THE commodification of education is going full steam ahead. Not only is education being recognised as a good to be sold, its sales strategies are also being discussed. Any good sells better if it has a brand name that has a popular appeal, we are told. Forget what Naomi Klein writes in No Logo There.

Faisal Bari’s article in these pages ‘Expanding school systems’ (April 27, 2012) came as an eye-opener. In the article, the writer appears to have written off the public school system altogether. Undoubtedly it has reached the lowest ebb and can sink no further. But does that justify an approach that apparently consigns the common man to the bottom of the heap and absolves the government of all responsibility in the matter of educating Pakistani children, Article 25-A of the constitution notwithstanding?

As long as the for-profit educationists can make money, the article turns a blind eye to the government’s blatant neglect of education. This failure provides more space to the private schools by increasing the public demand for them in the absence of an alternative. Where are the children of the lower middle-class families and the poor to go when government schools are dysfunctional and private high-fee schools are unaffordable for them?

The writer identifies the major constraint faced by “private providers, even in this middle-fee range” on their ability to expand — their “lack of access to finance”. Hence the franchised schools are presented as a model to cater to what he bills as the “fastest-growing markets in the country, the lower middle- to middle-fee market”. The fees for this category range from Rs1,000 to Rs2,500 per month and according to him they will open new avenues for the education of the lower middle class.

Bari specifically recommends the Beaconhouse School System’s franchised schools called the Educators as a model for the expansion of education in the country. He confirms that in this niche in the school market the franchise operator uses the advantage offered by the economies of scale to keep advertising issues, curriculum development and teacher training under centralised control.

This approach has offered many positive gains to new entrants who are handicapped by their lack of experience and the absence of a reputation that is a crowd-puller. They receive a neat package with an established brand name. This allows them to rapidly enhance enrolment. By distributing financial investment among different investors the franchise operator can expand the school network quite fast.

On paper this sounds great. We need to look into what is actually happening on the ground. The network has expanded phenomenally since the first school was set up in 2002. Today there are 306 Educators all over the country imparting education to 104,000 children. However, their proclaimed aim of “providing quality, affordable English-medium education for all” may meet with scepticism.

For one, I would not buy the claim that education imparted through the English medium is necessarily ‘quality’ education. It can also be asked if the criterion of affordability is really being met. Schools that I visited mostly told me that the majority of their children came from families with incomes of Rs20-25,000. There is an ongoing argument over fees between the school managements and parents.

The fees are fixed by the franchise operator and they vary from area to area. For instance, the Clifton area charges about Rs2,500. Korangi is allowed Rs2,100 per child in the secondary school. This is tightly regulated and schools enjoy little autonomy though the franchise operators admit that they find it difficult to exercise controls on the academic operation. Yet they ensure that no liberties are taken in financial operations.

The initial franchise fee which was Rs1.5m has now jumped to Rs1.8m. The agreement is for 10 years. The Educators from the early years are required to pay Rs200 per child admitted per annum as admission fee to the franchise operator. Under the revised rates, the school pays Rs1,000 per child admitted which is said to include the charges for the Student Indemnity Plan. (This is described as ensuring “the continuity of a student’s education in case of the demise of a working parent”).

However, the school which told me about this said its claim on behalf of one of its students was turned down on technical grounds. Apart from the admission fee, the operator recovers 7.5 per cent royalty per annum on the gross income (pre-tax) of the school. According to a former teacher with the Educators, the training provided to the teachers has to be paid for and mostly it is recovered from the teachers’ salaries.

After this there is not much to be said about who is gaining what, and who is losing what. A big question mark looms over the affordability of the schools for the low-income classes.

One can also ask, where will the children of the vast majority go? They are the children of the lesser gods who live under the poverty line — that is who earn two dollars or less per head per day (an average family income of Rs35,000 per month). The Education Emergency declared by the government in 2011 stated that 25 million children in Pakistan remain out of school. What is to become of them?

The only feasible solution is that those who have already earned hefty amounts from their existing franchises should now start thinking about how to share their profits with the less privileged.

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Comments (15)

Faisal Bari
May 23, 2012 4:13 am
Dear Ms. Mustafa, You are wrong in assuming that I have written off the public school system altogether. In fact to the contrary, most of my research and most of my writings in papers are about a) arguing for quality education for all, b) need to improve public education as the way for doing that, c) how to get 25A implemented and so on. A number of these are at But I do feel that if we are, as a society, going to allow private sector to work in education sector, and it seems we have decided that, then they should be allowed to work well...have access to finance, have proper regulatory and/or support mechanism so that we can address issues that relate to some of the issues you point out. Halfway options where we let public sector languish and private sector do what it can in incomplete/imperfect markets and institutions is a really bad place to be. Thank you.
Syed Ahmed Jamal
May 23, 2012 4:41 am
Hi Zubeida: This is a wonderful article. The demise of public education in many less-prosperous countries, especially Pakistan, is sad indeed. WHy has the government abdicated its primary responsibility to educate children? It is known that the majority can not afford to pay the hefty fees charged by private schools. It is about time that Pakistani public schools were reformed.
ghulam rasool soomro
May 23, 2012 4:49 am
Ti want to share the following points regarding education. that education is the responsibility of state, its not an individual matter. with out reforming system of government schools aim of education at gross root level can not be achieved, no doubt private net work of education are doing better than government institutions, but it should keep in mind that majority of our population lives below poverty line, so how is it possible for them to afford this huge amount in shape of fees. private network aim is to collect money not to reform society , they wor for a perticulor class . they have divided the society in to classes on the basis of education , therefore its duty of government and we people to encourage the government system of education so that all children of society can get equal education on equal basis rather than to support the private system, because they are industrial they want money .
M.Hanif Khan
May 23, 2012 7:27 am
Dears Ms Mustafa & Mr. Faisal Bari I appreciate your concern and views on education . Your dissection of the Educators system is very revealing. But what we should see is what service it is doing for the community. Our yardstick should be the service it renders. Whether the service outweighs the gain to the provider. We will continue to discuss the systems prevailing in public and private schools and I dont see any silver lining. Your writings carry weight and people read and think seriously what you say. I am saddened by indifference shown to the study of natural sciences which lies at root of any technological advancement. MBAs are in great demand which shows we are becoming salesmen of products which are not our own. I request you, both, to highlight the importance science eduation as well as R&D. Thank you very much. M. Hanif Khan
d. Goel
May 23, 2012 11:12 am
well in both neighbouringcountry themiddle classappetite for socalledQuality Education isonly foer effectivweuse ofcolonial domination ofEnglish . Mostmajority children areleft to fend for themselves to varioussouth Asian langiuages mediaschools. It has not been realizedthatthe fate ofthese sicietues cannotbe decisded by themselves unless theirnewer generationsare made to think and do work in their motherTongues. But Fanonian alienation hasmadeusourpeople victims ofBlack Skinsand whiteman's Masksofcoonial education , In immediate fuure there seemsto beno escape from thisstrangle hold ofaAglo Mania. D, Goel
May 23, 2012 11:21 am
The elite schools are gradually turning into money making machine. The fee is so high and increases rapidly. The school management recommends the books and notebooks which are published by the school. Even they recommend specific school bag, lunchbox, uniform in which they have their commissions. The school do not have proper building rather residential bungalows have been rented which do not fulfill the basic facilities of a school like play ground, lab, library etc. Much is spend on publicity rather on improving the qualities of teaching learning process. The elite schools systems needs check and balance by the government.
S. M. Naseem
May 23, 2012 11:38 am
Dear Faisal Sahib, I do enjoy reading your columns on public interest issues, but unfortunately your stance on education is heavily tilted in faovur of private education. The Pakistani elites are much more interested in ensuring quality education for their own children -- even if it involves implicit government subsidies to private schools -- than ensuring that all schol-going children are enabled to acquire a basic minimum standard of education. The private schools are promoting a system of educational apartheid, which can only lead to disastrous consequences. One of them, as the PM's CNN interview highlighted, one-third of the population will not only be willing and able, but also ready to leave the country. Simply by including Article 25-A will not ensure the end of this apartheid. The reigning anti-public and pro-private economic paradigm, promoted most vigorously by the present head of the Planning Commission, who is obsessed with the idea that the Government needs to withdraw itself from the economic and social sphere and make way for the private sector and the NGOs, has let the right to education of the poor go by default. No serious effort has been made to estimate the needed resources for implementing and operationalizing the right to education provided in the Constitution. I end with the following quotation of Amartya Sen affirming that that school education can be funded only by the state. "No advanced country in the world has ever been able to provide universal quality education by negating or undervaluing its public-funded education system. This is true for all the G-8 countries, including the USA."
May 23, 2012 3:42 pm
Dear Faisal Sahib: First, I would like to congratulate Zubeida and Naseem for highlighting what needs be highlighted and worked for. Thank you. Second, I do understand your (Faisal's) concerns about education, in general. It, however, appears from your writings that you are pushing for more space both in terms of finance and support mechanism with respect to for-profit educational institutions. In my view, this is a flawed strategy. First, these institutions can serve only a tiny segment of the society, a well-to-do segment. Second, their motive is to make profit and not necessarily to educate. In the event of conflict between choosing a profit and a quality-education, one can easily infer which route such schools will take. Third, and this is perhaps the major one: when we start pushing for pro-profit entities to meet the basic human rights, we are loosing at two fronts. On one hand, we are clearly loosing (or have already lost) faith in the ability of the govt. to provide for such basic needs. And, on the other hand, we have let the govt. off the hook as a guarantor and the provider of such basic rights. It is therefore imperative that those who can write logically, and thus can become a catalyst for change, must put their energies in pushing the govt. to do its basic duty. This is my considered understanding that no nation can prosper and be counted upon without a unified school system established and meant for all, irrespective of the financial-standing and the ability of the participants.
Jamal Khan
May 23, 2012 7:06 pm
The country that spends least on education in South Asia cannot be expected to give any importance to it. It is the same attitude that permeates the whole society. Governments of the elites, for the elites and by the elites will maintain the status quo. That is the reason we have no concept of national honor, citizenship and civil rights. The least live at the mercy of the most and accept any little handouts from the looted national treasures with proper humility and thankfulness. They cannot even imagine that any of it is their right. Whether you absolve the government of all responsibility for education or not, they have already accomplished that. More power to the landlord! He has learnt to put these rural schools to good use as sheds for his cattle.
May 23, 2012 8:47 pm
I am glad you point out the flagrant and shameful marketing Faisal Bari did in his article. Beacon House got a good return on its "academic funding" investment to the said researcher. If the purpose of these schools is to purely generate revenue and have no ounce of charity associated, then they have lost their soul and purpose. If Beacon House was a non-profit like TCF, DIL and others, then I would give it more credibility. It is also absurd to believe Rs2,500 is an acceptable amount to pay for a child's education for the common man. When a person earns approximately Rs 5,000-Rs8,000 and they spend Rs2,500 on the child's schooling, how is the family to survive? Public schools need to be overhauled, but unfortunately the private school mafia (the likes of Beacon House and others) is so vested in government circles that it will never allow low cost education to exist. Shame on our country and its so called champions of education!
Raana Mustafa
May 24, 2012 5:37 am
It is amazing how differently your readers can interpret your writings, Dr. Bari. Having read most of your articles on education myself, I have always felt you are for improving public schools. Your stance on private schools makes me think you would rather they were done away with. It is very interesting to read an entirely different interpretation here. I also feel that your series of articles on education can make better sense to a regular reader. I'd suggest Ms. Zubeida Mustafa to read some earlier ones too.
May 24, 2012 7:56 am
A high standard public education is a must if the masses are to be lifted from the state they are currently in. Private sector has a role to play but way downs the track when a healthy public system is in place. The private sector can provide innovation to the education system and create a healthy competition between the public and private systems. But first the public system should be reformed before encouraging the private sector in this area.
May 24, 2012 8:06 am
Mr Hanif khan You cannot teach science to empty classrooms. That is what you will see in government schools if you visit them. If education is going to be unaffordable for the vast majority of children and you are satisfied with the situation don't worry the children going to the elite schools are being taught science. But if you want science to be taught to the children of the masses please make the schools functional and affordable first
May 24, 2012 8:19 am
I really appreciate the article you have written. I was a student of class 7 in Beaconhouse in 2002 and I remember how the school administration was flaunting the Educators inauguration. They claimed that they were helping the underpriviledged. Thanks for depicting the true picture. Secondly, you have failed to mention The Citizens Foundation. The children are perhaps not very intelligent but they are eager to learn..the fact that they witness constant tensions within their families hinders their progress..but tcf students are still alot brighter than Govt school kids
Muhammad Mirza
August 8, 2012 12:20 pm
My Dear Ms. Zubeida. Hat off. I have experience of working with the Educator System of schools. Franchise operators' main mission was to mint money. They were less interested in "quality education at affordable price". It is a hoax. They don't have any control on the frachised schools. Teachers - not everyone - almost all are recruited just to fill in the list of teachers. I had observed that many teachers did not have proper qualifications; large number of them were "" either matriculates or F.A. / F.Scs".. When I was there in the system, I found that 99% teachers were untrained; they had no teaching background. Teacher were not even provided any on-the-job training. Teacher were given ""prepared lesson plans" of which they had no conceptual understandings. On my visits to some of the Educator schools in Lahore during 2002&2003, I had observed some teachers delivering classroom lessons, I was greatly shocked and disappointed on their performances. I had many encounters with operators' management. The people working in the system had no educational/ teaching background - hence they did not bother about intracacies of EDUCATION.
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