The private school dilemma 

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In yet another desperate attempt to haul private educational institutions to the right track, the Supreme Court hinted on Monday at directing the government to take over their control. One member of the bench, Justice Ahmed also spoke against the apathetic treatment of education as a business commodity; chiding the administration’s greater interest in students’ life at home than in school.

The fact that private schools are more concerned with churning money than the welfare of their students is an open secret in Pakistan. Even the aforementioned exchange took place during an ongoing hearing against the unwillingness of two private schools to comply with the prior Supreme Court judgement on decreases in tuition fee. 

The debate on sky-rocketing school fees has been making rounds on social media for quite some time now. During his tenure as chief justice, Saqib Nisar stirred the hornet’s nest every now and then; speaking out against the institutions acting as money-making corporations. All criticism aside, it would not help much to understand this dilemma before considering the viewpoint of private schools. While over two million out-of-school children pose an existential threat to any prospects of a better future, it is the responsibility of the state, not the private sector to bring education to all alleys. It is quite unfortunate that the state still fails to provide the basic right of free and compulsory education to all children aged between five an 16 years old despite its constitution enshrining the right for more than four decades now. Adding the economic constraints to the picture forces these schools to operate in a competitive environment whereby they have to survive despite increases in prices of goods and services, increases in building rent and increases in increment incentives to retain human resources. 

No matter how capitalistic these private ventures may seem, simple nationalisation can still not be looked upon as a viable solution to the educational crisis. Z.A. Bhutto’s 1972 policy of nationalisation of schools and colleges is recognised as a mistake by even his party stalwarts. His intentions to build on the accessibility of the-then deemed satisfactory performance of government schools countrywide cannot be questioned. Yet, the ensuing bad management only helped accelerate the slide in education in the coming years. Given our previous horrific experience with the state absorbing all institutions at all levels, it would be much wise to invest in a broad organisation that actively transforms the system from top to bottom.