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Proposed watchdog on private schools bothers owners

Concerns of the private sector are increasing as the Punjab government is rapidly moving towards establishment of a proposed Punjab Private Educational Institution Promotional and Regulatory Authority, a body to oversee working of private schools in the province.

Recommendations in this regard have recently been sent to Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, who had formed a special committee to deliberate and present solid recommendations so that affairs of private sector institutions, especially schools, could be streamlined.

The setting up of an independent regulatory body for private sector educational institutions has been a major demand of the stakeholders who argue that the existing Punjab Private Educational Institutions (Promotion and Regulation) Ordinance, 1984 is not “enough” to handle affairs of private schools.

Academic circles believe that one of the major issues is related to fee charged by private schools about which the said ordinance is silent. They argue that the government is unable to cap fee of private schools while evaluation and monitoring are the other important issues related to private sector involved in education.

They further argue that collection of funds under different heads by private schools, mandatory purchase of stationery items and uniform and books etc from prescribed stores are the other concerns of the stakeholders.

One of the members of the committee, constituted by the chief minister, when approached said that there was a dire need of the regulatory body. He said that there was no other option because neither the school department nor could a single minister watch over such a big sector.

Talking about recommendations sent to the CM, he said the body would be keeping an eye on the faculty and the facilities provided against the fee charged by the private sector. However, there would be no fixed fee structure designed for all schools, he said. He said there should be one window in this regard in which no separate charges would be taken from the parents other than the tuition fee.

He said the proposed body would register and affiliate the schools with examination boards for different exams and train the teachers of private schools.

To a question, the member said the government would also facilitate the private sector by waiving different taxes, adding these schools would be categorized in different groups according to the fee structure.

Talking further about formation of the body, he said it would comprise eight members from the private sector for three years, claiming that the chairman would also be elected from amongst these members.

Academic circlers also believe that the Punjab Schools Department alone cannot monitor the private schools as it is already overloaded with almost 63,000 government schools in the province. With hundreds of thousands of students and around 0.35 million teachers, the Punjab Schools Department is one of the largest public organizations of the country.

It is important to mention that the previous Punjab government had also claimed to have established a regulatory authority for private sector educational institutions but it failed to do so. Last year, Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif had formed a committee to review the 1984 Ordinance and suggest and recommend ways to set up a regulatory body.

It is generally believed that most of the private schools are now built in the name of business where they charge hefty amount apart from the tuition fee. However, neither they provide sufficient salaries to their teachers nor facilities which could match the fee. It is, therefore, argued that there is a dire need to check the working of the private schools.

Ishrat, whose son is a 9th grader, told this scribe she was not satisfied with the quality of education his son was getting in a private school.

“Despite paying Rs2,500 per month we send our son to an academy”, she said, adding “These days almost every private school is busy expanding its branches at the cost of quality.”

Sameera, a mother of a 15-year-old daughter, said the element of grooming was missing in her daughter’s education. She said because of the burden of an extremely difficult syllabus her daughter found no time for recreation and thus lacked in terms of confidence.

Arshad, a banker with a moderate salary, complained that he had to bear a lot of expenses other than his son’s tuition fee.

Tabina, a student who got a scholarship in A-levels, said that everyone could not afford quality education nowadays. Either you are an outstanding student or you are financially strong to study at a good institution, she said. Representatives of private schools associations, however, expressed concern over the proposed regulatory authority. “If the regulatory body fails to take us into confidence, we will protest and raise our voice against it.”

Adeeb Jawadani, President of the All Pakistan Private Schools Management Association, said only two percent of the private schools were charging extraordinarily, adding only those who could afford send their children to these schools. “The rest are charging affordable fees”, he claimed. He said various kinds of taxes were being imposed on private schools by the government which ignored the fact these were sharing its load as far as promotion of education was concerned.

Interestingly, the total number of private schools stills remains a mystery as the figures claim by government and private organizations do not match.

According to Lahore’s EDO Education Dr Arshad, the total number of private schools, including unregistered, is around 6,000 in Lahore alone. On contrary, the association claims 18,000 private schools exist in Lahore while another association official says the number is 7,000.

Academic circles and stakeholders also believe that the establishment of the proposed regulatory authority would not only provide relief to the people but it would also help resolve the mystery about total number of private educational institutions.

Source: The News

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