Teachers in Pakistan’s Punjab launch protests against “privatization of education” 

Teachers across Punjab’s state-run schools reported for duty while making it clear they reject what they call the “privatization” of education through the transfer of over 13,000 schools to NGOs and private parties.

A united front of teachers’ unions in Pakistan’s Punjab province kicked off a widespread protest movement on Monday against the government’s controversial plan to hand over thousands of public schools to non-government organizations and private operators.

Donning black armbands as a symbol of defiance, teachers across Punjab’s state-run schools reported for duty while making it clear they reject what they call the “privatization” of education through the transfer of over 13,000 schools to NGOs and private parties.

The joint action committee leading the protests, comprising major unions like the Punjab Teachers Union and Punjab Educators Association, has vowed an intense pressure campaign to force the government to reverse its divisive policy.

The provincial government has sought applications from NGOs, private individuals and groups to take over the management and operations of 13,182 public schools by June 30 under a public-private partnership model. Only around 10,000 schools are slated to remain directly under the education department.

While officials insist the reform is aimed at improving education standards through the involvement of the private sector, teachers on the ground view it as a precursor to full privatization that will sacrifice their low-cost, egalitarian public education system at the altar of profit-making.

However, some education policy experts offered a more nuanced perspective, noting the public-private partnership model has worked in other countries to improve underperforming schools and education outcomes when properly structured.

Ahsan Rafi, an education researcher at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute in Islamabad, suggested the teachers’ unions may be looking at the reforms through an opposition lens due to the changes being initially pushed by the former PTI government.

For underprivileged families unable to afford even low-cost private schools, Rafi stressed the importance of fixing the public education system – whether through PPPs or investing more funds into capacity-building of teachers and facilities.

The unions remain unconvinced for now. They have accused the Punjab government, led by Chief Minister Maryam Nawaz, of reneging on pre-election promises ruling out any school privatization moves.

As the reforms move ahead amid the escalating protests, both sides will be closely watching whether the public-private model delivers on its promised benefits or whether teachers’ fears about the erosion of public education prove justified.