HIGH COST OF EDUCATION

Promoting madrasa culture

SHAMIM AHMED RIZVI, Bureau Chief, Islamabad
Sep 10 - 16, 2007

According to a recent report released by the International Crisis group, the failure of the public school system and the high cost of education in the private sector institutions are contributing to the growth of Masjid School and fundamental Madrasas in Pakistan. The report on "reforming the education sector in Pakistan" says that government run education system desperately need reforms to improve the quality of education at an affordable cost for the poor and lower middle class to reverse this trend.

You may not agree with all the findings and recommendations of ICG but it cannot be denied that the quality and the standard in government run schools and colleges has deteriorated coupled with enhanced fees and charges which poor parents are finding difficult to afford.

Commenting on the general complaint against falling standard of education and rising fee structure in the government run school and colleges, high official of the federal Ministry of Education told this correspondent on condition of anonymity that the primary and secondary education is the responsibility of the provincial governments and the federal ministry of education to look after the school and colleges in capital Islamabad only and 'we have done a lot to improve their performance. About provinces, he regretted that except Punjab not much has been done on this front. For university level education, which is the main concern of the federal ministry of education, the higher Education Commission has made commendable efforts to improve the situation.

Speaking at a seminar on "commercialization of education" held recently in Islamabad a leading educationalist urged the authorities to check the mushrooming growth of educational institutions. There was almost a consensus amongst the speakers that due to the appalling standards of the state education system, there is much hue and cry about the poor quality of education in the government schools. However, what is becoming more worrying in recent years is the cost of private schooling in Pakistan. Any private school that provides decent education in Pakistan is charging tuition fee that is beyond the budget of an average upper middle class professional unless, of course, one assumes every Pakistani to be corrupt and making income on the side. The government's lack of commitment to education, which is one of the primary responsibilities of a civilized state, has much to do with it.

A review of the private schooling system in Pakistan, over the past fifteen years, shows some extremely worrying trends. Till the late eighties the best private schools in the countries remained very much within the income of the upper middle class families. The reason was that many of the top schools at that time were run with a missionary spirit. A particular Convent, which was the best school of girls in Rawalpindi till the early nineties, charged only between RS. 250 to RS. 300 per child.

Now, the private school chains that dominate the education sector, easily charge a fee of Rs.4000 per child. The income in the upper middle class household has not changed that dramatically to match this tremendous surge in fees. A couple that has three children easily needs a budget of Rs.15000 per month for the education of their children. How many Pakistani couples can have this budget out of an honest income? The government, however, is least concerned to regulate these private schools or set a limit on their profit margins.

The problem is that being keen to shrug its responsibility of ensuring quality education, the government has from the very beginning been keen on privatizing education. Former Federal Minister for Education, Zobaida Jalal followed by Dr. Atta-ur-Rehman became the biggest advocate of private schooling. This had two negative consequences. One, the state education system was ignored even further. Two, since the private sector is taking on the state's responsibility, the government ahs refrained from regulating it. The consequence is the access to decent education for even a relatively well off family in Pakistan is much more financially draining than it ever has been in the history of Pakistan. This unchecked commercialization of the education sector, supported by development institutions like the World Bank, clearly is problematic. One must ask which developed country has reached its current status by leaving provision of education in private hands.