Are private schools the answer to crisis of public sector schooling (2012) [3]

Since the 1980s, the poor state of public sector schools and the emergence of a liberalized regulatory environment has led to a substantial increase in private schools across the country. This rapid growth has generated interest among policymakers and researchers for comparing the learning levels of students in private schools, particularly low fee private schools (LFPS), with their public sector counterparts. Surveys conducted at both the provincial and national levels have claimed that LFPS students generally outperform public sector students. Such findings complemented widely held perceptions that the private sector is more efficient and more progressive. This study explores and ultimately qualifies these claims and perceptions by conducting a qualitative investigation of a small sample of LFPS and public secondary schools in Lahore.

The study underscores the need for a deeper contextual understanding of the public and private sectors. It reveals that, contrary to popular belief, parents transfer their children from private to public schools at the high school level, even when poverty was not a factor. At the primary level, the study shows that parents prefer private schools. It also shows a selection bias in LFPS. Due to stricter screening policies, they are able to admit those students who are likely to do well, while public sector schools must admit all that apply. This has an impact on the quality of studies that compare effectiveness. The study finds no difference in general worldviews of the students of the two sectors. It endorses the belief that students receive more individual attention in private schools, especially at the primary level, and notes that private sector teachers maintained consistent contact with parents. It concludes by stating that the issues of quality and effectiveness in a comparative context require further exploration before formulating policy based solely on current studies.

Author(s):
Abbas Rashid and Salaeya Butt
Sponsor(s):Privatization in Education Research Initiative