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Karachi

September 17, 2015

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Much is wrong if Rs88k is spent on a child a year in a ‘low-cost’ school

Karachi
In a country where free education is enshrined as a basic right in the constitution in the form of Article 25-A, parents whose children study in low-cost private schools are spending between Rs59,000 and Rs88,000 per year on the education of only one child.
As parents whose children study in relatively affluent schools are up in arms about the unprecedented increase in fees, the cost of educating a child in Pakistan is indeed backbreaking.
Safia Salman, whose son studies at the school which seems to be taking the most heat over the increase in monthly fees, told The News that the amount on the last fee voucher for two months was Rs29,000.
“But this month, the amount on the voucher we received was Rs41,000… this is a 40 percent hike,” she added.
Another parent, whose child studies at one of the country's leading school networks, said fees had suddenly been increased by Rs4,000 this month.
Shugufta Saleem’s children also study in the same school. She said the amount mentioned on the fee voucher for August was Rs20,000 per child in grade 11.
Akbar Shakil, whose children study in another countrywide school network, said when his daughter was first enrolled there in 2007, the fees was Rs6,000 per month but now it had reached Rs14,000 - a 130 percent hike in eight years.
Protests have erupted in several cities of the country over the exorbitant fees being charged by large private school chains.
On Tuesday, hundreds of enraged parents had protested outside the Karachi Press Club against the yearly increase in school fees ranging between 17 percent and 20 percent and sought the private education directorate’s intervention in the matter.
The parents said they would not pay the “unauthorised” and “illegal” amounts being charged by private schools.

‘Free’ education
A recent study conducted by education campaign Alif Ailaan, parents whose children study in low-cost private schools charging

less than Rs1,500 per month spend around Rs58,800 and Rs88,100 on a single child in primary and secondary classes, respectively, in a year.
The parents whose children are enrolled in government schools also spend money on education in terms of the daily expenses of travel, food, clothing and board registration fees.
The study states that Rs30,900 and Rs50,987 are spent on a single child studying in primary and secondary classes respectively in a government school in a year.
Though the study’s scope is limited to low-cost private schools and government schools, it provides a baseline for understanding the various expenditures incurred by parents on the education of their children, and how the amount must be exponentially greater for the parents who have now taken to the streets in protest.
The study also finds that besides school fees, transportation and private tuition costs also take away a chunk of the household income.

Lack of regulation
Hypothetically speaking, private schools are registered with the Sindh education department’s directorate after their detailed documentations are submitted and after that inspectors visit the school and approve its infrastructure, said Sajid Ali, an associate professor at the Aga Khan University’s Institute for Educational Development (AKU-IED).
He added that the fee structure had to be regulated by the private education directorate, which was supposed to approve the registration of schools after inspecting their facilities.
“Once a school has been registered, it has to be renewed after a fresh inspection every three years,” he explained.
“But to be honest, 80 percent of private schools, even reputable ones, are built in bungalows and cannot be approved if one is to properly follow the law,” he added. “The managements of schools have to obtain permission from the directorate before increasing the fee by a maximum of 10 percent, provided that they spend 10 percent of their profit on needy children’s education.”
The president of the All Pakistan Private Schools’ Association, Khalid Shah, had described the parents’ protest outside the Karachi Press Club as merely a “game” for the people whose children studied in “status-symbol” schools.
Dr Ali said unfortunately in Pakistan, there was an “educational apartheid” where the institution determined the worth and prospects of a child.
He added that it was unfair for parents because even if they enrolled their children in status-symbol schools, they spent a sizeable portion of their household incomes on educational expenses, compromising on other needs including health and entertainment. “This is especially wrong as the provision of education is the state’s responsibility,” he added.
He said teachers who taught at low-cost or one-room schools were not paid more than Rs3,000 per month, even though a school with a strength of 50 children can earn up to Rs50,000 per month, if its monthly fees was Rs1,000.
“These teachers give up their right to receive the minimum wage of Rs12,000 while those in larger private schools can earn up to Rs30,000 per month on an average, which too is not enough given the money the owners of schools make.”
Dr Ali said the protests were a positive development but they could also lead to the other extreme, which could be equally dangerous. “Private schools need to be regulated but if the protests prompt policing by the government machinery, then that too would serve no purpose,” he said.
“There is a need to establish a forum with representatives of schools and government and the mandatory representation of parents. The inclusion of parents is essential to ensure sound regulation of schools.” The provincial education department’s director for private schools, Mansoob Hussain Siddiqui, has termed the increase in fees as “illegal”.

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