NA passes private education regulatory bill

An edited version of this article was first published in The Express Tribune on Jan 24, 2013.

Islamabad – The Private Educational Institutions Regulatory Authority (PEIRA) is all set to get some real powers after the National Assembly passed a bill on Wednesday to keep Islamabad’s private educational institutions (PEIs) in check.

The Islamabad Capital Territory Private Educational Institutions (Registration and Regulation) Act 2012, which now awaits an approval from the Senate and an OK from President Asif Ali Zardari, will require all law enforcement agencies to assist PEIRA in the “exercise of its powers and performance of its functions.”

PEIRA was established as a result of a September 2006 presidential ordinance. The ordinance formed the basis of the new bill, after the Standing Committee on Cabinet Secretariat deliberated on it for over two years.

PEIRA was tasked to register and regulate the PEIs operating in Islamabad. In the six years since PEIRA’s formation, it has registered 722 institutions, but its mandate has also been flouted quite often by the PEIs.

“We would serve notices to institutions to register with us, but some of them would refuse to point blank. Some institutions would even hide their data from our inspection teams,” PEIRA president Atif Kayani told The Express Tribune. “We didn’t have any real powers.”

He said PEIRA would turn to the Capital Development Authority (CDA) or the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) on such occasions, but both CDA and ICT did not always cooperate.

In the bill approved by the National Assembly, PEIRA has been given the power to register and regulate PEIs including “fixation of grade-wise rate of admission fee, security fee, monthly tuition fee and other fees being charged” by the PEIs.

PEIRA must also ensure that the services, quality of education and salary paid to teachers matched the fees charged from the students.

Existing institutions will have 90 days to from the commencement of the bill to get registered with the authority. Kayani said the condition only applies to PEIs not yet registered with PEIRA. The registration will be mandatory for any PEI to get affiliated with the Federal Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education.

PEIs’ owners can be fined up to Rs5000 or one-year imprisonment if they run their schools in contravention of the Act’s provisions.

Regulation of a private entity sounds a little odd, but Kayani said it involves bringing uniformity in the education standards of the myriad private schools.

The bill requires PEIRA to come up with a policy that includes “determination and fixation of rate of fee being charged by the institutions, qualifications of teaching staff, their terms and conditions of service including salaries and mode of payment of their salaries.”

Kayani said PEIRA will form a committee with relevant stakeholders, after the bill gets total approval, to set the criteria for the above policy measures.

Muhammad Asghar Babur, president of the Private Schools Network, welcomed the approval of the bill by the legislators, but he had some reservations.

“The bill does not provide any instructions for the promotion of educational institutions which offer almost free education to the public,” Babur said.

He said there were more than 360 private schools in the federal capital which operate at the grassroots level and provide education to local communities for anywhere between Rs50-20 student fees. Some of these schools cannot afford PEIRA’s fees, he said.

New schools who charge student fees below Rs2000 are required to pay Rs18,000 to Rs20,000 for first-time registration and Rs5,000 for renewal, Kayani said.

Schools who charge more than Rs2000 student fees have to pay Rs40,000 for fresh registration and Rs10,000 for renewal.

Babur said there should be more fee-brackets for the registration and renewal fees.

“PEIRA should get more fees from those schools who are charging maximum student fees,” he said. “This money could be spent on the capacity building of the teachers of low-income schools.”

Babur said the new bill also does not explicitly mention any joint ventures by the government with private institutions that are furthering the government’s Article 25(a) education-for-all strategy.

The federal government shall allocate an annual grant to PEIRA, in addition to its own finances generated from the registration and other fees, according to the bill’s draft.

The bill has also added tuition centres — providing education at the pre-primary level, including day-care centres, and from pre-primary to secondary level education — to the definition of a “school.”

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