Pushing the neo-liberal agenda – this is how you do it

A correspondent brought my attention to the newly released World Bank report on the state of rural education in Pakistan:

From: World Bank South Asia <enora@worldbank.org>
Sent: Friday, April 18, 2008 7:48:36 PM
Subject: Dramatic Increase in Private Schools in Pakistan: World Bank Report

new report released today by the World Bank calls for a reevaluation of education policies in the context of a dramatic increase in private schools for primary education in Pakistan. Between 2000 and 2005, the number of private schools increased from 32,000 to 47,000, and by the end of 2005, one-third of enrolled children at the primary level was studying in a private school. 

While overall enrollments increased by 10 percent between 2001 and 2005, the report says quality of education is lagging. Children in private schools score significantly higher than those in government schools, even when they are from the same village. In fact, it will take children in government schools 1.5 – 2.5 years of additional schooling to catch up to where private school children are in Class 3.

– Access the full report 
– Watch interview with report author 

# # #

Permanent URL: http://go.worldbank.org/YUFOT05SA0

My correspondent has some experience with education in Pakistan – as a relatively privileged student herself, as a volunteer at various schools in Lahore (teaching and fund-raising), as an evaluator for an education-oriented NGO in London seeking out partners (schools or school networks run by NGO’s/CBO’s) in the Punjab and Pakhtunkhwa (NWFP).
So just when she started to explode with indignation and outrage, I asked her to put down her thoughts in writing:

Advocating policy recommendations on a national level based on a study in one province – that too, the one with the most resources – is a basic flaw in their research methodology.

Some of the analyses and recommendations of this report are quite inhibiting and do not take stock of the cost of sending children to private schools – the economic burden on a poor family is so enormous that sending a child to a private school means less food to go round, no money to buy medicines and chronic undernutrition. This is the disconnect between the reality of the lives of the masses and those who claim to project their voices. If only the researcher could appreciate exactly how many hours a day a couple has to slog in a factory, toil in the fields in abominable working conditions, or in people’s houses without the labour entitlements we enjoy, only to live in a rented room with a bulb, to send their children to school every morning with one roti and diluted tea and to work the evening shift without a break just to be able to buy school books and stationery. Advocating for the spread of private schools simply because of the current poor quality of the state school system is not the solution for it tends to push the masses into even greater poverty – what the country needs is an improvement of the state education system which can only be brought about by appropriate and effective quality control mechanisms. On the other hand, to talk of the education sector in ‘market’ terms (as the report does) is itself a renunciation, a priori, of the citizen’s right to education. This viewpoint also absolves the state of its responsibilities to its citizens. It’s the WB’s classic privatisation, and public-private partnership agenda. In the developed world, nobody would argue in this way for the replacement of the state school system with private schools which of course benefit only a slim section of privileged society. But for the big multilateral funding institutions operating in the Third World, somehow the poor performance of the state school system (which is even more a question of accessibility to masses than in the developed world) is an acceptable basis to advocate for the mushrooming of private schools.

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