Parents saddled with the ever increasing fees charged by private schools will surely be breathing a sigh of relief. The Sindh High Court (SHC) on Monday barred all private schools from increasing tuition fees by more than five per cent for any given year; a victory for Parents Action Committee, a group of more than 2,000 parents who claimed these increases were “unjust and extortive”.
However, if any one of these concerned parents had to move to any other province, and hence transfer their child to another branch of the same private school, they would discover that all their hard work has been for naught – each province has their own set of rules governing private schools fees.
For Example, recently, the Islamabad High Court had barred private schools altogether from collecting fees during summer vacations. Meanwhile, in a separate case, the Peshawar High Court had said schools cannot collect more than half of the tuition fee for vacations that extend over 30 days and had declared an annual ‘promotion fee’ illegal. If that was not enough, the Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar has also taken a personal interest in the matter, making all previous rules subject to change on a moment’s notice.
The upshot of all this is a messy, makeshift, latticework of judgments, orders, and legislation that govern how private schools can charge their students. Not only is this situation highly confusing and uncertain for school boards and parents to decipher, different provinces effectively having different rules, which can allow them to continue charging exorbitant rates where they can.
The consensus among the superior judiciary, politicians and the public is near unanimous: there needs to be regulation of private schools’ fee structures. The policy for this is unfortunately missing.
What is needed now is a national piece of legislation which codifies and clarifies the rules that have been laid down by the various justices and have that legislation be the only authority on the matter - that is the only way to make sense of the current mess. The contradictions in the rules are already untenable.
A straightforward, uncontroversial, and reasonably populist legislation such as this should face no hurdles passing through the Parliament and Provincial Assemblies. If perused properly and promptly, the government can get an early victory under its belt, and fulfill its promise of simplifying and streamlining government functions of the bat.