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The evidence for the sustainable scale-up of low-cost private schools in South West Asia

What do we want to know and why?

This systematic review was conducted on behalf of the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID). It examines the current evidence base to inform policy on the sustainable scale up of low-cost schools in the South and West Asia region, in particular Afghanistan and Pakistan. DFID is committed to pursuing flexible and responsive approaches to education in 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.

What did we find?

The search results found there is 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. Overall, the search found a weak evidence base to inform policy on the sustainable scale 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 was also a paucity of research into the impact of low-cost private schools on family income.

What are the implications?

The review 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. 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.

How did we get these results?

This review relied upon a systematic electronic and hand searches of bibliographic databases, organization websites, and general databases in two concept areas: low-cost private schools, and sustainable scale-up of education projects. 44 documents were included in the final data set after four rounds of screening based on the exclusion criteria. The information from these final reports was synthesized using a mixed-methods approach that built upon a foundation of Critical Interpretive Synthesis and was guided by three questions: (1) the factors affecting the sustainability of low-cost private schools, (2) the ways in which education projects, particularly those that are private-led or public-private partnerships, are sustainably scaled-up in fragile and conflict-affected countries, and (3) the challenges facing the education systems in Afghanistan and Pakistan. 

The EPPI-Centre reference number for this report is 2204.

This report should be cited as: 
Barakat S, Hardman F, Rohwerder B, Rzeszut K (2014) 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.
ISBN: 978-1-907345-67-8

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