Principal Investigator:Asim Khwaja. Lead Organisation: Harvard University
Pakistan faces a serious learning crisis: despite significant progress in enrollment and educational access, learning outcomes remain vastly substandard: only 40% of rural children aged 5 to 16 can read a sentence, while less than 38% can perform simple arithmetic operations like subtraction (ASER, 2016).
For over a decade the LEAPS (Learning and Educational Achievement in Pakistan Schools) Program has studied Pakistan's education landscape and growing low cost private school (LCPS) sector. In a country where over 40% of enrolled students attend private school, the LEAPS program has shown that a number of market failures limit the ability of schools to expand and provide higher quality education, ranging from teacher shortages and informational constraints to lack of financial resources and knowledge failures (Andrabi et al. 2013, Andrabi et al. 2014).
This project will build on its parent study, "Facilitating Innovative Growth of Low-Cost Private Schools: Experimental Evidence from Pakistan," which demonstrated that the ability of low cost private schools to innovate and improve is hindered by two key constraints: 1) lack of access to financial resources, and 2) lack of access to affordable, quality enhancing educational inputs such as better textbooks, teacher training and teaching and learning aids. It also demonstrated that these obstacles can be successfully overcome by market-making interventions that connect low cost schools (especially remote rural ones) to finance providers and education support service (ESS) providers that offer products specifically tailored to their needs.
However, the connecting mechanisms used in the parent study to give LCPS access to finance and ESS products were cost and time intensive. LCPS were offered loans through school visits by loan officers, and were offered ESS products at education trade fairs (melas) that were organized to connect schools and vetted ESS providers. In order to increase scale and alleviate these constraints for a larger number of schools, a quicker, cheaper and more sustainable solution is required to connect schools and providers. Given how 'thin' the market for ESS products is, we also need to find a way to attract more suppliers to meet the needs of an expanding school market.
Using a market-making approach, our proposed solution is a digital education marketplace. We will build a web platform that allows schools to search for and identify the products and services they need but may not currently have had access to; and will allow suppliers to reach a currently untapped market of interested schools to which they do not yet have access. We will begin by surveying and bringing 20,000 LCPS onto the platform, with an end goal of expanding to all 170,000+ public, private and nonprofit schools across Pakistan. As the number of schools on the platform increases, we expect that more suppliers will be incentivized to enter this growing market with innovative solutions to cater to increasing demand. Competition will lead to better quality and lower cost products. Sophisticated technology will facilitate connections on both sides of the market and generate large data flows. We will measure take up rates and compare them to benchmarks from the parent study to assess the viability of a digital solution.
Once it proves successful for schools, we hope to expand this platform to make resources accessible to individual teachers, independent tutors, parents and students. Target groups that we are especially interested in empowering include out-of-school children in hard-to-reach areas and rural female tutors who teach children, especially girls, from within their homes. Given our theory of change that knowledge generation and innovation are key to improving education quality, such an intervention can have large impact at scale, catalyzing innovation and paving the way for improved learning outcomes across the education ecosystem of Pakistan.
Our education marketplace platform will benefit the education ecosystem as a whole, including:
1) Schools (initially 20,000 LCPS but eventually all 170,000+ public, private and NGO-run schools) which will be able to access high quality products and services
2) Finance providers including microfinance providers and commercial banks, who can expand their clientele and take advantage of lower client acquisition costs
3) ESS providers (including textbook publishers, teacher training institutes, edtech start-ups, and others working to improve the quality of teaching and learning in Pakistan), who gain access to a large, nationwide market.
4) Students and their parents, who will experience higher quality education
5) Teachers, who will have access to improved teaching and learning materials
6) Researchers, who will have a reservoir of data to draw upon
7) Policy makers and education leaders, who can use the insights generated to inform education policy.
Through this platform, schools will gain access to finance and ESS products and services designed to help them grow and improve. Schools will be able to identify and procure these services faster more cost-effectively. Rural schools that do not have regular access to urban centers will gain access to information about suppliers and services previously confined to cities and unavailable to them.
Schools will also benefit from each other's experiences through network effects as more users join the platform: verified user reviews and recommendations will validate product quality, ease purchasing decisions and lead to a greater number of competitively-priced quality products reaching schools. We will survey schools, collect data on their needs and through the platform help match them to high quality, reliable suppliers that meet their requirements.
Financial and ESS providers will benefit significantly from the platform as they will gain access to a large, previously untapped market, to which they can potentially sell products and services. The platform will provide an expansive database of schools that providers would otherwise have difficulty finding, including previously inaccessible and hard-to-reach rural schools across Pakistan. The platform will reduce client acquisition costs including search time and effort by allowing easier access to school information and preferences. Providers will also gain data analytics on the schools they serve, thereby enabling the design and provision of higher quality products that better serve schools' needs.
We will set up a vetting process for suppliers before adding them to the platform, and will carefully monitor transactions and engagement between schools and suppliers. We will continuously ask both schools and suppliers for their feedback as users on how to improve both the demand and supply functions of the platform.
Students and their parents will benefit from the products and services that schools procure, and teachers will be able to use the products and services procured by schools.
In the long term, we hope to benefit out-of-school children, independent teachers and rural female tutors who can also access the platform for materials, products and services.
The greater research community will benefit from the insights generated through this work, which other researchers can build upon in other contexts. The wealth of data generated, and the potential for continuous, real time data flows could lead to an evolution of way research is conducted in the field of education.
Lastly, policy makers and education leaders can use the insights generated from this marketplace to gauge what is valuable to parents and schools and to assess what works to improve education quality, thereby informing national education policy.