The Supreme Court asked the Law and Justice Commission on Thursday to apprise it of the reactions of private schools to its earlier directives that any fees in excess of Rs5,000 be reduced by 20 per cent.
A three-judge SC bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar while hearing a case pertaining to exorbitant fees charged by private schools asked the commission to prepare and submit a report on the scaling back of school facilities to students as well as the dismissal of teachers in the wake of its December order, and reiterated its order on reduction of fees.
Schools' reactions to order
The court was told the by Supreme Court Bar Association President Amanullah Kanrani that along with reducing its fees, the Beaconhouse School System had started treating its enrolled students like stepchildren.
"My own children were behaved poorly with," Kanrani told the bench.
"The schools are showing their reaction after being ordered to reduce their fees," Chief Justice Nisar observed, expressing annoyance over how "this is the reverence that these educated people have for the court's decision", and how directors of educational institutions are paid millions of rupees in salaries.
The top judge observed that schools had started decreasing the facilities they offer after the court's earlier order.
The Law and Justice Commission Secretary Abdul Raheem apprised the court of various such instances, recounting that one school reduced its fee by Rs1,000 by cutting out Quran classes, while another had asked parents to educate their children in a co-educational school.
The secretary informed the court of a school in Islamabad which had written to parents telling them that after the Supreme Court's "unfair decision" it was forced to decrease the quality of its standard of education, Raheem briefed the court.
Although the court summoned the school's owner, it was told by the Islamabad police chief later in the hearing that the school was closed.
'Will show you how to shut schools down'
Private Schools Association President Zafran Elahi told the court that if schools returned one month's fees as ordered by the court, they would be forced to shut down operations.
"Then shut down," the chief justice said. "I will show how to shut them down. If you wish to close the schools, close them," he added.
"You are earning billions off schools," Justice Nisar observed. "The government has been unable to make up for the shortage of schools. In fact, private schools have failed government schools."
'Was FBR sleeping?'
The court had in October ordered the institutes to furnish their respective audit reports, and formed a committee to find an amicable solution to the issue of exorbitant fees being collected from parents.
A member of the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) audit team told the court that the private schools had paid a total of Rs1.2bn in tax and action against seven schools is being taken. He added that some schools had been able to receive stay orders against the proceedings.
The chief justice asked the official: "Before the court pointed it out, was FBR sleeping?"
He then asked the member of the audit team to "take out the documents showing that the Lahore Grammar School director is being given Rs8.5m salary".
The Law and Justice Commission Secretary Abdul Raheem pointed out that one school director's annual salary is over Rs120m, while the deputy attorney general chimed in with a figure of Rs100m annually.
"These are those poor people who are trying to educate children," the chief justice commented.
Regulation of schools
Amicus curiae Faisal Siddiqui told the court that private schools don't wish to have themselves regulated and believe the court is exceeding its authority. "But if the administration doesn't play its role then the court will," he warned, adding that the apex court's interim order was suitable.
Beaconhouse School System lawyer Shahid Hamid suggested that there should be a regulatory authority for schools in each district.
"For six months, there was no priority given to education," he contended in court.
"Why not talk about the last 70 years?" Justice Faisal Arab asked the lawyer.
"The federal government does not oversee education since the 18th Amendment was passed," Hamid pointed out.
Justice Faisal Arab took note of various issues plaguing schools since the amendment was passed. He pointed out that children in schools in different provinces are taught different things.
He recalled the system of one-room schools in Sindh. "They take the shape of a room built in front of a landowner's (wadera's) home. The landowner hires a teacher for those in his employ and sits there all day while the teacher presses his feet."
The chief justice suggested that there be an eight to 10-room school built on land for a playground for eight to 10 villages.
"We need a strong regulator to regulate private schools," Justice Nisar observed. "The issue here is that the regulator is also involved."
"We can make an implementation bench after the final hearing of the case," he suggested.
The hearing was adjourned indefinitely.