RISE in Pakistan

RISE will conduct a six-year research project in Pakistan to examine how to catalyse improvement in the country’s educational system, and address student learning failures by focusing on different types of system-level frictions – those that affect the private and public sector, household demand, and the interaction between the different actors in the education ecosystem.

As a result of a low-cost private school “revolution” in recent years, Pakistan provides a particularly valuable context to inform global educational public policy through market-oriented experiments and analyses. Forty percent of primary-age students in Pakistan attend private schools, and their exponential growth in rural areas implies that many children now live in villages with significant public* and private school choice. For instance, in rural Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province, more than half of rural residents live in villages with seven to eight schools. The median monthly fee of a private school in Punjab, Pakistan is about 400 rupees - roughly equivalent to USD 4 or GBP 3 – and increasingly, even parents from the poorest segments of society are choosing to send their children to private schools. 

Led by experts who conducted ground-breaking analysis of the schooling environment through the Learning and Education in Pakistan Schools (LEAPS) study in more than 100 Punjab villages, the Country Research Team will conduct studies designed to understand and address market failures in education. 

These studies will provide critical inputs on how to solve Pakistan’s education challenge: despite a significant increase in spending by the government, low levels of learning remain the norm, and in recent years enrolment growth has stagnated. The research project aims to use economic tools of market analysis to understand how interventions, such as increasing the flow of information on school quality to families, and supporting meaningful improvements in schools through access to tailored microfinance products and educational support services, may impact learning outcomes.

Mathematics questions from LEAPS test and percentage of children who answered the question correctly

Pakistani children at the end of Grade 3 cannot perform basic mathematical operations (source 2008 LEAPS report)
Pakistani children at the end of Grade 3 cannot perform basic mathematical operations (source 2008 LEAPS report)


“The education landscape in Pakistan is changing rapidly. How Pakistan harnesses this tremendous potential for positive change and manages the challenges in the system will determine not only the future of education but, significantly, the future of the country itself,” said Tahir Andrabi, the Country Research Team leader, a professor of economics at Pomona College, and a founding board member of the Center for Economic Research in Pakistan (CERP), which promotes evidence-based policymaking to improve the country’s social and economic development. 

A multidisciplinary research collaborative led by Pomona College, Evidence for Policy Design at Harvard Kennedy School, the research department at The World Bank, and CERP, will work with a number of other institutions around the globe to conduct the research. The GBP 4.2 million research project will examine a wide variety of inter-related issues that affect public and private schools, including: 

  • The market for quality teachers. How does teacher compensation, job training, and review policy affect teacher supply and quality, and student learning outcomes in the public and private sector?
  • Access to information about school quality. Do school report cards lead parents to choose high-quality schools and help those schools to thrive? Do the effects on students’ learning continue into adulthood, when men and women enter the labour force, marry, and start families?
  • Financial constraints. Do grants and loans tailored to the needs of schools lead them to make the kinds of investments that will enhance learning? 
  • Educational support services. Can products targeted toward Pakistan’s low-cost private schools lead them to adopt innovative learning tools and materials?

“For the first time in human history, every child has some exposure to schooling; the challenge now is to ensure that this schooling translates into the skills necessary to prosper in an increasingly globalised world,” said Jishnu Das, a principal investigator of the research project, a lead economist in the Development Research Group (Human Development and Public Services Team) at the World Bank, and a senior visiting fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi. “The RISE project in Pakistan will provide fundamental insights – to the country, and globally – on how we can achieve this task.”

The learning differences between students in public and private schools are large, and children studying in private schools report higher test scores in all subjects. Government schools require twice the resources of private schools to educate a child. However, private schools are not universal.

“The RISE Pakistan research takes a comprehensive ‘ecosystem’ approach to education research and reform so that the coming decade can see Pakistan emerge as a global innovator, and unleash all the benefits of education to its populace,” said Asim Khwaja, a principal investigator of the project, a professor of international finance and development at the Harvard Kennedy School, and a recipient of the Tamgha-i-Imtiaz, Pakistan’s fourth-highest civilian award, for his work in education.

The results have the potential to shed light on policies that could benefit other nations as well. Low-cost private schools are also growing rapidly in many countries in different regions of the world, for instance, in both India and Kenya.

“These low-cost, ‘mom-and-pop’ schools in Pakistan can serve as laboratories for us to look at how schools behave when they are unconstrained by the trappings of the public sector,” said Lant Pritchett, RISE research director. “We want to understand how these schools invest resources and improve their performance.” 


* In the RISE lexicon a public school refers to one operated by a government at little or no cost to students. This is to distinguish the definition of public schools as used in England and Wales, where the term refers to selective, and expensive, independent secondary schools