Working Paper


Beating the ‘Anti-Work’ Culture: Lessons from a Successful Attempt to Improve Performance in State Schools in Pakistan


What local-level factors, or horizontal pressures, can improve learning outcomes in government schools in developing countries, when the political elites and education bureaucracy are not exerting enough vertical pressure on principals and teachers to ensure improvement in learning outcomes? Existing research suggests the role of principals, investment in teacher training or improving financial incentives, and increased community participation as possible ways to enhance performance of teachers and principals. Assessing a 25-year state-school improvement programme run by CARE, a prominent education foundation in Pakistan, which has demonstrated visible success in improving student enrolment and performance in national matriculation exams and transition to college and university education, this paper shows that while principals can play a critical role in improving school performance, the real challenge is to suppress the ‘anti-work’ culture that prevails in state schools in countries where appointments of teachers as well as principals remain a source of political patronage. The paper shows that in such contexts NGOs, if given the contractual authority to monitor performance, can act as effective third-party enforcers to help shift the balance in favour of ‘pro-work’ teachers. However, for systematic long-term improvement in school performance, this support needs to come via the district-level education authorities—and this, as we shall see, is often also missing in such contexts. The findings from this study thus support growing evidence on the challenges confronting efforts to strengthen the short route of accountability in countries where the long route of accountability is weak. In such a political-economy context, even committed principals are unlikely to be able to shift school culture in favour of a ‘pro-work’ ethic unless there are wide-ranging reforms in the wider political and bureaucratic culture.


Bano, M. 2022. Beating the ‘Anti-Work’ Culture: Lessons from a Successful Attempt to Improve Performance in State Schools in Pakistan. RISE Working Paper Series. 22/105.