Punjab is Pakistan’s largest province with a population of 100 million, which embodies 60 percent of the country's total population. Punjab has long contributed the most to Pakistan’s national economy; it is the most industrialized province and, because of widespread irrigation, features diverse agricultural productivity. However, in the country’s efforts to alleviate poverty, low educational attainment had long been a stumbling block. As recently as 2001, primary school enrollment was only 45 percent, where efforts to improve access and quality were yielding little fruit.
The IDA-financed Punjab Education Sector Reform Program was launched in 2003 with the objective of improving access, quality, and governance in the education sector. This program included supply-side interventions such as upgrading schools and filling teacher vacancies, as well as demand-side measures such as stipends for girls, provision of free textbooks, and subsidies to low-fee private schools. In parallel, a number of reforms in teachers’ recruitment and professional development, textbook production, and the examination system were implemented.
Net enrollment in primary schools in Punjab has increased from 45 to 62 percent between 2001 and 2007. Female primary net enrollment during the same period increased from 43 to 59 percent and for rural females from 38 to 55 percent.
- Primary enrollment and completion increased. Primary school enrollment increased by about 40 percent — from 45 percent in 2002 to 62 percent in 2007. Primary completion rate in public schools increased from 58 percent to 61 percent.
- Bricks, mortar, and books made schools better. One thousand previously closed schools have been made functional. Toilets, boundary walls, and additional classrooms have been provided to over 30,000 schools; 28.6 million free textbooks have been distributed to students in grades 1-10 in academic year 2008/09. Competitive textbook printing, publishing, and authorship have been instituted in the province resulting in improved quality of textbook production.
- Teacher hiring, training, and performance enhanced. An additional 50,000 schoolteachers were hired and posted to schools; recruitment of an additional 34,000 teachers based on merit and need-based criteria is currently underway. Teacher absenteeism was reduced through hiring teachers on school-specific contracts.
- Girls’ stipends worked. Over 350,000 eligible girls receive monthly stipends pegged to school attendance.
- Partnership supported needy. Providing financial support to over 1,000 low-cost private schools used a public-private partnership model to support students from lower-income quintiles.
- Enhanced capacity created. Community-based school councils were established in 43,000 primary schools. NGOs are providing capacity support to 2,400 school councils. Sector governance improved through annual independent third-party validations.
- National exam standards and sector monitoring instituted. An independent Punjab Examination Commission for universal examinations for grades 5 and 8 has been established; 3 rounds of examinations were conducted. Strong and credible monitoring system has been established to track enrollments, sector expenditures, recruitment, and school construction.
IDA’s US$350 million Punjab Education Sector Project was launched in 2008, and is financing about 15 percent of the provincial government’s total education budget over a three-year period. It also contains a US$10 million component for providing technical assistance to support implementation of the Government’s medium-term sector program. Under the earlier four IDA credits, a total of US$400 million was provided to support education reforms from 2004 through 2007. Continuous IDA support has provided a real continuity of policy dialogue with the provincial government. Moreover, IDA has also leveraged additional support from development partners for the province’s education reform program. Furthermore, the monitoring systems established under the project are being replicated in other provinces and in other sectors (such as irrigation) in the province. IDA support has also funded a series of rigorous impact evaluations to determine best practices for future expansion and potential adaptation in other country contexts.
With 38 percent of Punjab’s primary school-age children still out of school, low participation at the middle and secondary levels, and low learning outcomes, Punjab is faced with a significant unfinished agenda in education. The Punjab government has launched a second generation of reforms that focuses on increasing access and completion rates, enhancing the quality of reforms and student learning outcomes, and strengthening school management and sector governance. IDA financing is tied to the achievement of concrete results. It is helping expand sector capacity for implementation and monitoring.