EducationVOLUME 15 ISSUE # 06

Elected indifferent to education

The 18th Amendment of the Constitution of Pakistan was passed by the National Assembly on April 8, 2010, and by the Senate on April 15, 2010. It became an act of parliament when the President put his signature on the bill on April 19, 2010. Besides effecting some important changes in the Constitution, the amendment devolved various sectors, including education, to the federating units and other territories.
Through the amendment, a new Article, 25A, was inserted in the Constitution that reads: “Right to education: The state shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to 16 years in such a manner as may be determined by the law.” The new insertion also put the curriculum, syllabus, planning, policy, centres of excellence and standards of education under the purview of the provinces.
Under the amended Constitution, the four federating units and other territories are bound to legislate on the Right to Education (RTE) in pursuance of the Article 25A. However, despite the passage of almost a decade, the process of legislation has not been completed. Either the provinces as well as other territories have failed to legislate on the “Right to free and compulsory education for children”, or implement the legislation in letter and spirit.
The situation of right to education legislation is comparatively better in the federal capital, and the areas falling under it. After being passed by the National Assembly and the Senate, the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2012 for Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) was signed by the President on December 19, 2012. The Act makes all five to sixteen years old children, residing in the ICT, eligible for free and compulsory education by law. However, its implementation depends on formulation of the Rules of Business, which have not been formed yet, even after the passage of the law almost seven years ago.
An official at the Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training told Cutting Edge last month that according to official data, about 4,000 children are still out of school in the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT). He said a pilot project was launched in the federal capital in November 2018 to enrol almost 10,981 out-of-school children within one-year period. He claimed that the campaign was underway and soon all out-of-school children in ICT would be brought to educational institutions.
However, independent surveys put the number of out-of-school children at very high. Dr Afzal Babar, president of Private Schools Network, told Cutting Edge by telephone that the out-of-school children in the Islamabad Capital Territory were around 150,000. It’s yet to be seen when the federal government’s education ministry forms the rules of business for implementation of the Right to Education in a true sense.
The Punjab governor promulgated the Punjab Free and Compulsory Education Ordinance 2014 on May 13, which was later introduced in the Punjab Assembly. Subsequently, the ordinance was referred to the Standing Committee on Education for consideration. The ordinance was passed on November 10, 2014, though it still awaits its implementation. Those attached with the field believe the outgoing Pakistan Muslim League-N government and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-led coalition government in the province are not interested in implementing the RTE law. It was passed, perhaps, under a constitutional compulsion, but the rules of business were kept pending on purpose. The provincial authorities have set up the Punjab Education Foundation (PEF), which keeps handing over the management of government schools to private parties on one pretext or the other. Titled as the Public School Support Programme (PSSP), the initiative allows provincial authorities to outsource any government school with less than 20 students or any that scores less than 25 per cent in the Punjab Examination Commission tests. Since its launch in December 2015, it has resulted in the transfer of nearly 4,300 schools to the private sector in two phases. The target is to outsource 5,000 schools by the end of the third phase that started on April 3 this year.
On the other hand, the Punjab still has the largest number of out-of-school children. Last year, the provincial assembly was informed that over 11 million children were out of schools in the province. The provincial government failed to achieve public schools’ enrolment target of 600,000 students in 2017. It could hardly complete 23% enrolment during the period. And in the next year, 2018, the Punjab school enrolment drive missed its set target of enrolments by a staggering 1.59 million. The provincial government intended to enrol 13.55 million children into various grades. As per the data, it could bring only 11.95 million children – or 88.21%, to schools for the academic year.
The south Punjab region performed the worst, with Muzaffargarh leading with 135,444 children who could not be enrolled during the campaign. Other districts that missed the target by a sizable percentage were Rahim Yar Khan, which achieved a success of only 78.1%, Bahawalpur with a success rate of 78.2%, Bahawalnagar with a success rate of 81.2%, Rajanpur with a success rate of 81.8% and DG Khan and Okara with success rates of 83.3%, and 84.7%, respectively. Combined, these eight districts failed to enrol over 657,000 children in schools, making up 41% of the target missed.
The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2014 was drafted by the provincial government. Finally, after the proposed amendments, the act was passed on February 5, 2017, by the KP Assembly as ‘The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Free, Compulsory Primary and Secondary Education Act, 2017’. The implementation of the Act will make all five to 16 years old children, residing in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, eligible for free and compulsory education by law. Under the 25th Constitutional Amendment, passed by the Parliament on May 24, 2018, and assented by the President of Pakistan on May 31, 2018, Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa have been merged.
However, like other provinces, KP education authorities are also yet to make the rules of business for complete implementation of the Article 25A. There are a total of 4.17 million children studying in different grades in the province currently. Those still out of school are counted at 2.5 million; 63% of total girls are out of school and 30% of total boys are still out of school.
After being passed by the Sindh Assembly, the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Bill 2013 for Sindh was ratified by the governor on March 6, 2013. Sindh is the only federating unit that formed comprehensive rules of business on December 29, 2016, for implementation of the Act. However, the ground situation is not different from other provinces, which are yet to make the rules of business. The education sector is the least priority of the provincial government. It is very strange to note that since the ruling party in Sindh took the reins of power years ago, budgetary allocations kept increasing every year compared to previous years, while education standards remained stagnant, or rather, deteriorated. For instance, an estimated 52% of children in Sindh are still out of school.
According to Mosharraf Zaidi, an education campaigner, despite billions of rupees being “spent” every year on education by the Pakistan Peoples Party’s government, in addition to money spent by international donors over the last 11 years, the ground reality remains depressing and contrary to the claims made by the Sindh government. The province has a total of 42,383 public schools, a number that has declined from 47,557 in 2011. Most schools, around 95%, only offer primary education. Given the situation, dropping out after primary level becomes unavoidable. Meanwhile, the Sindh government has completely failed to share a roadmap to overcome the gap.
Despite forming the rules of business to implement the RTE, Sindh is lagging behind in achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development goals and fulfilling the obligation of free education under the Article 25-A. At the pace with which the Sindh government is working in the name of “reforms”, and with millions of children out of school, we can only pray for a miracle to change the fate of the children of Sindh.
The Balochistan governor approved the Ordinance on Free and Compulsory Education for Balochistan’ on March 12, 2013. The Act is now in place titled Balochistan Compulsory Education Act 2014, officially passed on February 6, 2014. However, like ICT, the Punjab and KP, no rules of business have been made yet to implement the legislation. More than 2.3 million out of 3.6 million school-age children in Balochistan are out of school. It is estimated that around 12,000 primary, middle and high schools are available across the province with 56,000 teachers. But around 2,000 schools are not functioning properly, or closed all together. Moreover, over 3,000 teachers are not performing their duties, and the provincial authorities are yet to initiate any action against them.
The Society for Empowering Human Resources said in a recent report that nearly 47% of school-age children in Balochistan do not have access to education, and more than one million children have never attended school. It is yet to be seen when the Balochistan political leadership and the education authorities wake up from a deep slumber and not only make the rules of business for implementing the Article 25A but also go an extra mile to bring literacy in the province on a par with other parts of the country.