Rafia Bibi was really fed up with the government schools, and she did not want her children to go there any longer. Her two kids, studying in class 5 and 7, had performed very poorly in their annual exams, last year. Both were promoted to the next grade by giving them ‘grace marks’ by their class in-charges.
On the other hand, her youngest son, a grade-2 student at a private school in the same locality, not only passed his examination on his own, but also secured third position in his class. And that’s why Rafia decided to withdraw her elder children from the government school and put them into a private school.
In fact, it was a hard decision for Rafia for financial reasons. Iqbal Ahmad, her husband, earns a meagre amount of Rs9,000 a month, as a security guard at a private firm. She also helps her husband supplement his income by stitching clothes at her single-room rented house in a Tajpura area of Lahore. Her monthly earnings from sewing range from Rs2,000 to Rs2,500. She had to face stiff resistance from her husband also, who did not want to pull his kids from the government school. He argued that it would be almost impossible for him to pay the tuition fee for all three at the private school, though he is convinced they should get education at a better school.
The couple is semi-literate and shifted to Lahore from a far-off village in southern Punjab soon after their marriage about 14 years ago. Rafia had left school after passing her grade five exam, as there was no school in her village for further education.
Iqbal Ahmad, however, attempted twice to pass his matriculation examination, but couldn’t, and left education for good. Both are convinced their children should be educated to the highest level. But the high cost and their low incomes are proving to be a big hurdle in the realisation of their dream of making their children highly educated members of society.
However, despite all those hurdles, they admitted their children to a private ‘English Medium’ school last year. When Rafia Bibi was asked why she shifted her children from a government school to a private school, she offered a very valid reason. “Private schools give a better education to students,” she told TNS.
“Here in a private school, I can meet the principal and the class teacher and ask about my children’s education. But in government school, nobody is ready to listen to me even if my children fail their examination,” she explains. “When I went to their school after they failed their annual exams, their class in-charges threatened me with striking off their names,” alleged Rafia. “They were not ready to even listen to me and they put all the blame on me.”
Rafia Bibi herself studied up to grade-5 at a government school in her village and never failed any examination. “Then why could not your children get a good education in a government school now and pass their exams,” she was asked.
“Don’t compare those good old days with today and those good village teachers with the city school teachers,” she offers a strange logic. “In those days, teachers, though less in number — only one in the primary school — were selfless. They would take great pains to impart education to their students,” explains Rafia. “Now government teachers, especially in cities, do not come to schools to teach students, but only to pass their time there. I have myself seen them knitting sweaters, or chit-chatting among themselves,” claims Rafia.
Fazl-i-Javed Afridi, director of National Institute of Research and Education (NIRE), Peshawar, endorses a major part of Rafia Bibi’s assertions. He says that most of the government schools have a better infrastructure, better buildings, more qualified and more trained teachers, but still their performance is poor. A primary teacher for a government school, according to the new criterion, must be a science graduate, along with a professional teacher training diploma or degree. But why do they fail to deliver?
According to Afridi, the major difference between a government and a private school is lack of responsibility and lack of an accountability system in public sector schools. On the other hand, private schools hire teachers for less than one-fourth of the salaries being paid to the public sector schoolteachers. These teachers are usually untrained; their qualifications mostly range from simple Matriculation to BA and, in rare cases, Masters. But their results are far better, compared with the government school teachers, adds Afridi.
Sofia Aziz, the learning adviser for Plan International Pakistan, also endorses viewpoints of Rafia Bibi and Fazl-i-Javed Afridi. “It is only because of better management and a better accountability system in private schools that parents rely on them and like to send their children to such private schools, even if they are in small buildings,” she tells TNS. There is an accountability system in private schools. If students do not perform well, if they fail their exams, the principal takes the class in-charge to task. In fact, it’s a school management, teacher commitment, teaching aids and quest for improvement that make a difference, she explains.
There is no denying the fact that private schools are performing well, she adds, and that’s why over 56,000-odd private schools are already functioning in the country and more are opening with each passing month and year.
Afridi believes that there are some major problems with the school education in the public sector. The government-run schools, which educate the vast majority of children, need significant reforms and an increase in resources. He points out that a few initiatives that could be taken to improve the plight of the education system in Pakistan are: implementation of a comprehensive literacy programme, expansion of primary elementary education, improving the quality of education through teacher training, higher education sector reforms, and fostering the public-private partnership. These initiatives, if undertaken efficiently and in good faith, could revamp our education system, he says confidently.