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Pakistan Embraces Vouchers to Boost Enrollment

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A new book written by Sir Michael Barber explores the education reforms in the Punjab region of Pakistan over the past two years, including their use of vouchers to help encourage more children to enroll in school.

Barber, who was the the head of the British Prime Minister's Delivery Unit and chief adviser to the Secretary of State for Education under Tony Blair, and who is now Pearson's chief education adviser, was pegged to create a plan for bringing about education improvements in the Punjab region by Mian Shahbaz Sharif, the area's chief minister of education, in late 2010. The plan was rolled out in January 2011 and has since been implemented in more than 60,000 schools in the region.

Under the plan, enrollment in schools has increased by 1.5 million students and more than 81,000 new teachers have been hired. Part of the enrollment increase can be traced back to a voucher program which provides the equivalent of U.S. $15 to send children of poor families to participating private schools through the Punjab Education Foundation. To be eligible to receive the tuition funds, participating private schools that teach even one student from the voucher program are required to test all students in the school to demonstrate progress.

Over the course of the 2011-12 school year, the number of students participating in the voucher program has expanded from 20,000 to 140,000. Barber predicts the program will add an additional 50,000-80,000 students over the next 18 months.

There are about 255,000 students enrolled in school choice programs including vouchers, tax-credit scholarships, and education savings accounts in the US, according to the Friedman Foundation, which gave that number to Education Week earlier this year.

Read more about Barber's findings on EdWeek's BookMarks blog from Catherine Cardno, who outlines Barber's conclusions and observations.

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