Last few weeks have seen people coming together and protesting against the oppression of the “private school mafia”, or as one newspaper puts it, cartel. While it sounds really good to save the middle class from the rising prices of private education, most of us have started mistaking these private institutions as government subsidized utilities.
Probably it’s not really the fault of a misguided population, which does not like paying any taxes and expects government regulation to subsidize or, worse, enforce a price ceiling. However, this does not take away the notion that the government has no business in regulating the tuition fee rates. Instead of trying to demand a service that they are not able to purchase, people should try sending their children to more affordable private schools. Even better, they are always welcome to try public schools, which are not as terrible as many would like you to believe in major cities.
But then again, we have recognized education as a right in the Article 25-A of the cherished 18th amendment, promising the provision of free education up to high school. I totally support the idea, as cruel the joke maybe on the people of Pakistan. And though it is easy to say that we pay enough taxes to fund that, pretty much everyone would agree that public education would need more funding to work. Even those who consider funding public education an unnecessary burden on the taxpayer.
However, who knew that the right to free education now means the government forcing schools to lower their tuition fee? This sort of false sense of entitlement is unhealthy and unreasonable.
The best thing about the private sector is that it offers you such multitude of options. You don’t need to remain confined to any one choice. You could always reject a private school for its pricing, but those whining why a certain educational institute charges this much to admit students have other goals in mind.
You could argue about the greater need of education funding, but that would only mean paying for public schools, unless the government collaborates with NGOs. Apart from the mismanagement and lack of willing workers in remote areas, the public school infrastructure itself is lacking, requiring greater state funding for improved performance.
However, complaints about private schools ripping people off are understandable when so many urban citizens rely on private schools for quality education. Now some troublemakers may cite that as an argument against public education, but this does not mean that the public schools are any less popular among people with lower income groups.
As a matter of fact, tuition fee subsidies for private school student do not sound like a very bad idea under the circumstances. Though more progressive of commentators would like to see a rather regressive transition of the society entirely to the public schools.
But do we need to shove a standard public school system down everyone’s throats?
Again, the notion of establishing such social justice and standardization sounds very good to the ears. But it is like enforcing a system and curriculum of education on millions of unwilling people, and is a violation of personal freedom, freedom of education, and arguably freedom of speech.
What we need are democratic leaders standing up to this sort of nonsense that populist parties have been feeding to the public, especially if the matter come up for debate in the parliament. However, I hardly expect it from any member of the legislature, though I would be pleasantly surprised if someone did.
What we certainly don’t need in the legislature are the sort of recommendations a recent editorial offered, that is, the mandatory requirement for legislators to send their children to public schools in the wake of response to the private educational institute “crisis.” Whether serious or a dark satire in this context, as citizens of a democracy, we need to fight such political ideas of absolutism and utopian mandate in order to preserve individual freedom.
But maybe the legislators should be forced to send their children to school to public schools, because they passed the 18th amendment without giving a second thought to what it actually meant apparently. Especially when the national budget allocated for education does not provide for the colossal task. Probably to them it is just a common recurring election promise for all the parties so that they can win people’s vote for its pursuit.
Nevertheless, demands for regulating or even nationalizing private educational institutes are everything wrong about Pakistani politics today. This is why people need every service subsidized without paying enough taxes to back the spending.
But with political leaders like these, can you blame them?
The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.
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