LAHORE - Provision of free and quality education to all the segments of the society is a Herculean task in our society, as poor and disfranchised strata, often, fails to get an access to this fundamental right due to socio-economic inequality and unsupportive cultural norms.
Punjab government set up the Punjab Education Foundation (PEF) in 1991 to extend the facility of gratis education, up to Matriculation through a result-oriented model of Public Private Partnership (PPP) in the province.
This educational model has been introduced in collaboration with the low-cost private schools, working in poor localities providing free education to the students with help of government grants. Under the Public Private Partner model, three different need-based educational programs have been introduced to encourage poor parents to enrol their children to schools where monthly fee is paid and text books are provided by the PEF.
As a result of these initiatives, a total of 1.5 million deserving students, 52 percent of whom are girls, are getting access to free education in 4,700 partner schools in 36 districts of the Punjab province.
Besides introducing world’s largest Education Voucher Scheme (EVS) in Punjab for illiterate and out of school children aged six to fourteen and launching Foundation Assisted Schools (FAS) program for the have-nots, the PEF has also launched “New School Program” Under the NSP; Punjab Education Foundation is determined to reach out to those hapless children who are not attending schools due to various socio-economic constraints. Under NSP, government would target areas which have a low literacy rate and highest out of school (OOS) ratio. This program is functioning on the basis of PPP approach to deliver quality education to the community, by the community emphasising on illiterate girls and women.
NSP was launched in five districts in southern Punjab in March 2008 where the number of public as well as private sector schools was scant due to socio-economic inequalities between genders and poor parent’s inability to pay school fees of their children. Girls were not allowed to attend far-off schools due to lack of adequate transport facilities.
In a span of four years, NSP has reached out into 16 districts of Punjab adopting 200 schools supporting more than 40,000 needy students.
The programme has strengthened low-cost schools, often operating in hinterlands, by providing financial aid in shape of students’ fee and arranging free capacity building training programmes for their teachers.
It is important to note that NSP not only facilitates enrolment of out of school children but also ensures their retention through affective administration, monitoring, capacity development and conduction of quality assurance tests (QATs) by keeping computerized record of students and staff.
NSP was on previous year’s Disbursement Linked Indicators (DLIs) of the World Bank with a target of 200 schools, which has been successfully achieved by the Punjab Education Foundation. During the current financial year, New School Program is a part of Chief Minister Punjab’s Roadmap for Education.
In the current fiscal year NSP will be functional in all the 36 districts of Punjab, embracing 200 more schools. The goal is to create an educational infrastructure that supports a maximum of 300 students in each school providing a fund equalling Rs 400 per student on a monthly basis. After the expansion phase launched last month in 22 districts, a total of one 100,800 deserving students would benefit from this program in the province.
At present, NSP adopts elementary and secondary schools, if the area already has a primary school. Similarly, if boys’ primary and secondary schools are available within a specific area, then the applicant can apply for girls’ school of the same level. PEF has planned that schools under NSP, after attaining an enrolment of 300, with sufficient infrastructure and facilities for the students, will be handed over to Foundation Assisted Schools (FAS) program after passing the qualifying QAT of FAS program. So far, NSP has handed over three schools to FAS program.
Keeping in perspective the rising poverty and massive unemployment in the country resulting due to massive load shedding, terrorism and sagging economy, it’s imperative that the government should support programs like the NSP to ensure gratis education for the impecunious strata, who otherwise, cannot afford education of their children on their own. It’s also important that this program should be extended to at least graduation level so that students could earn honourable livelihoods in their practical life.
New School Program would prove beneficial in troubled northern and tribal areas where more than five hundred government schools have been destroyed by Taliban and the government has inadequate funds to rebuild them and arrange education for half a million displaced students.