I would like to address the independent Pakistani media, which has the capacity of setting agendas and mobilizing public opinion and, through them, the government, parents, and the general public. I need to respectfully point out that the public education system is almost destroyed in the country and, if the current debate regarding private education is not channelized in a healthy direction, the private education system, which caters to nearly half the Pakistani population, particularly the middle and lower-middle classes, will suffer a similar fate. It needs to be stressed that Article 25-A of the Constitution declares that it is the State’s responsibility to provide “free and compulsory education to all children from the ages of 5-16 years”. It is not fair that this justifiable public wrath is being deflected towards private schools.

Quality and good education is not inexpensive anywhere in the world. The only difference is that funding comes from government or other sources. This explains why some of the best non-profitinstitutions in the world like Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Oxford and Cambridge, along with some of the leading Pakistani educational institutions, are also amongst the most expensive. The time has now come to tell the truth and untold story of private schools. Everything stated is factually correct and we challenge anyone to enter into an intelligent public discourse on these matters for the benefit of the people of Pakistan:

Under Article 25-A of the Constitution, it is the responsibility of the State to provide education. Though it is not their role, private schools are helping the government with the fulfillment of its moral and constitutional responsibility. Private schools graduates have risen to the highest positions in Pakistan and internationally. Private schools enhance opportunities for admission into leading national and international universities, and open up unparalleled job opportunities for young, lower-middle class and middle-class Pakistanis.

Private schools conservatively educate more than 50% of children in Pakistan, and nearly 60% in Punjab. There are 173110 private schools in all over the Pakistan. In which there are 97810 in Punjab; 32850 in Sind; 24660 in KPK; 5880 in Baluchistan; 2380 in Islamabad ICT and 9450 private schools working in Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan and others areas of Pakistan. About 23839431 students are studying in these 173110 private schools. Approximately 15 lac teachers work at these schools. On the other hand if we see the last 10-year, only in Punjab more than 9000 public schools decreased from 63000 public schools to 54000 public schools and the same situation is also there in other provinces of Pakistan.

The students, staff, and owners of almost all private schools have contributed generously whenever the country has been stricken by earthquakes or floods from 2005 to 2014. Private schools are fully aware of their social responsibility. Most critically, in more recent times, Private Schools have been contributing to the creation of a progressive and internationally minded youth who are playing their part in the development of a modern Pakistani state.

The government talks of the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which is not a reliable measure even for households. For private schools, it is completely irrelevant. In short, the cost of operating schools increases by an average of 15-20% per annum. We are prepared for an intelligent debate with anybody on this statement. Private schools do not exist in an economic vacuum: when the input costs of every sector of the economy are going up, how can private schools remain magically immune? They do not possess Aladdin’s lamp to reduce costs. Private schools are treated as fully commercial entities by the government, and pay 33% income tax, 17% GST, 3% Super Tax, 6% EOBI, 6% Social Security, heavy property commercialization fees, commercial property taxes, school registration fee, registration visit fee, sports funds, school affiliation fee, affiliation visit fee, renewal fee of school registration, renewal fee of school affiliation, building fitness certificate fee, building hygienic certificate fee, endowment fund, commercial utility bills, service tax, professional tax, trade tax, building board rent tax, parking fee, sanitation fee, scouting fund, armed licenses fee, and a host of other taxes and levies…

It is important to mention here that after paying all above costs and more than 25 government taxes, out of 173110 schools, there are 85% schools which charge below than Rs 1000 fee. Moreover, there are 11% schools which charge below than Rs 2000 fee and only 4% schools are charging above than Rs 2000. It is very much clear that 96% schools are not in the limit of heavy fee structure. On the other hand, according to the government data per student cost in a public school is about Rs 7960 per month with poor quality of education.

Despite of all above untold story and facts there are also more crippling input costs for private schools. It has been alleged by some that private schools have raised their fees by percentages ranging from 30% to even100% in August 2015!This is factually incorrect. The average fee increase for the vast majority of private schools has varied between 10-12%.In many cases, “Aug/Sept 2015 fee increases” are in fact the outcome of children moving from pre-primary to primary school, primary to middle, or middle to secondary/higher secondary levels. Every private school in the world, including those managed by the government, has different “fee brackets”, since facility and faculty costs increase substantially as students progress to different/higher levels.

Most private schools in Pakistan operate out of rented premises. Rents increase by 10% per annum. Typically every 3 to 5 years, lease agreements are renewed, at which point landlords aggressively renegotiate lease terms. Landlords are aware that schools have limited options because their cost of relocation is very high. The compounded impact of annual rent increase (10%) and end-of-term lease renegotiation (any percentage)is an average of 15-20% or more per year. Staff & teacher salaries account for approximately 50% of the fee income of private schools. Teachers’ salaries are revised upwards, on average, from 10% to 20% per year but based on performance appraisal; in some cases, the increases are far higher.

Average electricity expenses across Pakistan have increased by17% per annum over the last few years. Private schools pay the “Commercial tariff”, which is the highest tariff category. In addition, many private schools operate generators for back-up power. Maintaining generators is prohibitively expensive. After December 2014, private schools have exponentially increased their expenditure on the provision of security – a fundamental responsibility of the state. There are also other escalating costs of construction and capital items construction cost (steel, cement, paint, wood, etc.) has increased every year by at least 15% per annum. An additional 16% GST has further affected this cost. Over the past 3 years, on average, computer equipment has increased by 15% per annum, laboratory equipment by14% per annum, school furniture and fixtures by 18-20% per annum, vehicles by 12%, etc with an additional 16% GST! Many private schools use diesel generators. The capital cost of generators has increased by an average of 18% per annum. The above investments are depreciated in the annual expense of private schools, since capital is not free – it has a cost.

Now the question is how will zero to 5% fee increase impact teachers? The 173000 private schools in Pakistan are collectively the largest employees of professional women in the private sector in Pakistan. Approximately1.5 million teachers work at these schools. Private schools will not be able to adequately reward these teachers or continue to offer free education to their children which are approx. 3-millionchildren. Private schools will not be able to spend on the professional development of teachers.

How will zero to 5% fee increase impact students& parents? Private schools will gradually lose qualified professionals to other sectors. Private schools will not be able to maintain current levels of service. The number of children per class will increase, co-curricular, extra-curricular and value-added services may be cut down, and quality and overall standards will therefore suffer. Private schools remain committed to providing the best possible security arrangements for students. With 0% or 5% fee increase, we now require that the government post Police & Rangers outside every school. This is anyway the government’s responsibility, more so under the current security conditions. Scholarships and financial aid for millions of students across Pakistan, which private schools offer despite financial constraints, may be affected.

Quality and good education is not cheap anywhere in the world! Some of the leading non-profit schools and universities in Pakistan are also amongst the most expensive: IBA Karachi, LUMS, LSE, BNU, AKU, KGS, Aitchison College, and dozens of others. This is because they source the best faculty and resources from across Pakistan. Aitchison College, Lawrence College and Sadiq Public School, whose Boards are controlled by the government, are far more expensive than most private schools, even though their lands and buildings are free and they are recipients of government grants. Does this not mean that the government is “profiteering”? If not, why is the private sector profiteering?

We, APPSF, recommend that Govt. employees and bureaucrats of all levels should be required to send their children to government schools. This is the most effective way of uplifting government schools. Were the media to focus on the uplift of government schools, the government would not be able to escape its responsibility and shift the blame and public wrath to private schools.

Moreover, Government must declare exemption from all the 25 taxes imposed on private schools till the achievement of 100% education rate. Based on capacity, leading private schools should be encouraged to enter into public-private partnerships. We, too, are ready to play a constructive role to uplift the standards of government schools. Until the state schools are improved, government should issue ‘fee vouchers’ to lower-middle class and middle class families to send their children to private schools. This is common in many developing& developed countries and will help the government escape rising public wrath against its inability to meet its constitutional and moral obligations. Unless points highlighted above are given serious consideration by the government, we fear that private schools to suffer the same fate as public sector schools – with grave consequences for the future of the nation.