#NoFeesTillLowFees: ‘Quality education’ at private schools is a myth!

Published: September 12, 2015

Under the guise of quality education, the private institutions have implemented a high fee structure with yearly increments. PHOTO: TWITTER

In 2002, when private schools initiated their long, drawn out process of bleeding the parents of this country dry, many predicted that a day would come when the middle class and the upper middle class would have to leave their air-conditioned offices to hold angry placards on the street and furiously pound their fists in the air.

That day has come.

Recently, parents and students in Karachi accumulated at the KDA roundabout and in North Nazimabad and marched up to Ziauddin Hospital in protest to the harrowing rise in the private school fees. Parents in Islamabad have also organised demonstrations in staunch opposition to the ungoverned surge in tuition charges.

Parents protesting outside Generations school.
PHOTO: Twitter (@Sohaib107)

Their placards read:

“Stop making profit in the name of education”

“No fees till low fees”

And their enraged voices reverberated through the city:

Taleem ke naam pe dukandaari nahin chalay gi!”

“Yeh kaisa insaaf hai?”

Their anger is not unwarranted. The future of any country rests on the shoulders of the education system. Pakistan’s educational system is plagued with disparities on every level. The dual nature of the system has produced many gaping rifts in society based on language and class. The section of the population that can afford private schools, which have become synonymous with the term ‘quality education’, possesses the capacity to acquire success. The other section which has been shunned into the dismal sphere of public schools can only expect to find discrimination in the professional arena. Now, with the rise in private school tuition fees, the middle class has been hit with a reality check: everything comes at a cost. It has been shaken awake from slumber. It is lobbying for reform in the private education sector; parents are talking about approaching MNA’s and the President.

Under the guise of quality education, the private institutions have implemented a crushingly high fee structure with yearly increments that are introduced without any prior notice. This has put the future of many students in jeopardy. The prospective doctors, engineers and leaders have to deal with this massive blow; they might not be able to afford their dreams anymore. In fact, very few children will.

The argument that the private education institution is presenting to disgruntled parents is that quality education is expensive and the schools have to endure high costs to keep up the standards. It is time we question such assertions. This myth of ‘quality education’ at private schools needs to be dispelled once and for all. The awful truth is that the standard of education at both public and private schools is dreadful.

A study called the Education Debate in Pakistan: Barking up the Wrong Tree conducted in 2010 by Irfan Mufazzar and Faisal Bari asserted that learning at both types of institutions, public and private, is of very poor quality. The study cites that if the education system in the country is reviewed as a whole, there is very little difference between public and private institutions in terms of the quality of education.

The parents of this country clearly share that sentiment. One parent at the protest in Islamabad asserted that the schools are just erecting more buildings and the focus on education is markedly shallow.

The question, thus, is that if the claims of ‘quality education’ are essentially false, then what are these private schools charging us for? What are the yearly increments achieving if the standard of education is still elementary?

We shell out half our salaries and sometimes more than that to be able to send our children to schools that boast of ‘higher standards’ and ‘international quality’. What parent doesn’t want to provide the best for his/her child? But the fact is that we have been fooled. We have been blinded by those big, shiny words which tell us that our children will have the brightest futures.

In 2012, the Annual Status of Education Report released a publication which featured research on the public and private education in Pakistan. Here are the depressing facts of how our children are really doing in private schools:

Irfan Muzaffar has made the shocking discovery that “a whopping 43% of the private school students were unable to read a story in Urdu”.

43 per cent. Let that sink in.

Moreover, he notes that children who attend private schools are more likely to attend private tuition as compared to public school children. So the parents are not only bearing the burden of private school fees, they are also going bankrupt while keeping up with private tuition.

In addition to this, in a study called the Effectiveness of Private, Public and Private-Public Partnership Schools in Pakistan, when academic prowess of the children in private schools was compared to the standards delineated in Pakistan’s national curriculum, Ravish Amjad and Gordon MacLeod from the Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi noted that children in grade three were not able to perform the tasks which were expected of them after the completion of grade one.

49% were not able to read simple words in English.

32% were not able to do simple subtraction sums.

45% were not able to read simple sentences in Urdu.

These are not merely numbers on a page. They are our children. Is this the “quality education” we are paying for? Where is the “academic excellence” which the private schools promised us?

One out of three children going to school attends private institutions. This means that one out of three of the parents whose children go to school pay ridiculously large sums of money for education that is barely better than what public schools have to offer, and is significantly inferior to what Pakistan’s national curriculum dictates.

Do these capitalist educationalists feel no shame? They’re exploiting the love that we have for our children, they’re demanding more and more money from parents in an economic climate that is hopeless and bleak, and what are they giving us parents and our children in return? Nothing, except lies wrapped in pretty words.

We will not be fooled, any longer.

I urge all the parents to join the #NoFeeTillLowFee campaign to stop the rampant exploitation of our children at the hands of these remorseless private institutions. We need to hold them accountable to all the promises that they have made. This is a wakeup call to all the parents in the country: the facts are in front of you. You have been scammed. Stand up and fight for the rights of your children.

Salman Anwer Habib

Salman Anwer Habib

The author is a social justice activist and a journalist. He tweets as @salmananwer3

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.