Islamabad - The ongoing eviction of commercial outlets from residential areas by the civic managers is going to hit hard the Montessori and primary schools if the crackdown starts on private schools.

As major school systems run their middle and secondary classes in purpose-built campuses allotted by the Capital Development Authority (CDA) on concessional rates, majority of the sections running in residential areas are Montessori and primary. The civic agency has been sealing commercial establishments in residential areas over nonconforming use while a large number of private schools are also functional in residential units.

The CDA on Wednesday last caused panic and unrest among the school administrations when it issued notices to them, giving them a deadline of 15 days to evict residential buildings. Although, later the interior minister suspended the deadline and barred the eviction without an alternate plan, owners/representatives of private schools say they have not got any suspension notice and they came to know about this by the media.

According to Private Educational Institutions Regulatory Authority (PEIRA), about 353 schools have been functional in urban areas and of them 303 are in residential buildings while 50 have been shifted to their purpose-built campuses. Officials say nearly 70,000 children are enrolled in these residential area schools and majority of them are primary and Montessori goers while the representatives of private schools put the number at over 100,000. They say many schools have been functioning without being registered with the regulator.

Security concern in commercial areas, higher building rents, transportation issues and market atmosphere are not suitable for early and primary education, say the owner/ principals of the schools.

Farah Naz, Principal of Alayaz School of Early Learning, F8/4, who has also headed junior sections of Froebel and Islamabad College of Arts and Sciences, said the congenial and child friendly atmosphere that the children are given at homes will not be possible in markets and plazas.

In Montessori and primary schools situated in residential buildings, 90 percent of the children come from nearby houses as parents want security and personalised care for their children, she said. “In the face of current precarious security situation, the parents would not want to send their children to markets nor we can afford to shift,” she added.

“I have paid two years advance rent of the building and cannot afford to relocate the setup at any other place now. Shutting down the campus will not only down the drain my investment but send over a hundred children to homes. Besides, many female teachers and maids who run their kitchen through their earning from this school will have to lose their jobs.”

The school owners/ principals maintain that the CDA should amend its bylaws drafted in early 60s, stressing the city managers must understand the difference between restaurants and schools.

Nowhere in the world Montessori and primary schools are established in commercial or far-off areas, said Faisal Mushtaq, Chief Executive Officer of Roots Millennium Schools. “A child living in F-7 can’t go to Chak Shahzad. In UK, church, schools and parks are situated within the communities,” he added.

He said that four campuses of RMS are functional in residential buildings which cannot be shifted overnight when the academic sessions are about to end and annual exams are around the corner. “Continuation of academic activity and provision of security to schools must be the priority of the government at this point,” he said.

The low-cost private schools offering education up to higher secondary level will also be affected badly by the decision, whose representatives suggest that the government should allow them to share half of the plots allotted to government schools or new plots in every sector be allotted to them on concessional rates.

The elite schools have got plots from the government still they have been running their junior sections in residential areas but where would the low-cost schools shift their children who have been given no alternatives? said Dr Afzal Babar, President Private School Network.

The CDA does not have any backup and eviction of hundreds of students is not a practical solution, said Zafran Elahi, coordinator of another private schools’ body that represents elite schools. He said, “If the government does not come up with any amicable solution, the only way forward left for us is agitation and protests.”

Such haphazard shifting of all the schools at once will only create chaos, said Mehnaz Aziz, President Parwaan ECED - an early childhood education and development initiative by E9 countries - and Founding Director Children’s Global Network, Pakistan.

The schools should be given time to make arrangements first, she said, and then relocated after mapping school types and categorisation accordingly. “But Montessori and pre-primary sections should stay in the neighbourhoods.”