Ensuring that kids attend school
Everyone between the ages of five and sixteen should be educated. This is a national and international obligation. It also makes sense: unless we educate our children today, tomorrow will look the same as today.
In Pakistan, however, far too many children aged five to sixteen are not attending school. Even at the primary level, we do not have universal enrollment. Because of high dropout rates, many students who enroll do not complete primary school, let alone continue to secondary school.
To encourage more children to attend school, keep them there, and learn more, conditional cash transfers (CCTs) have been tested in a number of nations dealing with comparable problems.
CCTs are financial aid payments made to the household of the student in exchange for meeting certain criteria, such as enrollment, attendance, etc. Since a few years ago, the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) and Ehsaas have started awarding CCTs to promote enrollment in primary school, particularly for girls. But is this enough to address Pakistan’s problem with out-of-school youth?
Thanks to CCTs, children may continue to attend school, but they might not learn sufficient. As one might anticipate, the solution is complicated. Global research indicates that CCTs are effective at ensuring enrollment and attendance. As long as households have enough money to enrol and maintain their children in school, they will send their children there.
When it comes to learning outcomes and the more long-term problem of human capital development, the evidence is much less clear. Thanks to CCTs, kids may continue to attend school, but they might not learn enough. The term “learning crisis” is frequently used to describe this. Additionally, CCTs do not address the standard of learning opportunities, and there is still little data to determine how they will ultimately affect intergenerational problems with poverty and human capital development.
Because of this, even while CCTs are able to transport kids to school, if the teaching they receive is subpar, they will merely be passing the time. The situation is identical if the rate of learning is suboptimal. So even if the child does not drop out, the learning outcomes could still be subpar, which would limit the possibility of generational change.
The demand side of the issue with public education is addressed via CCTs. For instance, let’s say parents are impoverished and unable to afford to send their child to school, which means they cannot afford to pay for books, uniforms, transportation, and other necessities. They may also be reliant on the child’s income to cover family expenses. In that situation, CCTs above a predetermined level will urge them to send kids to school.
The difficulty is that supply-side problems are also significant factors influencing enrollment. As an illustration, consider Punjab, which has more than 30,000 primary schools but just 9,000 or so intermediate and high schools. This suggests that even if middle and high schools are bigger and can accommodate all students graduating from elementary schools, the distance to school will increase for most students since the middle and high schools are likely to be more spread because they are less numerous. Due to higher transportation costs and increased parental worry for their daughters’ safety and security, this results in high dropout rates.
Children begin attending school at the age of seven or eight, and many graduate primary schools at the age of twelve or thirteen. This indicates that a lot of females experience puberty around the time they graduate from primary school. Girls and their parents are under pressure from culture and society to “stay close to home,” which causes many of them to drop out of school.
Even though very few CCTs are large enough for parents to provide secure transportation to school, CCTs may still be useful in some circumstances. Currently, the cost of transportation to and from school can be several thousand rupees per month; however, the BISP CCT is only a few hundred rupees per month.
The calibre of education may be the biggest problem on the supply side. Numerous Annual Status of Education Reports (ASER) and other sources have presented us with abundant proof that the general level of education delivered to our students, particularly in most public schools, is fairly subpar. The majority of the “low-fee” private sector delivers high-quality education, and this is also true. Over 90% of Pakistan’s registered children are covered by them all.
Children can be brought to school through CCTs, but how does capacity development get solved if they don’t receive a proper education there? There isn’t. Building human capital involves making investments in education. Future generations will have fewer opportunities to profit from capital if it is of poor quality.
Poor education quality undercuts the goal of investing in education through CCTs, which is to develop human capital to give the next generation greater living possibilities. CCTs have limited power to influence this supply-side problem. The school side must make interventions.
It is encouraging to see that the BISP has been bringing CCTs into middle school. Up until this point, they had mostly been in the primary grades. If we want to invest in the education of the future generation, it is crucial that students finish middle and high school.
However, relying just on CCTs to address the issue of out-of-school children will not be sufficient. As a demand-side intervention, they have limited power to address the aforementioned supply-side problems. The educational system still has to take direct action against these problems. They assist in getting kids to school, but it is up to the institutions themselves to deliver on the promise of education through the calibre of instruction they offer.