Pakistan faces many challenges in education; these include huge disparities in opportunities, particularly for the rural poor and girls, poor quality education, low enrollment and completion rates, high drop-out rates and low levels of transition to secondary education. There are 7.261 million children out of school at the primary level, and 58% are female, and overall all estimates of 5-16 year olds who are out of school go up to 20 million children. This is a matter of deep concern for Pakistan. It speaks of emerging and critical social imbalance, calls for urgent, radical and revolutionary changes with respect to future financing and investment in education in the context of macroeconomic constraints, forces the country to make hard choices between focused and obligatory coverage of all its children as part of their fundamental right.
Article 25-A (the Right to Education) has been inserted in the chapter of the fundamental rights of the Constitution as part of the 18th Constitutional amendment under which “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.” The amendment to the constitution is the first step; it is now imperative that efforts be made for making a law for the provision of this right and simultaneously work towards its implementation.
25-A has not been implemented yet. In fact some of its implications have not even been clearly thought through. But work will have to start quite soon on its implementation as it is already a part of our Constitution. We need significant changes in laws, rules, procedures, administrative practices before 25-A can be implemented. It also has significant institutional, budgetary and human resource implications for the state. In addition, the 18th Amendment also removed the concurrent list from the Constitution making education a completely provincial subject. So, the implications of 25-A will have to be worked out by each province.
There are a few specific points to be made here:
25-A stipulates that all 5-16 year olds have a right to ‘free’ education. What does ‘free’ mean? Cost of education is not just tuition fee costs. There is cost of other charges like admission fees and other incidental fees. There are expenses on uniforms and books/stationery. These are all costs of education. Is 25-A giving the right to ‘free’ education in the sense of covering all costs of education or just tuition fees? And finally, even if one ignores the opportunity cost of education for children, which might be very important for some households, but which we can ignore given laws against child labour, there is still cost of transportation that is a ‘cost’ of education. If the distance to school is substantial, and/or if it is not possible to walk to the school for distance or other reasons, there can be a substantial cost involved in getting to the school and back. If the objective of 25-A is to ensure education for all children then clearly ‘free’ will need to look at the total cost that a child/parent has to bear for being educated.
The other very important aspect of 25-A is the ‘compulsory’ part. Compulsory has an element of ‘compulsion’ in it. It means that the state has to ensure that every child, between the age of 5-16, is getting an education. It does not matter if the child wants to be educated or not, it does not matter if the parent/guardian has an opportunity cost for the child to be in school, the state and society have to ensure that every child is being educated. Compulsion implies liability too. Children cannot be legally liable as they are not considered to be fully responsible for their actions. But their guardians are. If a guardian/parent is not sending a child to school, the parent will be liable. In the same manner, if the state is not able to provide reasonable access to educational facilities, it should be liable too.
One of the unstated but most important aspects of 25-A, will be the notion of what constitutes ‘reasonable and acceptable standard’ of education that the state is required to provide under 25-A. Clearly if we are going to ensure universality and, when needed, exercise compulsion, educational provision needs to be of some minimal acceptable standard. This will surely include facilities that make for a reasonable environment for providing education: boundary walls, reasonable rooms, functioning toilets, reasonable level of security, good access, and so on and so forth. If this is not defined by the government, on its own, it will get challenged and then the courts will have to either define it themselves or will force the state to do it.
Given the size of the task in ensuring the implementation of 25-A, clearly it is not going to be possible to implement it over a year or so. Governments will need medium to long term plans for its implementation.
For implementation of Article 25-A: Right to Education, our Education Partners have started One Million Signature Campaign to demand for free and compulsory education. The link for online signatures is: http://safedafed.org/signatures/
It is important that education is acknowledged as the First Priority by the state/provincial/federal governments, parliamentarians, Prime Minister & the President, and the political parties campaigning in 2012; the demand includes Six Actions on an urgent basis:
1. Draft Legislation NOW in all Provinces & Federal Areas for the Right to Education which shall comprehensively address issues of access, quality and equity for ALL Children of Pakistan (5-16);
2. Ensure that the legislation defines NORMS for quality education services, roles, responsibilities and the implementation process explicitly;
3. Commit that the drafting of the law undergoes a transparent process of nationwide debate and consultation;
4. Allocate at least 4% of the GDP for education provision across Pakistan immediately more than doubled from the current 1.7% – making education as the No. 1 Priority;
5. Devise mechanisms for allocating 70% of budget for Article 25-A; its effective and timely release and utilization of resources allocated for education;
6. Inclusion of Right to Education for Quality learning outcomes in the manifestoes of all political parties.
Nargis Sultana – Program Officer, Foundation Open Society Institute (FOSI)
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