Circus Of Education In Punjab
We are divided, we are brutal, ruled by selfish desires without reasonable foresight and careful consideration that serving personal egos and interests may have an adverse effect on the national interest. Our vision is such that we prefer decorating the room that we live in but not the house where that same room is situated. We are governed by personal whims not rule of law, might is right and foul is fair.
There is no word such as “we” that is applicable in our daily course of life, the expression “I” usually prevails. You attack me, I attack you, it is a battle and everything is fair in war. Indeed, these people call themselves true patriots of the homeland but we suffer due to their self-motivated pursuits. How dare you snatch my lollipop? How dare you regulate my conduct? How dare you regulate my affairs? I am an unchained giant destined to rule. I enjoy total freedom even if it leads to anarchy because it allows me to exercise my unfettered discretion.
If the Parliament introduces a law in the larger interests of the society, the powerful business mafia shed tears of victimisation. If the Parliament introduces an arbitrary law that fatally conflicts with the provisions of the Constitution, the judiciary is criticized by the Parliamentarians for acting against the doctrine of separation of powers for exercising judicial review over laws that are ulta vires and unconstitutional.
The right to education is a fundamental right enshrined under Article 25A of the Constitution of Pakistan. However, righteousness is an alien that our stakeholders do not recognise. In Fiaqat Hussain v. FoP, PLD 2012 SC 224, it was observed by the Supreme Court of Pakistan that “education plays an important role in the successful life of an individual.”
In the case of Brown v. Board of Education, (1953) 98 L Ed. 873, the US Supreme Court made an important statement that “Today, education is perhaps the most important function of State and Local Governments.” In Pakistan, it seems that we are still living in a dark-age where the importance of education is still not appreciated to the fullest extent, credits: our own people.
After the concerns raised by parents about the unreasonable and unjustifiable increase in school fees by private schools, we are seeing a circus in the educational sector of Punjab. After the 18th Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan, education has become a provincial subject. In the exercise of its legislative competence over education, the Government of Punjab has passed the Punjab Private Educational Institutions (Promotion And Regulation) (Amendment) Bill 2015 (Punjab Education Bill). The manner and form in which this Bill has been passed is under serious attack by the private schools, All Pakistan Private Schools Federation (APPSF) and the Pakistan Education Council (PEC).
According to a publication of Express Tribune dated 7 March 2016, “Private schools will remain closed across the province on March 8 and March 9 in protest against the passage of Punjab Private Educational Institutions (Promotion and Regulation) Bill (Amended) 2015.The announcement was made on Sunday by the All Pakistan Private Schools Federation (APPSF) and the Pakistan Education Council (PEC). In a joint statement, they said, “We decided to shut down our schools across the Punjab on Tuesday and Wednesday to register our protest against draconian laws that seek to strangle, not regulate private schools. This closure may lead to an indefinite strike. We regret the impact that this will have on children we serve. We have arrived at this difficult decision not out of choice but because our schools can no longer afford to sustain operations.”
According to a report by Dunya News dated 8 March 2016, “At least 97,000 private schools in Punjab will remain closed until March 9 in protest against Punjab Education Bill”
The entire dispute, in my view, revolves around section 4 of the Punjab Education Bill, which calls for insertion of section 7A in the Punjab Private Educational Institutions (Promotion and Regulation) Ordinance, 1984 (1984 Ordinance). The same section empowers the Registering Authority to regulate the increase in school fees by requiring the private institutions to justify the increase through filing of application and requisite documents or evidence to support the application. It is stated under section 4 (5) of the Punjab Education Bill that “increase for any academic year shall not be more than five per cent of the fee charged in the preceding academic year.” The section 4(6) of the Punjab Education Bill empowers the Registering Authority to “fix the maximum amount of fee which may be charged”.
This Bill has put the entire province in total chaos. We have seen adoption of irresponsible, inhumane and reckless behavior from the Government of Punjab and owners of private institutions. The Government of Punjab failed to take the stakeholders on board before passing the Punjab Education Bill. The Provincial Minister for Education, Rana Mashhood and Law Minister Rana Sanaullah played no positive role in mitigating and harmonizing the situation. In my view, the situation was aggravated because of the failure of the Provincial Government to peacefully and logically come to a win/win situation.
At the same time, calling for a strike in the form of shutting the schools is clearly a blackmailing tactic employed by private school owners to pressurize the government. This clash between greed and power is harming our own children who are being deprived of their fundamental right of education. Undoubtedly, the private schools have a constitutional right to protest and even challenge the constitutionality of a law that infringes their fundamental right to trade provided under Article 18 of the Constitution of Pakistan, however, a strike is surely not favourable for their own image. It was observed in the Petition regarding Miserable Condition of the Schools, 2014 SCMR 396 that “The educational institutions must function to the best advantage of the citizens. Opportunity to acquire education cannot be confined to the richer section of the society.” In the case of Muhammad Afzal v. Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education, 2007 SCMR 1460, it was held that the “right of education is an inalienable right of every person, and no one can be denied such right.” I have no idea how this circus between the schools and the government is helpful for the children.
In Rana Aamer Raza v. Dr. Minhaj Ahmad, 2012 SCMR 6, it was held that the “people cannot be free in real unless they are properly educated”. The Supreme Court of Pakistan made this observation in the context that that the delay in the appointment of the Vice Chancellor of a university “would adversely affect the working of the University and would make the institution almost dysfunctional and would thereby adversely affect inter alia the quality of education.”
Surely, there are concerns about the Punjab Education Bill and the quality of education, however, children cannot be forced to sit in their homes instead of their class rooms.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CourtingTheLaw.com or any organization with which he might be associated.