Next week the World Bank is holding a forum on public-private sector partnerhips (PPPs) in the education sector  as part of its ongoing initiative  investigating this increasingly important topic.
Consideration of the formation and use of PPPs is especially relevant in many countries when the use of ICTs at scale in the education sector is considered. There a variety of reasons for this, but two of the most common reasons that governments give in support of the use of PPPs in this area are related to (1) cost and financing issues ("this stuff is expensive, so we need to find creative ways to share costs"); and (2) the perception that competence and experience in new, 'innovative' areas like the use of ICTs is best found in the private sector, and not government ("the IT people are more advanced than we are in government, so partnering with them is a way for us to 'catch up'"). While developing countries as diverse as Kenya  and the Philippines  are exploring this in a variety of ways, some of the most interesting and varied cases of PPPs to support the use of ICTs in education can be found in India.
India is currently exploring how to equip all of its secondary schools with computer labs , and discussions of the appropriate use of PPPs in this process are an explicit part of this exploration. (India's Second National Consultative Meet on Public-Private Partnerships in Education  ocurred in November 2009. A useful general overview of various approaches, based on actual experiences in India, can be found in ICT-based Education in Schools: Emerging Business Models in India  [pdf]. )
One such PPP initiative in India with a high international profile is the Rajasthan Education Initiative (REI) , which the state government has directed since 2005 targeting girls, rural children, urban underprivileged children, and children with special needs through various ICT and non-ICT interventions. The REI has been implemented in close partnership a number of partners, most prominent of which are the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII ), the Global e-Schools and Communities Initiative (GeSCI ) and the World Economic Forum (WEF ).
Late last year, GeSCI released a very candid Review of the Rajasthan Education Initiative  [pdf], which began by stating that
It is important to note that there is no real precedent to the REI. At some point the REI did derive inspiration from the Jordan Education Initiative, but as the REI started to take shape it soon became clear that the REI was pitted differently and the expectations and outcomes would vary considerably.
In terms of its vision, its ambitious plan, the scope of partnerships and international access set against a traditionally anemic education system with more than 90,000 schools, beleaguered with intricate socio- economic challenges, there was no model that the REI could replicate. Its mistakes and its achievements are all its own.
The GeSCI report is to be commended for its directness in assessing the difficulties that PPP initiatives of this sort can face. While the report does enumerate the various achievements of the REI, which it labels a "unique model of public-private partnership in education", perhaps more relevant to other places are the list of 'challenges' that the project found difficult to overcome in the first stage of its activities. Key lessons learned from the first stage of the REI in this regard are, according to GeSCI, that
- Managing a public-private partnership of the magnitude of REI is a very complex task.
- Providing leadership for such a complex project requires significant fiscal and human resources.
- Leading such a project requires superb project management expertise, extraordinary attention to facilitating communication between the partners and clearly articulated objectives.
The institutional and human resource requirements to make such a set of complicated series of interlocking public-private partnerships work are, to borrow a common term of many engineers, 'non-trivial'. The GeSCI report pulls no punches in its assessment of the project's 'failures' in this regard. To cite just one example :
Over time the REI began to accumulate a huge list of partners, and this list became large and unwieldy. Moreover there were no clear criteria for partnering, such as the minimum size of a collaborative project. The situation was compounded by periodic transfer of officers from the REI with the result that every time a new officer took charge of the REI he or she took time to develop an understanding of the initiative which slowed progress. Much of the Partners energy went into establishing their credentials with the new officers.
This phenomenon is not unique to Rajasthan, of course. As India moves forward with its plans to increase the use of ICTs in its education sector through a variety of public-private sector partnerships, it would do well by studying the Rajasthan experience, for PPPs of this sort are complex undertakings. GeSCI concludes its report by stating that,
While the implementation of the REI to date has been uneven, the vision and objectives of the initiative continue to be of critical importance to schools across the continent. The vision may well have exceeded the practical bounds of its reach but the REI remains a ‘work in progress’, in which lessons are being learned and applied and the catalytic effects of the Initiative on schools, communities and Ministries of Education is already evident.
Irrespective of the net outcome of REI after the first phase, it cannot be denied that the REI helped to create awareness about Rajasthan all over the world and at the same time it helped to bring the world to Rajasthan.
- The flagship World Bank publication on this general topic of PPPs in education is The Role and Impact of Public-Private Partnerships in Education . In support of this work, the Bank held a special event focusing on Public-Private Partnerships for ICT in Education and Contracting for Improved Service Delivery  back in 2008.
- USAID commissioned a series of reports on the lessons from the JEI, which included a synthesis report of the Overview and Recommendations to the Jordan Education Initiative  [pdf].
- A useful short general discussion of this topic is Public-private partnerships in ICT for education  [pdf].
- India's Annual Status of Education Report 2009  provides a wealth of information about the challenges that India is facing in its education sector. (Thanks to Ashish from GeSCI for passing this along.)
Of potential general interest:
- The World Bank's youth-oriented "youthink!" blog  sometimes turns its attention to ICT/education issues, as it does this week with a post on Beyond Innovative Technology: Teaching Internet .
Please note: The image used at the top of this blog post of recent double-hundred batsman Sachin Tendulkar and a teammate ("a public view of one particularly successful Indian partnership") is used according to the terms of its Creative Commons license, via Wikimedia Commons .