By Khalid Bhatti 22/05/2016
Who will benefit?
The planned handover of 5000 public sector schools in Punjab to Punjab Education Foundation (PEF) and different NGOs and protests and sit-in by the teachers union has once again opened the debate on the issue of privatisation. The teachers are opposing the move that they will lose permanent jobs and thousands of teachers from public sector schools will be shown doors in the name of golden hand shake scheme. The history of golden hand shake, volunteer separation schemes (VSS) or compulsory separation schemes clearly shows that workers and government employees always suffered due to these schemes. It might be attractive for the teachers who have almost completed their service and on the verge of retirement but for the teachers who recently joined the service it means big set back. Even if reemployed, they will lose pension, job security and other benefits and will be forced to work on much lower salaries.
According to the Pakistani constitution of 1973, it is the prime responsibility of the state to provide free and decent education to its all citizens. The privatisation of schools and other educational institutions is a clear violation of the constitution. But the Pakistani rulers are only interested in the implementation of the provisions of the constitution which relates to their powers and interests. They do not care about the articles and provisions of the constitution which deals with the people and their rights.
The respective governments in the country neglected the public education. It was never been the priority of the governments of both civilian and military to provide free and decent education to the masses. Health and education never get the resources it needs to improve the services and standards. When the government allocate 2% to 3% budget for health and education so it very clear that it is not on their priority list.
The situation in public education started to decline in late 1070s and that slide continues even today. The respective governments recruited teachers purely on political grounds to buy political support in the communities. Many teachers never took interest in teaching and hardly make it to school. No intention was paid to the schools to build infrastructure and to provide basic facilities. Thousands of schools are still without drinking water, toilets, boundary walls, class rooms, furniture and labs. Only teachers are not responsible for this pathetic situation in public schools but the burden lies with the governments and civil administration of the education department.
This situation encouraged the mushroom growth of private schools in the country. Thousands of private schools were built in last two decades. The chains of elite schools emerged and even middle class started to send their children to the private schools. For the lower middle class and sections of better paid working class also opted for private schools. It was not the case till 1990s but now lot has changed. The education expense has risen from nothing to around 30% of the average income of a middle class or lower middle class family. The school fees and tuitions are huge burden on the incomes of the ordinary families. The reason is simple, the public schools stands at the lowest.
It is an open secret that education and health are the top profit making businesses at the moment which guarantees the highest return on the investment. There are elite schools and hospitals which are making millions and millions as profit at the expense of the millions of poor and working class people.
The quality education and health has gone out of the reach of more than 75% of the population. From 1947 to early 1990s, it was possible for the students belonging to the poor and working class families to study in the top institutions of the country. They can dream that their children will become doctors, engineers, civil servants, army officers and managers in the private sector but now this has changed. Their children no longer afford to go to these institutions.
The matter of fact is that overwhelming majority of the masses no more afford to get quality education. Education was a basic necessity and fundamental right but now been turned into commodity to make profits. Education is not a commodity but a basic need. The further privatisation of schools will make it more difficult for the poor to educate their children.
Government should invest more in the education. Improve the standard of the education. Make radical changes in the curriculum and method s of teaching. Schools, colleges and other education institutions should be run by the joint management committees of students, parents and teachers. Revolutionary changes need to be made in the education policy instead of privatisation.
We live in the era of free market economy and neoliberalism. The very concept of welfare state had long gone. There is general consensus in the ruling class that free market economy and neoliberal economic agenda should be the new economic religion since 1980s. Privatisation is an important component of this neoliberal economic agenda. The main purpose of the privatisation policy is to reduce the welfare role of the state and to minimise the state intervention in the economy. The capitalist commentators claims that like every period’s dominate thought, today’s mantra is neo-liberal agenda, which aims at reducing welfare role of the state to a mere dummy with minimal role in the market management and act as an agent of global capital. Privatization gives tremendous patronage to the government in power, which may be exercised to favor vested political interests rather than to serve long run national economic needs, negating the basic objective of improving efficiency in the economy. The philosophy of privatization in fact stems from the role of state in economic life. The thinking of the international financial institutions and free market economists is that, the state should confine itself to regulation only and the operation and ownership of industrial enterprises and utilities should be left to the private sector. However, there is an opposite view that in those states which start late in the race of development, the public sector has to play a vital role.
In simple words privatisation means that state is no more responsible to provide basic services and needs to the people. Instead state transfer its role and responsibility to the private sector. Unlike public sector, private sector’s main driving force is profits and wealth. On the other hand public sector’s main motive is not the profits but to provide basic and necessary services either for free or very cheap. Government transfer services and utilities from public sector to the private sector. The history of privatisation process in pakistan tells us that rich investors benefits from it and workers and general public suffers as the result. The workers lose job security, permanent jobs, decent wages and legal protections against any victimisation. If any one wants to know the adverse effects of privatisation than one should look at the privatised banks, PTCL, KESC and other corporations and institutions. They tell the clear story of that who is the real beneficiary of the privatisation policy.