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School Fee: ‘No business other than drugs can bring such profits’, Justice Ahsan

Supreme Court’s three member bench, headed by the Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, passed several intriguing remarks on private schools turning into profitable industries, the multitude of out-of-school children, standard of education at government schools and “halal earning”.

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A Supreme Court judge expressed on Wednesday surprised over one of the institutions affiliated with education business profiting Rs353 million in a year. Appalled by the exorbitant fees being charged by private schools, Justice Ijazul Ahsan noted that the school had been witnessing an increase of 36 percent in its profits every year.

“No business other than drugs can bring in such profits,” he remarked while calling for imposing a limit on the increase in fees. SC’s three member bench, headed by the Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, passed several intriguing remarks on private schools turning into profitable industries, the multitude of out-of-school children, standard of education at government schools and “halal earning”.

Beaconhouse School incurred Rs1.4 billion in profits after all expenditures.

The remarks came during the hearing of a case where a number of private schools have challenged before the Supreme Court the government’s decision of capping increase in the school fee at five percent annually for three years. During the hearing, the media reports said, Justice Ahsan advised schools not to obtain license if they could not comply with the regulation.

“Private schools, which need a license must adhere to the regulation,” he said, “depriving children of education is a national security issue.” While citing the balance sheet of the City School System, the media reported, Justice Ijazul Ahsan pointed out that the profits earned by the school in one year was Rs358 million with 36 percent average returns on equity.

Read more: How to upgrade higher education in Pakistan?

“This is some slow death!” quipped Justice Ahsan while regretting that it seemed the private schools were in a hurry to make every possible profit. At a point, Justice Ahsan remarked that as per the audit report, Beaconhouse School incurred Rs1.4 billion in profits after all expenditures. “After all this, how you can say that imposing an upper limit on school fees is unjustifiable,” Justice Ahsan enquired.

As per the newspapers, Justice Ahsan said private schools the school owners were not at a loss if the annual increase in fees was restricted to 5 percent. “If the obstruction is removed, the schools will increase their annual fees by 15 percent to 20 percent,” he added. The CJP remarked that the increase in fee would be justified only if the schools were running in loss, but such a demand during profitable times was inappropriate.

Out-of-school children might become ‘national security crisis’: CJP

While hearing the cases related to educational institutions and increase of fees by the private institutions, CJP Khosa warned of a national crisis in the days to come because of the multitude of out-of-school children. “The private school system only caters to a fraction while a huge number of children are not being taught and eventually may become a national security issue in future,” feared the chief justice.

To defend the country by coping with such a security threat, Dawn reported, the chief justice suggested the government should consider investing in or diverting a few billions more to the education sector to arrest the tide.

Read more: Piecing together Pakistan’s education puzzle

CJP Khosa said that there were three parties to the present case – the legislators who have made the law of capping fee hike, private school imparting education and the third party being the children and the parents. He remarked that someone had to take care of the interest of the third party in a way that the private schools might grow but in the process the children must not be hurt.

If the state wanted to outsource its responsibility of providing education by involving the private sector, the CJP explained, they could do it by dictating its own terms in the form of regulation.

A Supreme Court judge expressed on Wednesday surprised over one of the institutions affiliated with education business profiting Rs353 million in a year.

Private Schools’ Arguments

Advocate Shahzad Ellahi while representing the City School System argued before the court that it was wrong to suggest that children studying in the private school system were being exploited. The counsel said that it was the children paying only Rs500 as fees in a public school who were being exploited since they could not even write their names after three years of education.

Read more: In Pakistan public education suffocates under surging population

On the other hand, it was reported, he said that the children getting an education in private schools doing O levels and A levels were getting scholarships from foreign universities or other educational institutions. “We never object to a lawyer getting Rs10 million for only three days of appearance in a court but oppose the demand of an educationist with years of experience and hundreds of school branches to his credit for a few million as a monthly salary,” Ellahi regretted.

The legislators who have made the law of capping fee hike, private school imparting education and the third party being the children and the parents

Ellahi contended that the state was not fulfilling its responsibility of providing quality education to the children and had instead passed the entire burden upon the shoulders of the private schools. When CJP remarked that under Article 25A, provision of education is the responsibility of the state, Ellahi said that the article talks about education, not cheap education.

He added that the discretion for increase in school fees lies with the local administration as the provincial administration controls prices of everyday products. The chief justice said that the private schools were not affordable for the poor masses even if they cut their fee, adding the good old government schools from which masses received education have lost their standard.

Read more: The state of education in Pakistan – Ali Moeen Nawazish

These days, he said, government schools are being used as farmhouses by the feudal lords. “I am concerned about the poor children whose talent is going to waste.

My annual fees at Government College of Lahore was Rs144 while fees in my primary school at DG Khan was only Rs1.50. By the grace of God, we have not lagged behind in any field. The private schools have turned into profitable industries. We have no objection if the private schools make halal earnings.”

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