The battle between parents and private schools has reached a critical level. The former have taken to the streets of Lahore, Islamabad and Sahiwal, while the latter are adamant to prove that any increment in the fee structure is justified- after all, they are providing a crucial service.

During a recent protest outside Islamabad’s National Press Club, the group spoke up against the inordinate increases in fees of private educational institutions, calling upon the authorities to streamline fee structures. They further complained against many private schools’ requirement that uniforms and books be bought exclusively from them and the practice of levying other charges under heads such as extracurricular activities and learning aids. For them, a justification is needed behind the exorbitant hikes in fees, where schools cannot just slap on massive accruals. There has to be more to education than just laissez faire arguments of demand and supply.

Taking advantage of the desperation of parents to provide the best possible education for their children is just part of the profit equation.

The schools under discussion here are among the most popular, top-tier ‘brands’ of education. They have numerous branches in almost every city across the country, and are the kind of places parents usually clamor to get their children enrolled into. These particular schools’ view is that people are free to send their offspring elsewhere, if they are not satisfied or cannot pay up. And to some extent, that is also a valid argument. Yet, schools have no set pattern for increments, so parents cannot plan ahead for fee hikes. These are children; they can’t be shuttled around to other schools like cattle when a school increases its fees. Demand is high so the price is high, but lets not forget that these are businesses.

The All Pakistan Private Schools Management Association says that private schools were compelled to increase fees because the government levied heavy taxes on the private institutions. So its not like the government is not getting its cut of the pie. Additionally, rather than the state providing affordable quality education and create competition in the market, it has exited the market and left it to private interests.

What is urgently needed is an effective implementing and regulatory mechanism that acts as a check on the operations of private schools and ensures compliance with standards. But lets not forget, that many of these schools have set their own standards, so much so that they can charge exorbitant fees and people will pay, as they are the best schools. They may be elitist, and expensive, but they have done nothing illegal.