In 2006, Punjab Education Foundation (PEF) launched its Education Voucher Scheme (EVS) with an aim to bring education to children belonging to less affluent and underprivileged families, who would otherwise have been deprived from the benefits of schooling. The scheme has been lauded for thoughtful targeting of beneficiaries, appropriate design of incentives for participating schools and built-in learning-based targets that have addressed an important issue of out of school children.
The main features of this scheme that have addressed concerns with regards to the involvement of the private sector in education are the following:
Appropriate targeting of beneficiary
Under EVS, only the most deserving children are identified and registered. Specifically, out of school children (drop outs or those that never went to school), orphans, children of widows and children of single parents were targets for this scheme. Notably, EVS did not target any children already enrolled in government schools, thereby allaying fears that the scheme was an attempt to undermine the value of government schools.
Voluntary participant selection
The EVS schools were selected by inviting expressions of interest from institutions within selected areas through advertisements. Quality inspections of the shortlisted schools from those that applied to be a part of the program, were conducted to assess standards. Student learning assessments and infrastructure checks were used to make a final selection of schools that would participate, and agreements were signed with the approved schools. This invitation process ensured that only interested schools were involved and that standards were maintained such that choice would lead to increased learning outcomes.
Low cost and affordable design
The average cost for the PEF voucher program was PKR 350 per student, which is much lower than traditional programs (approximately a third compared to government expenditure). Vouchers were distributed every 4 months and an additional one-time payment of PKR 1000 for books, stationary, uniforms, bags, belts and shoes was made annually. The affordability of the model makes it affordable, sustainable and scalable.
Measurable and relevant outcomes
Schools empanelled with the EVS were required to positive learning outcomes for the QATs (50% students obtaining at least a 40% mark). Failing this twice successively would automatically lead to the school being excluded from the program for a minimum of two years. In addition, the PEF-EVS has set internal targets for several indicators. Decreasing the number of out of school children, increasing primary school completion rates and increased retention, improved quality of education and learning outcomes, increase in female enrolment, employment opportunities linked with skill development programs, increase in employment opportunities for female teachers were some of the listed indicators. Thus, clearly delineated and measurable outcomes defined the goals of the program.
PEF designed strong incentives for schools to participate in the voucher program. The incentives assured a regular revenue for the schools and vouchers were given for 12 months although children attend only 10 months of school. The extra revenue could then be used for school improvement work. EVS is clearly focused on learning outcomes instead of inputs such as teacher qualification or infrastructure norms unlike most other schemes. Additionally PEF conducted professional development programs for the participating schools three times a year in addition to preparing and disseminating lessons plans in schools. On an average there were 50 students’ receiving vouchers in EVS schools where summer camps were conducted to bring these students at par with their peers. Overall, participating schools stated that the program helped improve school quality.
Taking government along
Since EVS targeted only out of school children, the government has been very supportive of this project. PMNL , the ruling party in Punjab has strongly supported this program, particularly the fact that a large number of children been empowered to access schools. Education vouchers is a term that is used without apprehension and anti-voucher agents have been silenced because schools have demonstrated infrastructure improvements .
Thus, with thoughtful targeting of the beneficiaries, designing appropriate incentives for the low cost private schools to participate in the program, built-in learning outcome based targets, EVS has demonstrated a method to solve the problem of out of school children in addition to generate a positive discourse around vouchers as an effective instrument for access to education.
Currently the program is subsidized by DFID and long term sustainability alternatives are being explored. Pankaj Jain’s Gyanshaala and a model of mobile libraries from Bangalore are models they are exploring from India .
This blog is based on the account given my CCS’ Sujatha Muthayya’s after her recent visit to Pakistan. She met Ambreen Raza – Head of PEF, Maliha – Director of EVS, Shafiq – Asst Director EVS, Mr Khalid – School owner and Saif Hameed – Education Adviser to Chief Minister Punjab and also visited one of the PEF-EVS empanelled school[