KARACHI, June 26: Where can the children of common people get a good education when private schools are providing the facilities that the state’s public schools cannot deliver? This was the theme of the seminar, Investing in Education — Strengthening Private Schools for the Poor, organised by the Aman Foundation, Harvard South Asia Initiative and the Centre for Economic Research in Pakistan (CERP) held at the Institute of Business Administration on Tuesday.

The three organisations presented their latest collaborative project, which will facilitate low-cost, quality education for the poor of Pakistan. Following a presentation on the subject by Prof Asim Khwaja from the CERP and Harvard South Asia Initiative entitled Investing in the Education Market: Strengthening Private Schools for the Poor that explained the working of the project, a panel discussion further examined the need of the hour and what can be done to provide a good education to the poor to improve their status in society.

Based on a research carried out by the Learning and Educational Achievement in Pakistan Schools (LEAPS) that pointed towards low-cost private schools outperforming government schools, it was said that the project was designed to offer financial and managerial support to small private schools starting with a pilot project across 1,000 schools with 200,000 students. It was also believed that the project in the form of microfinance schemes would aid female entrepreneurs.

The panel comprised Prof Khwaja from the CERP, Tameer Microfinance Bank President and CEO Nadeem Hussain, Aziz Kabani from Sindh Education Foundation (SEF) and Aman Foundation CEO Ahsan Jamil.

“The positives in the private sector can be a benchmark for the public sector,” said Prof Khwaja. “Also the satisfaction of just teaching is no longer good enough for the teachers who also need to be given incentives,” he said during the panel discussion moderated by Khadija Bakhtiar of Teach for Pakistan.

Mr Kabani said parents who paid for their children’s basic education could not always pay for their higher education. It was for this reason that sometimes the bright students remained unable to pursue higher studies, he said. “If they start working in order to finance their education, then they won’t be able to give enough attention to their studies. After all, there is a big difference between a full-time student and a part-time student,” he added.

On a separate note while commending the initiative, he said that it was quite obvious looking at the state of education in Pakistan that the public sector was not performing its role due to the politics and corruption involved. “That is where the media and other pressure groups are to come forward and set things right,” he said.

Mr Hussain explained why a private sector institution such as a bank would like to invest in education. “We do billions of rupees of funding in many projects. If we are able to demonstrate that funding a project to help provide good education to the poor of this country is a feasible initiative then other micro-financing firms will also be attached to the cause,” he said. “There is also a need for transparency here,” he observed.

Mr Jamil said that capital should always flow towards businesses that were doing well. The idea was taking risks while being responsible with people’s money, he explained. “Our foundation is committed to creating a knowledge-based society and seeks to build alliances to this end,” he said.

Finally, it was suggested by the panellists to also invest in parents’ education as many people had reservations about enrolling their children in private schools thinking that they were too much out of reach or that they would give their children coming from a not so well-off background a complex.

Associate Director of Harvard South Asia Initiative (SAI) Meena Hewett, a special guest at the event, spoke about the programmes SAI had undertaken in Pakistan in terms of disaster management during the floods, training of human resource and engaging students and faculty through interdisciplinary programmes that advance and deepen the teaching and research on global issues relevant to South Asia.

She expressed her enthusiasm for additional future collaboration and continued engagement in the region.