Poor kids’ hurdles rising as low-fee schools keep closing for good

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After educational institutions were shut down for the second time last year in view of the second wave of Covid-19, over 300 low-fee private schools across Karachi have closed for good.

The All Private Schools Management Association (APSMA) and the All Sindh Private Schools & Colleges Association (ASPSCA) said that a majority of these schools had been running in underprivileged areas of the city.

They said owners and administrators of hundreds of other constituent schools have been approaching them for financial assistance, but the associations are not in any position to help them and save the futures of thousands of their students.

They pointed out that some 12 private school associations are operating in the province. They also pointed out that permanent shutdowns of schools will raise the number of out-of-school children if the authorities concerned do not take any concrete measures.

“As an association, we only provide legal assistance and technical support, and help the member schools improve teaching and learning activities,” said ASPSCA Chairman Haider Ali. “We can’t address the financial issues of every school.”

He said his association is gathering data of the schools whose owners are unable to run their institutions after the suspension of educational activities during the second wave of Covid-19.

He also said that around 500 low-fee private schools across the province will not be able to reopen. He, however, pointed out that his association has not finalised the data of closed institutions yet. “Such extensive work needs time to complete.”

Agreeing with Ali, APSMA Sindh Chairman Syed Tariq Shah said that low-fee private schools keep closing for good because they have to pay the rent, salaries, utility bills and taxes out of the collected fees.

However, he pointed out, parents have been refusing to pay the fees for the past nine or so months, while none of the authorities has been taking these issues seriously.

He said school owners have also been frequently reporting dropouts, the rate of which has been estimated to be between 20 and 25 per cent of the enrolled students. He warned that this will keep increasing the number of Pakistan’s out-of-school children.

Quoting Unicef’s statistics, he said that with 22.8 million out-of-school children, Pakistan is ranked second on the list of countries where kids are not getting an education.

“Private educational institutions are helping the state provide access to basic education, but the authorities have turned a blind eye to the vulnerable units struggling to survive the current crisis.”

Crunch

School owners who recently closed their institutions for good said they had been facing a financial crunch because parents had refused to pay the fees.

“We sent them reminders, but instead of paying the fees, a number of them took their children out of our school,” said Habibullah, who had been running his school in Qasba Colony.

He had rented a building in 2015 to start his school. According to the usual rental agreement, he was responsible for paying the monthly rent, utility bills and maintenance expenses.

“Our school was not one of those institutions that is established to make money. We just wanted to provide the children of the area access to basic education.”

He said that when educational institutions were closed for the first time last year in view of the outbreak of Covid-19 cases, “we were somehow managing the expenses. However, the second wave proved more challenging for our school”. “Moreover, the uncertainty about the reopening of educational institutions forced us to close our school permanently because we have no money and there is no hope that any government agency will provide us financial assistance.”

Another school owner named Muhammad Yousaf, who had been running a school in the Ranchore Line neighbourhood, said that the cost of operating a low-fee private educational institution is too high.

He said that such schools are generally run in underprivileged areas, where if they do not operate according to the daily routine, the parents, who mostly belong to the working class, do not pay the fees.

“Whenever we asked the parents to pay the tuition fees, they argued why they should pay anything if the school was closed. This was one of the main reasons that forced us to close the institution permanently.”

Uncertainty

The APSMA’s Shah said that more schools are likely to close for good because their owners are unsure about the reopening of educational institutions. He pointed out that the Inter-Provincial Education Ministers Conference will be held on January 14 or 15, following which the owners might revise their decision.

He said that the situation is not so simple because school owners need to manage the rent, salaries and other expenses. Therefore, he added, the authorities should pay heed to their problems, especially those running low-fee institutions.

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