Podcast: How has Covid-19 affected children and teachers in non-state schools in Pakistan?

The second episode in our series exploring the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on non-state schools around the world.


In Pakistan, 44% of children aged 5-16 are out of school, while approximately one third of enrolled children are in private schools. It is thus essential to understand these sectors in order to build an accurate picture of children’s engagement with education in Pakistan.

In this episode, we speak with Zainab Qureshi, the director of Learning and Education Achievement in Pakistan Schools (LEAPS) at Harvard University about low-fee private schools in Punjab, and challenges this sector has faced during the pandemic. We also talk to Faisal Khan, team leader of Sindh Education Non-State Actors (SENSA), to discuss the educational response to Covid-19 for non-formal school models in Sindh.

Gender is an important aspect of this story. A study by LEAPS’ research team in 2006 found that low-fee private schools have been more prevalent in villages with women who have secondary education. Intriguingly, the study shows that prior construction of a girls’ secondary school in a village triples the likelihood of the village having a low-fee private school. These schools are a significant source of employment for women, amid poor labour market opportunities in general, and the limited social acceptability of female participation in many other professions. However, as teachers in low-fee private schools are paid significantly less than public school teachers, we ought not to lose sight of how large a proportion of school enrollment in Pakistan is made possible by the low-salaries of female teachers.

The Covid-19 pandemic has posed significant risks to this sector which is reliant on parents’ fees. Amidst pressed incomes, and school closures, parents have stopped paying fees which in turn has affected teachers’ salaries and risked their employment.

As low-fee private schools fill the gap in public schooling, non-formal school models have been introduced to address the challenge of out-of-school children. An important component of SENSA is the support of single teacher, flexible learning programmes for otherwise out-of-school children – often run through teachers’ homes or a rented room in a community. The pandemic has disrupted these activities, and posed a significant risk of permanent student dropout. SENSA conducted a rapid survey of parents and teachers, and on this basis quickly developed a response plan focused on retention, engagement, and maintaining teachers’ skills. Through teacher trainings on Whatsapp, interactive learning material (Kitaab-Kihani series- Stories for Learning), parental engagement via SMS campaigns and teacher-student phone activity, SENSA ensured that students continued to be engaged and the risk of dropout could be mitigated to some extent.

Nevertheless, the pandemic risks serious learning loss that is shared inequitably between households. With the varied access to technology, and parental supervision– inequalities are further accentuated because there is a portion of the student group that the programme was not able to access at all through alternative medium.

With poor financial support for the sector, and its reliance on parent fees, low-fee private schools are at a risk of permanent closure, while the non-formal schools face the risk of school dropouts. These challenges highlight that education during a pandemic looks starkly inequitable for different groups in a society, and that technological inequalities matter. In future, education response during crises needs to pay particular attention to teachers, and the gender dimensions of the education labour market.

FCDO’s supported SENSA supports three non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to provide primary education for over 52,000 of Sindh’s poorest children. These NGOs include Health and Nutrition Development Society (HANDS), The Citizens Foundation (TCF) and the Family Educational Services Foundation (FESF). Oxford Policy Management is providing technical assistance and third-party monitoring.


Anam Bashir is a consultant managing OPM's performance evaluation of DFID funded Pakistan Punjab Education Sector programme (PESP2)

David Jeffery is a senior consultant in the education team of the Social Policy Programme, and manager of the Non-State Actors in Education Hub.

Listen to the first episode in the series here: How has Covid-19 impacted vital low-fee private pre-schools in South Africa?

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