The Rising Cost of Quality Education:Commercialization or Sustainability?

Syed Surush Kamil

Abdullah is a resident of far flung village – Hundur – in the Ghizer district of Gilgit-Baltistan. He works on daily wage for 30 days a month and is the sole bread earner of a family of 10 persons. After his father got martyred in Kargill war, he assumed the responsibilities for the bereaved ones, who consist of his mother, his widowed wife, a daughter and six sisters. His life is marked with the dichotomy of his urge to educate his family on one side and his limited economic means on the other. He works day and night as he aspires to send his siblings to good universities far from home to realize their dreams, but with his meagre earnings he barely manages to pay the exorbitant fees of his siblings at the local school.

Since long ago, many in the valley, including Abdullah have realized the vitality of education as propeller for social mobility. By anecdotal accounts, people usually ascribe the heightened awareness and fervor for education unequivocally to the advent of Aga Khan Education Service’s (AKES) schools. AKES, which is one of the “not for profit” organizations operates more than 300 schools in Gilgit-Baltistan and Chital (GBC) region with a student body of tens of thousands. This organization has been the real agent of change in the area, ensuring access to education in remotest of the villages. The literacy rate surged up noticeably with generation Y onwards. Particularly, the conscious efforts to foster female literacy has had a multiplier effect. The NGO is credited to have effectively bridged the gap when government intervention was limited or arguably ineffective.

Hence, people of the region hold the organization in high esteem with a level of reverence commonly reserved only for religion. This attitude impeded them from having a critical evaluation of the education system. Undeniably, AKES schools impart substantially high quality education compared to government schools. It should be noted however, on the back of article 25-A, government charges no fees in its schools. The not-for-profit schools’ charges are relatively high enough that has made a business opportunity for independent small private schools to pop up over the years and in many cases offering a rivaling quality if not better at a more affordable price point.

Likewise, the premier institutes like Aga Khan Higher Secondary School Gigit depicts a similar picture. For many, it’s a case of lost glory. Despite charging the highest amount of fees in Gilgit, the management continues to offer admissions to students far exceeding its capacity by cramming every classroom to meet the revenue targets. On the expenditures front, the teachers are seriously underpaid by any generous yardstick. The results are far from what could have been an exemplary institute of national level.

Despite GBC being the center of operations for AKES, the policy matters are decided in a rather bureaucratic fashion from Karachi. Evidently, this has caused disparity between GBC and Karachi, which is manifested in low quality schooling in GBC. On many occasions, students of DJ schools are often denied admission in AKES schools in Karachi for not meeting quality standards. Part of reason could be the fact that AKES teachers are paid much lower salaries in GBC compared to their counterparts in Karachi.

Apparently, the charges for quality education or lack of thereof in AKES’ GBC schools have gradually risen beyond affordability for many like Abdullah. I leave it to the discerned readers’ imagination, if AKDN’s “means blind” manifesto faltering in the pursuit of economic sustainability? Or is it a plain reality of capitalist world?

The contributor is an undergrad student of BS Accounting and Finance at IBA, Karachi. Twitter:  @sskamyyl, Facebook: sskamil

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