The draft bill of the Right to Education Act has been modified - only five percent of the original 10 percent students of private schools will be provided free education.
A panel of educationists prepared the draft bill for Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah, who returned it with instructions to modify certain clauses.
He also suggested the education department officials consult with Sindh advocate-general Abdul Fatah Malik and provincial law secretary Syed Ghulam Nabi Shah before resubmitting the draft.
Article 25-A of the Constitution - the Right to Education - recognises free and compulsory education as a right for all children between the ages of five and 16. It also requires provincial legislatures to make laws to guarantee this right.
Defending the chief minister’s decision, education department consultant Aftab Inayat said that the CM did not reject the proposal but asked to modify the mandatory clause of free education - bringing down the percentage of underprivileged students from 10 to five percent. Those private schools that would receive grant-in-aid from the provincial government, the chief minister suggested that 15 to 20 percent of the total students should be given free education, she told The Express Tribune.
For the 16,000 private schools across Sindh that form 40 percent of the education sector, this may be a respite. These schools are already bound by their registration agreement with the provincial education department’s directorate of private institutions to provide free education to 10 percent of their students.
Board of Intermediate Education, Karachi, chairperson Prof. Anwar Ahmed Zai, who headed the committee that prepared the draft bill, admitted that, “private schools hardly follow this agreement because there is no mechanism to implement this provision”.
He explained that the clause for 10 percent free-of-charge education seats was included to make sure that private schools follow their original agreement. “This clause and an effective monitoring committee were recommended so that the private schools could share a small part in this responsibility,” Ahmed Zai told The Express Tribune.
“It would not be a great burden for them [private schools] as the fees charged from 90 percent of their students could easily bear the expenses of 10 percent of the underprivileged students without having an adverse effect on their profits.”
For their part, the private schools’ association felt that even five percent would add significantly to their losses. If this has to happen, then schools should be allowed to increase the fee at least 20 percent each year, said All Private Schools Management Association chairperson Syed Khalid Shah. Based on the present system, private schools can increase their fee by five percent every year.
“We do not deny that underprivileged students have a right to study free of charge, but this should not happen at the cost of private schools,” he said. “The registration agreement also calls for exemption from taxes and duties on imports. If that provision is not followed, then this shouldn’t be either.”
Mansoob Hussain Siddiqui, who heads the education department’s directorate of private institutions, agreed. He insisted that this mechanism cannot work unless the government provides grant-in-aid to private schools.
In fact, the private schools claimed that they are offering even more seats than what the schools’ registration act demands from them, he said. “We do have a mechanism to keep a check on this but it is not the directorate’s purview to verify if the seats were actually given to the poor and the needy.”
Once the draft bill is prepared with the help of experts, it will be presented before the law department and then handed over to the Sindh Assembly for approval.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 14th, 2012.
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