The tuition market

Published November 10, 2023
The writer is a senior research fellow at the Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives, and an associate professor of economics at Lums.
The writer is a senior research fellow at the Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives, and an associate professor of economics at Lums.

A FRIEND wanted some advice. His son, studying for his ‘A’-Levels, wanted to stop going to school, and instead, appear as a private candidate. The son’s argument was simple. He said he was not being taught well in school and he wasted six hours there. All his ‘A’-Level preparations were happening through tuitions that he was taking. He thought that, instead of paying for both school and tuitions, and ‘wasting’ his time, why not just pay for tuitions, prepare more rigorously and have some time for other extracurricular activities as well.

Coming from another time, when most of the studying and learning happened in school, I tried to argue that he should stay in school. His friends were there, he was learning social skills and could also participate in team sports. He said his school did not offer any sports opportunities and his social life was now mostly with friends who were not in his school anyway.

Times have changed. When we were in school, tuitions were rare and even when students were taking tuitions, many would not mention it to friends as it was thought that coaching outside school was for ‘weaker’ students or an ‘unfair’ advantage.

The 2018 sample for the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) showed eight per cent of children in government and 28pc in private schools taking private tuitions. The numbers were 7pc and 22pc in 2019 and then post-Covid, they were 20pc for students in government and 22pc for students in private schools. In other words, one in four children in their sample — and their sample is more rural and underrepresents children going to high-fee urban schools — get extra, private coaching after school. During Covid, given school closures, tuition became even more important. Post-Covid, given the learning losses, tuitions continue to be important. ASER data showed 27pc of students getting tuitions during Covid.

Private tuitions make the education field even more uneven.

There are coaching academies that specialise in the type of examination you want your child to sit for. For matriculation and intermediate, there are institutions that take three to four months to get your child ready for these examinations. They have demanding daily routines for practice that ensure a high level of memorisation as well as attempting past papers.

The ‘A’-Level market is not dissimilar but there are individual teachers, with a reputation for preparing students for specific subjects, who have a significant market share as well.

Very much like the private school market, here too parental income matters in terms of whether a child gets tuitions or not and what quality of tuition she gets. Fewer children from government schools than private schools take tuitions (as ASER indicates). This is not a reflection of a higher demand for education from parents or their children attending private schools; it is a reflection of the purchasing power of the parents.

Pakistan’s education system is very inequitable as it is. Access to quality education for a child depends on factors such as parental income, the gender of the child, any disability, location and geography, religion, caste, and language. Public school education is generally of poor quality. Low-fee private schools are only slightly better, while high-fee private schools are better but very expensive. Lahore has free government schools on one side and schools that charge up to Rs90,000 per month per child. Where education is supposed to level the playing field, allow social and economic mobility, and facilitate meritocracy, our education system entrenches existing inequalities, and in fact, exacerbates them inter-generationally. Private tuitions make the field even more uneven. Those who are better off can get better coaching for their children while others cannot.

This problem is not unique to Pakistan. But in many other countries public education is not as bad, and private education is not as large a sector as it is in Pakistan. So, the problem, while there, is not as serious. Still other countries have also tried to deal with the issue.

There are two ways to deal with it. One is through regulation. Some countries have tried to shut down or limit the tuition market. But this is an implementation nightmare. Tuition transaction is between two willing parties. Even if it is legally banned, it is very hard to locate the transactions and try and shut them down. If a teacher is teaching in the afternoon or evening by either visiting homes or by having some children come to her home, how will the state find out about this? Even in the case of academies, if they are on every street, how can the state enforce the ban? So, this solution has not really been very effective. And it is definitely not the route one can recommend for Pakistan.

Two, some states have tried to open up the tuition market for those who could not afford to pay for it. Stipends are given to children from lower-income backgrounds so that they too, like their peers from higher-income households, can pay for extra coaching. Again, this is not a simple solution. The Pakistani state says it does not even have money to spend on its schools and on the education sector, and we have 23 million-plus five-to-16-year-olds out of schools, so how can it give money for tuitions.

The only possible way for us to address the inequity here is by raising the quality of education at government schools. If that quality was above a certain threshold, many parents would not only shift away from private provision, they would also see that there is no need for extra tuition. Extra tuition is needed as schools are not giving adequate quality and parents feel competition requires extra effort. Short of this, the tuition market will continue to expand and develop and might, over time, even start crowding out the schooling market.

The writer is a senior research fellow at the Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives, and an associate professor of economics at Lums.

Published in Dawn, November 10th, 2023

Opinion

Editorial

Unchanged rating
Updated 29 Feb, 2024

Unchanged rating

Unchanged Moody's rating underscores that fears of default will continue unless a new, larger loan agreement is reached with the IMF.
Silenced voices
29 Feb, 2024

Silenced voices

THE state suddenly seems to be acting more loyal than the king as far as respect for the judiciary is concerned. The...
Gwadar deluge
29 Feb, 2024

Gwadar deluge

GWADAR has been battered with severe rains — the worst since 2010 — with both the town and Ormara to its east ...
Democracy damaged
Updated 28 Feb, 2024

Democracy damaged

The reserved seats controversy could have been avoided had the ECP by now decided whether SIC deserves them or not.
Misplaced priorities
28 Feb, 2024

Misplaced priorities

THE federal government’s filing of a petition with the Supreme Court on Monday, seeking to overturn an Islamabad...
Killing jirgas
28 Feb, 2024

Killing jirgas

ANOTHER day and another chilling story unfolds in Kohistan. The jirga institution, declared illegal by the top ...