Private schools forced to admit 10% of pupils free in challenge to their independence
Private schools in Karachi, in Sindh province, Pakistan, are set to challenge, in court, the new free education Bill, which binds them to reserve 10 percent admissions for disadvantaged and ‘ terrorism-affected’ children between five and 16 years. Schools will not be allowed to charge fees to these pupils nor subject the child or parents to ‘any screening procedure except academic merit’. Any transgressor will be heavily fined according to the Bills provisions. How this will operate in practice remains to be seen.
The decision to go to court was taken in a recent meeting convened at the regional office of the Beaconhouse School System and attended by representatives of about a dozen private school chains. During the hour-long roundtable conference, one of the key issues raised in the meeting according to local media reports was the “unfairness of the government’s decision to shove the burden of their negligence on private schools” via the ‘Sindh Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Bill, 2013’. “Giving free education to citizens is the duty of the state,” said a representative of a school, who chose to remain anonymous.
Those attending the meeting said that the government, on the one hand, gives no relaxation to the private sector in terms of taxes and refuses them ‘ amenity plots,’ but on the other hand, expects them to take on additional responsibilities. They, understandably, claim that this is unfair.
They also expressed concern over “political admissions”. A representative asked how they could be sure that the decision of admissions of terrorism-affected children was not actually forced on them by political parties. The scope enabling politicians to abuse this arrangement does, on the face of it, look limitless. Politicians could potentially dispense patronage by awarding their friends and relatives ‘free’ education, on a spurious pretext.
They said they were prepared to adopt government schools and do their part for the society, but objected strongly to direct intervention by the government which threatens their independence. As things stand private schools fill some of the gaps left by the governments failure to provide education.
The meeting was attended by representatives of Karachi Grammar School, Happy Home School, Habib Public School, The International School, Nixor College, Beaconhouse School System, Happy Palace Grammar School, Beacon Light Academy and others.
There are around 16,000 private schools across Sindh that form 40 percent of the education sector. Low cost private schools are popular within disadvantaged communities. These schools, like other private schools, worldwide , cherish their independence and are worried about political interference, particularly, in this instance, against the backdrop of an increasingly volatile political environment.