A LARGE number of parents across the country must have heaved a sigh of relief after the Supreme Court decided to reset the fees of private schools to what was being charged in January 2017. The 65-page verdict sets many precedents for the operation and regulation of private schools, an issue that has so far been largely ignored by the government. The Supreme Court, in its verdict, reflected public sentiment by declaring private schools to be businesses and subjecting them to regulation. The court also capped the annual increase in fees at 5pc, subject to the approval of the regulatory authorities. Interestingly, private school regulatory authorities have existed in all four provinces for many years, but up until now, they had appeared toothless in the face of large educational corporations. With more than 23m children out of school, the right to free and compulsory education in Pakistan remains a distant dream for many. The public education system, in its present state, only seems to benefit those whose livelihoods are attached to it. After the passage of the 18th Amendment in 2010, it was hoped that decentralisation of education would improve its management and service delivery, but the sector was seen to fall prey to the ‘foreign aid syndrome’. The overall development of schools, teachers and curricula was relinquished for short-term projects that contributed little towards educating the children of the poor.
It was no surprise then that the private education sector grew and came to the rescue of children from lower-middle and middle-class families. It is understandable that the provision of education by private institutions incurs a significant cost, especially in an inflated economy like Pakistan’s. However, when profits earned are drastically higher than the costs — such as an arbitrary increase of up to more than 30pc in a single academic year — it is no less than blatant exploitation. The Supreme Court, through its verdict, has outlined the parameters of preventing this exploitation and put the onus of regulation back on the government’s shoulders.
Published in Dawn, September 18th, 2019