Working Paper


The Missing Link: Low-Fee Private Tuition and Education Options for the Poor – The Demand-Side Dynamics in Pakistan


Low-fee private schools are today recognised as important players in the education market in developing countries, as they are argued to provide at least marginally better education than is on offer in the state schools. Leading international development agencies have begun encouraging governments in developing countries to include them within the policy-planning process. Based on fieldwork in two urban neighbourhoods in Pakistan, this paper shows that low-income parents are keen to secure good-quality education for their children, but they have to choose not only between state schools and low-fee private schools but also from among an array of low-fee tuition providers in their immediate neighbourhood to ensure that the child can cope in class, complete daily homework assignments, and pass exams in order to transition to the next grade. The evidence presented in this paper suggests that whether their child is enrolled in a state school or in a low-fee private school, the parents’ dependence on low-fee tuition providers is absolute: without their services, the child will not progress through the primary grades. Yet the sector remains entirely under-researched. The paper argues for the need to map the scale of this sector, document the household spending on it, and bring it within policy debates, placing it alongside low-fee private schools and state schools in order to provide access to primary education to all and improve the quality of education. At the same time it complicates the existing debates on low-fee private schools, by showing that parents on very low incomes — in this case households where mothers are employed as domestic workers and fathers are in casual employment — find them inaccessible; it also shows that household spending on education needs to take into account not just the charges imposed by low-fee schools, but also the cost of securing religious education, which is equally valued by the parents and is not free, and also the cost of paying the low-fee tuition provider. When all these costs are taken into account, the concerns that low-fee private schools are not truly accessible to the poor gain further traction. The paper also shows that mothers end up bearing the primary burden, having to work to cover the costs of their children’s education, because the core income provided by the father can barely cover the household costs. 


Bano, M. 2022. The Missing Link: Low-Fee Private Tuition and Education Options for the Poor – The Demand-Side Dynamics in Pakistan. RISE Working Paper Series. 22/113.