Prime Minister Imran Khan in his first address to the nation on the national television said that he would improve the quality of education in public schools. He was candid in admitting the bleak picture of the public schools across Punjab and other provinces, saying that the middle-class families have to spend a great deal of money to send their children to private schools as no one is prepared to get their children admitted in public schools.

Yes, our prime minister is right, public schools offer anything but learning. Similarly, the World Economic Forum ranked Pakistan at 125th, out of 130 countries, in a list of availability of top-quality education. This indicates how pathetic our country’s education system and how badly it requires attention.

Since the current public education system in Pakistan is unable to provide top quality education to a large population, while unreasonably exorbitant “burger schools” are exceptionally expensive for majority of the people. For this reason, a wide portion of children are enrolled at low-cost private schools with the hope for acquiring “top-quality” education.

Parents prefer to send their child to private schools as such schools ensure small class sizes, the availability of basic necessities (like water, furniture, toilets), safety and security, cleanliness and student exposures etc. However, the thing one needs to ponder upon is; does studying in a private school ensure that a student is acquiring quality education, or do private schools need to undertake other conditions required for top-quality education?

Our premier educational institutes demand grades. Hence, these grades act as gatekeepers and are the only evidence to certify the capabilities of a student. Ultimately, these grades increase the market value of a school as parents prefer to send their children to those schools, the students of which have achieved highest results in past examinations.

In some cases, schools try to impress parents through introducing foreign textbooks that necessitate for qualified teachers.

Observing teachers in different low-income private schools, I could only see mini classrooms and narrow-corridors with lack of displays and no space for students’ co-curricular activities. The irony is not only associated with the physical infrastructure of the schools, there are other major issues that impede students from attaining quality education.

Foremost, teachers are not equipped with the modern teaching strategies. This happens because most of the teachers are hired based on their content knowledge, with the lowest salary demand. In most of the cases teachers in low-cost private schools are intermediate or bachelors and are hardly ever master’s degree holders but most of them have no professional education. Consequently, untrained teachers with weaker concept of content knowledge keep using conventional teaching approaches in classrooms. Their rut routine is explaining a topic by directly reading it from textbook or teaching using a blackboard only.

I am not blaming teachers for their incompetency in classroom teaching, rather its schools’ and government’s responsibility to build their professional capacities. Firstly, all schools should develop a systematic mechanism to hire teachers meeting their standards. Once they are hired, the school must keep them under adequate supervision to reduce the initial shortcomings. Secondly, teachers’ salaries should be handsome. When a teacher’s pay is even lower than a labor, the turnover rate gets higher.

When inquired about the teachers’ capacity building, one of the principals of private schools said “If we raise their professional approach, teachers will either switch over to other schools, or demand an increase in their salary.” Such a mindset is a shock as on one hand private schools promise quality education, but on the other hand they compromise on students’ future. Hence, it is proved that the only purpose of opening non-government schools in every street is due to its capability of generating money.

Teachers of these low-cost private schools are motivated and inclined towards polishing their teaching skills. However, they have their genuine concerns for their lack of teaching skills and having weaker concepts of teaching and learning. “I get 2k salary; how can I manage to enroll in a professional course when my pay doesn’t cover my utility bills,” said a teacher of a private school in Sindh. Several other teachers were found having a similar concern.

Of course, the professional development institutes require resources and necessitate a lot of monetary values; and for that reason most of the low-cost private teachers are unable to attain teacher-trainings. In some cases, majority of the school teachers are female and a societal stereotype of prohibiting girls from travelling alone in public transport hinders female teachers from getting an access to teacher education programs.

With the minimal income and facilities, the low-cost private schools’ teachers try their best to provide basic education. However, if they are given an opportunity to polish their skills they will surely add efforts in improving classroom teaching to ensure a quality education.

It is a hope from the current government would take necessary measures not only to raise the standards of public schools, but also consider the low-cost private schools, as they equally contribute to educating our youth.