Increasingly, ‘low-cost private schools’ are seen as a viable education option, especially in countries where government systems struggle to reach all of the school-age children, or provide quality education. DFID’s current development goals seek to provide support to nine million children of primary school age, concentrating on unstable and conflict-affected states, where over half of out-of-school primary-age children live. In fragile contexts, education plays an important part in the long-term process of reconstruction and stabilisation. DFID is committed to pursuing flexible and responsive approaches to education in these fragile and conflict-affected environments, such as Afghanistan and Pakistan, including through partnerships with non-state providers, to help overcome the challenges of working in these environments. One of the possible means of ensuring the delivery of quality education for all is low-cost private schools. This review examines the current evidence base to inform policy on the sustainable scale-up of low-cost schools in the South and West Asia region.
The review found that there was no uniform definition of low-cost private schools and there has been little engagement with the concept of sustainable scale-up of such schools in the South and West Asia region. After four rounds of screening for inclusion/exclusion criteria based primarily on the relevance of the documents to the two key concepts of ‘low-cost private education’ and ‘sustainable scale-up’, and on the rigour of the study methodology, only 44 documents were found to be appropriate. Of these, 25 documents looked solely at low-cost private schools, the remainder engaging more with the concept of low-cost private schools and sustainable scale-up. Overall, the search found a weak evidence base to inform policy on the sustainable scale-up of low-cost private schools in the region, particularly in the area of the long-term, financial sustainability of such schools in conflict-affected states. There is also a paucity of research into the impact of low-cost private schools on family income.
This report discusses the results of the synthesis process and provides implications for appropriate scale-up mechanisms and approaches, as well as a broader strategy for engagement with education in the context of fragile and conflict-affected environments, such as Afghanistan and Pakistan. In the context of such states, the reported benefits of low-cost private schools in more stable contexts, in terms of filling gaps in provision at a lower unit cost, need to be considered alongside such issues as weak governance, corruption and lack of security found in many conflict-affected states. They can also reinforce inequitable access to quality education by excluding the poorest families who cannot afford the additional fees. Therefore, support given to the sustainable scaling up of low-cost private schools should involve careful consideration of all these factors and the wider political economy of fragile states.
There is a protocol for this systematic review
Barakat, S.; Hardman, F.; Rohwerder, B.; Rzeszut, K. The evidence for the sustainable scale-up of low-cost private schools in South West Asia. EPPI-Centre, Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London, London, UK (2014) iii + 252 pp. ISBN 978-1-907345-67-8