The previously toothless Private Educational Institutions Regulatory Authority (PEIRA) is all set to get some real powers.
The National Assembly on Wednesday passed a bill to keep Islamabad’s private educational institutions (PEIs) in check. The Islamabad Capital Territory Private Educational Institutions (Registration and Regulation) Act 2012, which now awaits an approval from the senate and an OK from President Asif Ali Zardari, will require all law enforcement agencies to assist PEIRA in the “exercise of its powers and performance of its functions.”
PEIRA was established as a result of a September 2006 presidential ordinance. The ordinance formed the basis of the new bill, after the Standing Committee on Cabinet Secretariat deliberated on it for over two years.
PEIRA was tasked to register and regulate the PEIs operating in Islamabad. In the six years since its formation, the authority has registered 722 institutions, but its mandate has also been flouted quite often by the PEIs.
“We would serve notices to institutions to register with us, but some of them would refuse point blank. Some institutions would even hide their data from our inspection teams,” PEIRA president Atif Kayani told The Express Tribune. “We didn’t have any real powers.”
He said PEIRA would turn to the Capital Development Authority or the Islamabad Capital Territory on such occasions, but both did not always cooperate.
In the bill, PEIRA has been given the power to register and regulate PEIs. The bill requires PEIRA to come up with a policy to determine “rate of fee being charged by the institutions, qualifications of teaching staff, their terms and conditions of service including salaries and mode of payment of their salaries.”
PEIRA must also ensure that the services, quality of education and salary paid to teachers at these institutions matches the fees charged from the students.
Existing institutions will have 90 days from the commencement of the bill to get registered with the authority. The registration will be mandatory for any PEI to get affiliated with the Federal Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education.
Owners of PEIs can be fined up to Rs5,000 or imprisoned for one year, if they run their schools in contravention of the act’s provisions.
The bill, Kayani said, will help PEIRA bring uniformity to the education standards of the myriad private schools. He added they will form a committee with relevant stakeholders, after the bill gets total approval, to set the criteria for the policy measures.
The federal government will allocate an annual grant to PEIRA, in addition to its own finances generated from the registration and other fees, according to the bill’s draft.
The bill, which initially faced some resistance from influential politicians and businessmen, running private schools requires branches of franchise schools to register separately.
The bill has also added tuition centres — providing education at the pre-primary level, including day-care centres, and from pre-primary to secondary level education — to the definition of a “school.”
Muhammad Asghar Babur, president of the Private Schools Network, welcomed the approval of the bill by the legislators, but had some reservations.
“The bill does not provide any instructions for the promotion of educational institutions that offer almost free education to the public,” Babur said.
He said there are more than 360 private schools in the federal capital that provide education to local communities for student fees between Rs50-200. Some of these schools cannot afford PEIRA’s fees, he said.
New schools who charge student fees below Rs2,000 are required to pay Rs18,000 to Rs20,000 for first-time registration and Rs5,000 for renewal, Kayani said. Schools who charge more than Rs2,000 as student fees have to pay Rs40,000 for fresh registration and Rs10,000 for renewal.
Babur said there should be more fee-brackets for the registration and renewal fees.
“PEIRA should get more fees from those schools who are charging maximum student fees,” he said. “This money could be spent on the capacity building of the teachers of low-income schools.”
Published in The Express Tribune, January 24th, 2013.
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