ACCESS to schooling is a four-dimensional problem: there are not enough schools; not enough schools for girls; not enough high schools; and not enough good schools.
The problem of access is so severe that it seems almost impossible to solve without involving the heavily private sector in education, keeping in view the financial constraints of the government.
The role of private sector education providers tremendously increased during the last three decades after the end of nationalisation in 1979. Nearly 40pc children attend private schools. Similarly 16pc students go to universities and degree-awarding institutions in the private sector.
It is evident now from some data that the facilities in private schools are better than those in public schools on most indicators such as space for teaching, drinking water facilities, toilets and boundary walls.
Attendance of teachers and students is also better in private schools than that of public schools. Some people think that the government should use the limited available resources on the quality of education instead of opening more schools and leave the increase in the number of schools to the private sector.
In spite of all this, some people carry the wrong notion that private sector educational institutions are minting money. This is not true. Most of the owners of these institutions are running on a marginal profit.
However, those who save reasonable amounts because of their exceptional quality reputation are reinvesting the saved money in education in horizontal or vertical expansion.
But still these private sector institutions are treated as commercial entities and not as public service providers. Instead of assisting them, they have been heavily taxed. The budget for 2013-14 is a recent example.
The tax may dishearten private sector education providers and they may divert their investment to other directions.
We should be very fair with ourselves. If the government has no additional money and the private sector stops further investment, what will happen to our people, more than 40pc of whom are illiterate.
Therefore, the authorities concerned are requested to reconsider their decisions on taxing the private sector education providers.
PROF (Dr) M. ASRAR KHATTAK Peshawar