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June 15, 2015

‘New schools through public-private partnership’


June 15, 2015

Punjab Education Foundation (PEF) Managing Director Dr Aneela Salman has said all new schools to be opened in the province will be established through the foundation’s New School Programme (NSP) under public-private partnership (PPP).
In an exclusive interview to The News recently, Dr Aneela, who is a senior member of Pakistan Administrative Service (PAS), said Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif had approved the initiative and 225 such schools had been opened up in province during the ongoing year under the public-private partnership model. According to her, community participation, ownership and above all demand for education are some of the key factors behind the initiative. “The minimum requirements for the PEF schools under the PPP include non-existence of public or private school within radius of one kilometre of an area having population of 320 houses at a particular site.”
She said all new schools, even if in Lahore or any other district, would be opened through the NSP. Dr Aneela said access to school, particularly for female students, had been a challenge and the leading cause behind the high drop-out rate among female students. The PPP model was addressing the serious issue as well as gender parity at schools, she added. Explaining the policy shift, Dr Aneela said proper infrastructure and teachers’ salaries and other expenses were required for establishing a new public school. “Even though sometimes one feels the school established is not so feasible on a particular site,” she added.
Replying to a question, she said there was a mark difference in per student cost of School Education Department’s school and that of the student enrolled in a PEF-partnered institution. She said the School Education Department Punjab spent on average Rs 1,500 per student a month and in some districts it was slightly more. “While in the PEF schools, the per child cost is Rs 511 even if we include all administrative cost and provide free

textbooks to our students,” she noted. Dr Aneela, a Fulbright scholar, said the School Education Department was onboard with the PEF on thee initiative and sharing the sites identified by the EDOs (Education) for the purpose. Apart from this, she added, people themselves sent around 2,000 identified sites though the PEF had not even advertised the initiative.
“This shows the demand is there and the stakeholders want to get involved to open new schools,” she observed while saying there was huge potential.
It is pertinent to mention that in the latest budget for the financial year 2015-16, the Punjab government had allocated Rs 600 million to PEF for opening new schools across the province. An increase of whopping Rs 3 billion has also been witnessed in the overall allocation for PEF as the foundation had received Rs 7.5 billion last year unlike this year’s Rs 10.5 billion.
Elaborating the modus operandi for the new schools under the PPP model, Dr Aneela said the private partner could start a school in a rented or owned building while the PEF provided a financial assistance for 50 students (Rs 450 per child per month) for first six months.
“So it is basically seed money the PEF is providing to private partners to open schools,” she said while adding, “After six months, the PEF checks whether the school has 50 students, two classrooms and two teachers and then we continue the partnership.”
“Similarly, after this period, the PEF provides free textbooks to students of the partnered schools and also supports more than 50 students if the school can accommodate more children,” she added.
While mentioning that a Quality Assurance Test (QAT) was behind the exercise, Dr Aneela said the first QAT was oral to facilitate and support these schools and set a benchmark for the next written QAT to examine the student learning outcomes.
“The QAT is quite a rigorous exercise. We develop items ourselves while a third party conducts these QATs vigilantly, watching the whole process and ensuring to keep the exercise as transparent as possible”, she said, adding that if a school failed twice in the QAT then the partnership was cancelled.
“So the stakes are very high and that is the key indicator through which we are maintaining quality of education at our partner schools,” she said.
Sharing experiences, she said the schools performing better in the QATs were paying attention to induct good teachers and focusing on their training, attendance and other related matters.
Dr Aneela, who holds a PhD from Rockefeller College, University of Albany, said the PEF extended constant support to partners including training of teachers as well as technical support for their capacity building and motivation. She mentioned the recently launched School Improvement Programme (SIP) to extend continuous support to low-cost private schools to improve and provide quality education there.
She also talked about the district coordination meetings (DCMs) to reach out to the partners and to get in touch with them.
About the Punjab chief minister’s ‘Parho Punjab Barho Punjab’ initiative, Dr Aneela said the PEF was a major player as its target was to bring 2.8 million students from currently 1.5 million to schools by 2018. “There is a need of consistency to enrol new students and retain them so that they complete their education. This is a challenge as the aim is not just to enrol the students,” she added.
Dr Aneela, who is also a Chevening scholar, further talked about PEF’s upcoming initiative vis-à-vis special education, saying it wanted to focus on inclusive education in partnered schools.
“We want children with minor disabilities to be able to attend our schools,” she said, adding the PEF was trying to encourage its partners to install ramps and make the classrooms and toilets accessible to children with minor disabilities. “PEF is going to have formal program with Special Education Department Punjab for disable-friendly schools in some districts as pilot programme”, she further said

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