Article 25-A, 14 years on

by Baela Raza Jamil- CEO of Idara-i-Taleem-o-Aagahi
4 mins read

The 18th Amendment, enacted on April 19, 2010, was a blessing for Pakistan. It achieved many vital shifts; abolishing the Concurrent List (47 subjects) including education (#38), devolving those to the provinces in a multi-tiered governance system; ‘decolonising’ the NWFP by renaming the province as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; providing new fundamental rights, including the Right to Education under Article 25-A and the Right to Information under Article 19-A; and much more.

Also in 2010, the Annual Status of Education Report, Pakistan, was launched after its pilot in 2008/ 2009 by Idara-i-Taleem-o-Aagahi, a civil society organisation. The ITA was coincidently mapping learning outcomes for children aged 5-16 years, the age group targeted under Article 25-A.

ASER-Pakistan’s is a citizen-led, household-based assessment undertaken as a one-on-one for each child, 5-16 years of age, in the sampled households. The learning tool is mapped to Grade-2 level competencies of literacy (Urdu/ Sindhi), numeracy, and English. All children present in a household are assessed, whether they go to school, are absent, have dropped out or never enrolled. The ASER, in short, is the voice of children’s right to learning, an entitlement no one can deny.

Education is not just about access and enrolment; it is substantively about learning for all. The Millennium Development Goals 2000-2015 had a flawed goalpost for education in MDG 2 as access only, without learning. The protests (2000-2014) against MDG 2, short-changing education kept mounting. Right to Education is about “quality+access=equity” without discrimination based on gender, wealth, religion, geography and disability. In 2013-14, the UN bodies caught on the ‘flaw’ acknowledging that “schooling does not always mean learning.”

The numbers morphed for the world of both in-school at risk and out of school children needing urgent attention, providing nuts and bolts of the architecture of SDG 4 and its targets pivoted on learning, equity and inclusion in 2015.

While tracing the history of Article 25-A from a local/ national as well as global perspective, it is imperative to anchor it as a critical discourse on education as learning and as a progressive fundamental right since 2010.

We had high hopes as Pakistan had preempted SDG 4 by half a decade. The ITA mobilised hundreds of partners gathering a million signatures from the citizens and students of Pakistan (2011-12) to push for legislation on Article 25-A in the federation. Finally, the legislation began to surface in December 2012 (ICT); 2013 (Sindh); 2014 (Balochistan and the Punjab); and 2017 (KP).

Why was the federation so hesitant? Why have the rules not been made thus far except in Sindh?

Whilst Sindh, Punjab and ICT acts are inclusive and substantive, others lack inclusion and equity. Why?

Above all, what are the governments afraid of? Surely, not a lack of resources. All fundamental rights in the constitution represent “unequivocal national intent.” Resources are mobilised progressively to match the targets/ outcomes to be reached. The Economic Survey of Pakistan 2022-2023 highlights the expenditure on education for Pakistan as a fraction of the GDP (1.7 percent in 2021-22; 1.4 percent in 2020-21).

The chapter on Education informs us annually of challenges, reinforced by ASER’s results on learning in Grades 3 and 5.

On March 8, 2024, the 12th ASER-Pakistan report was launched at the Planning Commission of Pakistan. It revealed solid enrollment gains in 2023 (86 percent) from a large sample of 106,974 households and narrowing of gender gaps reflecting a strong demand for education from rich and poor alike.

Sadly, trends of overall decline in literacy and numeracy competencies for 5-16 years olds continued on a Grade-2 learning tool. Children in Grade 3 remained stuck with little gains of 1.6 percent from 2014 (15.9 percent) to 2023 (17.5 percent) in literacy or ability to read a story, while children in Grade-3 level arithmetic or 2-digit division revealed similar trends of 1.7 percent gains from 2014 (10.9 percent) to 2023 (12.6 percent). Both competencies had recorded gains in 2018 and 2019 but not sufficient to make children in Grade 3 competent in foundational or basic skills.

ASER-Pakistan starkly revealed that once children in Grade 3 were stuck, the gaps for basic competency of story level in Grade 2 remained not only low by Grade 5 (50 percent) but also continued in Grade 8 (68.2 percent), even Grade 10 (85 percent). The achievement was even lower for arithmetic.

Many assessment initiatives highlight similar trends as ASER viz, National Achievement Test by the Pakistan Institute of Education/MoFEPT, LEAPS 20 years’ learning longitudinal data from the Punjab, indicating that all is not well in the country for foundational learning (Grade 2 competency) as reflected in SDG 4.11.a indicator for Grades 2/ 3.

ASER as a nationwide survey is reported in the prestigious Economic Survey of Pakistan, but is not officially communicated by the country to the UNESCO Institute of Statistics, the official global guardian to report (country by country) on SDG 4 targets including SDG 4.11.a. Why? The government of Pakistan pledged at the Transforming Education Summit 2022, called by the UN Secretary General for action to offset Covid-19 learning losses. The government is no doubt making rapid progress to harness initiatives for FLN. The MoFEPT has set up the Pakistan Foundational Learning hub in 2023; redirected funds and projects for FL in lagging districts; mobilising the Rs 25 billion Challenge Fund for OOSC domestically and from development partners, and crafted fresh policies for FL.

On April 9 this year, an education emergency was declared by the prime minister. It’s a call to action for out-of-school children, but is it also addressing the learning poverty? Learning alone will lead to sustainable gains for OOSC reduction together with population control (the annual growth rate is 2.55 percent).

Pakistan’s federating units are not only focused on FL but distinct efforts are under way to give FL due attention to ensure all children learn early in Pakistan. Let us bridge the intent and actions for lifelong learning in Pakistan.

Some political parties talk about Article 25-A, while others choose not to in their new manifestos. This anomaly must be addressed immediately. The positive political and bureaucratic will must translate into bold actions and outcomes. The ASER is always there to track and trace 25-A for learning accountability and actions.

Actions critical to addressing learning, access and equity gaps in Pakistan for big outcomes

Phase out the sinister design of thousands of single-, two-teacher and shelter-less schools across Pakistan, with progressive shifts to 5-6 teachers and classrooms at the primary level;

Agree on a national tool to assess foundational literacy and numeracy by all stakeholders for rapid diagnostics and actions;

Train mainstream teachers (pre-school to Grade 6) in both government and low-cost private schools in accelerated foundational literacy/ numeracy skills, to implement interventions at the beginning of each academic year with remedial support so that no child is left behind, especially girls and marginalised children;

Lighten the heavy curriculum baggage for children in ECE to Grade 2-3 focusing on foundational literacy, numeracy, storytelling, activity and play-based learning;

Upgrade/ amend the current Article 25-A laws of KP (2017) and Balochistan (2014), aligned to the sector plans/ reforms underway integrating inclusion and ECE (3-5 years);

Make rules of business for all Article 25-A legislation for robust implementation, backed by increased resources — 4 percent GDP by 2030

Acknowledgement: Published by Daily The News on April 25, 2024

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