The education sector has been hard hit by the pandemic. The fate of students hung in balance as the government and educational institutes grappled with the new normal. On March 17, the Sindh Directorate of Inspection and Registration of Private Institutions suspended the registration of The Lyceum School citing violations of Supreme Court orders and failure to comply with directives issued in light of the pandemic.
Though the studies of the current students are unlikely to be affected by this decision as the department’s director-general Dr Mansoob Hussain Siddiqui told The Express Tribune that the current session would be permitted to continue and the school has the option of resolving the matter with the Sindh School Education and Literacy Department secretary, prospective students remain in limbo.
“I still haven’t given a thought [to] which school I will go [to] now because we have already paid a hefty amount in the name of registration fee,” said W* who enrolled at The Lyceum School for the batch of August 2021.
W, who is completing her O Levels and has applied to different high schools and got admitted to both the top A Levels schools in Karachi - Nixor College and The Lyceum. Given the latter’s well-structured system and its discipline, she chose it over Nixor.
“We know that the studying environment and [the] pressure is different in Lyceum, and [a] majority of students graduating from here join Ivy league universities. I aim for the same,” said W, who is a Harvard hopeful.
However, a week after Dr Siddiqui notified the suspension of Lyceum’s registration, prospective and incoming students find their queries to the school unanswered. The school has yet to reach out to them or to respond to their concerns regarding their future at the school.
“We have paid over Rs150,000 for registration and the fee is somewhere around Rs45,000,” she shared, adding that while she felt the school was the best option for her combination of subjects. The suspension of its registration has left her and her parents perplexed. “I might start looking for other options. Might join Nixor if nothing concrete comes up or these issues aren’t resolved by month’s end.”
Another student, H* who has yet to enroll at Lyceum, said he was lucky that he had not joined the school when the news of its suspension broke. “I will now join Nixor as I am not sure how long this will go on and it can take a toll on my studies, which is why I will not take a chance.”
All the prospective or incoming students The Express Tribune spoke to were independently aware of the private institutions directorate’s notification.
According to the directorate’s notification, the school has not followed directives mandated by the coronavirus - it did not give students a 20 per cent fee relaxation from April to September 2020. Besides, it charges a registration fee that amounts to more than the total of three months’ tuition fee, and the school failed to implement the mandatory - under Article 13 of the Sindh Private Institutions (Regulation & Control) Rules 2005 - policy of providing 100 per cent scholarship to 10 per cent of the students enrolled with it.
The school’s registration has been suspended under Article 8 of the 2005 rules for violating the above directives and several others, according to the notification.
All private schools operating in the province come under the directorate and after a long drawn out battle between the schools and parents, the Supreme Court gave a landmark judgement in 2019 that bound all private schools to certain rules - the foremost of which is that the schools cannot increase the annual fees by more than 5 per cent.
According to Dr Siddiqui, the school has acted in violation of this order of the apex court. However, he said, speaking to The Express Tribune that the directorate has not restricted any ongoing educational activity in the school.
“The current session is permitted to be completed and there is room for improvement at the school’s end as well.”
The Lyceum can always go to the relevant secretary and assure the department that it will comply with all the mandated rules in due time and the notification pertaining to its suspension will be reverted, said Dr Siddiqui.
He maintained that the directorate calculates the annual fees and the five per cent hike permitted by the top court and notifies the schools accordingly. But, he said, the Lyceum has been stubborn in this case and does not adhere to the rules. “Their lawyer does not even reply to our letters.”
The DG further told that the directorate will be sending similar notifications to 37 other schools, which are in violation of the apex court’s orders.
Seconding Dr Siddiqui’s claims, another official from the directorate said that the March 17 notification was issued after seven letters, three show cause notices and several meetings came to no avail. He added that Lyceum was also in violation of rules pertaining to teachers’ salaries.
Two students currently studying at the school told The Express Tribune that the school did reimburse the fees that they had paid for the Cambridge Assessment International Education examinations but did not facilitate students with the 20 per cent fee deduction directed by the provincial education department during the pandemic. They also stated that the school was not implementing the rule of giving complete scholarships to 10 per cent to its student body.
However, the students’ claims could not be independently verified by The Express Tribune.
Meanwhile, Lyceum in its correspondence with The Express Tribune maintained that it had responded to the directorate’s suspension notice through its lawyers but the directorate dubbed the school’s response “not maintainable.”
The Lyceum is now in the process of filing an appeal through its legal counsel, wrote the school’s founding principal.
Regretting the timing of the directorate’s notification, “coming at the end of a full year of pandemic teaching, and right before the students’ mocks and CAIE examinations” she maintained that for the school’s faculty and administration the wellbeing of its 650 students was its only concern.
The suspension notice only places further stress and anxiety upon the students and parents associated with the school, she stated.
“The Lyceum is a 33 year old institution that has a sterling record at all levels. It has always complied with the requests of the Directorate for documentation and compliance to the law. If it has inadvertently fallen short on anything during this very difficult Covid year with shortage of staff, it will make sure that the gaps are duly filled,” she wrote.
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Who bears the brunt?
In the back and forth between the regulatory authorities and educational institutes, it is the students whose futures are impacted.
Speaking to The Express Tribune, educationist Baela Raza Jamil was of the view that politics in the education sector leaves students in distress even though they are the stakeholders who should be prioritised above all else.
“Government authorities have agreed and appreciated on several platforms that [the] private sector is catering [to a] large section of society and [is] providing quality education, but then both the sectors [the government and the private institutions] also need to sit down [and] resolve their differences for [the sake of] students,” she said.
According to Jamil, if there are 40 million students enrolled in schools then an estimated 14m of them are studying in the private sector. They cannot be ignored due to minor differences, she said.
With regards to Lyceum’s suspension, Jamil said in any such decision it is necessary that the rights of students are not ignored.
To work out the problems different regulatory bodies should work together but the system has not evolved as yet and both the sectors appear angry at each other, she said. “If one goes and sees what is happening inside a public school, and if it is not working according [to the rules], do they cancel their registration?”
Then why is it that private schools are treated differently especially during the pandemic, which has impacted the private sector more severely than the public sector, she asked.
“Hardly any support was given to [the] private sector, which is why many schools had to shut down,” she said. Elaborating further, Jamil stated that many parents withdrew their children from private schools as why would they pay hefty amounts in tuition fee when their child was not even going to school - physically on campuses at least.
When asked what measures would then be appropriate when a private school violates the rules and regulations, Jamil conceded that the private institutions were at fault as well.
They also misuse their authorities, she said. However, she added, in this process it is only the students who suffer from the consequences.