Dear private schools, I am a parent but not an ATM

Published: November 5, 2018

Parents protested with their children against the high-handedness of private schools in Islamabad. PHOTO: EXPRESS

The Constitution of Pakistan has, via Article 25A, made it mandatory for the government to provide free education to all citizens who cannot afford to go to school otherwise. However, implementation of this clause has never been enforced in letter or spirit, allowing the private sector to take advantage of the growing gap between private and public schools.  

Now, be it rich or poor, people from all strata of society are sending their children to private schools irrespective of the teaching standard of such schools.

Operating a school has become one of the most profitable businesses in the country, and the mushroom growth of the industry has meant there have been little to no checks on how they are run. Many of these “private schools” are operating in apartments or in small spaces in people’s personal homes, and are devoid of basic facilities. They then charge between Rs15,000-25,000 per month, but despite charging an arm and a leg, they deprive students of drinking water, which kids then have to buy from the school canteen at a price higher than the market.

Schools also have flimsy excuses when it comes to raising fees. After my daughter was promoted to eighth grade last year, I received a quarterly fee challan with a 15% raise. When I raised the matter with the school, I was informed that the fee was only increased by 10%, but as fee for her new grade fell under a higher band, I would thus have to bear a 20% rise in her fee. I did not feel this explanation was justified, but nonetheless I consented.

Many people like myself quietly kept paying more money whenever a rise in fee was announced. However, recently, 400 parents whose children attend one of the private schools took the lead and protested the 14% fee hike by sitting outside the school for long hours and sharing their grievances on social media. The school responded to the protest by going back to the original sum for the year with a notice stating that parents who could not afford the increased fee should enroll their children in another school from the following year. There were also reports that the children of the protesting parents were made to sit in separate classrooms devoid of basic facilities.

Unfortunately, such incidents are not restricted to Karachi but are spread across all major cities in Pakistan, including Lahore and Islamabad. This national crisis prompted parents to knock on the door of the court of law for justice. After protests did not bear desired fruit, petitions were filed in courts.

The Sindh High Court, in its decision on September 3rd, bound schools to restrict fee hikes to 5% per annum, as well as regularising the fee structure and returning the excess amount charged by them in the past back to the parents. Instead of following the court’s order, schools instead went to Supreme Court with a plea to overturn the High Court’s decision. It remains to be seen what the highest court of the land will decide.

Additionally, many schools these days require parents to submit the fee for an entire quarter (three to four months) together. Not only is this a mammoth task in itself, particularly for salaried individuals, but this alongside the price hikes makes life extremely difficult for parents.

Parents are not going overboard and have no intention of getting schools nationalised – our only plea to schools is that they consider parents as the human beings they are and not treat them like an ATM. Most parents have a fixed income, they already struggle to get their children a good education, and frequent and excessive hikes make it difficult to provide for the family while also sending their kids to school.

Private school owners are in the business to make money selling an education. Their sincerity can be gauged by the fact that while they continue to receive the fee according to their own demands, they have stopped annual increments of teachers. In Sindh, a teacher’s salary should ideally be equivalent to the school fees of four students, but private schools are blatantly violating this as they know no one will question or challenge them.

A lawyer appearing on behalf of private schools argued that Article 18 of the Constitution is violated if restrictions are imposed on the fee hike, but this article allows businesses to operate within the rules and regulations set by the regulatory body. Schools are bound by law to get their fee structure approved by the education ministry, but rarely do they follow this requirement.

I would argue that if a cap of 5% is fixed for an annual fee hike, it will not put the operation of schools in any jeopardy and will also be a manageable rise for parents. After the 18th constitutional amendment, education is now a provincial matter. I hope the provincial government will now wake up and enforce stringent regulations for private schools to function.

In the past, survey teams from the education ministry used to regularly visit private schools to monitor the standard of education and to check if schools were providing basic facilities to students. This practice needs to be revived, as currently officials take bribes and overlook their jobs by allowing schools to operate without fulfilling basic requirements.

The government has failed to provide children with a good education, which is directly responsible for the increase in demand for private schools. In light of its own failure, the state should also support such schools by reducing taxes on them and assisting them with basic utilities through the residential slab instead of the commercial slab, as such measures will subsequently take away some of the burden from parents’ shoulders.

After all the money we pay for our children to attend private schools, it is still not enough as we now have a ‘tuition culture’ which dictates children attend multiple classes after school which only adds an extra financial burden on parents. Private schools need to introspect and do better instead of simply looting money while also not delivering results on their own.

Parents are in a catch-22, because at the moment there is no alternative to sending your children to a private school. The solution for some is to work multiple jobs to make ends meet. If the Supreme Court fails to give relief to parents, life will only get harder.

I hope the government can work to improve public schools so parents are not left without options when it comes to providing quality education to their kids. I hope the court will understand the grievances of parents and will facilitate their concerns. But most importantly, I hope private schools stop treating parents as clients and start thinking of them as partners or facilitators, as both share the same end goal: educating a young mind and shaping him or her for a bright future.

Khurram Zia Khan

Khurram Zia Khan

The writer is the media manager of Asiatic Public Relations and tweets @KhurramZiaKhan (

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

  • M Owais

    The blogger has touched the cords of the hearts of thousands of parents across the country, who are in a very grave situation with respect to their children’s school fee and ultimately their education and future.

    My firm belief is that all or most of these private schools were based on the sole objective of imparting quality education, but unfortunately have digressed from higher paths to mere commercialism over time.

    The institutions, who very rightly demand highest level of respect from parents and the kids, are the ones whose owners these parents are in commercial disagreement with.

    The fact must not be overlooked that despite having opportunity these are the parents who have not followed suit of those relatives who have migrated from their motherland. This alone is enough to show that their hopes in the system are still alive.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Great and much needed write up …… Private schools are exploiting the vacuum created by the government’s ineptitude in managing this important sector. Unless we get our priorities right and allocate at least 4 % of GDP, instead of the 2.5% last year and much lower in the previous year’s, this situation will not improve.
    Another factor is the rampant corruption in this sector……ghost schools, ghost teachers, millions siphoned off …..etc, etc. This situation hasn’t arisen by default, no sir, it is by design.Recommend

  • Nauman Ikram

    Khuarram sb. Highly appreciate raising concern of many Pakistani families.
    Running a private school doesn’t mean they can play with public. I think most of the schools are run by politician –Recommend

  • Hiba Moeen

    Very well written indeed! It’s a pity that this is the state of our private schools while the government fails to facilitate education. Forget very less affluent people, it’s very difficult for the middle class to get good schooling for their children. No wonder those who can migrate to other countries that provide free education to their future generations. As for the protesting parents, there was also news that a particular school didn’t let their children appear in exams and flunked them. How can anyone be so naive and heartless at the same time? Commercialism and capitalisation are the end goal for such schools.Recommend

  • KB

    If fail to understand why would you send your kid to an expensive school that you can’t affordRecommend

  • Asad

    Thank you for writing about such an important issue…Recommend

  • Waqas

    Sir very nice article, at least someone has raised issue. Sindh High Court has given the verdict, but its the responsibility of government to implement it, also now some schools have revised there raised upto 5% but they have,t shared there last approved structure.Recommend

  • Khurram Zia Khan

    When my kids started going to the school they are studying right now, fees was under control. Problem is that when school gets established and get fame, they start increasing fees manifold. Parents want to restrict the raise in fees to a certain manageable level. Also these expensive schools even after charging huge fees from parents are exploiting teachers. According to Sindh government’s rule, a teacher’s salary must be equivalent to fees of 4 students. I am sure no school in Karachi or other parts of Sindh following this rule.Hope things get better after Supreme Courts decissionRecommend

  • Ahmed

    One of my closest friends works in a stock market firm where one owner of one of these school franchises had an account … that owner had over Rs 4 billion invested in stocks! Just to give an idea how much they make, how little they pay teachers to have Rs 4 billion just in the stock market !!! It is high time either people come together in partnership (like crowd funding) to form new schools or the government declares an education emergency and revamps the public schooling systemRecommend

  • Nauman Ikram

    Your question is valid – why we admit our children in such schools.
    Lets take an example of a student who just took admission in Pre-school where one has to spend e.g 3 years and then following Grade 1 to Grade 5.

    Pre-School Year 1 Fee: Rs.13500/-
    Pre-School Year 2 Fee + 20% Increase: Rs.16200/-
    Pre-School Year 3 Fee + 20% Increase: Rs.19440/-
    Grade 1 Fee + 20% Increase: Rs.23328/-
    Grade 2 Fee + 20% Increase: Rs.27993/-
    Grade 3 Fee + 20% Increase: Rs.33592/-

    Now see, in start it is affordable.
    This is a fee model in Pakistan – one can compare the prices with other countries who provide much better quality education in less rupees.Recommend

  • Waqas

    What do you mean by that, I think you are representative of some elite school. Education is not anybody’s property and after High Court order it is responsibility of school to share approved fee structure.

    If they charging too much fee they should also provide facilities which match with their fee structure.Recommend

  • farhan

    the title was enough to like the article..I know because ive been in these schools run by capitalistsRecommend

  • Afreen Jaffery

    Brilliantly written article. I am glad someone highlighted these shortcomings of our system. Its an alarming situation that due to hefty fees a lot of deserving kids remain deprived of quality education. The public sector is also failing to offer quality education and organized academic ecosystem to the students enrolled in it.Recommend

  • Sane

    Among all other businesses, school business is the best in terms of profits. School mafia is least bothered about rules, regulations and orders. They have no ethics or moral, but to fleece money from parents.Recommend

  • Patwari

    Wow! What a spurious question. Like …’buy it, or don’t buy it if you can afford it’.
    Fact of the matter is, the education caliber in Pakland has drastically gone down.
    And private school are milking the public dry.Recommend

  • M Owais

    The Courts of the Country are trying to decide what is making these referred schools so “expensive”.

    I pray to the authorities to make sure that the Public gets to know the most expensive ingredient in their recipe. If it is the same ingredient that is already known to all and sundry, I believe this question would fall face down..Recommend

  • Shujat

    I completely agree with your position.. School is massive business in Pakistan which is unfortunate but the sad part is that there is no control of Govt. Last year they were asked to not collect June and July fee from parents but they did and not only that to cover next year deficit they increased monthly fee by 20%. who is going to hold them responsible i guess no one.. state only act when things are on the media. Poor parents are paying whatever they are asked for.. Gove needs to pay attention on private schools to ensure affordable education for citizen of Pakistan. GOD bless us..Recommend

  • Shujat

    Wonderful article.. I hope someone in education ministry also read and agree to it. we as parents are tired of paying private schools fees.Recommend