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Editorial

September 17, 2015

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Private schools

Private schools
The right to education figures high up in our constitution, but the fact is that even the relatively more privileged struggle to obtain this right for their children. Across the country a series of peaceful protests has been initiated by parents over the annual increases in private school fees, and the fact that schools are not regulated or held accountable for what they charge. While an annual increase of five percent has been laid down by the education ministry, most schools charge well beyond this. The fee bills given out to parents are also mysterious. Some contain heads such as a fee for ‘creative activities’ or charges for art supplies, field trips and other activities that should really be a part of regular school life. Private schools have been notorious for overcharging parents, but their logic is: parents want their children to get an exclusive education, these schools deliver it. After at least 15 rounds of similar fee hikes in the last two decades, it is the current round that seems to have irked parents so much that they have taken a stand.
It is a welcome site to see parents stand up for their right to a reasonably priced education. But we must hope they receive the official support they need. It is encouraging to note that the prime minister himself has intervened in this matter and asked the education minister to handle the issue. Private schools have essentially evolved into a kind of mafia which no one has been able to effectively govern. There is no regulation. The commissioners of Lahore and Karachi have stepped in to unilaterally order the private schools to pay back the fee hikes, but it is unclear under what jurisdiction they can make such a ruling. For years, campaigners have been advocating for ending the country’s class-segregated education system. It is worth remembering that the vast majority of private schools cater not to the very wealthy but to the lower middle and middle classes – wage earners, low-paid professionals, office workers and others – with only limited budgets at their disposal. The lack of choice available to them means a vast chunk of this goes out in school fees. Elite private schools cater to the small, but significant, minority which prefers international examinations instead of the matriculation system. The problem at one level is the failure of the state education system. Yes, Minister of State for Education Balighur Rehman has dubbed the fee increase ‘unjustified’. Yes, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has promised legislation to regulate private schools. But the regulation of private schools does not solve the greater problem: how does the Pakistani state ensure that each child in the country gets the same, good quality education?
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