Private sector schools have seen explosive growth and phenomenal financial success in the last three decades in Pakistan. Attitudes of general public are mixed and at times paradoxical towards this mushroom growth of private sector education. People are wary of ever growing costs of getting an education for their children at a private school, while at the same time not opting for the government run schools which provide not only free education but free text books as well.

Over the years parents have lost trust in government run schools, according to the now defunct organization Alif ailan that did amazing work for education in Pakistan, 69% parents wanted to send their children to private school because they thought that private schools provided better facilities, better learning outcomes, and high quality English medium education in addition to better care for child welfare.

According to the same report number of students enrolled in private school increased from 26% in 2003 to 38% in 2014, number of children enrolled in private schools can be as high as 42% in 2019 according to an estimate.

These statistics speak volumes about dwindling trust in government run schools as well as lack of investment in public education on the part of the government. It is time to ponder over as to what has gone wrong over the years on the part of the government that made private sector responsible for the education of almost half of nation’s children. There are three questions that merit our attention and require answers.

  1. What caused the people to lose trust and confidence in the government run schools?
  2. What is the problem with private sector replacing government sector in education at such a

    massive scale?

  3. Does this situation need to be changed? If yes, how?

Addressing the first question, in the year 2019 the private sector in education has assumed the role of the proverbial camel in the Arab’s tent, because now it is serving just under half of Pakistani children (a whopping 42% of nation’s children), selling something to them that the government offered for free. 

Something which is a constitutional right of every Pakistani child is now being sold to him and parents are forced to pay for fundamental this right, the right to education.

The reason why parents are forced to opt for private schools to educate their children can be summed up in this single sentence; the government hasn’t increased its investment in building new schools especially in the urban areas, as a result the existing schools became overcrowded and quality of education provided in these schools suffered adversely.

The number of schools existing at present is simply not enough to cater to the educational needs of growing population; these overcrowded, shabbily maintained, poorly supervised and chronically neglected government schools are the last resort for most parents rather than a first choice.

Another issue that pushes parents away from government schools is the ever deteriorating standard and abysmal quality of instruction provided at these schools in addition to very lenient enforcement of performance and efficiency rules. Most parents who have the resources and ambitions to get a quality education for their children no longer consider the government schools as an option this is a deeply disturbing fact and it points to the abject failure on the part of the government to invest in education and improve the existing structure and quality of education.

Inevitably private sector jumped in to fill the vacuum left by the lack of investment and inefficiency on the part of public sector; it solved many problems but opened another can of worms of worries for general public.

Education became a commodity, parents were left on the mercy of greedy businessmen and students learning outcomes experienced a general decline as the rat race for marks and grades became to be viewed as synonymous with learning and achievement.

Now in the year 2019, 42% of Pakistani children are enrolled in the private schools most of them are run for profit. Cutting a long story short insufficient investment, abysmal quality of education in government schools, lenient enforcement of efficiency and discipline rules and lack of innovation and research in the field of public education are the major culprits responsible for the continual retreat and downfall of public sector education in

Pakistan. 

Turning our attention to the second question, what is so problematic with private schools replacing government schools? And what is wrong with this “great replacement”? people being forced to buy education at private schools and turning their backs to the education provided for free at the government schools? Educationists agree that for profit education is doomed to fail in maintaining/improving standards they offer as their chief concern is profit. Right to education is likely to suffer when education is made available as a commodity to be bought whose standard depends on the depth of one’s pocket.

The fundamental problem with this phenomenon is that this deprives millions of kids of their right to free quality education, and state inadvertently delegates its responsibility to profit seeking enterprises.

So what is the way out? How can the government sector schools sufficiently fulfill nation’s educational needs? The solution lies in the famous one-liner by American motivational speaker Tony Robbins, “raise your standards” yes we will have to raise standards at the government schools to successfully compete with the ever-growing challenge of private educational enterprises. The key to raising standards at government run schools lie in

  • Categorizing government schools, admitting students in academic programs based on ability, aptitude and socio-economic background. 
  • Placing effective checks and balances to improve efficiency and performance, performance based incentives for teachers and educational managers are necessary for better results. Systematic performance evaluation of government schools is another imperative for increasing competency.
  • Diversifying curriculum and instruction programs available to students, this must include establishing specialized “magnet schools” in every district for intensive instruction in mathematics and science, admitting students based on ability tests, opening sports schools for students interested in sports etc.
  • Greater spending on innovation, introducing technology, digitizing class rooms and IT-aided CPD opportunities for teachers.

These are only some of the most obvious things needed to be done to save our public education system, at the same time this is not to be forgotten that meaningful change can only happen when general public and civil society is mindful of their own share of duty. Our system of public education needs to be saved; its standards need to be raised because our children’s right to education cannot be left at the mercy of profit seeking business enterprises.