Islamabad - Although the private schools fearing action from the government have decided not to charge the raised fee for the time being, yet things don’t seem to be settled here as parents have come up with a new set of demands.

The schools were reluctant to comply with the directives of the prime minister of reversing fee hike and the regulatory authority as per directives of the PM was all set to start action against the schools from Friday. In a meeting at the Ministry of Education it was decided to consult the owners of the schools for the last time before starting any action. On Thursday night, the schools were asked to issue notices of fee revision to parents or else the regulator would start action from Friday.

The private schools unanimously agreed with a heavy heart that any increase in fee already charged will be adjusted in the subsequent months’ fee bills.  “We abide by the government directives but at the same time we have appealed to the PM to reconsider the decision,” said Faisal Mushtaq, CEO of Roots Millennium Schools, adding: “it’s not a sustainable solution and after a year or two the schools will be converted into marriage halls or channels.”

“The quality of education and facilities will be compromised by this decision and ultimately many schools will be closed,” remarked Nassir Kasuri, Director Beaconhouse School System.

The directives of reversal of fee raise were issued by the prime minister following the protests of parents against unbridled hike in fees by private schools. The PM taking notice of noncompliance had also asked the Private Educational Institutions Regulatory Authority (PEIRA) to seal the school, which defy government’s orders.  The penalties prescribed by the PEIRA law include sealing of the schools, fines of Rs5,000 per day and imprisonment of one year to non-complying owners/representatives.

A grievances cell has also been established at PEIRA to address complaints of parents against schools, which were not readjusting their fees. According to officials, in just two days, the cell has received some 60 complaints by phones and emails against various schools that were not complying with the directives. The PEIRA has issued show cause notices to the concerned schools to clarify their position.

But the parents who were demanding reversal of fee hike now have come up with another charter of demands that say that all the fee increases charged after PEIRA act 2013 are illegal and demand to abolish all the ancillary charges as well.

Strangely, the prime minister office is directly involved in any matter related to education for the first time and report on the issue is submitted to the office daily. Some officials and owners/ representatives of the schools smell a rat, alleging that the issue seems to be more of a political as government has come into action on the hue and cry of a few affluent families.

An association of all private schools has published a half page advertisement in main English dailies to appeal to the PM to reconsider the decision of 0 per cent fee raise in the face of crippling input costs for private schools.

The schools maintain that the Consumer Price Index (CPI) is completely irrelevant for them and government should form Education Price Index (EPI) that should examine the weighted average of prices of goods and services related to schools, such as books, stationery, security equipment, rental and construction costs and staff salaries etc. But PEIRA officials believe that schools function in the same social and cultural settings where we live in so it is absolutely relevant to them. The regulator has been considering to relate fee hike in future with the index-based inflation rate as, according to them, it’s the only objective way of rationalising fee structures of private schools.   

Currently, PEIRA has no profit measuring mechanism for schools to judge their claims that staff and teacher salaries account for approximately 50 per cent of the fee income of private schools and with crippling operating costs and they will not be able to run the schools with the same security and academic standards in the face of no fee raise.

But PEIRA believes if the schools reduce their profit margin and don’t open new campuses, they can manage the affairs without compromising quality of education. The official suggested that the government should also form a board consisting of economists, FBR and State Bank officials to draw profit measuring mechanisms and fix fee raise ratio to settle this issue once for all as PEIRA does not have such expertise. But the school representatives assert that their profit margin is minimal. “The government can conduct audits of the schools by the independent auditors to cross check the claims,” offered Nassir Kasuri. “Almost 40 per cent school going children in Pakistan attend private schools while ‘free, compulsory education’ is the constitutional right of every Pakistani child,” said Mosharraf Zaidi, education activist and campaign director of Alif Ailaan. “The key to solving this issue is to examine the quality of education in government schools. It will ensure quality education for all children, the ones that are in schools and the 25 million that are out of schools,” he suggested.