The All Pakistan Private Schools' Association has said that it would open schools from August 15, defying government orders that said schools would be allowed to open from September 15 provided cases continued to decline.
At a press conference in Islamabad on Monday, the association's head, Hidayat Khan, said that coronavirus was on a downward trend and cases were declining. "Educational institutions have been closed for six to eight months, causing huge loss to students," he said, adding that the association had tried to "negotiate with the government but it did not listen".
"If the government tries to interfere in our matters, we will do a million march," he warned.
Representatives from schools and associations around the country, including Dr Afzal Babar, Malik Abrar, Zahid Dar, Zufran Ilahi, Amjad Ali Shah, Sheikh Mohammad Akram. Iftikhar Ali Haider and Kashif Mirza, participated in the conference and discussed problems faced due to closure of educational institutions.
They alleged that the government was "inefficient" and if they ran a campaign, the "government would fall". They said they would open the schools as per standard operating procedures (SOPs), adding that madressahs had already opened and had held examinations as well.
"The closure of schools by the government is a violation of Article 18 of the Constitution, which is resulting in loss for 50 million children. We have repeatedly asked the government to allow opening of schools while taking precautionary measures but there has been no action."
According to the association, 90 per cent of private schools were located on rented properties and due to the closures, the schools were not in a position to pay rent and utility bills. The representatives demanded that the government also include payment for the rent, utility bills and teachers' salaries in its coronavirus relief measures. They also demanded that the government pay school fees for children whose parents were unable to due to financial constraints caused by the pandemic.
They further demanded that the government announce special grants for private schools, pointing out that "educating every citizen is the foremost responsibility of the government under Article 25 [of the Constitution]".
"Due to closures, 207,000 schools, 1.5 million teachers and 25 million students are now facing an uncertain future," Khan said. "Even countries badly affected by the pandemic have reopened their schools but we have not. The government's wrong decision will create an education crisis in the country."
He claimed that private schools were providing "free quality education to thousands of deserving students which the government with all its resources was unable to do", adding that these schools also paid 17 to 24 different types of taxes to the government. "The notification regarding a 20pc decrease in fees was also in violation of the Constitution."
Khan cautioned that if schools were not reopened [soon], then 50pc of private schools would be permanently closed and hundreds of thousands of people would be rendered unemployed.
He further said that the government did not allow board examinations to be held but fees had already been taken and demanded that the government return Rs25bn in this regard.
The association also demanded that the government clear payments owed to the Punjab Education Fund schools and release teachers who had been arrested while protesting.
They called upon the government to consider "private schools' problems as its own and not push them to the wall".