Imran Khan during the launch of the countrywide stipend programme for students from low-income households to encourage them to go to school. Image Credit: Press Information Department

Islamabad: Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday launched the countrywide stipend programme for students from low-income households to encourage them to go to school and to prevent the dropout rate.

The Ehsaas Education Stipends (EES) programme for primary, secondary, and higher education has been specifically launched by the government to address the school dropout crisis in Pakistan where an estimated 21.7 million children aged 5 to 16 are out of school.

“The project offers incentives to parents to send their children, both girls and boys, to schools,” PM Khan said at the launch ceremony in Islamabad attended by dozens of school children from Islamabad and suburbs. The use of technology “will ensure transparency in the programme” so that it can truly benefit the deserving families, he said.

One of the key features of the programme is that it specifically focuses on girls’ education by offering them a higher stipend as their dropout rate increases after 5th grade. Under the programme, primary school (grade 1-5) boys will receive a stipend of Rs1,500 and girls Rs2,000, secondary school (grade 6-10) boys will get Rs2,500 and girls Rs3,000 and at the higher secondary level (grade 11-12), boys will get Rs3,500 and girls Rs 4,000 every quarter.

Students aged 4-22 years from the beneficiary families of the Pakistan government’s flagship poverty alleviation programme Ehsaas are eligible for the education stipends.

The education conditional cash transfer programme incentivize investments in human capital by providing cash payments to vulnerable households since education has a multiplier effect with benefits in economic growth and poverty reduction. EES serves the dual purpose of reducing poverty and reducing the number of out of school children at the same time, says special assistant to PM on social welfare and poverty alleviation Dr Sania Nishtar.

What makes the project unique is its transparency powered by technology and data, Dr Sania said. “Payments will be made to the beneficiaries (mothers) through the new fully biometric payment system” once 70 per cent of school attendance is ensured, she explained. The federal government has signed MOUs with all provinces to ensure implementation in 160 districts of Pakistan. The monitoring unit has been established in Islamabad.

Pakistan has had a similar stipend programme called Waseela-e-Taleem since 2012 in limited districts that provided useful lessons to launch a comprehensive, digital and transparent project for far-reaching impact. “The previous projects had a high administrative cost charged by NGOs, fraud risks, low stipends and weak compliance monitoring,” Dr Sania said. “Ehsaas Education Stipends addresses all previous challenges by offering government-owned cost-effective infrastructure and eliminating reliance on NGO. The operational cost has also been reduced from 8 to 3 per cent due to digitalization.” The stipend money has also been increased from Rs.750 to Rs 1,500-4,000 for different grades, and the geographic scope has been extended from 50 to 160 districts.

More incentives are offered to girl students who will also receive a one-time Ehsaas graduation bonus of Rs3,000 to encourage girls to complete primary classes and pursue higher education.