- The private sector is being harmed without improving the public
The apparent failure of the state to provide quality education caught the attention of the Supreme Court that asked the federal and provincial governments to produce complete data and information regarding fulfilment of the obligation under Article 25-A of the Constitution. Article 25-A obliges the state to provide ‘free’ and ‘compulsory’ education to all children of the age between five and 16 years.
The bench had taken up a set of cases relating to education and fee increase by private educational institutions. Earlier, the Supreme Court in its December 13 decision had ordered private schools to slash fees in excess of Rs 5,000 by 20 percent.
Last September, Peira had circulated a notification which directed schools not to raise fees. The Islamabad High Court declared the government’s notification void and termed the decision of private schools to increase their fees correct.
The All Pakistan Private Schools Federation also rejected the Punjab Private Educational Institutions (Promotion and Regulation) Bill (Amended) 2015. APPSF said that the penalties laid down for private schools not abiding by the law were unjust and would be bad for education in the province. “The bill will destroy the private school education sector. The government is not fulfilling its duty of providing education to the masses through the public sector. Now it is again trying to destroy the private sector as well. APPSF is already in court against the bill and had put a restriction on raising fees. Schools will only be allowed to raise fees by 5 per cent annually. Schools, especially smaller institutions, will not survive with such restrictions. The inflation rate is 15 to 20 per cent. Only 5 per cent fee raise is unjustified. Registration process for schools was also complicated. This will make things worse for privately-run schools in the province. The requests for permission to raise fees three months before the start of the academic year is creating the way of corruption. The focus of the bill is based on heavy fines rather than facilitation, quality or promotion of education.
Leading private schools should be encouraged to enter into public-private partnerships. We, too, are ready to play a constructive role to uplift the standards of government schools.
A hue and cry is being raised only by a handful of agitating parents of elite class, affecting only 0.5 percent of the total private schools which are more than 200,000 countrywide. There is no complaint against the 99.5 percent of the middle and low cost schools.
The public education system is almost destroyed in the country and, if the current debate regarding private education is not channelized in a healthy direction, so will the private education system, which caters to nearly half the Pakistani population, particularly the middle and lower-middle classes. Article 25-A declares that it is the State’s responsibility to provide “free and compulsory education to all children from the ages of 5-16 years”. It is not fair that this justifiable public wrath is being deflected towards private schools.
Private schools conservatively educate more than 50 percent of children in Pakistan, and nearly 60 percent in Punjab. There are 197,000 private schools countrywide. About 23,839,431 students are studying in them, and about 1.5 million teachers work in them. On the other hand if we see the last decade, only in Punjab from 63000 public schools we went to 51000 public schools and the same situation prevails in the other provinces.
After paying all costs and more than 25 government taxes, out of 197000 schools, 85 percent charge below Rs 1000 fee. Moreover, 13 percent which charge below Rs 2000 fee and only four percent charge over Rs 2000. Clearly, 98 percent are not in the limit of heavy fee structure. On the other hand, according to the government data, per student cost in a public school is about Rs 7960 per month with poor quality of education.
The students, staff, and owners of almost all private schools have contributed generously whenever the country has been stricken by earthquakes or floods from 2005 to 2014. Private schools are fully aware of their social responsibility. Most critically, in more recent times, Private Schools have been contributing to the creation of a progressive and internationally minded youth who are playing their part in the development of a modern Pakistani state.
Private schools are treated as fully commercial entities by the government, and pay 25 different type of taxes and fees to Government.
There are also more crippling input costs for private schools. It has been alleged by some that private schools have raised their fees by 30-100 percent in August 2016. This is factually incorrect.
Most private schools in Pakistan operate out of rented premises. Rents increase 10 percent a year. Typically every 3 to 5 years, agreements are renewed, at which point landlords aggressively renegotiate terms. Landlords are aware that schools have limited options because their cost of relocation is very high. The compounded impact of annual rent increase (10 percent) and end-of-term lease renegotiation (any percentage) is an average of 15-20 percent or more per year. Staff salaries account for approximately 50 percent of the fee income. Teachers’ salaries are revised upwards, on average, from 10-20 percent per year but based on performance; in some cases, the increases are far higher.
Average electricity expenses across Pakistan have increased 17 percent per annum over the last few years. Private schools pay the “Commercial tariff”, which is the highest tariff category. In addition, many private schools operate generators for back-up power. Maintaining generators is prohibitively expensive. After December 2014, private schools have exponentially increased their expenditure on the provision of security– a fundamental responsibility of the state.
How will zero fee increase impact teachers? The 197,000 private schools are collectively the largest employees of professional women in the private sector in Pakistan. Approximately 1.5 million teachers work at these schools. Private schools will not be able to adequately reward them or continue to offer free education to their approximately three million children.
How will zero fee increase impact students and parents? Private schools will gradually lose qualified professionals to other sectors, or maintain current levels. The number of children per class will increase, co-curricular, extra-curricular and value-added services may be cut, and quality and overall standards will therefore suffer. Private schools remain committed to providing the best possible security arrangements. With 0 percent fee increase, we now require that the government post police and Rangers outside every school. Scholarships and financial aid for millions of students across Pakistan, which private schools offer despite financial constraints, may be affected.
Quality and good education is not cheap anywhere in the world! Some of the leading non-profit schools and universities in Pakistan are also amongst the most expensive: IBA Karachi, LUMS, LSE, BNU, AKU, KGS, Aitchison College, and dozens of others. This is because they source the best faculty and resources from across Pakistan. Aitchison College, Lawrence College and Sadiq Public School, whose Boards are controlled by the government, are far more expensive than most private schools, even though their lands and buildings are free and they get government grants. Does this not mean that the government is “profiteering”? If not, why is the private sector?
Now The Lahore High Court is hearing the case about the ordinance, and this bill shall influence the court as well. Here, it would only be appropriate to mention that in India the superior judiciary has taken an interest to compel those in control of the government to realize their duty of improving the state-run educational institution by having their children educated in the state-run educational institution. Moreover, the Government must declare exemption from all the 25 taxes imposed on private schools till the achievement of 100 percent education rate.
Leading private schools should be encouraged to enter into public-private partnerships. We, too, are ready to play a constructive role to uplift the standards of government schools. Until the state schools are improved, government should issue ‘fee vouchers’ to lower-middle class and middle-class families to send their children to private schools. This will help the government escape rising public wrath against its inability to meet its constitutional and moral obligations.