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Learning from Pakistan

Asim Ijaz Khwaja’s mammoth study of education in Punjab teaches important lessons

Robert O’Neill

In the world of development economics, where Kennedy School Public Policy Professor Asim Ijaz Khwaja does much of his work, education is seen, along with health, as one of those great human capital investments that can help lift a country from poverty.

Despite much of the troubling news that has come out of Khwaja’s native Pakistan in the past decade, he and his co-authors — Tahir Andrabi, of Pomona College, and Jishnu Das, of the World Bank’s research group — looked more carefully and saw a development few others were noticing. Not the story that was being exaggerated across much of the Western media: the rise of madrassas, Islamic schools that were being blamed for increased fundamentalism and militancy throughout the Muslim world. Those schools serve no more than 3 percent of schoolchildren in the country.

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To defang Taliban, some look to private schools

By NAHAL TOOSI (AP) – Nov 7, 2009

QUTBAL, Pakistan — The schoolhouse is so tiny that dozens of pupils have to sit outdoors.They're lucky if their teachers have more than a basic education. And the chanting of math equations and Quranic verses gets so loud that the children have a hard time hearing themselves.
Yet the pupils love the Islamia Model School, one of thousands of private schools popping up in Pakistan. Unlike at area public schools, Islamia's seven teachers show up regularly to work. Unlike at religious schools, its curriculum extends well beyond Islam. Plus, it has desks and chairs — no small thing to the many poor families who enroll their children here.
Pakistan is seeing a surge in private schools, a trend some find hopeful in a country where the government education system is decrepit and the other alternative is religious schools, known here as madrasas, which offer little education beyond memorizing the Quran and are seen as
one source of Islamic militancy.

Newsline Magazine Pakistan: Learning by Numbers

By Erum Haider

What can government schools learn from private schools? Is the level of learning success higher in private schools because teachers are more closely monitored for their attendance? Is it that the teachers are more qualified, and therefore paid higher? Is it that parents who pay fees are motivated to make their kids study harder? Are children who go to private schools richer, and therefore healthier and smarter? Or is it that private schools, because they are for-profit institutions, are investing more back into their organisations? But into what specifically? Is it books? Better infrastructure?

Say you survey 800 schools across Punjab, conduct tests for 12,000 children, survey 5,000 teachers and 2,000 households. What would the results tell you?

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Foreign Policy Magazine: The Madrasa Myth

By Tahir Andrabi, Jishnu Das, C. Christine Fair, and Asim Ijaz Khwaja 

And how private schooling can save Pakistan's next generation.

June 2009

Knowledge is power: The reality of Pakistan's private schools is far from the hysterical image of madrasas.

On May 3, the New York Times published a lengthy description of Pakistan's education system. The article, like so many before it, rehearsed a well-known narrative in which government schools are failing while madrasas are multiplying, providing a modicum of education for Pakistan's poorest children.

"The concentration of madrasas here in southern Punjab has become an urgent concern in the face of Pakistan's expanding insurgency," veteran Times reporter Sabrina Tavernise wrote. "The schools offer almost no instruction beyond the memorizing of the Koran, creating a widening pool of young minds that are sympathetic to militancy."


Unfortunately, this well-intentioned approach risks failure. First, contrary to the public hysteria about madrasas serving as "weapons of mass instruction," in 2005, just 1.3 percent of children in Pakistan's four main provinces attended madrasas. Most students attend public schools (nearly 65 percent), and the remainder attend nonreligious private schools (34 percent). Nor are madrasas the last resort of the poor. In fact, the socioeconomic profiles of madrasa and public school students are quite similar -- except that madrasas have more rich students than public schools. Of the extremely small number of households enrolling at least one child full time in a madrasa, 75 percent use other types of schools to educate their other children.

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Only 1.3pc children attend madressahs - WB report

WASHINGTON, June 7: Contrary to a perception about proliferation of madressah education in Pakistan, just 1.3 per cent of children in the country’s four provinces attended seminaries, says a World Bank funded survey released recently in Pakistan.

Authors -- Tahir Andrabi, Jishnu Das, C. Christine Fair, and Asim Ijaz Khwaja – published an article in the June issue of the Foreign Policy magazine, discussing various options for reforming the education system in Pakistan.

According to this survey, nearly 65 per cent students in Pakistan attend public schools and about 34 per cent attend non-religious private schools.

Read the full article here


Not Just for the Privileged

by Emma-Kate Kunth-Symons

Mohammed Anwar is one of the new breed of “edupreneurs” or educational entrepreneurs transforming the school sector in India.

In 1987, he started a low-cost private high school with 34 students in a small, rented building in Hyderabad.

Today, M.A. Ideal High School has about 2,000 children enrolled.

Inspired by the work of Professor James Tooley, the Newcastle University professor of political studies in education and a leading international advocate of budget private schools for the poor.

Mr. Anwar opened another four branches under the same banner of M.A. Ideal High Schools in the slums of Hyderabad and in a poor, rural area.

All schools are coeducational; teaching is in English; and the target market is low-income families. Parents pay low fees of between $24 and $49 per annum.

“My school is popular with parents because they are satisfied with the education,” says Mr. Anwar. “There is a low-fee structure, good infrastructure, separate classes for high school girls, merit scholarships, and computer education.”

Disillusioned by chronic teacher absence and low-quality teaching, the poor in urban and rural India are flocking to private schools.

“In private schools, the management will pay only if teachers are present,” Mr. Anwar says. “If they are irregular in their attendance, they will be fired. More importantly, the management is always monitoring the teachers.”

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World Bank LEAPS Report Feature

Coverage of the LEAPS Report Release in Lahore jointly organized with the Lahore University of Management Sciences and the Centre for Economic Research Pakistan (CERP) and the World Bank. "WB for re-evaluation of education policies" The News The Post The Nation (Pakistan) "Quality education in Capital still a dream" The Nation (Pakistan)

"Public primary schools get more, deliver less" Dawn (Pakistan)

"A changed educational landscape; Comment by Abbas Rashid"  Daily Times (Pakistan)

"World Bank says Punjab showed impressive increase in student enrolment" Daily Times (Pakistan)

"Schools in Punjab" Dawn (Pakistan)

“Dr Ishrat for implementation of reforms suggested by NCGR” Business Recorder (Pakistan)

"WB calls for revising education policies: Urges govt to experiment 'out-of-box' reforms; Private schools mushrooming in Punjab" The Post (Pakistan)

"Teachers' absence in govt schools increases: WB" The News (Pakistan)

"World Bank report calls for re-evaluation of educational policies"  Business Recorder (Pakistan)

"World Bank for learning outcomes and effective role of private schools" from Aaj Television

 "Religious School Enrollment in Pakistan: A Look at the Data":

 - Kennedy School Insight Series

- Harvard Gazette

- The Economist

- Foreign Policy

- The NY Times

- Bloomberg Asia

- The Daily Times

- IndiaEduNews



Recent Publications

  • Mar 2010 Private Schools, Earthquakes: What we know from Pakistan (with insights for Haiti)
    Presented at the 54th Annual Conference of the Comparative and International Education Society in Chicago, IL on March 3rd 2010
  • Nov 2009 The LEAPS Report - Executive Summary
    A thirty page summary of key findings from the LEAPS Report. (Also included in the complete LEAPS Report)
  • Nov 2009 The LEAPS Report
    The Learning and Educational Achievement in Punjab Schools (LEAPS) Report provides an overview of the education sector based on the 2003 LEAPS Survey of schools, teachers, children, and households throughout rural Punjab.
  • Oct 2009 Do Value-Added Estimates Add Value?
    World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. 5066 - Tahir Andrabi (Pomona College); Jishnu Das (World Bank); Asim Ijaz Khwaja (Harvard University); Tristan Zajonc (Harvard University)


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