ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court has called for developing a mechanism to counter resistance on the part of private schools to regulatory steps.
Examples of resistance shown by private schools include reduction of facilities, increase in the number of students in every class, retrenchment of teaching staff and cut in their salaries, wrote Justice Ijazul Ahsan in a verdict announced by the Supreme Court on Thursday.
Justice Ahsan was part of a three-judge Supreme Court bench, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar, which heard a case relating to exorbitant fees being charged by upscale private schools.
“We live in a country of laws and private individuals cannot be permitted to flout the law and circumvent orders passed by the highest court of the country,” observed Justice Ahsan.
Justice Ahsan also noted that an audit conducted by the Federal Board of Revenue revealed that private schools were being run like businesses where directors and chief executives were drawing princely salaries, but complained before the apex court that they were earning negligible profits and that even the 20 per cent reduction in fees would lead to closure of schools.
It also needs to be examined how the regulatory authorities can interact and regulate schools so that fleecing of students can be curtailed.
The court also issued a clarification about the order of Dec 13, making it clear that the decision applied to all those schools across the country that charge fees in excess of Rs5,000 per month.
The reduction of 20 per cent fees will be made on amounts in excess of Rs5,000. This means the first Rs5,000 is exempt from the 20 per cent cut. The reduction will be applicable to amounts over and above Rs5,000 per month.
The students and their parents are required to pay fees at a time to be fixed by schools and any student who does not pay the reduced fee would be liable to disciplinary action in accordance with the rules and regulations of the institution concerned.
The order also required that all awards, scholarships and other incentives already given to students will remain intact, barring schools from reducing or withdrawing a benefit.
Moreover, schools will not take any steps for reducing salaries or the number of teachers on the payroll at the time the interim order was passed, the verdict said.
The order also regretted that during the course of hearing, the court was informed that two schools, Headstart School and Ecole des Lumieres School of Light, had written highly derogatory letters to parents and guardians.
“Let notices be issued to the owners/directors/chief executives of these schools to appear before the court on the next date of hearing to explain why proceedings for contempt of court may not be initiated against them and they may not be punished in accordance with the law.”
The order recalled that the Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan (LJCP) had conducted an elaborate exercise involving educationists, experts, planners and other stakeholders in the field of education. This was an effort to compile a list of proposals to address problems faced by educational institutions and ways to improve it. The proposals have been put on the website for input.
“We are of the view that the matter be fixed for final hearing and decision on merits, but the interim order already passed with the clarification given in this order will continue till the next date of hearing,” Justice Ahsan observed.
He directed the court office to prepare a separate file for notices issued to the Headstart School and Ecole des Lumieres School of Light and slated the hearing for Jan 28.
The Inspector General of Islamabad was directed to produce the chief executive/directors of the two schools before the apex court on the next date of hearing.
Published in Dawn, January 18th, 2019