to oil trade?
can cost a bomb
It is time to send the children back to school, at least in a majority of private schools that start their academic year in August/September. For the consumers of private education, the burden of sending them back is no less than the school bag is for the child, perhaps heavier. Private education is costly, is becoming costlier and the parents feel justifiably helpless. It is no use telling them they have a choice -- of sending their children to less expensive schools -- because, in all earnestness, they have none.
We've decided to put on hold the private-public education debate, to be picked up sooner. We want to focus on the situation as it exists. And, for the time being, the consensus is that since the public sector education has failed in Pakistan the private sector offers a viable, functional and better alternative.
There needs to be a rethinking of the entire public education system, according to this new vision, despite the fact that education at primary and secondary levels is a right of the people according to our constitution. It is still not a fundamental right. Interestingly, the courts in India considered this right as judiciable and the Indian government brought a constitutional amendment to make it a basic right.
Research studies, churned out in hordes, reinforce this consensus. So do the international financial institutions who happen to be the donors in our case. We may not agree.
For now, though, we focus only on the cost of private education for its consumers, in the light of this consensus. There are two levels where this ungainly cost can be mitigated. First, the government must regulate the affairs of private schools because the Private Educational Institutions (Promotion and Regulation) Ordinance, 1984, is not sufficient. Second, the private schools should keep the parents as an important stakeholder in mind while calculating their profits.
Once again, we are told, such a regulatory body even if it is comes into existence may not be able to touch upon the issue of fee structures of private schools (that goes against the principles of free market). So there will not be a uniform fee structure All that it would do is to keep a check on the facilities provided against the fee charged, the faculty maybe, and to see that there is only one window with no separate charges other than tuition fee.
We think the regulatory bodies, when they are formed in the provinces, need to do a lot more than this. They need to sternly monitor the facilities. They need to check the collection of funds under different heads by private schools. They need to rationalise the mandatory purchase of stationery items and uniform and books etc. from prescribed stores and give more choices to the parents to cut costs for them.
Most importantly, we want the private school management to do more for parents, in order to reduce the sense among parents that they are being constantly fleeced.
Majority of the elite schools do not hand over the list of books before the start of academic year so that the parents can exercise the choice of getting them from old book stores. They could even ask the students to voluntarily hand over their books to the school when they are promoted so that parents can get the benefit of free books from school. The school could make a list of house addresses and share it with parents for the purposes of car pool. Ideally speaking, each elite school should have a low fee option for bright children of low income groups as their "corporate responsibility."
Remember what we were once taught about education as the great equaliser.
There is no effective policy in provinces and federal territory to regulate private schools in the country
By Waqar Gillani
Like many other sectors, private education -- especially schooling -- is also not regulated in Pakistan for the past 62 years. On the other hand, poor quality public sector education and rapid growth in population has further expanded this private schooling in Pakistan to cater to the increasing needs of education. The cost of education is unbelievable.
Currently, there is no effective policy in provinces and federal territory to regulate private schools in the country. The bodies are there in Islamabad and Sindh but they are not effective. The setting up of a regulatory authority each in Punjab, NWFP and Balochistan is underway. Presently, Punjab -- with more than 90 million population -- tops with more than 86,000 private schools, while Sindh has at least 11,000 schools. The number of private schools in NWFP is around 5,000 while Balochistan has an even lower number. Interestingly, Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) has as many as 750.
Though education reforms and policies were started in Pakistan in 1948, it was for the first time in 1992 that the government, in its National Education Policy, decided to introduce policies to regulate private education and schooling. The first such body named Islamabad Capital Territory Private Educational Institutions Regulatory Authority (ICT-PEIRA) was set up in 2005. It was a self-financed body with aims and objectives to register primary to higher secondary level schools, make a national scheme of studies, ensure provision of quality education and facilities, collection of required data, teaching faculty and their terms of service etc.
"The Inter Board Chairmen Committee (IBCC) recommended setting up a regulatory authority for private schools," says Imtiaz Qureshi, member of the authority that was set up through an ordinance in 2005.
"We incorporated the section of fee regulation in the ordinance draft but it was rejected by the then cabinet which also comprised the proprietors of some school chains."
The authority has again proposed the government to empower it to regulate the fee structure. "A draft has been sent to the Law Division for approval. Let's hope for the best," he concludes.
The ICT also runs a complaint cell to heed complaints about fees and also low wages of teachers in private schools.
Punjab, with the largest number of private schools, also lacks such a regulatory authority. The schools are registered with the government and affiliated with the Boards of Intermediate and Secondary Education but it is hard to make any fee and infrastructure regulations for the private schools. This year, Shahbaz Sharif, the sitting chief minister of the province, however, formed a committee to recommend policy and regulations for private schools. The committee has submitted a detailed draft of policy to regulate the private education sector. "The draft will be further discussed by a review committee which, headed by Ahsan Iqbal, Member National Assembly, will give its final approval to the policy for making it a law," says Raja Anwar, the convenor of the committee, talking to TNS.
Anwar, who is paying Rs 20,000 a month for his child's fee in a private school, says the issue was very serious but neglected.
He says the committee also consulted the private sector representatives on the issue. He calls for an independent and autonomous body to monitor the private schools.
Raja Saad Khan, Project Director, Education Sector Reforms Unit (ESRU), NWFP, says that the government already has two authorities -- one to regulate higher education and the other for private schools up to high secondary level. However, they are not effective for which the new government has started conducting meetings to further empower these authorities.
Saad Khan says a draft has been sent to the government for approval of a policy to regulate the private schools properly. Previously, a body comprising eight Boards of Intermediate and Secondary Education and district-level education department officers are monitoring the private schools. "The new draft includes the regulation of fee, teachers' salaries and service terms, facilities etc," he tells TNS.
Sindh has a different situation. The province has a directorate, set up in 2001, to regulate and monitor the private schools, reveals Mansoob Ahmed Siddiqui, Director, Private Schools Directorate.
The body became functional in 2004 and caters to as many as 11,165 schools in the province.
However, Siddiqui admits that there is no power to regulate the fee. "Now, the government is planning to expand the directorate and evolve a monitoring mechanism in each district."
He says the two issues currently under discussion are rationalisation of fee structure and categorisation of the privately managed instructions.
Balochistan lags far behind, when it comes to private schools regulations, as there is no significant policy. When asked, Abdullah Jan, Additional Secretary, Balochistan Education Department, expresses ignorance about any such policy.
"During Musharraf regime, the government tried to introduce reforms and regulations for private schools but it could not do so except in the ICT," says Javed Ashraf Qazi, former Federal Education Minister, talking to TNS.
He says the private sector regulatory body was also proposed in the inter-provincial coordination committee of the ministers, which was chaired by the federal education minister. The lobby of the private schools is so strong in Punjab and Sindh that the government couldn't do anything.
He is of the view that the provinces should have the political will to introduce the regulatory authority for private schools.
"Whenever a government tries to impose policies on private education sector, it has to face a lot of opposition because many of the politicians are also into the business," Qazi adds.
Sartaj Aziz, educationist and former finance minister of Pakistan, who is currently associated with a reputed private educational institution, tells TNS that there should not be any regulation of charging of fee by private schools. "There is no other solution except to keep the fee issue open and independent and to create a competition among schools," he opines.
"The private sector should not be regulated and, instead, the government should improve its infrastructure and quality of education. The regulations should be for observing minimum standards and physical facilities to run a private school and not the maximum. The private schools have better facilities than the government but the market will determine the fee structure."
The school's side of the story
By Aoun Sahi
Muhammad Akbar runs a private primary school in a three-room building on Bund Road, Lahore. The total student strength of his school is 240 and he charges between Rs 100--150 from the students, depending on their class level. His income per month totals around Rs 30,000.
"I pay a total of Rs 10,000 to six teachers of my school (as their salaries). Besides, I've to cough up Rs 5,000 as the rent of the building, the electricity bill is around Rs 3,000 a month and Rs 2,000 is paid to two helpers. So you can calculate the profit margin which isn't more than Rs 10,000 per month," Akbar tells TNS.
He claims that 80 percent of private schools in Pakistan make as much profit only. "Yes, there are (private) schools in Lahore where a single student's monthly fee is far more than the fee of all students of my school put together. But you cannot accuse everybody in the business because of just a few people."
In 2007, a World Bank report, titled 'Evaluation of World Bank Assistance for Primary Education in Pakistan', noted that the private school business was growing in Pakistan. The report further related that between the years 2000 and 2005, the number of private schools increased from 32,000 to 47,000 and, by the end of 2005, a one-third of the enrolled lot of children at the primary level was going to private schools.
The report further mentioned a large part of rural Pakistani households no longer lived in villages with one or two government schools. Half of the population of Punjab is based in villages where the parents have to choose -- at best -- from seven to eight schools. "About 18 percent of the poorest send their children to private schools in villages where they exist," the report said.
According to Kashif Mirza, President, All Pakistan Private School Owners' Association, the total number of public schools in Pakistan is 154,000, while the number of private schools is 138,000. "In Punjab, there are 63,000 government schools whereas the number of private schools is 85,000. If they are charging high fees and imparting nothing substantial to students in terms of education, then why have they been growing in such numbers?" he asks.
"In Pakistan, 85 percent of private schools charge Rs 50 to 400 per month, 11 percent charge from Rs 400 to 1000, and only four percent charge more than that," he says, adding that all these schools are self-budgeted institutions; the government does not pay them a single penny, so they have to run their institutions within limited resources.
"There are 23 different taxes which the private schools have to pay to the different government departments. Only electricity is provided to the private schools on private rates."
Kashif claims the government spending Rs 1,700 on a child hasn't served to raise the standard of these schools. "If 96 percent of private schools are charging less than Rs 1,000, they are still better off because they are also producing better results."
Kashif may rightly be making an argument in favour of private schools but the general impression about private educational institutions is that they are making 'unusual' profits; some of them are even termed as 'shopping plazas' of education. Their approach and their growth and expansion rate are proof of their success as a business in Pakistan. Over the past two decades or so, numerous new chains of elite private schools have come up in Pakistan. Their fees are extremely high, ranging from Rs 4,000 to Rs 45,000 per student per month. A 2002 local survey report showed the private education market of Lahore was earning billions of rupees annually.
Globally speaking, education has become a very profitable business, with most western countries earning billions of dollars. It is believed to be second only to oil trade.
The administration of elite schools is not ready to buy the notion that the schools are minting millions. It says that ensuring a good education environment for students is a costly proposition in Pakistan. "We also pay certain hidden costs which most of the people do not know of," says Ali Raza, Regional Director, central Pakistan region of Beaconhouse School System (BSS).
"A big chunk of our earnings goes to various teacher training programmes. We have collaborations with international teacher training institutions and pay them very high remunerations in this regard.
"We also have a separate department whose job is development of curriculum," he adds.
Syllabus for a ride
Imported textbooks are many and have better content but frightfully expensive
By Saadia Salahuddin
Hundreds of publishers are experimenting with textbooks in Pakistan with thousands of private schools teaching different books to children. By law the private schools should follow the national curriculum. This also means the private schools which pick up imported textbooks to teach to the pupils are supposed to send them to the National Textbook Review Committee which should review them in accordance with the parametres set by the national curriculum which is prepared by the federal government.
But all this is law and in books only. The people in the education department believe curriculum of private schools cannot be checked. Imported books and those of established, renowned publishers are being taught in all schools where the O-Level examination system is in order. Interestingly, this is not a cause for concern for parents who have a unanimous opinion that imported textbooks have better content than those being offered to children studying in Matriculation system in Pakistan but their prices are exorbitant.
The prices of imported textbooks are going up every year at great speed and that is a cause for concern. So how can the prices be brought down? That is the question.
That can be done by reprinting the books in Pakistan. Definitely that requires taking permission from the publishers whose books we want to teach here in schools. Nadeem Asghar, a member of the National Curriculum Development Committee and National Textbook Review Committee, gives an example: "There is a book, titled 'Zoology by Miller & Harley', which is being taught to BSc students in Punjab University. The book is for Rs 150 because it is reprinted here after getting permission from the publishers. If imported it would cost Rs 2,500. Few copies of the imported book are available at the library if the students want to see the diagrams because the reproduced book is in black and white -- and serves the purpose. Also, something that all can afford. Likewise, the books taught to O-A Level students can be published here after taking permission from the publishers."
The number of schools teaching imported books has multiplied considerably since year 2001 when many new schools opened in the country. An established bookseller in Lahore says, "Nobody is there to check publishers. They can put any price that they want. A big publishing house publishes 70 percent of the books in Karachi and charges as if they are imported."
Tariq Haq, Regional Sales Director, Oxford University Press, Lahore, says, "When Oxford gets reprinting permission the price of the book falls to one-fourth. Piracy is eating into our innards. We pay heavily to agencies to conduct raids to nab pirates who sell at lesser prices. We choose top class authors who charge well and expect royalty. In Pakistan, they sell 35-40 thousand books and that is not much. Piracy increases our cost as volumes fall and authors fail to get royalties they expect."
The situation, we hope, must have improved as Oxford Publishers are selling books directly to schools now on 22 percent discount against booksellers who are offered 15 percent discount. "This is a step to check piracy," says Tariq, who is in the publishing business for 11 years.
When asked if Oxford textbooks are widely used in many English medium schools, he says, "Our most popular books are English books, social studies, science and Islamiat."
He demands government subsidies to publishers publishing textbooks. "The government should regulate schools but it doesn't."
While those who can afford send their children to schools which have O-Level system, a large chunk of population goes to private schools, both English and Urdu medium. Government school is hardly a choice, though the government is providing textbooks for free in its schools which should be a big incentive in itself.
The books being published for the English and Urdu medium schools which offer Matriculation are certainly an eye-opener and very disconcerting. It seems they are not following any curriculum and the quality varies to a great extent. There are publishers who offer 50 percent discount on books to schools while most of them offer 30 percent. The least discount is on imported books -- 15 percent. Is this benefit being passed on to the parents, remains to be seen.
Paper is costly. "It is recycled in India, not here. Good paper costs and government doesn't give any subsidy while governments do give indirect subsidies to publishers in different countries of the world," says Akbar Khan of Book Group whose books are popular with schools as supplementary reading.
Nadeem Asghar says the only way to bring the prices of books down is to introduce multiple textbooks system according to one curriculum. "If we publish four textbooks on one subject here, we will have four books following the same curriculum and that will be to the benefit of the people. We need to do that
very much to improve quality as well."
How the people with different backgrounds and income brackets budget their children's education
By Naila Inayat
The Constitution of Pakistan in Article 37(b) and (c) makes the glorious promise: "The State shall remove illiteracy and provide free and compulsory secondary education within the minimum possible period..." This corresponds with Article 26 (1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which says, "Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory..."
The education expense burden has drastically changed in the recent years, for parents from varied socioeconomic positions and backgrounds. In order to find out the real picture, TNS spoke to different families, asking the parents to voice their concerns on educational investment, expectations for their children and the school education perceptions. Here's what they had to say.
Raheela Waseem, a mother of three, lives in a joint family, on Patel Road, Quetta. She said, "Two of my children Aimal and Mustafa are going to a private school. Frankly, I am not able to save anything at all; you just have to follow the demand-and-supply mechanism and often your resources are outdone."
Raheela's husband is a businessman but being the sole earner in the family of five their problems are obviously increased. "Everyone is familiar with the state of affairs in Balochistan," she continues. "Things are not quite fine here, and the same goes for business."
Aimal's monthly fee is Rs 2,000, whereas Mustafa's is Rs 3,000, excluding transportation that costs up to Rs 4,000 a month. "I understand that in Lahore the school buses cost Rs 800 to 900, because they (schools) are usually at a considerable distance from your home. But here (in Quetta), there aren't such distances to speak of; yet things have to be regulated."
These set expenses were always there. But, today, education for children means a whole lot of additional, fancy miscellaneous expenses -- "competitions, lunches, sports wear etc" -- that eat into your savings.
"The schools do not provide for anything at all. Education expenses consume almost 70 to 80 percent of the total budget. It is impossible to chalk out a budget for these things. It is beyond our control."
Sheikhupura's Ibrahim Khan has a mechanic shop of his own. A proud single parent, he says, "I am very glad my son Ismail is studying in an English medium school. I am sure he will grow up to be a big man and not be forced to become an auto-mechanic."
Ismail's monthly fee is Rs 3,500. Additionally, the books cost about Rs 2,500, school uniform Rs 1,200, and the transport expenses total Rs 500 a month. Ibrahim says he also likes to spare Rs 600 for his son's pocket money.
"Usually, I'm not quite burdened but after summer vacations when you have to buy new things every time; it can cost you a bomb.
"The cost of education is getting higher by the day," he adds. "And, it's only going to increase as Ismail moves on to university. I know I'll have to cut down further on my personal expenses, but as long as it secures a better future for my son I am happy!"
Amna Mansoor from Gulshan, Karachi, has two school-going children, named Ahmed and Unaiza. Ahmed is in a small English medium school and Unaiza is in Monterssori. "It's really very expensive to get your kids into school these days; I don't think things were the same in our times. Ahmed's school fee is Rs 21,000 for three months and that of Unaiza is Rs 3,000 per month. It sure is burdensome when a major chunk of your home budget goes away to unforeseen school expenses. You just have to cut down on your own needs to manage them. You cannot compromise on your child's future.
"I feel we are running our home on a day-to-day basis!" she says.
Mohmmad Khalil returned from Saudi Arabia about six months ago and is currently based in Rawalpindi. He has five children -- all of them school-going. Being the sole bread earner Khalil is obviously worried about how to budget the affairs at home. He says, "The fees of my children add up to Rs 15,000 a month. Since I am out of work right now, I can only pay up from my savings. I am not sure if I'll be able to continue on as such six months down the line. To afford your children the best available education is a millionaire's job."
Saleem Ahmed is a doctor based in Hyderabad, with a monthly income of Rs 18,000. "I have a son who is a school-going kid. His monthly fee is Rs 3,000, but this isn't it," he says. "There are several other, related expenses to take care of. In order to be able to make both ends meet I have had to take up a part-time job, because my kid's education is most important to me."
... is fraught with 'weighty' issues
Buses, vans or rickshaws stuffed with students are a common sight in almost all Pakistani cities in the morning and the afternoon. Lack of sufficient and low-cost transport facility is a real big issue for school students and parents.
An overwhelming majority of public and private schools do not have their own transportation facility for students, so they are forced to use private vehicles to reach the destination. According to Amir Butt, Coordinator, Punjab Urban Resource Centre, Lahore, daily more than 50,000 cars, 3,000 vans and 10,000 rickshaws come out on the roads just to drop off the students at the schools in the morning and then in the noon they come again to pick these students which creates a mess on the roads. "The children of parents who go to private schools use cars to drop and pick their children in school. Around 7,000 buses can cater to the needs of transport of all students of Lahore."
He suggests that the elite schools should buy buses for their students while the government should provide the facility to the rest of students. "This move will not only help make roads better for traffic but will also reduce fuel consumption and, resultantly, control pollution in the city and will also be a cost-effective move. The same model should be adopted in other cities of the country," he suggests.
Raja Anwar, Chairman Task Force on Education, Punjab, admits that transport is a big issue faced by school students and parents. "Even I have to pay Rs 5,000 as transportation cost of my one school-going child and if I have a better and low-cost option available to me, I will go for it."
He thinks both government and private schools are needed to devise a strategy on this front. "No one can solve this problem solely," he says.
Anwar is not the only one who is bearing these high transportation expenses for his school-going child. A majority of parents who have been sending their children to private schools face the same problem. Many of them have a separate car and hire a driver to pick and drop their children from schools.
Three years back, the Lahore Traffic Police tried to convince private schools to start their buses to pick and drop the students. Some of the schools also assured them of complying. But so far, no progress has been made on the issue.
The principal of an elite school tells TNS that the Interior Ministry wrote a letter to the administration of a leading English medium school in Lahore and stopped them from buying more buses on account of security issues. "Most schools are not ready to take this responsibility as the security situation is very bad in the country and a student bus can be an easy prey. Even the parents do not want us to go for this option. A year back, we introduced the 'car pooling' scheme for our students and asked their parents to send their children who came from the same locality in one car, but it was rejected."
He says that three months back, the Punjab government sent a directive to private schools and asked them to arrange buses for students "but we rejected the directive and asked the government to firstly ensure transportation for its own schools and then ask others to follow."
-- Aoun Sahi