Court wants formation of regulatory authority, disallows opening new private schools
Questions charge of tuition fee for vacations

Peshawar High Court (PHC) on Tuesday ordered a ban on increase in tuition fees by private schools until the provincial government comes up with a uniform policy regarding the matter.

The court also directed the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government to set up a regulatory authority in accordance with KP Private Schools Regulatory Authority Act 2017 at the earliest that could formulate a detailed regulatory policy for private schools operating in the province. The order came as part of a detailed verdict issued against two petitions filed against annual increase in annual fees, taking transport charges during vacations and other extra charges by private educational institutions.

“There has been a mushroom growth of private education institutions, from playgroups to the university level, but most of them are without proper buildings and facilities including water supply, playgrounds, edibles, assembly halls, etc but are minting money on every step,” the division bench observed.

In its judgement, the court ruled that until and unless “the uniform policy of fee including the annual and tuition fee is formulated, there shall be a complete ban on any increase in the annual tuition fees”. The judgement termed annual increase in fees totally unjustified and observed that the annual increase by private schools should not be more than 3 percent in any circumstance.

The PHC division bench also directed for the formulation of a detailed policy on school uniforms, textbooks and their purchase and syllabus, qualification of teachers, pay/salary and maximum strength of students in a class/section. It said private educational institutions “shall not charge more than half of the tuition fee from second/third children of the same parents and start compulsory Physical Training (PT) classes, effective measures for corporal punishment and minimum number of students in a class”.

No new school

The detailed verdict also banned the opening of new private schools until the formulation of a regulatory policy. “It is high time to check the overall activities of the private schools/ institutions and for that matter we are of the view to put complete ban on any fresh/ new opening of the school right from playgroup/primary level to the intermediate level, unless and until the regulatory authority so constituted formulated the policy, law and regulations to the extent: The building in which the school is to be operational must have area of playground, assembly premises/ hall, furniture, libraries, washrooms, water facilities, laboratory; and tuition fee, annual fee, canteen, etc. its management and charges.”

The verdict also included direction regarding school infrastructure. “As regarding the existing institutions, the regulatory authority as well as the Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education throughout Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are directed to formulate the policy and measures for implementing the policy to the extent of buildings, including playgrounds, assembly premises, hall, furniture, libraries, washrooms, water facilities and laboratory within a period of one year,” the judgement read.

The bench said schools operating out of residential premises were highly undesirable and measures should be taken to move the same to non-residential areas. The court observed that the charge of tuition fees for vacations when there were no services offered to students was illogical. However, the bench acknowledged that schools nevertheless incurred administrative expenses like salaries and utility bills, for which a maximum 50 percent of tuition fee was allowed to be charged for vacations over 30 days long. The PHC directed the KP regulatory authority to submit its report on the policy as declared in the judgment to the registrar (judicial) of the high court within three months.

The judgment also covered the state of transportation of school children to and from schools, observing that there was no regard to “how the students are transported to schools and back to their homes on daily basis. It has been witnessed that they are hanging from buses, pickups and even horse-carts/tongas”. The bench authorised the provincial traffic police to remove any student of a private institution found hanging from buses or others means of transportation and charge the school owner.

Selective scolding?

Considering the various aspects PHC’s detailed verdict has touched upon, we think the judgement will likely become a benchmark for other provinces regarding regulation of private educational institutions. However, the reforms and regulations must not only be limited to private institutions. There is an even greater need to come down harder on provincial governments and their various departments overseeing education over the catastrophic state of affairs of public schools and colleges across the country.

While the PHC verdict rightfully questioned the qualification of teachers in private schools, it must take a stricter note of issues like lack of teachers, boundary walls, drinking water and sanitation facilities in thousands of public schools across Pakistan. The court should also take note of wanton violence at the hands of unqualified teachers – if they ever make themselves available on the job that is – in public schools, besides using unsuspecting students for personal chores by teachers in many rural areas. The general deplorable standard of education must also be taken into a stern account.

Without a similar historic judgement regarding the public education system, we cannot expect the directions to private institutions to have a truly lasting impact. The government must be forced to improve the public schooling system (curricular and extracurricular) to make it competitive and more challenging for private institutions to operate. Only then can we expect private school administrations to work harder to provide superior facilities than those offered by state schools. In the absence of such an educational overhaul of public schooling, private institutions will continue offering marginally better services to millions of parents in need of quality education for their children and get away with charging high cost for it.

Their redemption? It lies in a simple statement. “If the government thinks we are doing a bad job, show us what it’s doing itself.” And that wins them the discussion for good, each time.

 

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