DENATIONALIZATION OF SCHOOLS AND COLLEGES

Some suggestions

By MUHAMMAD BASHIR CHAUDHRY
Sep 09 - 15, 2002

The Governor Punjab, on 8th August 2002, reportedly said that no public school or college would be denationalized in the Punjab. He made the announcement during a meeting with delegation of teachers that had called on him, under the President, Professors Association and Chairman, Joint Action Committee (JAC). The Governor constituted a committee, headed by the provincial education secretary that will also have representation from the teacher's JAC. The committee would make recommendations for the constitution of the board of governors for major educational institutions, the boards to comprise philanthropists from the private sector. The committee would make its recommendations in a week.

The government has been denationalizing schools and colleges in the country. A number of institutions have already been returned to the original owners or have been handed over to the private sponsors under special arrangements. The government has had compelling reasons for this policy. The teachers and other staff associated with the educational institutions protested against denationalization or privatisation. The protest march in Lahore particularly the one emerging from the Islamia College, Cooper Road ended badly. The baton charge has been regretted widely and we wish it is not repeated anywhere in Pakistan. The teachers also have reasons against denationalization, which are not any less devoid of merit. Solutions equally acceptable both to the government and the teachers' community have to be worked out, with a view to earnestly start educational activities in a spirit of cooperation. This article is an attempt to offer suggestions for starting the dialogue for an amicable solution, ensuring quality education in future.

The Punjab government's decision, to look for alternatives to the denationalization of schools and colleges, is positive and will usher a new era in education and other fields. Public sector ownership with full administrative control is diagonally opposite to private ownership and management control. So far it has been an either-or situation, with no middle ground offering benefits of both the systems. Apart from education, this has been true for industry, banks, DFIs, and utilities. Whenever performance in the public sector deteriorated, privatisation was considered the only solution. For improving performance there were no serious remedial measures such as injection of addition equity, sharing of management control with the private sector or participation in ownership with the community. Once it was decided to privatise a particular institution, then in the name of improving its health and to make it ready for privatisation, huge amounts of public money were injected, with limited success. They say it is never too late, so let us all resolve now to find mid-way solutions that are acceptable to both the parties involved.

In the past quality of education deteriorated gradually and no body cared to check the malaise in the beginning. People in power perhaps had the comfort that they were not personally affected. Their children were studying in reputed private educational institutions in or outside Pakistan. Facilities at schools and colleges were not kept up to mark. Adequate funds were not allocated on timely basis. Also, procurement was flawed, and money's worth was never procured. There was no one to look after the quality of education or the welfare of teachers who are backbone of any education system. Resource constraints and overwhelming nature of needed reforms, the government opted to privatise or denationalize the educational institutions. Privatization is expected to improve management and efficiency, which hopefully shall improve quality. Moreover, private education being expensive would adversely affect the teachers and their parents. Affordability it appears was not given much attention.

In the early days, God fearing individuals and communities established educational institutions. These schools and colleges functioned side by side the municipal or government institutions. In those days, school buildings, other facilities, the faculty, level of fees, teachers' pay, quality of education, etc were more or less at par with the public institutions. Nationalization of schools and colleges came suddenly and changed the whole scenario. Teachers earlier in private service got better security of service. It made them slightly complacent initially but with time a large number of them became lethargic. The noble profession gradually changed, at least for some of the teachers, into commercialism. They started private tuition centres and gave less attention to official duties. As quality of education deteriorated in public sector institutions, large number of students were forced to avail coaching facilities offered in the tuition centres. As a result the actual expense and the effort on education was increased. This also adversely affected development of overall personality of the students.

As per a recent press report, private schools and colleges are highly profitable. The fees and charges they collect are high, in most cases beyond capacity of the middle class. Also, the private owners are hard taskmasters and they get most out of teachers and other employees. It is natural as they are now driven by the profit motive. Therefore, the teaching community now does not like to work for private institutions as much as they did before nationalization. This perhaps is a major reason for protest marches by the teachers against the denationalization. The students / teachers are saying that there is need to increase allocation for education, which is presently low at about one per cent of GDP. Pushing education into private sector will not redress this allocative inadequacy. In fact it will make education even more inaccessible to ordinary Pakistanis. Once public schools and colleges are privatized, fees will be increased many times over. When graduation requirement is necessary for participation in elections, education might not be made inaccessible to common people.

Affordability of education is very much relevant for the students and the parents, particularly these days of growing poverty and unemployment. The level of the fee in future in the public sector institutions shall be one of the determining factors for successfully devising the new public-private partnership and putting it in practice. So for future, it will not be the fees actually charged now in the government schools or colleges. Fees may have to be increased to make the educational institutions self-sustainable in the next few years. Fixation of fee might take into account existing fee plus the average monthly expenses paid to the tuition centres for coaching. The bargain is not bad if with new fee structure, the students are provided quality of education, which is roughly at par with the quality of private schools and colleges.

The government has recently embarked on public-private participation in different areas of the country. In certain cases, the government reportedly has retained ownership but actual management and physical control of the institution has been given to the private persons under a lease arrangement. There are said to be certain restrictions on the private management but the arrangement is not acceptable to the teaching community. Chances are the private parties will easily wriggle out of the conditions and exploit the situation to their advantage. When the fee structure is revised upward in the denationalized institutions, certainly there will be more hue and cries from students and their parents.

In order to assist the government and the Committee constituted by the Governor Punjab, an indicative approach for new private-public participation is outlined here. Basically, the Board of Governors shall administer operations of the educational institutions, the ownership of which is proposed to gradually pass from public sector to non-profit organizations controlled and owned by the local communities.

Main points for consideration by the counter parties are as under:

1. The schools and colleges will be given more autonomy by constituting governing board at the local level. The District Nazim may head the Board. The Principal / Headmaster to be Secretary to the Board. District Education Officer to be also a member. From general public, there should be minimum four Board members who may be retired educationists, judges, bankers, government officials or prominent persons of the area interested with provision of education to common people. One of these people, one will be the Vice Chairman of the Board and shall preside meetings in absence of the Chairman. The term of office of the private members shall be three years. A code of conduct for the members of the Board, teaching faculty and others will be prepared and adopted. Copies of the Code to be provided to the government for record.

2. Each community shall constitute a non-profit organization, which shall ultimately own and operate the educational institutions. Within three years the community should buy out minimum 50 % ownership of the respective educational institutions. The members of the Board in their personal capacity, the teachers, other school employees, students, parents and the general public can contribute towards its capital. Once 50% ownership is with the non-profit organization, the constitution of the Board and its powers will be redefined. Then the role of the government will be much reduced.

3. Provincial government shall delegate most of its powers to the BOG for running the institutions properly. Appointment of employees up to certain level shall be within the powers of the Board. Provincial Public Service Commission should be the appointing authority for higher levels. The Boards should be allowed to send their requirements to the PPSC. The transfer of the senior levels should not be without consent of BOG.

4. BOG will be deciding on the level of the fees. It will be a good beginning if the salary of the employees and the normal operating expenses of the institution could be covered through the fees. Major repairs, addition to the buildings, furnishing of science and the computer labs should be met from the government grants. Detailed calculations need to be worked out for each institutions based on student enrollment, faculty and other personnel, normal operating expenses, etc. All expenses and capital expenditure will be audited and accounts submitted to the BOG as well as the provincial government. Minimum 10 % of the students in each class will be awarded merit scholarships and fee concessions to the deserving and / or meritorious students. BOG to be allowed to collect donations for the purpose of the welfare of the students and the institutions, for which proper records shall be maintained and also reflected in annual audited accounts.

5. The salary and other benefits of the teachers to be rationalized by BOG in consultation with the government. The teachers will not offer private tuition. They will be expected to give their entire attention to imparting of quality education to the regular students. They will be preparing lessons as per the modern needs of the students and any spare time with them will be utilized to improve their competency and command over the subjects they teach. They shall also be supervising the extra-curricular activities of the students who should develop balanced personalities for their future life.

6. Curriculum in most schools and colleges is not adequate for present day requirements. It needs lot of improvement. The subjects offered should have relevance to the present day real life. Computer education and hands-on application need to be added, where it is not already there. The Curriculum Research and Development Centres (CRDC) should be strengthened further for the important job ahead. It will be better if CRDCs in all provinces work in close cooperation. This would save the duplication of efforts. BOG will send their recommendations to CRDCs for consideration. CRDC may consolidate the recommendations for government consideration and switch over to the new curriculum.

7. Provincial Text Book Boards print most of the prescribed books. There are common complaints of delays in the availability of books. Printing of the books as per the new curriculum shall have to be taken on war footings. It may be easier, if for major subjects at least, same books are prescribed for institutions all over Pakistan. Provincial Text Book Boards may agree among themselves as to which books shall be printed by a particular Board and supplied to all the Boards on timely basis.

Keeping in view the prevailing circumstances in Pakistan, it is considered that the Governor Punjab has taken a wise decision of not going ahead with the denationalization of schools and colleges. From the press reports, the students and teachers also appear desirous of eliminating the problems within schools and colleges and for ensuring basic standards of discipline. However, now they have to firmly resolve to support the new arrangements under local board of governors. The teachers and the students have to spearhead the campaign for reforms in the system for quality education as an alternate to the denationalization or the privatisation. They have to demonstrate that the new public-private management is practicable and useful, for emulation by others. In order to spread education to common people, the governments of other provinces are also urged to consider the alternative of administration through local Board of Governors instead of denationalization or privatisation of the educational institutions.