Private schools are worst hit

Economics are just one factor; several others need to be considered when substantiating the damage

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected everything and everyone around the globe one way or the other.

Globally, schools and colleges have had to be shut down to curtail the spread of disease. In Pakistan, the education sector is amongst the worst hit due to the virus-caused lockdown and school closures.

Pakistan was one of the first countries in the world to institute widespread school closures due to Covid-19. Schools in Sindh were shut down as early as February 27, the rest of the country followed suit in mid-March.

Education institutions worldwide then shifted to online teaching where possible. The transition has been very difficult for Pakistan. Schools for children from low-income families have struggled with the provision of online tuition. The lack of internet access and equipment for e-learning has deprived a large number of children across the country of education.

There have been instances of parents stopping paying the school fee or taking their children away from the schools altogether. The loss in fees and the increased dropout rate have caused serious problems for school managements.

The fact that the staff salaries are paid out of the fees collected from the students made the schools very vulnerable.

Kashif Mirza, the All Pakistan Private Schools Federation (APPSF) president, claims that closure of schools has hit a self-sustained economy of Rs 500 billion hard.

“Continuous closure of private schools across the country has affected about 50 million students in public and private schools. Nearly 10,000 schools have closed down permanently making their teachers unemployed”, says Mirza.

According to the APPSF president, the lack of planning for education sector on the part of the government has affected over 200,000 private schools and their allied economies, including teachers, transporters and associated vendors.

“The schools have suffered an irreparable loss of Rs 75 million. It is impossible to make up for the educational loss due to lockdown. There are already 25 million out-of-school-children in Pakistan,” laments Mirza.

Three out of five children attend a private school in the country. Over 85 percent of the 200,000-plus private schools that dot the country’s length and breadth are low-cost institutions (charging Rs 2000 per month or less per student). Most of these function in rented premises.

Prolonged closures over the last year dried up the revenue for many schools, while recurring costs such as teachers’ salaries and rent continued to pile. The lower-tier private schools are thus struggling to survive.

“The APPSF estimates that 15 percent of the private schools have gone under. Many more are in the process, leaving their teachers on the brink of unemployment. Unlike other industries… schools takes several years to establish. We face the stark prospect of children not having schools to go by the time government allows regular reopening,” says Mirza.

According to a World Bank report, quantifying the learning loss in terms of labour market returns, the average student will face a reduction between $193 and $445 in yearly earnings once s/he enters the labour market, which represents between 2.8 percent and 6.6 percent of annual income. Aggregated for all students in Pakistan and projected twenty years into the future (when all graduates have entered the labour market, this would cost the Pakistani economy between $67 billion and $155 billion in GDP at net present value.

Kashif Jawdani, president of the All Pakistan Private Schools Management Association, says that there are twenty-four taxes and levies on private schools. These include income tax, the EOBI contribution, social security payments, commercial property tax, service tax, and corporation tax. Most private schools, he says, are set up in rented buildings. The taxes and rent have to be paid whatever the circumstances.

Given that most private schools employ female teachers, Jadwani concludes that the school closure has hit the women teachers the worst.

Dr Mumtaz Anwar, the Punjab University Department of Economics chairman, points out that increased unemployment is a direct consequence of the school closure.

“Another impact will be a relative decrease in the economy because there is an uncertain situation,” he says. He says while data on schools are not available the APPSF projections appear plausible. Dr Anwar believes that it could take up to two years for the private schools to recover the pandemic-related losses.

Economist Aadil Nakhoda says there is a need for a more holistic analysis of the situation. Economics are just one factor; several others need to be considered when substantiating the damage. He notes, “there are three things to consider at least: a) Are schools seeing mass dropout, b) are there any changes in their revenue collection due to fewer students paying their fees c) are they able to take advantage of technology and the IT facilities?”

Nakhoda says Covid-19 has disrupted the economy and this is bound to have long-term impacts. However, he says, institutions that quickly adapt to the new teaching modes and online-setups are likely to report less losses. The IT sector has certainly experienced expansions during the current pandemic. Unfortunately, many institutions have not benefited from the technological advancements.

The writer is a journalist based in Lahore

Coronavirus: Private schools are worst hit