In the finalised draft of the “Right to Education Act”, the Sindh education department has yet again proposed that private schools provide free education to at least 10 per cent of their actual strength of students.
The amended draft of the law, a copy of which is available with The Express Tribune, has been resent for approval to the Sindh chief minister, who had earlier returned it with instructions to modify certain clauses, including bringing down the percentage of underprivileged students from 10 to five per cent, according to the chief minister’s secretariat.
The draft bill asks private schools to admit the set number of “disadvantaged children” without any capitation fees or subjecting the students or their guardians to screening procedures other than academic merit.
In case of violation, the bill proposes a maximum of Rs50,000 fine and up to two-month imprisonment in case of charging capitation fee, and Rs100,000 fine and imprisonment up to three months in case of screening.
The government, in its definition of “disadvantaged children”, has also included those children whose parents have become victims of terrorism in the country.
Article 25-A of the Constitution - the Right to Education - recognises free and compulsory education as a basic right to all children between the ages of five and 16. It also requires provincial legislatures to make laws to guarantee this right.
Syed Khalid Shah and Jameel Yusuf, representatives of the associations of private schools for Matriculation and Cambridge systems, respectively, have declared the proposition “inconvenient and impractical” without the introduction of grant-in-aid or voucher systems for students on the pattern of British and American schools. “This just cannot happen otherwise,” declared Yusuf, while talking to The Express Tribune.
Grant-in-aid schemes ensure support to private schools from the government through funds. The voucher system directly relates to the students, who are given stipends to support their studies, according to their monthly expenditures.
The education department has already brought down the percentage of free education seats from 20 to 10 per cent, said Aftab Inayat, a consultant at the department. “All schools will have to follow the relevant clauses once the bill is approved by the provincial assembly,” she said. The department had presented the draft bill in open forum and is open to reservations and suggestions.
A number of private school owners, who happen to be businessmen and entrepreneurs, had vowed to cooperate with the government in sharing its responsibility at a meeting with the education minister, claimed Inayat.
When asked about the school owners who were not established businessmen, she said the government would provide funds to such schools. She was, however, unable to explain the procedures to determine the owner’s financial status, as well as, the channels to release funds.
Without a census of private schools since 2005 when they numbered around 11,800, Syed Khalid Shah considered it “wishful thinking” that a large chunk of an estimated 16,000 private schools will receive governmental funds on time without encountering long bureaucratic procedures each year.
“We have to cope with financial matters every month in terms of building rents, teachers’ salaries and utility bills, which are paid through the tuition fees,” Shah said. “In case, if we enrol 10 per cent students in each class free of charge, how would we run the school?”
Published in The Express Tribune, January 22nd, 2013.
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