Private Schools: The Untold Story
We would like to address the independent Pakistani media, which has the capacity of setting agendas and mobilising public opinion and, through them, the government, parents, and the general public.
We need to respectfully point out that the public education system is almost destroyed in the country and, if the current debate regarding private education is not channelised in a healthy direction, the private education system, which caters to nearly half the Pakistani population, particularly the middle and lower-middle classes, will suffer a similar fate. It needs to be stressed that Article 25-A of the Constitution declares that it is the STATE’S RESPONSIBILITY to provide “free and compulsory education to all children from the ages of 5-16 years”. It is not fair, therefore, that this justifiable public wrath is being deflected towards private schools.
Good education is not inexpensive anywhere in the world. The only difference is that funding comes from government or other sources. This explains why some of the best NON-PROFIT institutions in the world like Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Oxford and Cambridge, along with some of the leading Pakistani educational institutions (listed below), are also amongst the most expensive.
The time has now come to tell the untold story of private schools. Everything stated below is factually correct and we challenge anyone to enter into an intelligent public discourse on these matters for the benefit of the people of Pakistan:
CRIPPLING INPUT COSTS FOR PRIVATE SCHOOLS
• It has been alleged by some that private schools have raised their fees by percentages ranging from 30% to even 1 00% in August 201 5!
• This is Factually Incorrect. The average fee increase for the vast majority of private schools has varied between 10-13%, which has been the trend for many years.
• In many cases, the impact felt by parents in Aug/Sept may be higher than the actual percentage increase by the school, since children are promoted to higher classes every year that fall into a higher fee bracket. Every private school in the world, including the elite schools managed by the government have different” fee brackets”, since faculty & facility costs increase substantially as students progress to more advanced studies, particularly if they choose to pursue O/A Levels (vs Matriculation/Intermediate).
• Most private schools in Pakistan operate out of rented premises. Rents increase by 1 0% per annum. Typically every 3 to 5 years, lease agreements are RENEWED, at which point landlords aggressively renegotiate lease terms. Landlords are aware that schools have limited options because their cost of relocation is very high.
• The compounded impact of annual rent increase (10%) and end-of-term lease renegotiation (any percentage) is an average of1 8-20% or even more per year.
• Staff & teacher salaries account for approximately 50% of the fee income of private schools.
• Teachers’ salaries are revised upwards, on average, from 1 0% to 20% per year (based on performance appraisal; in some cases, the increases are far higher).
• Electricity bills across Pakistan are ever increasing. Private schools are not an exception to this either.
• In addition, many private schools operate generators for back-up power. Maintaining generators is prohibitively expensive.
• After December 201 4, private schools have exponentially increased their expenditure on the provision of security- a fundamental responsibility of the state.
• The government talks of the “CPI” (Consumer Price Index), which is not a reliable measure even for households. For private schools, it is completely irrelevant.
• In short, the cost of operating schools increases by an average of 1 5-20% per annum. We are prepared for an intelligent debate with anybody on this statement.
• Private schools do not exist in an economic vacuum: when the input costs of every sector of the economy are going up, how can private schools remain magically immune? They do not possess Aladdin’s lamp to reduce costs.
• Private schools are treated as fully commercial entities by the government, and pay 33% income tax, 16-17% GST, 3% SuperTax, 6% EOBI, 6% Social Security, heavy property commercialisation fees, commercial property taxes, and a host of other taxes and levies.
ESCALATING COST OF CONTRUCTION AND CAPITAL ITEMS
• Construction cost (steel, cement, paint, wood, etc.) has increased every year by at least1 5% per annum. An additional 16% GST has further affected this cost.
• Over the past 3 years, on average, computer equipment has increased by 1 5% per annum, laboratory equipment by14% per annum, school furniture and fixtures by 18-20% per annum, vehicles by 12%, etc., with an additional 16% GST!
• Many private schools use diesel generators. The capital cost ofgenerators has increased by an average of 18% per annum.
• The above investments are depreciated in the annual expense of private schools, since capital is not free-it has a cost.
HOW WILL ZERO TO 5% FEE INCREASE IMPACT TEACHERS?
• The 173,110 private schools in Pakistan are collectively the largest employers of professional women in the private sector in Pakistan.
• Approximately 20 lac teachers and staff work at these schools. Private schools will not be able to adequately reward these teachers or continue to offer free or subsidised education to their children (approx. 40 lac children)
• Private schools will not be able to continue spending on the professional development of teachers.
• Private schools will gradually lose qualified professionals to other sectors.
• Private schools will not be able to maintain current levels of service. The number of children per class will increase, co-curricular, extra-curricular and value-added services may be cut down, and quality and overall standards will therefore suffer.
• Private schools remain committed to providing the best possible security arrangements for students. With 0% or 5% fee increase, we now require that the government post POLICE & RANGERS outside every school. This is the government’s responsibility, more so under the current security conditions.
• Scholarships and financial aid for millions of students across Pakistan, which private schools offer despite financial constraints, may be affected.
GOOD EDUCATION IS NOT CHEAP ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD
• Some of the leading NON-PROFIT schools and universities in Pakistan are also amongst the most expensive: IBA Karachi, LUMS, LSE, BNU, AKU, KGS, LAS, KAS, ISol and dozens of others.
• This is because they source the best faculty and resources from across Pakistan.
• Aitchison College, Lawrence College and Sadiq Public School, whose Boards are controlled by the government, are far more expensive than most private schools, even though their lands and buildings are free and they are recipients of government grants. Does this not mean that the government is “profiteering”? If not, why is the private sector accused of profiteering? Why?
CONTRIBUTION OF PRIVATE SCHOOLS
• Private schools conservatively educate 40% of children in Pakistan, and nearly 60% in Punjab.
• Under Article 25-A of the Constitution, it is the responsibility of the State to provide education. Though it is not their role, private schools are helping the government with the fulfillment of its moral and constitutional responsibility.
• Private school graduates have risen to the highest positions in Pakistan and internationally. Private schools enhance opportunities for admission into leading national and international universities, and open up unparalleled job opportunities for young, lower-middle class and middle-class Pakistanis.
• The students, staff, and owners of virtually all private schools have contributed generously during times of national crises. Private schools are fully aware of their social responsibility.
• Most critically, in more recent times, Private Schools have been contributing to the creation of a progressive and internationally-minded youth who are playing their part in the development of a modern Pakistani state.
• Govt, employees and bureaucrats (of all levels) should be required or at least encouraged to send their children to government schools. This is the most effective way of uplifting government schools.
• Were the media to focus on the uplift of government schools, the government would not be able to escape its responsibility and shift the blame and public wrath to private schools.
• Based on capacity, leading private schools should be encouraged to enter into public-private partnerships. We, too, are ready to play a constructive role to uplift the standards of government schools.
• Until the government schools are improved, government should issue fee vouchers to ease the burden on lower-middle class and middle-class families who send their children to private schools. This is common in many developing & developed countries and will help the government escape rising public wrath against its inability to meet its constitutional and moral obligations.
• Unless points highlighted above are given serious consideration by the government, we fear that private schools will suffer the same fate as public sector schools- with grave consequences for the future of the nation. Consider!