By Khalid Khattak
Government Islamia High School and Lahore Model School (a private school) are situated almost in front of each other in Sant Nagar–a middle-class neighbourhood in the heart of Lahore.
While the public school offers free education and also provides free textbooks to its students, the private school charges monthly fee which ranges between Rs 1,000 to Rs 2,000 per student.
The recent results of the two schools in Secondary School Certificate (Matriculation) Annual Examinations 2017 aptly depict the constant disparity between public and private schools in the province Punjab in terms of performance in the exams.
As many as 65 students had appeared in the SSC/Matric exam this year from the Government Islamia High School while 70 students had appeared from Lahore Model School. According to the results, declared in July this year, the overall pass percentage of students of the public school stood at 80 percent while that of Lahore Model School at 96 percent. The former had 10 percent of its students achieving A+ grade in the exams while at the private school this was 36 percent.
This simple comparison between the performance of a public and a private school corresponds with last four years exam data of all government-run and private schools across the Punjab province.
All the nine Boards of Intermediate & Secondary Education (BISEs) in Punjab conduct the exams simultaneously while the results are also declared simultaneously after few months.
According to the last four years data, the gap between public and private schools of the province in terms of overall pass percentage remains stagnant with private schools enjoying almost 10 percent lead all these years.
Rana Liaqat Ali, general secretary of Punjab Teachers Union (PTU), sees management issue as one of the main reasons behind low performance of public schools. For this he cites examples like absence of administrative heads and poor student-teacher ratio (STR) at public schools over the years.
He also argues that unlike private schools, public schools can’t deny admission to any student on the basis of his or her academic capability. “The private schools let appear only those students in exams who are good,” he says and adds “And if we (public schools) withhold any student from appearing in exam, we face disciplinary action.”
It is pertinent to mention here that students of private schools are not just securing highest pass percentage, the results of this year’s SSC /Matric exams show that majority of the toppers also come from private schools in both Arts and Science categories and among boys and girls categories.
Commenting on the issue Mosharraf Zaidi, campaign director at Alif Ailaan says for many years, governments both at the federal and the provincial levels have sought to crack the code of how to make government schools relevant once again.
“Luckily this is not rocket science. Parents in Pakistan have been voting with their feet for over three decades choosing even low cost and low quality private schools above free of cost government schools.”
Until government schools do not become centers of excellence where learning outcomes for children are visibly and obviously better than what is available in private schools, Pakistani parents will continue to vote with their feet.
“Dramatic improvement in government schools will not be possible whilst Pakistani public-sector officials cling to an admin and financial system built in the 40s and 50s for the 60s and 70s. It is 2017 – and our teachers and classrooms need to be equipped to prepare children to live in the 2020s, 2030s and 2040s,” argues Mosharraf.
Meanwhile the exam data also shows that the number of students appearing in the SSC exams from public schools remained twice the size of those appearing from private schools all these years. This shows an interesting trend vis-à-vis affordability of private schools in the province.
Dr Allah Bakhsh Malik, Secretary School Education Department Punjab, is optimistic as he foresees impact in terms of performance of public schools following induction of thousands of new and highly qualified teachers in the system.
“During the last four years, over 200,000 teachers (having MA/MSc qualifications) have been recruited owing to which the results of public schools are improving and will further improve in years to come.”
Dr Malik, however, also hinted towards private schools’ advantage of selecting students saying “We believe education is a fundamental right which can’t be denied.”
Main image CSNLG
Local schools images: CIRP