NationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 39

Right to education for all, still a dream

Under Article 25-A of the Constitution of 1973, every child in the age group of five to 16 years is entitled to free education. This Article imposes a constitutional obligation on the authorities concerned to take legislative, financial and administrative measures to ensure no child is denied this fundamental right.

The Constitution of Pakistan, amended almost 11 years back, under a consensus-backed process leading to the passage of the 18th Amendment, clearly bound the state on the ‘Right to Education’, for providing free and compulsory education to all children of age five to sixteen. Education has now become a right and no longer an arbitrary entitlement.

However, these are mere claims until now. Hundreds of thousands of children all over the country are still without this right, even after the passage of more than a decade of the constitutional binding. Some civil society organisations filed a constitutional petition in the Sindh High Court for implementation of Article 25-A in letter and spirit, and seeking the enforcement of the fundamental right to compulsory education. The petition sought a direction to the provincial government of Sindh to establish a commission, composed of reputable members of civil society and government officials, to monitor the implementation of the constitutional obligation of the respondent; to publish a detailed programme of measures to be taken by them to implement Article 25-A and direct the respondent to check and monitor the charging of exorbitant fees by private schools from children.

Quoting the UNESCO Institute of Statistics report in EdStats, the petition referred to the Pakistan public expenditure on education that is only 2.7% of the gross domestic product and the total dropout rate of primary education is at least 39.8%.

Around 19% of children in the country remained out of school last year (2021) whereas the share of private ones fell by 4% compared with the year 2019, according to a report launched in March 2022.

The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2021, however, revealed that the dropout rate in government schools fell a little bit because of the increase in the number of teachers and improvement in classroom conditions. It said that 81% of children were enrolled in government schools whereas 19% were going to private ones.

ASER rural results for 2021 reflected a drop in enrolment for the age group 3 to 5 and 6 to 16 years because of the pandemic and school closures. For the first time during the Covid-19 pandemic, there are more boys in Punjab dropping out of school. These boys are presumably going to child labour and dropping out of schools.

The early childhood education (ECE) has been historically tracked by ASER Pakistan. From 2014, when the ECE enrolment stood at 39%, it has registered a marginal decline to 38% in 2021. The report stated that although ECE was critical for foundational learning readiness in literacy and numeracy, it remains largely ignored as a holistic sub-sector addressing the physical, socio-emotional and cognitive domains.

The petition also quoted the Pakistan Living Standard Measurement Survey, which says that the literacy rate among the children of age 10-plus for Pakistan is 56% of which in Sindh it is 56% and in rural Sindh it is 44%. The primary enrolment in private schools is 35% in Pakistan, while in Sindh it is 27% and in rural Sindh it is 5%.

The civil society petition linked the right to education with the right to life, “as the right to life includes a right to a decent education”. It also mentions the Principles of Policies for governance of the State of Pakistan as enshrined under Article 37 (b), of the Constitution of 1973, that outlines removing “illiteracy and providing free and compulsory secondary education within a minimum possible period”, as duties of the state. Pointing to the abysmal and continuing declining rate of literacy in Pakistan, the petition calls for immediacy of action on the part of the respondent provincial government to ensure that no child is denied access to education.

Even the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government, which was sent packing through a vote of no-confidence in the National Assembly in April 2022, failed to implement the 18th Amendment regarding the education for all initiative. The long-term success of any education reform depends on strengthening the capacity of provincial governments’ education departments, which was the underlying objective of the National Educational Policy Framework (NEPF) 2018.

However, almost all federating units failed to implement the framework. The Punjab government introduced its education policy under the New Deal 2018-2023. The PTI may claim the newness of the 2018-2023 deal, yet the objectives of reducing the number of out of school children (OOSC), ensuring quality education through textbook reform and teacher training, focusing on early education and pre-primary education, improving examination and evaluation and building the capacity of the education sector is similar to the objectives of the previous government, which also ensures the continuity of reform policy — a continuity that is important for strengthening the education sector.

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), where the PTI has been in government for almost nine years, education reforms have had some success. Education in different parts of the province had suffered from neglect at various points in the past two decades, a consequence of the security situation. However, as highlighted by Alif Ailaan in its analysis of KP education reforms, the province has witnessed improvements in school infrastructure and teacher training and recruitment. The government, though, plans to continue focusing on reducing OOSC, increasing enrolment for girls at the secondary level, improving student learning outcomes by improving quality in teaching and learning, ensuring better allocation of budget and addressing regional disparity in provision and access to education within the province.

As far as the state of education in Balochistan is concerned, Alif Ailaan highlighted extreme inequality as the defining feature of the education landscape. Given the security situation, education provision drastically varies across the province. Under the previous government’s education reforms, some gains were made in relation to teacher recruitment and slight improvement in the provision of post-primary education.

The toppled PTI government also failed to address the increasing trust deficit between the federal and Sindh governments, inflicting losses on educational reforms programmes, especially in the light of the push towards uniformity of the education system across Pakistan. That’s why the country is still far from bringing all children in the age group of five to 16 years to schools and providing them with quality education.