EducationVOLUME 16 ISSUE # 04

Mr. PM, education needs practical steps, not pledges

Prime Minister Imran Khan, speaking at a ceremony in the federal capital recently, said now the focus of the government would be on education and health sectors, to come up to the people’s expectations in the real sense. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government had to face lots of hurdles overcoming a severe financial crisis it inherited from the previous government, explained the premier. However, he added, as the country has been put on the right path now, it’s time to give due attention to the most important sectors as far as public interests are concerned.

The Prime Minister’s vision and promise has impressed people once again. His words remind them of his maiden speech after assuming his office almost two years ago, in 2018. In his public address, he admitted that there were over 22.5 million children out of school in the country, and mentioned the fact four times during his speech. He asked people to gauge how much the West had been spending on the education of children.

The premier said a majority of Pakistani children were enrolled in public schools, where education standards were highly unsatisfactory. Resultantly, many parents were forced to get their children educated in private schools, which was a highly expensive exercise for most parents, especially the salaried class.

The Prime Minister not only diagnosed the disease but also offered some solutions to it. He said if the population continued to rise and the mammoth number of children continued to remain out of school, there would be no jobs available to the uneducated Pakistanis.

Presenting his policy guidelines for reforming the sector, the premier said he would like to see the Prime Minister’s House turned into a top-class elite research university. He said his government’s utmost effort would be improving the provision of education in government schools, and the government would do all to raise standards at public institutes. He promised that the education crisis would be treated as an emergency and his government would put out-of-school children back to schools.

How many promises made in the maiden speech have been fulfilled so far is known to almost everyone? The premier had put the number of out-of-school children over 22.5 million. However, latest United Nations Children’s Fund figures show that currently an estimated 22.8 million children aged 5-16 are not attending school, representing 44pc of the total population in this age group. In the 5-9 age group, 5 million children are not enrolled in schools and after primary-school age, the number of out-of-school children doubles, with 11.4 million adolescents between the ages of 10-14 not receiving formal education. In Sindh, 52pc of the poorest children (58pc girls) are out of school, and in Balochistan, 78pc of girls do not go to school.

Almost 10.7 million boys and 8.6 million girls are enrolled at the primary level and this drops to 3.6 million boys and 2.8 million girls at the lower secondary level.

One may present an excuse that with the passage of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan, education has been devolved to provinces, and now the provincial governments are mainly responsible for the promotion of education. But does that absolve the federal government of all responsibilities regarding increase in the literacy rate and promotion of education in the country? What did the Centre do to convince the federating units to take measures for education promotion under an emergency plan? And how much legislation was carried out in the provinces where the PTI is running the show independently, or with the help of ally parties?

According to a report published in April this year in an English-language daily, despite a lapse of complete 10 years, no provincial government, except Sindh, has made the Right to Education (RTE) law a reality. The Article 25-A, inserted into the Constitution in April, 2010, made “free and compulsory education” a right to all children of the age from 5 to 16 in Pakistan.

After the introduction of Article 25-A, RTE laws were a constitutional requirement to be fulfilled by the provincial governments and the federating units. Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) was the first one to introduce the Right to Education Act in 2012, followed by Sindh in 2013, the Punjab and Balochistan in 2014 while among provinces Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa was the late-comer, which introduced its RTE law in 2017, seven years after the Article 25-A became part of the Constitution of Pakistan.

The RTE laws not only define procedures whereby the governments ensure free and compulsory education but also suggest punishments for parents who fail to admit and keep their children in school. “If a parent fails to admit and keep the child in a school, he may not be entitled to any subsidy or poverty targeted support of the government and the government may recommend such a measure to the federal government or any other body providing such subsidy or support,” reads the Punjab’s RTE law.

Similarly, under the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Free Compulsory Primary and Secondary Education Act 2017, parents not admitting and keeping their children in school could be punished with imprisonment up to one month or fine which may extend up to Rs100 per day or with both.

“While significant efforts are evident by the political governments to tackle the challenges of enrolment, quality and access, the definition of the right to a free and compulsory education can only be challenged as a right once the rules of business have been approved and implemented.”

It would be interesting to note that Prime Minister Imran Khan’s party has been in power in the province for the last over seven years. Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJK) governments are yet to introduce their respective RTE laws.

Yet another interesting fact worth a mention here is that while all four provinces and Islamabad Capital Territory have introduced the RTE Acts, only Sindh has so far succeeded in introducing subordinate legislation, the rules of business. But that doesn’t make any difference that Sindh province enacted the RTE and related rules of business. The sector is considered the most neglected one in the province with corruption rife among its officers, lots of ghost schools as well as ghost teachers and low budgetary allocations. The ICT has prepared the rules of business, but is yet to notify them.

According to Baela Raza Jamil, chief executive officer Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi, the right to education (RTE) Acts are toothless sans the rules of business as the laws can’t be implemented without rules in place. The indifference on part of elected assemblies has rendered the country among nations that missed most of education-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that retired in 2015, she tells Cutting Edge by telephone. The same year, Pakistan adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, where Sustainable Development Goals (SDG No-4) pertaining to education is aimed to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. Baela Raza believes that the SGD 4 could only be achieved by ensuring the implementation of RTE laws in letter and spirit.

Keeping in view the past experiences, it is feared that the provincial government would further delay the implementation of the RTE on the pretext of the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic, adds the educationist.

She regrets that education has never been a priority of any government in Pakistan, though almost all prime ministers during their times in office declared education emergencies. She said that education seemed important in manifestos of all political parties, but in reality it did not get due attention.

Baela Raza Jamil said that some 70pc of total out-of-school children in the country belonged to the post-primary level, for whom the government did not establish new schools over the years. She said the governments did not amplify its resources for education all along owing to which true implementation of RTE laws had, indeed, become a huge challenge.

At the start of the current year, Dr. Allah Bakhsh Malik, Secretary School Education Department Punjab, had promised that the department would introduce the rules of business for effective implementation of the RTE law soon. However, he retired in June this year, without fulfilling his promise.

The province is being run by a coalition, with the PTI a major partner. The Punjab still has the largest number of out-of-school children. In 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 data, it could bring only 11.95 million children – or 88.21pc, to school 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 78.1pc, Bahawalpur with a success rate of 78.2pc, Bahawalnagar with a success rate of 81.2pc, Rajanpur with a success rate of 81.8pc and DG Khan and Okara with success rates of 83.3pc, and 84.7pc, respectively. Combined, the eight districts failed to enrol over 657,000 children in school, making up 41pc of the target missed.

Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, being run by Prime Minister Imran Khan’s party, still has 2.5 million out-of-school children; 63pc of total girls are out of school and 30pc of total boys are still out of school.