Sir Michael Barber on evidence-based policymaking for education in Pakistan

Sir Michael is a leading authority on education systems and education reform. Over the past two decades his research and advisory work has focused on school improvement, standards and performance; system-wide reform; effective implementation; access, success and funding in higher education; and access and quality in schools in developing countries. Sir Michael is DFID’s Special Representative on Education in Pakistan. In this short video, he draws on his vast experience to discuss evidence-based policymaking for education. One of the key points he makes is that while having evidence is important, it should never be used as an excuse for not acting where action is needed. In Pakistan and in many other countries with similar situations, the risk of doing nothing is greater than the risk of trying something, even if the evidence base is not perfect.

Sir Michael is the Chief Education Advisor at Pearson, a leading education company. He plays an important role in Pearson’s strategy for education in the poorest sectors of the world, particularly in fast-growing developing economies. Prior to this, he was a Partner at McKinsey & Company,in charge of their global education practice. He is also Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and holds an honorary doctorate from the University of Exeter. He previously served the UK government as Head of the Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit (from 2001-2005) and as Chief Adviser to the Secretary of State for Education on School Standards (from 1997-2001). Before joining government he was a professor at the Institute of Education at the University of London. He is the author of several books including ‘Instruction to Deliver’.

Education in Pakistan

A critical review of literature on primary education in Pakistan by Ahmad et al. (2013), found that primary education is neglected, poorly financed and poorly managed. There is political interference in the system which breeds corruption, favouritism and nepotism. The system of supervision is weak and traditionally characterised as having no effective mechanism for teacher training with poor system of accountability, teachers are underpaid and successive educational policies have failed to bring any positive changes in the system due to poor implementation. The curriculum of the primary education is outdated. Assessment is based on the memory of the students rather than their performance. On the basis of this study it is recommended that the problems can be solved by robust systems of accountability, eradication of corruption, quality assessment system, non political interference, quality curriculum, teacher motivation.

An inquiry into DFID’s programme in Pakistan was undertaken in March 2013, by The International Development Committee. Here, Sir Michael acted as a witness and stated: “Unless Pakistan is able to fix its education problem, among the many other problems it faces, it will not be – it cannot be – the thriving, successful Islamic democratic republic that we would all like it to be. Education is absolutely fundamental, and fixing some of those fundamental institutions of the State is crucial for Pakistan’s future. If we turn that round, Pakistan 25 years from now could be exactly what I have just described: it could be a thriving economy, a democratic Islamic republic, playing a part in solving the problems of that region, which as you know are very substantial. I see education as fundamental”. A full transcript of the Minutes of Evidence are available to download.

Sindh is a province of Pakistan, located to the South East. As part of the Education and Literacy Department, the Government of Sindh has created the Reform Support Unit. Its objective is to build the institutional capability of the Department of Education and to streamline the existing edifice of education delivery and provide policy inputs for future advancement of education growth both in terms of access and quality.

In February 2013, the Provincial Assembly of Sindh passed The Sindh Right of Children to free and Compulsory Education Bill. The objective is to provide for free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to sixteen years. The Bill means that the Government is obliged to:

  • Provide free education to every child;
  • Ensure compulsory admission and attendance to complete school education;
  • Ensure that the disadvantaged child is not discriminated against and prevented from, on any grounds whatsoever for pursuing and completing education;
  • Provide infrastructure including standard school building, playgrounds, laboratories, teaching learning material and teaching staff;
  • Monitor functioning of schools within its jurisdiction;
  • Decide the academic calendar;
  • Provide all training facilities for teachers and students;
  • Ensure good quality education confirming to the prescribed standard and norms;
  • Ensure timely prescribing of curriculum and courses of studies for education; and
  • Ensure enabling learning environment for better teaching learning in schools.

In a report titled ‘The good news from Pakistan’ by Sir Michael, a revolutionary new approach to education reform in Punjab is introduced to show the way forward for Pakistan and development aid around the world. The report tells the story of the Punjab Schools Reform Roadmap. Punjab is important partly because it is Pakistan’s biggest province, home to around half the country’s population which is over 180 million, and partly because it tends to be the trendsetter. In spite of provincial resentment of Punjab due to its relative power in the land, what Punjab does, the other provinces tend to follow. Thus, if schools work there, there is a chance of making schools work nationwide too.

A blog titled ‘Leading DFID Pakistan’s Education Innovation and Outreach team’ by Asyia, a Senior Education Adviser for DFID, gives an interesting account of working in education in Pakistan. Here she describes how DFID has been working with some of Pakistan’s senior business leaders to set up a new, independent, not-for-profit company called Education Fund for Sindh (EFS). The aim is to ensure children are learning – an outcome that can be verified by evaluation and compared to children not supported by EFS. Evaluation will include their attendance, retention and most importantly their learning outcomes. Asyia states that EFS has “a really strong set of founding members who are well-respected, committed and understand the Sindh context. EFS is in its infancy and there is a lot to do before it can be a successful facilitator of quality education for the poorest. The challenge is substantial but so is the pay off. It’s genuinely an amazing privilege to work in education – you are part of helping to make someone’s future.”

The business case and intervention summary for EFS can be downloaded for more information. This document explains that EFS will compare two main means of delivery:

  • Provide support directly to parents through vouchers that they can spend in low-cost private schools that have been accredited to meet minimum quality standards. Eligible families will be identified through a recent household survey that provides accurate information on income levels and education status, and will allow cost-effective targeting. Students will be tested on a regular basis, allowing the Fund to demonstrate how quickly children are learning to read and write.
  • Invite bids from existing or new intermediary organisations who have developed their own approach to tackling Sindh’s education emergency, funding those organisations who are able to provide the most advantageous combination of targeting, quality provision, and cost. By collecting data on enrolment and learning outcomes, the Fund will be able to increase support to organisations that deliver results and value for money.

Success will be measured through the number of out-of-school children educated, their success in learning to read and write and be numerate, and the cost at which these results have been achieved.

In 2007, Dr. Douglas Lynd was commissioned by UNESCO to undertake a review of the education system in Pakistan. Some key findings were as follows:

  • Assuming that the enrolment at each level (stage) of education in Pakistan represents the capacity of the system to accommodate students, almost half (49.3%) of the capacity of the entire education system is devoted to primary education.
  • In preparing future budgets, the education system will have to weigh up the need for meeting the Education For All goal of universal primary education against the need for increasing the number of places available for students to further their education beyond the primary level. With limited resources available, a balance between improving both may be more productive than solely concentrating on primary education.
  • If it were possible to lower the number of repeaters in primary grades and ensure that children begin their primary education at age 5, a significant number of places would become available for more children to attend primary school. This would help Pakistan move closer towards the goal of universal primary education.
  • Private education institutions enrol 31% of students who are studying in basic education (pre-primary through higher secondary). In urban centres, private schools account for more students (51%) than the public sector (49%). However, the situation is reversed in rural areas, where over 80% of students are attending public schools.
  • In comparison with other countries, private basic education in Pakistan enrols more students than in most other countries.
  • Pakistan has 14 million girls studying in basic education in 2006, compared to 18.3 million boys.
  • Without exception, the participation of girls was higher in urban centres than in rural areas, although their numbers still did not match those of boys in pre-primary, primary, middle elementary and secondary schools.
  • The basic education level (pre-primary through higher secondary) has 1.3 million teaching posts. Of these, 90% were filled, 3.5% were contract positions and 6.5% were vacant. The higher secondary level shows a vacancy rate of over 9%. Excluding pre-primary, the vacancy rate for the other levels is around 6%. In order to achieve approved teaching levels, the cost of filling vacant posts will have to be included in future budgets.
  • Quality of education provided is affected by the training level of the teaching force. A significant number of teachers in the private sector (over 50%) lack a professional qualification and as a result are classified as untrained. By comparison, most teachers in the public sector did have a professional qualification, with only 5% reporting no training. Data were not available by level of education, but it is expected that most of the untrained teachers were teaching at the lower levels of education.
  • Many schools are in need of better facilities to improve the teaching environment, with 9% of primary schools not having a blackboard, 24% not having textbooks available for pupils, and 46% not having desks for their students. Private primary schools are better equipped with desks and blackboards, but overall, almost a quarter of primary schools in both the public and private sector do not have any textbooks.
  • Primary schools in urban centres are better equipped with blackboards and desks but 33% of the urban schools do not have textbooks compared to 23% of rural schools. Furthermore, half of all rural schools lack desks for their students.
  • Almost all private schools have electricity in their schools, with the exception of middle elementary schools where only 79% have electricity. By comparison, the public sector, especially at the lower levels of educational provision, have fewer schools equipped with electricity. For example, only 36% of public primary schools have access to electricity.
  • Although the percentage of public schools with electricity is low, the percentage of students who attend such schools is considerably higher. For example, 36% of public primary schools have electricity, but over half (60%) of primary students attend such schools. Data indicate that schools with larger enrolments are more likely to have access to electricity provision.

More recent data from UNESCO indicates the following:

  • 65% of girls and 79% of boys are in primary school
  • 29% of girls and 40% of boys are in secondary school
  • 8% of the population of tertiary age are in tertiary education
  • 67% of children complete a full course of primary
  • 9.9% of government spending goes to education
  • 54.9% of adults and 70.7% of youth are literate

Other resources

Sir Michael co-authored a report in 2007 titled ‘How the world’s best-performing schools come out on top’. The objective of the report was to find out why some schools succeed where others do not. The authors studied 25 of the world’s school systems, including ten of the top performers. They then examined what these high-performing schools had in common and what tools they use to improve student outcomes.

The experiences of these top school systems suggest that three things matter most:

1)     Getting the right people to become teachers.

2)     Developing them into effective instructors.

3)     Ensuring that the system is able to deliver the best possible instruction for every child.

The systems analysed demonstrated that the best practices for achieving these three things work irrespective of the culture in which they are applied. They demonstrate that substantial improvement in outcomes is possible in a short period of time and that applying these best practices universally could have enormous impact in improving failing school systems, wherever they might be located.

In 2010, Sir Michael was co-author on the follow-up report titled ‘How the world’s most improved school systems keep getting better’. Here, the authors compile what they believe is the most comprehensive analysis of global school system reform ever assembled. This report identifies the reform elements that are replicable for school systems everywhere as well as what it really takes to achieve significant, sustained, and widespread gains in student outcomes. In this new report, the authors analysed 20 systems from around the world, all with improving but differing levels of performance, examining how each has achieved significant, sustained, and widespread gains in student outcomes, as measured by international and national assessments. Based on more than 200 interviews with system stakeholders and analysis of some 600 interventions carried out by these systems, this report identifies the reform elements that are replicable for school systems elsewhere as they move from poor to fair to good to great to excellent performance.

In this short video by Nesta, Sir Michael and others discuss education reform and the impact of learning technologies. They also discuss Alive in the Swamp: assessing digital innovations in education, a report which offers practical advice on how to navigate through digital innovations in education, and suggests where more innovation effort is needed.

In 2012, HEART produced a Helpdesk report focused on violence and sexual abuse in schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  The first section of the report covers UN Security Council Reports including statistics on attacks.  The next two sections cover incidents.  The section on attacks on schools in Afghanistan includes information on common types of attacks and the prevalence in different areas and the Pakistan section includes data by region.

Sir Michael can be followed on twitter: @MichaelBarber9

This HEART Talks video is part of a series of resources on education reform in developing countries. The accompanying HEART Talks videos are:

You may also be interested in