ISLAMABAD: Even though the government is responsible for providing free and quality education to children under the Constitution, each successive government has failed to accomplish this task while private schools were now being put under pressure.
This was stated by speakers including educationists, lawyers, members of civil society and parents on Sunday in an event titled 'Our Educational Needs' organised by Islamabad Educational Forum.
The speakers suggested that the government ensure that children are equipped with an education which will enable them to face challenges throughout their lives.
They also agreed that the schools should ensure that students are clear enough on concepts that they do not require post-school tutoring. Further, they urged that educational institutions should provide opportunities for both mental and physical growth of students.
SC issues written order on 20pc school fee reduction
A majority of parents present in the forum stressed that while they can put up with high fees, they cannot compromise on lower quality education in private schools.
Former Islamabad District Bar Association president Riasat Ali Azad said that as per Article 25-A of the Constitution, it was the right of every child to get a free education. Despite that, he said that there were still as many as 25 million children who are either out-of-school or without an education.
"An enormous number of children are getting an education in the private sector," he said, adding “parents choose private educational institution for their children to seek education owing to the superior quality of education which they do not find in government schools."
Educationist Dr Akbar Yazdani, while dilating on the difference between education in the public and private sector, said that successful models exist for both across the world. He explained that usually, they both provide a similar standard and quality of education.
However, in our country, the scenario was quite different as people in Pakistan prefer their children get an education from private sector institutions deeming government institutions incapable of offering the superior standards of education which people crave for their children.
"It was the private education sector which played a pivotal role in increasing the literacy level of the country," he said, recalling that as per official figures, the government of Sindh has spent a trillion rupees on education in five years but has been unable to make a significant dent in the literacy rate of the province.
He claimed that an estimated 35 million children are getting an education in private schools, which leads us to really question the government.
While discussing the directives from the Supreme Court which ordered a 20 per cent reduction in tuition fee of all such private schools who are charging more than Rs5,000 per month, a representative of private schools said that they were paying heavy taxes to the government while the tuition fees were their only source of income.
The representative went on to argue that they depend on this solitary source of income to meet all of their expenses including quality education — with teacher and staff salaries accounting for 55 per cent of their expenses, better teacher-student ratios, and even air-conditioned classrooms — all of which would be difficult with lower fees.
He said that the government treats schools like any other business.
"If they want to provide relief to parents, they should improve the quality of their own schools, or pass some benefits on to private schools which can, in turn, be transferred to parents," he suggested.
Parents’ woes: Children, parents protest against exorbitant fee structures
Muhammad Abu Zar, who was an engineer by profession but turned to teaching by choice, stated that teachers have been marginalised for a long time. However, the mushroom growth of private schools has led to increased competition within this profession and ultimately organisations were compelled to increase the salaries of teachers.
Nida Maqsood, a single parent who also teaches, said that she had willingly selected a private school for her daughter because she wanted to enrol her child into a school which had a psychiatrist along with good teachers.
A representative of a teachers' association said that while it was critical to have regulatory bodies, the government should also make certain policies under which there would be a check to verify if parents who prefer to enrol their children in elite schools are taxpayers or not and whether non-tax payers should be liable under that policy. Published in The Express Tribune, March 11th, 2019.