On April 19, 2010, the Constitution Act also known as the Eighteenth Amendment, received the assent of then President Asif Ali Zardari and was promulgated the following day.
One of the monumental changes introduced by the 18th amendment was Article 25-A, that propagated a child’s “right to education.” It reads, “The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to sixteen years in such manner as may be determined by law.”
It is noteworthy that the right to education was inserted under Article 25, which speaks about the equality of citizens. It indicates that the lawmakers wanted to assert that education should be provided to all children without any discrimination.
In reverence of provincial autonomy, all territories were required to make their own laws for the education of their children.
First of all, after being passed by the Senate and National Assembly, the ‘Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2012’ for the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) was signed by the President on December 19, 2012.
Next year, after being passed by the Provincial Assembly, the ‘Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Bill 2013’ for Sindh was ratified by the Governor on March 6, 2013. In the same year, the governor of Balochistan, on 12th of March, 2013, approved the ‘Ordinance on Free & Compulsory Education for Balochistan’. The Act is now also in place, titled the ‘Balochistan Compulsory Education Act 2014’ and officially passed on February 6, 2014.
The Punjab governor promulgated the ‘Punjab Free and Compulsory Education Ordinance 2014’ on May 13, 2014, which was later introduced in the Punjab Assembly. Subsequently, the ordinance was referred to the Standing Committee on Education for consideration. The law was passed on November 10, 2014.
The ‘Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2014’ was drafted by the provincial (KP) government. After the proposed amendments, the bill was passed on February 5, 2017, by the KP Assembly and named ‘The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Free Compulsory Primary and Secondary Education Act, 2017.’
The enactment of the above laws makes all children between the ages of five and 16 residing in the relevant territories eligible for free and compulsory education. However, it is very regrettable that the ‘Rules of Business’ of these Acts still need to be notified. KP has drafted the rules but they have not been notified yet.
Pakistan, the fifth most populous country in the world, has a third of its population under 15 years, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). It is imperative to ensure that this young and dynamic population has access to quality education, if Pakistan wants to achieve its economic and socio-political potential.
According to a study by the World Bank, nearly 23 million Pakistani children aged five to 16 do not attend school, which is the second largest out-of-school population in the world. One of the major issues confronting Pakistan’s education industry is its lack of proper resources.
According to UNICEF [United Nation’s Children Fund], the country has one of the world’s lowest education expenditures, with only 2.8 percent of its Gross Domestic Product or GDP dedicated to education in 2022.
ACCESS TO EDUCATION
Because of poverty, a lack of facilities and other social concerns, many children, particularly those from low-income households, are unable to attend school. Many rural schools lack essential amenities, such as safe drinking water, electricity and adequate sanitation. The lack of infrastructure and resources in schools makes it difficult for instructors to provide quality education to their students.
Aside from teacher shortages, gender inequality is another major issue. Girls are particularly disadvantaged in Pakistan, with significantly lower enrolment rates and higher dropout rates than boys. This is due to a variety of causes, including cultural norms, favouring boys’ education over
girls’ education, early marriage and childbearing, and a lack of safe and secure schools for females.
Proximity to school and safety are the largest barriers to accessing education for girls. The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) in 2022 by Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA) revealed that, in enrolled students in government schools, 64 percent were boys and 36 percent were girls, whereas in private schools, 63 percent enrolled children were boys and 37 percent were girls.
Furthermore, ASER added that because of the flawed education system of the country, 45 percent of the students could not read a sentence in Urdu and their regional languages, while 44 percent could not read sentences in English.
The learning levels of children in Class Five and Class Three have declined in all three competencies — only 50 percent of Class Five children could read a Class Two level story in Urdu compared to 55 percent in 2019. Only 15 percent of Class Three children could read stories in Urdu as compared to 19 percent in 2019.
“English learning levels have declined, as 54 percent Class Five children could read sentences compared to 60 percent in 2019, while only 15 percent Class Three children could read Class Two level sentences as compared to 21 percent in 2019,” reads the report.
Similarly, it added, arithmetic learning levels have also declined, with only 50 percent Class Five children being able to do two-digit division, as compared to 53 percent in 2019, and only 11 percent children enrolled in Class Three could do two-digit division, as compared to 16 percent in 2019.
ASER exposed another critical factor: zero percent of the surveyed government primary schools reported having children with disabilities, while 45 percent of the surveyed private primary schools reported the same.
QUALITY OF EDUCATION
Unfortunately, chaos in social, economic and political realms has been plaguing Pakistan for many years. Our unresolved problems, such as communal distrust, economic stagnation, political instability, moral degeneration and foreign reliance, need immediate attention. Beyond a doubt, quality learning is one of the best ways to get out of these crises.
But, having shown a lack of interest in uplifting the education sector, Pakistan has deviated away from the road to success and development. Therefore, a critical examination of the problems in the educational sector is required.
The roots of all the impediments Pakistan encounters today lie in our failure to prioritise our education sector. Investing in our schooling and higher education is the path to altering our destiny. If we cannot advance our education system, the dream of making Pakistan a self-reliant, progressive and technologically advanced country will stay a far-off dream.
The will of the government is very important for providing free, compulsory and quality education to the children of Pakistan. The Education Parliamentarians’ Caucus Pakistan needs to play a vibrant role.
The system requires reforms in terms of infrastructural improvement and curriculum revision. The National Education Policy should entertain the demands of the modern age. There is an urgent need to raise awareness and advocate for the necessity of education for all Pakistani children. Parents, teachers and community leaders all are required to play a vital part in promoting education and pushing for children’s right to a decent education.
Pakistan may enhance education quality and student achievement by investing in teacher training programmes and providing greater incentives for instructors. Another possibility is the expanding number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working in Pakistan to enhance education. NGOs like The Citizens Foundation and Zindagi Trust are trying to provide high-quality education in underserved regions, give scholarships to students from low-income families and improve teacher training and support.
It has been 13 years since the Right to Education was introduced. The need of the hour is to reflect upon the rapidly deteriorating status quo of learning and explore new evidence-based approaches for delivering accelerated quality education to turn this vision into a reality. We need to strongly advocate for 25-A and celebrate the right to education in our Constitution.
The writer is a human rights activist and columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Acknowledgement/ Credit: Published in Daily Dawn, EOS, April 30th, 2023
Picture Credit: Express Tribune