Educating the Educators

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE commodification of education is going full steam ahead. Not only is education being recognised as a good to be sold, its sales strategies are also being discussed. Any good sells better if it has a brand name that has a popular appeal, we are told. Forget what Naomi Klein writes in No Logo There.

Faisal Bari’s article in these pages ‘Expanding school systems’ (April 27, 2012) came as an eye-opener. In the article, the writer appears to have written off the public school system altogether. Undoubtedly it has reached the lowest ebb and can sink no further. But does that justify an approach that apparently consigns the common man to the bottom of the heap and absolves the government of all responsibility in the matter of educating Pakistani children, Article 25-A of the constitution notwithstanding?

As long as the for-profit educationists can make money, the article turns a blind eye to the government’s blatant neglect of education. This failure provides more space to the private schools by increasing the public demand for them in the absence of an alternative. Where are the children of the lower middle-class families and the poor to go when government schools are dysfunctional and private high-fee schools are unaffordable for them?

The writer identifies the major constraint faced by “private providers, even in this middle-fee range” on their ability to expand — their “lack of access to finance”. Hence the franchised schools are presented as a model to cater to what he bills as the “fastest-growing markets in the country, the lower middle- to middle-fee market”. The fees for this category range from Rs1,000 to Rs2,500 per month and according to him they will open new avenues for the education of the lower middle class.

Bari specifically recommends the Beaconhouse School System’s franchised schools called the Educators as a model for the expansion of education in the country. He confirms that in this niche in the school market the franchise operator uses the advantage offered by the economies of scale to keep advertising issues, curriculum development and teacher training under centralised control.

This approach has offered many positive gains to new entrants who are handicapped by their lack of experience and the absence of a reputation that is a crowd-puller. They receive a neat package with an established brand name. This allows them to rapidly enhance enrolment. By distributing financial investment among different investors the franchise operator can expand the school network quite fast.

On paper this sounds great. We need to look into what is actually happening on the ground. The network has expanded phenomenally since the first school was set up in 2002. Today there are 306 Educators all over the country imparting education to 104,000 children. However, their proclaimed aim of “providing quality, affordable English-medium education for all” may meet with scepticism.

For one, I would not buy the claim that education imparted through the English medium is necessarily ‘quality’ education. It can also be asked if the criterion of affordability is really being met. Schools that I visited mostly told me that the majority of their children came from families with incomes of Rs20-25,000. There is an ongoing argument over fees between the school managements and parents.

The fees are fixed by the franchise operator and they vary from area to area. For instance, the Clifton area charges about Rs2,500. Korangi is allowed Rs2,100 per child in the secondary school. This is tightly regulated and schools enjoy little autonomy though the franchise operators admit that they find it difficult to exercise controls on the academic operation. Yet they ensure that no liberties are taken in financial operations.

The initial franchise fee which was Rs1.5m has now jumped to Rs1.8m. The agreement is for 10 years. The Educators from the early years are required to pay Rs200 per child admitted per annum as admission fee to the franchise operator. Under the revised rates, the school pays Rs1,000 per child admitted which is said to include the charges for the Student Indemnity Plan.
(This is described as ensuring “the continuity of a student’s education in case of the demise of a working parent”).

However, the school which told me about this said its claim on behalf of one of its students was turned down on technical grounds. Apart from the admission fee, the operator recovers 7.5 per cent royalty per annum on the gross income (pre-tax) of the school. According to a former teacher with the Educators, the training provided to the teachers has to be paid for and mostly it is recovered from the teachers’ salaries.

After this there is not much to be said about who is gaining what, and who is losing what. A big question mark looms over the affordability of the schools for the low-income classes.

One can also ask, where will the children of the vast majority go? They are the children of the lesser gods who live under the poverty line — that is who earn two dollars or less per head per day (an average family income of Rs35,000 per month). The Education Emergency declared by the government in 2011 stated that 25 million children in Pakistan remain out of school.
What is to become of them?

The only feasible solution is that those who have already earned hefty amounts from their existing franchises should now start thinking about how to share their profits with the less privileged.

Source: Dawn

11 thoughts on “Educating the Educators”

  1. Dear Ms. Mustafa,
    You are wrong in assuming that I have written off the public school system altogether. In fact to the contrary, most of my research and most of my writings in papers are about a) arguing for quality education for all, b) need to improve public education as the way for doing that, c) how to get 25A implemented and so on. A number of these are at http://pakistanpolicyideas.wordpress.com/category

    But I do feel that if we are, as a society, going to allow private sector to work in education sector, and it seems we have decided that, then they should be allowed to work well…have access to finance, have proper regulatory and/or support mechanism so that we can address issues that relate to them….like some of the issues you point out. Halfway options where we let public sector languish and private sector do what it can in incomplete/imperfect markets and institutions is a really bad place to be.
    Thank you.
    (I posted this at the Dawn website too)

    1. Faisal I know you have supported the right to education and the government's responsibility in the matter. That is why I found your article an eye opener because here you give unconditional support to the franchise system.

      Moreover how can you let the franchise operators get away with "loot" That is what it amounts to. They are extracting so much money for what? It is a typical case of what Naomi Klein writes in No Logo there.

      Moreover where are the people who cannot pay even what you term low-middle fee where are they to go.

      1. How do the both of you define "quality education"? I find that even the most prestigious and high fee institutions in the country are just brands and there is little in terms of the provision of a "quality education", as they use exam performance as a proxy for quality, and then highlight that as a benchmark of their success. I at least dont consider examination performance as "quality education".

        As for alternatives do we not ignore the role of Madrassas and informal education in such debates?

  2. Charity, as in the case of The Citizens Foundation schools, and panic among middle class parents who find nothing better than the McDonald's approach to education via franchise arrangements, power and finance the major private schools' enterprises.

    Well-meaning people (TCF directors) and education-business folk have found a ready niche in the totally devastated public school education scene. Those who made the buck are unlikely to spread it thin as the article hopes for, and in any case that would be charity, which ought to be avoided in the education and other development sectors in Pakistan. We already have foreign donors and improper use of their funds all round should provide pause to think of perhaps the only dignified and honorable way forward.

    The public sector has to be radically transformed, a prerequisite for which is an enlightened political and military leadership, and civil society, that puts money into minds and not into missiles. As a first step the government should help improve management of its schools by involving the community and local experts. By providing tax-cuts and other incentives, the larger private sector schools may be encouraged to help in this transformation, perhaps starting with teachers' training.

    A serious teachers' training program across the country that uses the internet to help teachers improve their skills and with this tied to rewards may be a way to overcome the very small number of master trainers. All this will require expert inputs, honest oversight and monitoring, and so we get back to the overarching issue of improving governance in the country!

  3. To sum up for many managements providing a quality education is a business equation and institution is commercial one.

  4. This is a very factual article. You have rightly pointed out the in-equal distribution of quality education to lower middle class and poor children. It is so sad that the intellectuals instead of fighting for the right of ALL the children to equal eductaional public schooling are justifying some systems whose sole purpose is commercial gain. your end call for bigger philanthrophic efforts by the So Called SCHOOL SYSTEMS will fall on deaf ears as they think they are already doing a great service to the nation educating so many children. You see the capitalistic system will always do things for profit. That i sthe whole game. The concept of philanthropy is also an investment in such a system. Sadly in Pakistan the poor will never get quality education. 30 years back I also said this to Mr Bhutto in Nawabshah when he visited a medical college that we Karachi girls had opened with him for the girls in Sindh. Still the problem remains.

  5. I agree wholeheartedly with what Zubeida Mustafa has written in her article….we must not let the Government off the hook & try to take over its responsibility to provide a decent education to all its citizens.( It was quite shocking to read Mr Bari's suggestion of 'supporting' the private 'franchise' schools.) It's not impossible : 50 years back the Government -run schools were functioning at a much superior level….why can't we go back to at least that level? It's the rot of corruption that's not letting it happen.

  6. It would be better for the governement to take responsibility of not being able to do the needful in terms of providing primary education to all the children in Pakistan as aimed for in the millennium development goals. Quality could be the next step after ensuring all students are attending school.

    According to your article there are 25 million out of school children out of the 170 million (unofficial) population of Pakistan. I tried to google the current cost per child on primary education in Pakistan which I was unable to find, to ascertain the cost involved in educating the 25 million out of school children. We have long debated on the reasons of this state of affairs and so I don't intend to harp on those issues. It is time for action.The real question here is what are the requirements of the primary education system. The infrastruction, human resource, physical resources (furniture, technology, books, stationery etc.) curriculum and evaluation system. I see the presence of public school buildings in most of the parts of Karachi as I am being a little careful in claiming all over the country. I was impressed by the Brazialian model that sues the school buildings in shifts and ensures 98% of their students in schools. If we can ascertain the cost per child in terms of human resources (our biggest problem of developing and getting the best teachers), physical resources and curriculum development I think in the best interest of the country it would be more beneficial for the governement to pay for these children and ask them to show results. There is no harm in letting some make money if they are willing to show results than just being saddened by the state of public schools and the out of school children. According to my estimates it should not be costing over a 1000 PKR per child per month (if spent honestly) for payment to teachers, cost of stationery and beautiying the existing buildings and furniture. This equals to 12,000 PKR per anum which is around $1220 which is far lower than the cost of primary education per child in a developed country.
    Are we willing to invest?

    PS: I tried to post this comment but was unable to so I am putting it here.

    I would also like to congratulate Zubaida Mustafa on her newest achievement.

    Regards & Best Wishes,

    Sobia Alam

  7. Common ground

    (Dedicated to a logically conscious world – Deepak Sarkar, http://www.kolki.com)

    We are the fittest we are the best!

    Civilized, technologized, marketized, hypnotized

    With laws, by-laws, statutes and codes

    Live in cities, towns, villages, ghettos and resorts

    Making compromises for common grounds

    Building a society insensitive with point of no return!

    I feel sad for the beggars, homeless and hungry

    They feel it’s necessary for the economy!

    I feel angry seeing old growth logged or baby seals jabbed

    They argue logging, seals killing, create and keep jobs

    Ignoring millions who suffer yearly corporate layoffs

    Yet find new hope with training that often offers better!

    I want my food organic, pesticide free

    They want quick profit modifying food genetically!

    I enjoy marital ecstasy with honesty

    They pollute society with demeaning abusive pornography!

    I want peace and cultural coexistence

    They want war, destruction, and security for dominance!

    I see trees they see dollars

    I see deer they see dinner

    I hear hunger buried under their laughters!

    I like caring Governments, they prefer big military spender!

    We need to have common grounds to live socially –

    But how truth can have common ground with lies

    Justice with blind injustice

    Participatory Democracies with hereditary Monarchies

    Open accountabilities with Swiss Bank like money laundering

    Peaceful Spiritualism with violent dominating evangelism

    Loving universalism with hateful extremism?

    Thus, common grounds only make me survive

    Being part of many things inhumane, I dislike

    Watching slow poisoning of humankind

    While a few rob world resources build private Empires

    Guarding fortunes with mercenaries and covert apparatus

    Neglecting signs of irreversible calamities and sufferings

    Endangering planet Earth and survival of all sentient being!

  8. Unfortuately this is what has been happening. It is called 'give a dog a bad name and then hang it'.
    I am glad you write on such issues.

  9. Education is in complete mess in the sub-continent.
    Both India and Pakistan, and, of course, all the other countries who got independence around the same time, have spent unimaginable amount of money in buying arms. They should have utilised that in Education. Things would have been different. Alas! It didn't happen.
    In 1986, I read WORLD CRISIS IN EDUCATION by Philip Coombs.
    After about 25 years, the situation is worse.
    Anyway, I happened to read your article, Zubeida, and I must say, I like it, for it shows the right kind of concern which again is hard to come by in the present times when it seems everyone's concern is money and more money!
    I must tell you, I am now 70, and a retired Professor of English. I live in Raipur CG India. More later.
    Best wishes and regards
    Khaliqur Rahman

Comments are closed.