Private Schools Management Association Chairman Sharaf-uz-Zaman says that he was really surprised at the way the Sindh Provincial Bill (Article 25-A) Right to Free and Compulsory Education was passed without taking the private schools into confidence.
“We have no problem with compulsory education or helping the deserving students get free education,” he says.
“A similar bill, known as the Private Institution Management and Control Act-2001, was also passed back in 2001 when Hamida Khuhro was the minister for education in Sindh. That bill also said that the private schools will have to give five per cent deserving students free education facilities. And the private schools had no problem with that as we were helping more than five per cent deserving students even before being told to do so,” he explains.
“Now a few days before the Steering Committee meeting here in January, the Federal Government in Islamabad had passed a bill that only involved the private schools in the capital. According to the clauses in that bill, the private schools not taking any kind of donations or funds from the government were to extend free education to a small percentage of deserving students while those which enjoy government grants would be doing the same for more deserving students.
“We knew of this bill but weren’t bothered by it as it did not involve us and was only meant for schools in the federal capital. During the Steering Committee moot, we were given the literature of the Islamabad bill to just go through as the current Minister for Education Pir Mazhar ul Haq mentioned that the provincial government, too, would like to do something similar at some later point. But since it was not going to happen then, we never put up any argument over the matter. But now we learn that the bill has quietly been passed without our knowledge,” he said.
“Had we any inkling of this happening so soon we would have definitely discussed the matter as we, too, had certain reservations about it. For starters, we are paying so many taxes and bills while not taking any government grants. We could have at least asked the government to show us some leniency in that department for us to help the deserving students, which we are doing anyway. As for free education for an even greater percentage of students in the schools taking government funds, well most of them are the elitist schools that follow the Cambridge system. Besides accepting government grants, their fees for each student is in the vicinity of Rs15,000 to Rs20,000. Now you tell us, can you find any poor student in such a school? No. So these elitist schools won’t really be affected by this bill. It is only us the schools running on our own that will feel the burden,” he continues.
“It would have been good had the provincial government shared with us their intention before passing this bill. But since they did not do that, we will not accept it. Our stance is clear until the education ministry holds a proper meeting with us over this issue so that we can also inform them of the problems on our side of the fence,” he says.