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Public-Private Partnerships in Education and the Pursuit of Gender Equality: A View from South Asia

Shailaja Fennell


The introduction of public-private partnerships (PPPs) into the educational sphere has opened up the sector to a wide range of new private providers in India and Pakistan. The global literature has indicated that the growth in partnerships that provide targeted programmes for girls, in locations where parents prefer to enrol their daughters in these new private schools rather than state schools, will further reduce any existing gender gap.

A specific focus on gender equality considerations within PPP programmes is necessary to analyse new evidence on gender equality. A review of national documents on education for India and Pakistan indicates that the concept of gender equality was not included in the original education policy documents, and gender concerns were introduced through a particular institutional history of engagement between international and national policy interventions.

District and village data show that there was very little gendered difference in how parental generations studied viewed the educational pathways of their sons and daughters. The younger generation studied are not confident that they will be able to enter gainful employment, which raises policy concerns that the lack of employment for this younger generation could undo any reduction in the gender gap as increased poverty pushes girls out of school in the next two decades.

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1. Introduction

1The second of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is to ensure that by 2015 boys and girls in every country of the world are able to successfully complete the full course of primary schooling. This has made education an increasingly important priority for the international community and the governments of developing countries alike.  The first decade of the MDG era (20012011) has also seen a growing involvement of the private sector in the provision of educational services, and this phenomenon has been hailed as an important determinant in the move towards achieving the goal of universal primary education (Patrinos et al., 2009).

2International and national initiatives for expanding education have begun to examine the use of partnerships in the financing and provision of school education as a possible way of ensuring educational access and quality within the education system (Patrinos, 2005). Evaluation of these partnerships, referred to generically as public-private partnerships (PPPs), by international agencies and bodies also identified their success at targeting ‘difficult to reach’ groups of children. In the case of countries with a large gender gap in education (measured as a ratio of the access that girls versus boys have to primary and secondary education) the growth in the partnerships that provide targeted voucher programmes for girls has been shown to reduce gender inequality (Patrinos et al., 2009).  A World Bank commissioned report on PPPs in Pakistan indicates that the evidence that parents appear to prefer to enrol their daughters in these new private schools rather than in state schools is related to the location of these new private schools. They are closer to home than the single state school, which is located in the village (Andrabi et al., 2007).

3The introduction of PPPs has opened the educational sphere to a wide range of new private providers, and this makes it important to map their objectives and methods of educational provision (Fennell, 2008). The existing evaluation of the frameworks and rationales of PPPs has tended to adopt an economic analysis, focussing on the supply and demand aspects of educational provision within a market context. An expanded methodology that could also incorporate the social and political dimensions of provision would help to develop further the inclusion of more explicit ‘voice’ based tools that can emphasise the politics of provision (Paul, 2002).

4A specific focus on gender equality considerations within PPP programmes, explicitly recognised by developing countries’ governments, is necessary in order to analyse this new evidence regarding the increasing proportion of enrolments of girls in this new sector. The conclusion, that there is a significant role played by PPPs in furthering gender equality can then be considered in the light of national policy documents and evaluated against the stated objectives of these policies regarding how to move towards achieving such equality.

5These international and national evaluations of the relationship between gender equality and PPPs can also be compared with the district and village data that was collected by the RECOUP consortium from detailed qualitative studies conducted in Pakistan and India between 2005 and 2010. The district and village data collected by RECOUP provides a bottom-up approach to understanding the school choices made by households for their youth (boys and girls), with regard to accessing primary education in poor communities. It also provides a qualitative basis for examining the role played by gender discrimination, if any, in the enrolment of girls in secondary schooling. This local perspective on the impact of PPP programmes in relation to enrolment and completion rates of girls and boys provides another method for analysing the relationship between private providers and gender equality in the local sphere in India and Pakistan.

6This article begins by analysing the role of PPPs (Section 2.1), followed by the relationship between PPPs and gender (Section 2.2). This will be followed by a review of the extent to which policies regarding PPPs in education in India (section 3.1) and Pakistan  (Section 3.2) have addressed the objective of gender equality. These top-down policy perspectives will be, in next two sections, compared with the local data obtained from field studies conducted in India and Pakistan. While Section 4 reviews the research design of the field study and this will be followed by an examination of the data on intergenerational perspectives on school choice and educational outcomes (Section 5). Finally, the conclusion will evaluate the implications of the findings for moving forward the manner in which partnerships could reduce gender gaps in both countries.

2.  PPPs and Gender

7The presence of a gender gap in primary education in developing countries has been linked to the cost of sending girls to school, and is particularly evident where there is discrimination against educating girls due to gendered social norms (IFC, 2012). The cost of educating girls has been a particular focus of education policy analysis in regions in which parents have a decided preference for educating sons over daughters. This preference is related to the financial burden that girls impose on their families: the payment of a dowry at a daughter’s wedding and the social restrictions that prevent girls from working and earning outside the home (Glick, 2008). This cost of girls’ education has been identified as a major obstacle to allowing them to access and complete secondary education and has posed significant obstacles to efforts to achieve the MDG goal of gender equality in education (UNESCO, 2004).

  • 1  The funding for the research conducted by James Tooley and the team at the University of Newcastle (...)

8In this environment in which the cost of education is so daunting for poor households, the private sector is being viewed as a potential partner for the state to share the cost of providing education. The chosen form of private sector partnership is PPPs, commended by international agencies for advancing educational provision in response to parental demands for improved schooling. While some forms of PPP had initially pushed for civil society initiatives to support educational provision by state institutions, the strongest advocates of PPPs have proposed corporate finance, often through the creation of new initiatives by existing corporations, as a way of ensuring sufficient funds are available to guarantee a responsive and rapid expansion in the supply of education (Tooley, 2005).1

2.1. The Rationale for PPPs in Education

9Early models of such partnerships focused on gains from private corporate financing such as greater efficiency and superior resource-raising ability. There was little attempt to unpack the term ‘partnership’ and locate the specific sub-categories across a wide range of non-state providers, which included both for- and not-for profit private providers (LaRoque, 2008). The drawing of distinctions between various non-state providers such as corporations, NGOs, charities, and faith schools is vital to an understanding of the various objectives of such providers (Fennell, 2006). This is a crucial exercise for gauging the implications for gender equality: providers occupy varying ideological positions regarding what gender equality constitutes and whether or not it should be championed (Fennell, 2008).

  • 2  The International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP) made this topic one of the key researc (...)

10The organizational forms of partnerships were studied to provide the best results from efforts to expand and enhance the quality of education.2 The differentiation between providers also led to a more detailed understanding of how different types of players could each contribute to creating wealth, generating employment, and transferring knowledge according to their areas of core competency — including finance, management, and technical evaluation — to ensure better and higher quality provision than that previously provided by the state educational sector (Genevois, 2008). International institutions such as the World Bank and international donors such at GIZ and USAID, which were important players in the sphere of economic development, focussed on resource-sharing between the public and private sectors — via mechanisms such the co-financing of provision, and the use of instruments such as voucher schemes and cash transfers — to expand provision and increase the efficiency of delivery (Draxler, 2013).

11It has been more difficult to achieve clarity on the conceptual differences between the numerous types of PPPs that exist. The term ‘multistakeholder partnerships for education’ (MSPEs) was identified and used by UNESCO and the World Economic Forum to provide a clearer sense of the relationship between those actors in the private sector and civil society that were pooling resources with the state to expand and improve education (Draxler, 2008). Despite these policy initiatives, it is still difficult to identify the agendas and ideologies of the non-state providers in the educational sphere in the first decade of the twenty-first century. The lack of clarity of these conceptual matters is regarded as both a ‘language game’, where different actors emphasise their particular agendas so that economic approaches highlight contracts and civil society actors identify networks and trust, and a ‘governance game’, where the emphasis is on shifting ownership of the provision of education from the public domain to that of private profit making (Robertson et al., 2013).

2.2. PPPs and Gender Equality

12The promotion of the PPP model in the Western world was primarily intended to improve financial and managerial aspects of the provision of public services, most particularly via the vehicle of the private finance initiative (PFI) through which the National Health Service (NHS) was reformed in the United Kingdom. The earliest public service delivery model that was emphasized in the PPP field was about expanding and improving infrastructure (United Kingdom H. M. Treasury, 2012). There was little consideration of social aspects or social justice in the original formulation and the basic model of PPPs in infrastructure in developing countries was reviewed in 2012 to make explicit the need for gender impact evaluation (IFC, 2012). It would therefore be inaccurate at best, and grossly incorrect at worst, to imagine any focus on gender equality features in the initial PPP formulations for expanding education in low-income countries in the 1990s or the early twenty-first century.

13Changing the sole focus of the partnerships model to improving the likelihood that countries with poor enrolment rates could achieve the universal primary education (UPE) objective with an increased supply of schools and improved quality of schooling to incorporate a dimension of gender equality was a radical addition brought about by interdisciplinary feminist scholarship on gender equality (Unterhalter, 2008). The possibility of partnerships contributing to reducing the gender gap came out of a series of international reviews of small but innovative girls’ education projects across Africa and Asia. These reviews identified that new actors’ pooling of resources between civil society, philanthropists, and the state had been successful in expanding the enrolment of girls in education (Unterhalter, 2005; Ramachandran, 2003). These feminist evaluations, which caught the attention of international agencies and NGOs, were responsible for early hypotheses that innovative approaches could assist in delivering education in areas with severe discrimination against the education of girls (Fennell, 2006; Unterhalter, 2008).

14The key global catalyst for placing gender equality at the heart of the MDGs was global NGOs such as Oxfam and international advocacy initiatives such as the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI) that supported and worked with the Education for All (EFA) agenda developed at the World Education Forum in Dakar in 2000 (Unterhalter, 2008).

15The result of that forum, a global intellectual and policy gender platform, was a set of international calls for research into large-scale policy interventions to improve the enrolment and retention of girls in primary and secondary schools, such as stipends for girls in secondary schooling (Patrinos and Shoshale, 2007). The evaluation of the first set of large-scale poverty interventions was that programmes for increasing enrolment and retention of girls in school need to be redesigned to succeed in difficult national and local contexts with severe social norms of gender discrimination. This recommendation led to demands for a thorough restructuring of the original economic and financial criteria for setting up PPPs in education by international agencies, such as the World Bank, and to address more directly the specific political and cultural challenges that are faced by countries that were worst placed with regard to achieving UPE (Mundy, 2005). As the emendation of the PPPs were identified by collaborative research between international academic consortia and policy organisations, the more socially and culturally sensitive indicators began to be adopted by these countries so that they could work to increase the provision of education to encompass difficult-to-reach populations.

3. PPPs and Gender Equality in South Asia

16The push by the global initiative generated by the Millennium Development Goals to emphasise the need to highlight gender parity within the context of MDG goal 2 — to achieve UPE — has made South Asia a particular region of concern on account of some of the biggest gender gaps in relation to enrolments and retention; gaps that will prevent it from achieving gender parity in secondary schooling (UNICEF, 2011).  The huge challenge of moving South Asia towards gender equality has also placed a considerable premium on finding ways of scaling up small, innovative interventions, such as scholarships for girls, which appear to be able to raise girls’ enrolments in large educational programmes (Fennell, 2006).

17While the debate on gender equality grew in prominence over the first decade of the twenty-first century, and has begun to guide the new design of global agendas on gender education among Northern academics, international institutions, aid agencies, and NGOs (Fennell and Arnot, 2008b), there has been far less alacrity in championing a gender equality framework within national, South Asian institutions. The pro-PPP arguments that have been put forward in national educational documents draw on older PPP forms devised from Private Finance Initiatives (PFI) of the 1990s. These PPPs consequently regard the lack of government finances for ensuring EFA as the primary reason for encouraging the entry of the private sector to provide both financial and managerial resources to move towards universal primary and secondary education goals (Fennell, 2006). This is the primary reason why the official documentation in South Asia on the role of PPPs in education does not regard gender as a relevant category. A push by the World Bank and donor agencies has resulted in a narrow economic model of PPP being provided to South Asian governments, and it was this narrower version rather than the more inter-disciplinary and social-science-based model preferred by UNGEI and UNESCO that was adopted by India and Pakistan during the first decade of the MDG era.

18The selection of a narrow version of gender equality is not surprising but rather fits the tendency of official policies on education to go for technical forms of interventions so that gender equality goals have tended to be conceptualized in narrow economic terms and often entirely overlooked the social and political dimensions of empowerment and social justice (Unterhalter, 2014). The academic literature has become increasingly caught up with evaluations and critiques of educational policies. This has made it less ready to address the historical specificities in individual countries that bring gender equality concerns to the forefront of educational policymaking in international or national programmes (Unterhalter and Brighouse, 2014).

  • 3  South Asia does have a more established history of public-private collaboration in educational pro (...)

19This last point regarding the importance of history in policymaking is explicitly evident in the case of South Asia, where the process of adopting PPP models within the context of the MDG goals’ objective of UPE did not follow similar trajectories in India and Pakistan. There were differences in the timeline of acceptance of PPPs as a mechanism for advancing enrolment that was to replace the older, established approach of regarding the government school as the preferred route for promoting EFA, and in the rate of adoption subsequent to that acceptance.3 These historical and policy features constitute key structural aspects that will be addressed in the evaluation of the top-down national documents on PPPs in education in the following subsections.

3.1. PPPs and Gender in India

20The discussions on PPPs began rather late, and it was only in 2009 that the government of India put out its Note on Education for public discussion. This was the first official acknowledgement that the notion of PPPs that had already been actively pursued for a decade in the field of infrastructure investment, as set out in the Tenth and Eleventh Plan documents, was to be considered as an option for the provision of education. This thirty-page Note provided a brief review of the types of PPPs used and evaluated in high- and middle-income countries, supplemented by a commentary on their applicability for the Indian case. The case for PPPs in India, in relation to their additional value and growing acceptability among the poorer sections of Indian society, was specified in the following terms.

There is a large unfulfilled need for quality education in the secondary education sector. It does not appear feasible for the State governments to fill this gap in the short term due to constraints on budget and capacity. PPP emerges as a viable alternative to improve access to quality school education while ensuring equity and social justice. Not only can the constraints be overcome, but the quality of education can be significantly enhanced through improvement of accountability structure. There is a perception that the accountability of teachers in private schools is much higher as compared to government schools because of the inherent structure of management. That is why even low income families make their best effort to send children to private schools by paying a much higher fee as compared to government schools which have nominal or no fee. (Government of India, 2009)

21The entire thrust of the Note is with regard to the ability of the PPP framework to improve the availability of schools for poor and difficult-to-access populations. It is worth noting that there is no mention of gender in the entire document, neither with regard to the difficult-to-access groups nor in relation to the very large gender gap that was evident in both primary and secondary schooling in India in the early twenty-first century.

22The public response to this first Note on PPPs was plentiful and began a debate in national newspapers, on education websites, and in national academic journals regarding the implications of introducing a PPP framework into the Indian education system. A year after the debate was initiated a fuller version of the ideas set out in the Note was published in the Eleventh Five Year Plan, published in 2011. The chapter on education expands the rationale for PPPs by emphasising the contribution of private provision to improving the supply of education through innovation. There was still though little mention of how such innovation might be related to the large gender gap that had yet to be closed with regard to secondary education.

In the liberalized global economy where there is a pursuit for achieving excellence, the legitimate role of private providers of quality education not only needs to be recognized, but also encouraged. Public–Private Partnership (PPP) need not necessarily mean only seeking private investments to supplement governmental efforts, but also encouraging innovation in education that the government schools may lack. (Government of India, 2011, 9)

23The Report of the Working Group on Private Sector Participation including PPP in School Education, published in 2012, further elaborates on how these ideas would be incorporated into the Twelfth National Plan. The increasing role envisaged for private sector players in the provision of education, evident in official national documents from the initial Note of 2009 on PPP, is an indication of the emergence of a new platform for educational provision, but the link to gender equality is slow in appearing within this new policy directive.

The primary purpose of PPP in education is not just for using the private party as an executor or a source of funds though these may be parts of the role in specific cases, but to seek a collaborative engagement that builds on the strengths of different players and creates a total greater than the sum of the parts. In this regard, 12th five year plan envisages involvement of private players to provide quality education, with social objectives in mind. This report has been prepared to provide some ideas on how could private players be engaged in the provisioning of education. (Government of India, 2012, 5)

24There is, in the Twelfth Plan, the first explicit recognition of identifiable areas in which the PPP framework could innovate and improve current educational delivery. There is a particular focus on the role that will be played by both PPPs and the government sector in ensuring educational quality and achieving the social objectives of overcoming structural and functional inequalities of gender, class, and caste (Government of India, 2012, 23). The term ‘gender’ is included alongside those of ‘class’ and ‘caste’ but there is no specific reference to the international agendas on gender parity or the explicit targets of the MDGs.

  • 4  An interview that I conducted in 2003 with an education official at the Ministry of Human Resource (...)

25The unfolding of these agendas, in relation to both the timing and speed of adoption, is in keeping with Indian educational policies over the last two decades where there has been a strong sense among Indian policy makers — who were interviewed during a study on PPPs — that gender goals, like other social objectives, should not be merely knee-jerk responses to broad international concerns (Srivastava et al., 2013). These experts’ view was that the most effective gender improvements in education over the previous decade had been the result of improving delivery by ensuring that innovative practice and better data collection was introduced into the educationally weaker states in India. The position of Indian government officials and educationists has been that the driver for change must be designed around specific articulations of the form and meaning of gender equality within the Indian polity that are then addressed through domestic formulations of potential solutions.4

3.2. PPPs and Gender in Pakistan

  • 5  The increased interest is, in part, a consequence of post 9/11 recasting of the country as a hub o (...)
  • 6  The linkage between the US invasion of Afghanistan and the increased enrolment of girls in schools (...)

26Pakistan has gained considerable visibility in the last decade in international policy circles, at least in part due to the ‘war on terror’.5 This has led to particular interest on the part of international agencies such as USAID in the role that aid and other forms of international support to new educational providers could play in countering terrorism. This, in turn, has led to US-directed initiatives that advocate a greater focus on girls’ education to counter the indoctrination of young men within the madrasa system of education.6 While the anti-terror sentiment was not the only reason for global interest in girls’ education in Pakistan, the sudden increase in the visibility of this gender-specific agenda among international agencies is in sharp contrast to the low level of interest in gender-equality expressed via the vehicle of state educational policy.

  • 7  The evaluation was conducted by UNESCO Pakistan in 2002.
  • 8  Several international evaluations focusing on the inability to achieve universal primary education (...)

27There is limited evidence of a focus on gender equality in the use of mechanisms such as PPPs within national educational plans. A single evaluation report on the gender component of education documents does indicate a greater push towards getting more girls into school by increasing the number of women teachers, expanding secondary schooling provision for girls, and providing additional support for informal schooling for girls and women in the context of the drive towards UPE (Khalid and Mujahid-Mukhtar, 2002).7 In contrast, a core policy document — the Perspective Development Plan (20012011) — remains gender neutral/blind and does not target girls’ education as a priority area. The Plan merely indicates a need to achieve universal primary education for both boys and girls.8

28Further, the country’s Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) indicates that PPPs are central to dealing with the challenges of education delivery (Bano, 2008), yet does not comment on how PPPs might improve the type or nature of interventions to improve girls’ education.

  • 9  This lack of coordination is not evident in the less developed provinces alone. Even in the most e (...)

29An example of this disjointed approach can also be seen in the manner in which provincial educational programmes are implemented. In the case of the province of Balochistan, the Pakistan (Balochistan) Basic Education Support Project has been set up to encourage the establishment of new private schools by providing per-student subsidies to Private School Implementation Partners (PIPs). The subsidy takes the form of a top-up fee of PRs 300 (approximately USD 30) per student for each PIP. There is also a separate programme, the Pakistan (Balochistan) Urban Girls’ Fellowship, providing a separate subsidy for private schools to increase the enrolment of girls from the poorest households in the province’s districts. While these programmes coexist in the same province there has been no attempt made to dovetail the two to produce a better targeted intervention for girls from the poorest households in the province.9

30The lack of any formal mechanism by which girls’ education, far less gender equality, has been incorporated into Pakistan’s national plan for educational provision through the use of PPPs is a major lacuna. There is, nonetheless, evidence of activity on the ground at provincial and district levels. The key players have been NGOs and Community-Based Organisations (CBOs), which work with municipal authorities to create partnerships (Farah and Rizvi, 2007). There has been a particular focus on local CBOs as part of the devolutionary process affecting the field of public finance over the last decade (Bano, 2008). The objectives of these partnerships focus on improving access through building new schools or improving quality in existing schools and do not directly address the problems of the poorest communities.

31A review of the national documents on education in India and Pakistan indicates that gender equality was not part of the original education policy documents and that there is a need to understand the history of international and national policy interventions in order to gain a better sense of how gender equality is perceived in top-down policymaking. Furthermore, the limited and often neglected approach to gender equality that has resulted from an overriding focus on financing and on achieving physical and technical targets has produced an inability to get a sense of the social and political aspects of gender equality that should follow on from a greater enrolment of girls in schools under a PPP programme. The top-down approach to education that is still prevalent in many developing countries does not facilitate the collection of local data on gender equality. The next section will provide data collected at district and village levels to provide a bottom-up approach to PPPs and gender equality.  

4. Community Perceptions of Educational Access and Achievement

  • 10  RECOUP was a research consortium active in the period 200510, and was awarded research funding by (...)

32The research conducted by the public-private partnerships project run by the Research Consortium on Educational Outcomes and Poverty (RECOUP)10 investigated the decisions made by parents in relation to their choice of school for their sons and daughters. The aim of the PPP project was to undertake community and school level studies to identify the manner in which demand and supply factors operate in the educational sector, where demand is identified by the use of voice and supply by the response to the phenomenon of exit, in a social context where there are long established traditions of loyalty.

4.1. Research Design and Methodology

  • 11  The explanation of the original terms, exit, voice and loyalty, as used by Albert Hirschman in his (...)

33The research design for the PPP project used predominantly qualitative methods to obtain evidence of exit, voice, and loyalty, supported by quantitative data obtained from the community household census conducted at each field community site.11 The research was conducted at one rural and one urban site in a single district in India and in two districts in Pakistan.

  • 12  The communities considered for the project were always located within the districts selected in ea (...)

34The primary selection criterion for the poor community was that public and private schools should be accessible to the community.12The sample of schools included state schools, private schools, and partnerships (where the state had contracted private providers and was providing them with compensation and/or financial and other subsidies or incentives). Ten schools that were accessible to the studied community were selected in each location.

  • 13  The manner in which the relationship between the school and community was thought through is set o (...)

35The qualitative research methods were focus groups and semi-structured interviews. Separate focus group discussions (FGDs) were conducted with mothers and fathers and male and female young people so as to understand how social perceptions were affected by both markers of gender and age in these communities. The FGDs identified participants for the individual semi-structured interviews, which took place with parents and young people in the community, with teachers and head teachers in the schools, and with educational officials on the premises of the district education institution.13

36The head teacher and a teacher from each school were interviewed, as were a minimum of ten parents (five fathers and five mothers) and a minimum of ten young people (five young men and five young women) from each site.

  • 14  These criteria were in keeping with the sampling framework that was used in the other, related, qu (...)
  • 15  The two districts of Alwar in India and Sargodha in Pakistan, represent areas where there is consi (...)

37The selected age-range for the young people was 1425 years, with an additional condition being that each should have completed primary education.14 The households identified were the second or third income deciles from the bottom, as the poorest decile did not have a sufficient number of young people completing the secondary schooling, indicating that the poorest were not achieving the UPE goal. The earning and employment profiles of the households indicated that a very small percentage were low-level, white-collar workers or teachers, a small proportion of the better-off households included traders or those active in other petty activities, while the majority earned money as daily labourers or were self-employed (artisans) or unemployed. The findings presented below are based on the data collected in the districts of Alwar in Rajasthan, India, and the district of Sargodha in Punjab, Pakistan.15

4.2. Community Perspectives on Schooling

38The data indicated that the parental generations in Alwar and Sargodha strongly supported education as a way of ensuring economic and social mobility for the young people in their communities. Fathers and mothers identified the successful completion of the educational cycle with securing employment. Employability was valued for both sons and daughters by the parental generation, but that generation was not able to perceive any relationship between the quality of education received and the employability of young people.

39The younger generation was, in contrast, concerned about the lack of employment opportunities. There was much more awareness of the impact of the quality of teaching and the role of critical thinking on making students more employable and able.

40The sense of individual failure among the parental generation with regard to their inability to readily take up their educational concerns regarding their youth with school authorities was particularly noticeable in the rural interviews where the focus groups revealed considerable fear of intimidation mixed with a deep inadequacy expressed with regard to successful engagement with the school.

4.3. Alwar, India

41While the parents universally valued educating their children to ensure that they had a better financial future, some were affected by the fact that the poorer households were in severe financial difficulties and parents were not able to finance their children’s education with their earnings. A poor father who was an artisan was not able to keep his children in school, as they found opportunities to work within the artisan group and other income-earning opportunities more attractive than being in secondary schooling.

Then they (the children) stopped studying and going to school. They had to look after the family business and to look for jobs. They were not interested in studying when they had the opportunity to work. I wanted my children to work, but now I am in even greater financial difficulties and cannot pay for their education.  

Rural father

42It was not the case that there was any less interest in the secondary and tertiary schooling of girls than there was in that of boys. There was considerable importance accorded to daughters taking up professions such as teaching. The benefit of educating a daughter went beyond the instrumental value of earning an income to the intrinsic value of gaining self-respect and status in the community, as illustrated by a rural mother who was clear that her own inability to complete her education and get a job was the reason for her own economically precarious position.

My daughter wants to complete her schooling and to get a job. She could become a teacher or get some other job, and these days it is a very good thing if a girl can stand on her own two feet. At the moment, I am not living well because I do not earn anything. If I could earn at present I would have more comfort and leisure. My daughter tells me that she wants to get a B.Ed. degree, but will not be able to do it because it is a rather expensive course. She has therefore decided to do a cheaper teacher-training course. I agree with her that she should do a B.A. degree and then a teacher-training course. As she is about to get married, it will be her in-laws who will ensure that she will complete her education.

Rural mother

43The parents did not have a detailed understanding of the process by which schooling results in the improved employability of their children. In the main, the parental interviews in Alwar did not reveal much awareness among the parents of the importance of the quality of education in this regard. An urban mother whose husband was working in a rural school proved to be the exception who was able to discern that improving children’s learning was necessary for their progression through the secondary cycle.

There are more children in a government school and the quality of education is also low. My husband works in a government school and the children don’t even know how to write. Their children do not learn anything, not even to read and write properly. It is only when they grow up they realize how important education is. The children are promoted to the next class, irrespective of their level of learning. At least they should know how to read. Now they have started eighth board in Rajasthan.

 If they don’t write anything and keep making spelling mistakes, how will they score better marks?

Urban mother

44The sense among the parental generation was that completion of the educational cycle would ensure that their children would have a more secure life financially than they themselves had been able to achieve. It is noteworthy that members of this generation had, in the main, not completed the educational cycle themselves and saw this as a primary reason for their then current financial difficulties.

4.4. Sargodha, Pakistan

45The parents in Sargodha were equally eager for their children to gain economic mobility through the benefits of education. The complex intertwining of intrinsic and instrumental values evident in the responses of a father who had managed to be awarded a B.A. degree indicates that education was highly regarded in a number of ways.

The meetings with teachers are very useful, as it allows us know how our children are doing, what are their strengths and weaknesses. It allows you to know what marks the children have obtained and where they need to put in more effort. If we do not go to the meetings, and the teachers do not send information of the child’s performance home, then the child will become nonchalant and stop taking an interest in studying.

In my opinion, in the days when we studied our parents lived very simple lives. We were seven brothers and sisters and I am amazed how my father managed to earn enough to educate us all.  I think the answer is that we lived very simply, and my father saved everything so that I could study and complete my B.A. degree.  Education was like a ray of sunshine and I now have that bit of sunshine in my life. I want to share the sunshine with my children. I often tell my children if they do not study, then they will have to work very long hours, like I work from sunrise till late at night. If they study and get a service job like their uncle, they can go to work at  8.00 am and get home at 3.00 pm.

Rural father

46The equal importance accorded by parents to the education of both their sons and their daughters in a very gender unequal world might appear to be at odds with social norms that militate against girls working outside the home. A closer examination of differential employment trajectories reveals that parents do envisage that the educational outcomes of their sons and daughters will differ in relation to employment — girls will not necessarily enter paid employment when they complete secondary and tertiary education.

47While one mother regarded it as important that her girls complete the secondary cycle, there is no indication that she would wish to see her daughters entering the labour market.

My view is that my daughters should go to school and then to college. May Allah give my daughters the ability and discipline to get all the facilities that they need in the college, as they cannot go outside the college premises. In the case of the boys, they are in the college for one period, and then they leave the college in the next period.

It is expensive for parents to educate their children and all parents in our community are worried about whether we will be able to pay all the expenses of imparting education and paying for the costs of marrying off our children. We are lucky that our children have a college in our area and if the children here can complete Class 12 then they have a chance of improving their future.  

Rural mother

48The strong social norms opposing girls’ employment are no longer an obstacle to girls completing the educational cycle. There is greater gender equality in schooling but this is followed by marriage and family life for daughters, and a search for employment for sons.

5. Young People’s Perceptions of Schooling Outcomes

49There are strong inter-generational differences in the manner in which the educational outcomes of schooling were perceived. Young men and women in the community appreciated the increased number of private schools but there was no agreement that these were necessarily better than the government schools in terms of the quality of educational services provided.

5.1. Alwar, India

50In the case of the community in Alwar district, the young men and women were aware of the differences in educational provision in public, private, and PPP schools. Opinion was divided with regard to the ability of the fee-paying private schools to provide the additional services necessary for technical subjects such as science and computer science at the secondary level.

  • 16  ‘Coaching schools’ are known elsewhere as ‘private tutoring’, particularly in East Asia, and provi (...)

51One young woman was not sure about whether the move from a private school to a ‘coaching school’ environment16 was the best option to ensure better examination results. A coaching school spends less time on public examinations and more on preparing students for the entrance examinations for enrolling in vocational courses. Accelerated delivery and a teaching programme pared down from the school syllabus results in a halving of school years from two to one, but there is a concern that despite this saving and the higher fees, the coaching centre might not be able to ensure that all the practical examination requirements are met.

 ‘Now I am thinking that I should leave the school, although I don’t really want to leave the school. Also, I am not sure if they do all the practical examinations in the coaching centres. One of my friends goes to a coaching centre so I was thinking of asking her. The fees are also higher and we also don’t get any holidays. The benefit of a coaching centre is that they prepare us for all the medical-related exams that we need to take in order to become doctors. If I continue going to the school I will have to take out a separate year to prepare for the competitive exams but if I go to the coaching centre, I will be able to do everything in one year.’

Urban young woman

52The young people are as aware as their parents are of the financial constraints that they face as a consequence of the difficult economic circumstances in which their households find themselves. They also are aware that some government schools are not able to provide quality education in poor communities. One young man who lived in an urban slum and was not able to cover his fees in a private school appreciated the fact that some private providers were offering bursaries and financial support to poor families to allow their children to enrol in their schools. He commented that his preference for the private school, despite not being able to finance it fully, was the following:

The standard and quality of education is not good over there [in the government school] as it is a government school… that’s how it is in government schools.

I took the Arts course because of financial constraints. If that was not the case I would have taken Commerce or Science. After our exams they tell us the date that the results will be out. Then we go to school on that date and they tell us our results and give our mark sheets and make us sign on them.’

As we live in a slum, most of the people are poor. In a private school if someone is poor and cannot pay the fees, the owner of the school will let him study for free. For instance if there is a child without a father and only his mother [is raising him]…or if the situation of the house is such that there is no earning member, then they have taught them as well.’

Urban young man

53The young interviewees were not unequivocally in favour of any of the providers. They were keen to complete their schooling and to ensure that they did as well as they could in the school-leaving examinations. There was no clear-cut view on which type of school was better with regard to schooling outcomes, nor was there any difference in the perception of young urban males and females regarding the  value of secondary education. There was a difference between urban and rural Alwar, with the rural youth being less sure of their ability to complete the educational cycle or to secure employment after the successful completion of the educational cycle.

5.2. Sargodha, Pakistan

54Members of the younger generation in the Sargodha district were unanimously positive about the value of community engagement in the provision of education. One young woman was clear that unless mothers participated in the schooling process it would be more difficult to complete schooling.

Parents and teachers should talk to each other about the progress and problems of the children.  Days like ‘Mothers’ Days’ allow mothers to visit to the school. They can discuss concerns that they or the teachers might have regarding the children’s learning.

Urban young woman

55This view was also reflected in the views of rural young women. The importance of women teachers who can identify with the learning intentions of female students in the school was emphasised. It is clear that one young woman was very aware that unless students were able to interrogate their teachers regarding the curriculum they would not achieve their hoped-for learning outcomes.

It is important to have a school and an educated population. If there was no education we would be like animals in the jungle.  We are lucky to have a school and [one] with a level of educational provision [that ensures] that there is not much difference in the quality of education in urban and rural areas.  Our teachers should be broad-minded, and allow students to ask questions, but they are only interested in teaching and not answering our questions.  They regard our questions as rudeness or an attempt to stop the lesson or fool around.  The only teachers who do allow us to engage in discussions are those who are from our village. They are friendly and even lend us books. They also treat our mothers with respect [when] they see them in the village going about their work.

Rural young woman

56The importance of the quality of schooling and the ability of teachers to ensure a full delivery of the curriculum are the educational aspects of schooling that are emphasised by both rural and urban young people. The young men and women unanimously agreed that the most important aspect of educational provision is the availability of teaching staff able to teach the full content of the curriculum.

There is not much difference between the quality of educational provision in the government and [the] private school. The only difference is that in the private school they used to ask why we were absent from the school. As we were not mature, they needed to find out.

I had made a request to the Principal for computer classes and we had to take the Metric examinations that year. The school then brought in a private teacher to give additional classes for a short while.  He taught us the text book material but there were no computers so we had to do the practical coursework on our own. We left ourselves at Allah’s mercy when we took our papers.

Urban young man

57The central importance of the quality of teaching and the regular presence of the teacher in school, in the case of both private and government schools, was a matter that concerned both young men and young women in Sargodha.

58The ability of young males and females in rural and urban Sargodha to evaluate the quality of teaching provision irrespective of the type of provider was particularly noteworthy. While there was little evidence of gender-specific features with regard to schooling access and quality in the younger generation, both young men and women regard the quality of education as being of the highest significance. There are gendered differences regarding how likely young men and women are to succeed in completing secondary schooling. In particular, young women continue to face difficulties in achieving successful schooling outcomes. They are still struggling to get through the secondary schooling system in the absence of an adequate number of accessible teachers and inadequate support for home learning by the mothers of younger girls.  

6.  Data Analysis on Inter-Generational Perspectives and Educational Outcomes

59The data indicates that members of the parental generation are less than unanimous with regard to the superiority of private schools as a more likely pathway to economic mobility. They are very strongly behind the objective of ensuring that their children complete the secondary cycle and thereby secure employment. The key weight accorded to this instrumental value of education as expressed by the parents is not diluted by the difficulties that parents have to face to pay for their children’s education.

60There is surprisingly little gendered difference in how the parental generations in Sargodha and Alwar view the educational pathways of their sons and daughters. In sharp contrast, there is a clear distinction with regard to educational outcomes, with parents in Sargodha regarding marriage as the ultimate goal for their educated daughters. In contradistinction, parents in Alwar did not regard marriage as a rite of passage that signalled the end of the educational cycle for their daughters, but were happy for them to continue tertiary studies in their marital home. Notwithstanding this difference in social norms, all parents regarded the completion of the education cycle to have instrinsic value for their daughters and their sons, viewing it as a way of ensuring better lives, financial solvency and social mobility for their children.

61There is even less evidence that the younger generation regard a single type of school as a sure route to successful school outcomes. Furthermore, there is no evidence that that generation regards any type of schooling as being adequate for ensuring the completion of the schooling cycle with examination results good enough to secure employment. The young interviewees were very aware that an ability to understand and critically assess the educational curriculum is a prerequisite to successful educational outcomes.

62The young people concerned were also keenly aware that their parents, who were so eager that they should complete their secondary schooling and who urged them to go on into tertiary education, did not have the financial ability to support their children’s educational choices. They also recognised that their parents did not have a full understanding of the importance of the quality of education and did not have the ability to monitor their children’s performance at primary and secondary levels, as they had not completed the educational cycle themselves.

63These results fit in with other recent research that shows that young people from poor households are significantly disadvantaged on account of their rural upbringing and their parents’ lack of education. The only individuals who have been able to overcome these disadvantages have been those who have been mentored by a friend or relative (Krishna, 2013).

7. Commentary on the Data in Relation to Policy Findings

64The global literature on the impact of PPPs has indicated that the gender gap in education should fall as more girls go to new private schools that are of better quality and are often located closer to their homes. It has also indicated that if these private schools were to provide targeted interventions for girls this would further increase girls’ education in areas with social norms of gender discrimination. The dominant policy view in Pakistan that the gender gap is shrinking as the private sector expands and parents choose to send their daughters to the new private schools (Andrabi et. al. 2002) is not entirely accurate. Our community data from Sargodha shows that while girls and boys are going to private schools there is no gendered preference with regard to school type. Both the parental and the younger generations are pushing for completion of the educational cycle but there is no preference for selecting private schools either for girls or boys.

65The difference in educational outcomes is not a difference between school type chosen (private or government) but rather between generations. Parents are of the firm opinion that attending schools that can ensure that the educational cycle is completed will result in employment. Young people, on the other hand, are still searching for improved quality of schooling and are not sure whether or not schooling will result in employability. While there is a gendered difference in the types of employment that young men and women take up, there is little difference between the aspirations that young men and young women have at the secondary schooling stage.

66In the case of India, the long-established academic literature shows that the different statuses accorded to men and women within the family have negative implications for girls’ education (Jeffery and Jeffery, 1993). Our community data indicates that, in relation to completing the educational cycle, the current parental generation supports both sons and daughters, so that that generation’s children will have greater economic mobility than their parents themselves have achieved. The young men and women completing the secondary cycle are worried about whether any educational provider will give the support they need to get the best possible examination results. There is concern that there is no surety that private schools charging higher fees are necessarily safer bets for better results.

8. Conclusion

67The qualitative data from Sargodha, Pakistan and Alwar, India, shows that members of this younger generation — the first to complete the secondary cycle from the second and third decile households that are still below the poverty line — are not confident that they will be able to enter gainful employment. In contrast, the parental generations in both communities regard the completion of the educational cycle as the necessary and sufficient basis for the employability of their children. These parents support both sons and daughters in an equally forthright manner through the primary and secondary cycles of education.

68The lack of gender discrimination in the parental and younger generations with regard to completing the schooling cycle could be taken as an indirect indication that increasing enrolment has positive results for gender equality in poor communities in an EFA context in India and Pakistan. It is noteworthy that the improvement in the educational achievement of girls, an improvement that has reduced the gender gap, has occurred despite a lack of an explicit approach to gender equality agendas in national education policies.

69There is less evidence that a decided advantage lies with either the PPP schools or the government schools in the context of this achievement.  More significantly, there remain obstacles in moving from gender equality in schooling to gender equality in employment on account of the strongly gendered employment opportunities that communities envisage for their daughters. At present the narratives are that parents aspire to educated daughters becoming teachers, while educated sons become office workers.  

70The advantage of schooling is most pronounced in the aspirations of parents — who have not succeeded in completing the educational cycle —that their children have a better life. The young people concerned are unanimous that this would require that the parental generation is more aware of the quality of education offered by the new providers. This points to an immediate lacuna in education and employment policies that can be filled by introducing a regulatory authority to ensure that all schools have functional parent-teacher associations (PTAs) in which parents are able to voice concerns and have the right to receive additional information regarding the type and quality of educational provided.

71These concerns are beginning to be addressed by the national plan documents in India and Pakistan, both of which have recently identified the role played by education in supporting the youth of today.

Education, in its broadest sense of [the] development of youth, is the most crucial input for empowering people with skills and knowledge and giving them access to productive employment in [the] future. (Government of India, 2011, 1)

The [potential of] youth […] if properly harnessed can bring a socio-economic revolution [to] Pakistan. [But] if youth issues, perceptions, [and] ideas […] are not assessed and subsequently addressed in a timely manner[,] it may turn into a ‘nightmare on [the road] to prosperity. (Government of Pakistan, 2012)

72Without such policy interventions, the higher enrolment rates witnessed in schools today might falter as the current younger generation, which does not regard schooling per se in as positive a light, becomes the next parental generation.  If there is an inability to provide employment for this younger generation, this could also undo any reduction in the gender gap, as increased poverty might re-impose the costs associated with girls’ education and push girls out of school in the next two decades.

73There is also a need to directly address the persistent matter of the difference in the gendered social norms observed by rural and urban parents regarding aspirations for their daughters. As urban youth and parents are pushing for educational completion and the latter are even willing to agree that young women could benefit from having a job, a particular focus for targeted interventions could be the training of, and employment opportunities for, young women in urban areas, in order to build on this new-found gender equality. There also needs to be an accelerated scheme for continued innovative financial and social support networks for rural parents, and their daughters who continue to struggle to complete the secondary educational cycle.

74Given the huge push from the MDG initiative to drive South Asian countries to reduce the gender gap in educational enrolment and retention, it would seem that the biggest advance in this regard can be made by improving those employment opportunities that would maximize the employability of the first generation of educated, poor, urban and rural female youth. The current labour market situation is dire, with the formal manufacturing sector in South Asia being unable to employ even ten per cent of the labour force. This points to a need for developing diversified rural opportunities for off-farm employment such as in the agro-industry, and for urban employment in the service sector. There is a gargantuan shortfall in vocational training institutes and this could be a potentially important area for infrastructural investment to create institutions that provide service sector training.

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1  The funding for the research conducted by James Tooley and the team at the University of Newcastle was provided by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private sector arm of the World Bank (Robertson et al., 2013).

2  The International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP) made this topic one of the key research focuses of its current mediumterm plan.

3  South Asia does have a more established history of public-private collaboration in educational provision that goes back to the British colonial period. The aided schools that were established in the nineteenth century (as a legacy of the Macaulay Act), were precisely such a collaboration. There is, however, a distinction between these aided schools and the new PPPs in relation to the nature of the contract and to the ownership of the schools. The relationship between the aided schools and the state was clearly set out, with the schools receiving a subsidy from the state and obtaining land at concessional rates. The PPPs in the new model do not have such clear contractual and ownership obligations (see Robertson et al., 2013).

4  An interview that I conducted in 2003 with an education official at the Ministry of Human Resource Development reflects this sentiment clearly. I was told by the middle-ranking education official that when he had been posted to district headquarters he would assiduously follow up cases reported to his office regarding girls not being allowed to go school in particular communities. He indicated that the objective of increasing the number of girls in such communities was achieved by putting in place door-to-door enrolment campaigns. He said ‘every girl matters but I do not want “gender” thrust down my throat by international agendas.’

5  The increased interest is, in part, a consequence of post 9/11 recasting of the country as a hub of terrorist activity (Robertson et al., 2013).

6  The linkage between the US invasion of Afghanistan and the increased enrolment of girls in schools there has been made by many in the American Republican Party. Laura Bush reiterated this point in a speech given in support of her husband’s re-election campaign. (accessedon 1  September 2004).

7  The evaluation was conducted by UNESCO Pakistan in 2002.

8  Several international evaluations focusing on the inability to achieve universal primary education for girls identify low participation rates generated by a combination of both supply- and demand-related factors that include: (i) lack of political will and commitment to education; (ii) high population growth rates; (iii) low levels of financial allocation and inefficient utilization of these limited resources; (iv) lack of coordination between federal and provincial governments; (v) lack of school facilities (distance; lack of, or absenteeism of, female teachers; lack of privacy and security; etc.); (vi) poverty; (vii) cultural and family constraints, which hinder girls from attending school; and (viii) lack of community participation (Khalid and Mujahid-Mukhtar, 2002).

9  This lack of coordination is not evident in the less developed provinces alone. Even in the most economically advanced province of Pakistan a programme such as the Pakistan (Punjab) Financial Assistance per Child Enrolled Basis Program (FAS) set up by The Punjab Education Foundation has encountered difficulties in meeting the criteria required to have its membership renewed and the gains that are made do not indicate that there has been any deepening of the partnership between the government and the private sector over the period of the programme.

10  RECOUP was a research consortium active in the period 200510, and was awarded research funding by the Department of International Development, United Kingdom (DFID). Both quantitative and qualitative data was collected over the course of six different research projects, as well a large-scale household survey that provided cross-project data for India and Pakistan. For information regarding the research and access to the research outputs visit the consortium’s website at (accessed on 29 July 2014).

11  The explanation of the original terms, exit, voice and loyalty, as used by Albert Hirschman in his seminal work in the 1970s, is set out in Fennell (2010).

12  The communities considered for the project were always located within the districts selected in each country by the RECOUP national team, as described in Annex 1 in Colclough (2013).

13  The manner in which the relationship between the school and community was thought through is set out in the separately published conceptual and methodological framework (Fennell, 2010).

14  These criteria were in keeping with the sampling framework that was used in the other, related, qualitative research projects see Annex 1 in Colclough (2013).

15  The two districts of Alwar in India and Sargodha in Pakistan, represent areas where there is considerable commercial activity and where the third decline from the bottom has seen economic advances over the first decade of the new millennium.

16  ‘Coaching schools’ are known elsewhere as ‘private tutoring’, particularly in East Asia, and provide the school going students with private tuition that supplements their school lessons. It is a rapidly expanding business in South Asia.

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Electronic reference

Shailaja Fennell, “Public-Private Partnerships in Education and the Pursuit of Gender Equality: A View from South Asia”International Development Policy | Revue internationale de politique de développement [Online], 5.3 | 2014, Online since 11 December 2014, connection on 02 July 2022. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Shailaja Fennell

Shailaja Fennell is a University Lecturer in Development Studies, Centre of Development Studies, at University of Cambridge. She has research expertise in the areas of rural development, agricultural productivity and human skills; provision of public goods (with particular focus on education); institutional reform and legal regulation; and gender and ethnicity.

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