–CJP says schools need to be regulated, implementation bench to be set up after final hearing
ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court (SC) on Thursday directed the Law and Justice Commission to prepare a report on the decreasing school facilities and the sacking of teachers following its earlier order to reduce fees.
A three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar, heard the case pertaining to excessive fees charged by private schools and restated its December 2018 order that the private schools reduce fees in excess of Rs5,000 by 20 per cent.
CJP Nisar further suggested that an implementation bench will be set up after the final hearing of the case.
As the hearing went underway, the court was informed by Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) President Amanullah Kanrani that “along with reducing its fees, the Beaconhouse School System had started treating its enrolled students like stepchildren”.
“My own children were behaved poorly with,” Kanrani told the bench.
“The schools are showing their reaction after being ordered to reduce their fees,” Justice Nisar observed, expressing annoyance over how “this is the reverence that these educated people have for the court’s decision”.
Following this, CJP Nisar also noted that after the previous order, the private schools had started decreasing the facilities they offer to the students.
Moreover, Law and Justice Commission Secretary Abdul Raheem told the court that “one school had said it wouldn’t teach Quran anymore and subsequently reduce its fee by Rs1, 000”.
“Not only that, another school wrote to parents asking them to educate their children in a co-educational school as it would reduce its fee by Rs1, 500,” the secretary said.
Terming the SC’s decision “unfair”, a school in Islamabad wrote to the parents stating that it was forced to “decrease the standard of its education”.
Following this, the apex court summoned the school’s owner, however, it was told by the Islamabad police chief later in the hearing that the school was closed.
The bench was further informed that “only schools whose fees are in excess of Rs5, 000 are decreasing their fees,” to which Justice Nisar asserted that the “SC’s order would be applicable to private schools across the country”.
SHUT DOWN THE SCHOOLS IF YOU WISH TO:
In addition to that, Private Schools Association President Zafran Elahi informed the court that if the schools abide by the orders and return one month’s fees then they would have to shut down.
“Then shut down,” the chief justice said, adding that “I will show how to shut them down”. He further added that if you wish to close the schools just do it.
“You are earning billions off schools,” Justice Nisar observed. “The government has been unable to make up for the shortage of schools. In fact, private schools have failed government schools.”
The court had earlier ordered the educational institutes to submit their respective audit reports and formed a committee to find a solution to the fee hike issue. Referring to this during the hearing, a member of the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) audit team told the court that “the private schools had paid a total of Rs1.2 billion in tax and action against seven schools is being taken”.
“Some schools had been able to receive stay orders against the proceedings,” he added.
CJP Nisar then questioned the official, “Was the FBR sleeping before the court pointed it out.” He then asked a member of the audit team to bring forth the documents showing that “the Lahore Grammar School director is being given Rs8.5 million salary”.
The Law and Justice Commission Secretary then pointed out that “one school director’s annual salary is over Rs120m, while the deputy attorney general chimed in with a figure of Rs100 million annually”.
“These are those poor people who are trying to educate children,” the top judge commented.
SCHOOLS NEED TO BE REGULATED:
Amicus curiae Faisal Siddiqui told the court that “private schools don’t wish to have them regulated and believe the court is exceeding its authority. But if the administration doesn’t play its role then the court will”.
Moreover, Beaconhouse School System lawyer Shahid Hamid also said that there is a need for regulatory authority, especially for schools in each district.
“For six months, there was no priority given to education,” he contended in court.
“Why not talk about the last 70 years?” Justice Faisal Arab asked the lawyer.
“The federal government does not oversee education since the 18th Amendment,” Hamid explained.
Justice Arab observed that different things are being taught in different provinces.
Following this, Justice Faisal Arab took note of the issues affecting schools ever since the amendment was passed. Not only that, he also observed that different things are being taught in schools in different provinces.
While recalling the system of one-room schools in Sindh, he said, “They take the shape of a room built in front of a landowner’s home. The landowner hires a teacher for those in his employ and sits there all day while the teacher presses his feet.”
CJP Nisar also suggested that there needs to be an eight to 10-room school built on land for a playground for eight to 10 villages.
“We need a strong regulator to regulate private schools,” Justice Nisar observed.
The hearing was adjourned indefinitely.