, the private sector, local communities, religious groups, and families.