EducationVolume 14 Issue # 18

Unfulfilled obligations

Recently, the Supreme Court of Pakistan expressed its displeasure over ignoring education, the most important sector in the eyes of the father of the nation, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, by federal as well as provincial governments. The Quaid, in his speech had said: “Education is a matter of life and death for Pakistan. The world is progressing so rapidly that without requisite advance in education, not only shall we be left behind but may be wiped out altogether.” (September 26, 1947-Karachi)

 

But, it seems, neither our rulers know what the Quaid-e-Azam had said about the importance of education, nor the observations made by the apex court could convince them to make education their top priority.

 

“Attorney General for Pakistan as well as advocate generals for the provincial governments should appear before the court with complete data, along with information, regarding fulfilment of the obligation under the Article 25-A of the Constitution,” said the chief justice of Pakistan, while hearing a case of private educational institutions on April 9.

 

The Article 25-A deals with the right to education and obligates the state to provide ‘free’ and “compulsory” education to all children of the age between five and 16 years in such a manner as may be determined by the law.

 

“Earlier, we used to see government schools almost in every street or locality, but now no such educational institutions are in sight,” the chief justice regretted. Instead of laying emphasis on the state to enhance facilities at government schools along with good quality education, private schools are being asked to cut fee, he added.

 

The chief justice touched upon various crucial issues during the case hearing, including a lack of a required number of schools in the country, poor quality of education being provided in government schools, missing facilities in educational institutions and meagre allocations for the sector. The court summoned federal as well as provincial authorities to get latest information about the state of education in the country, as the sector had been devolved to provinces more than nine years back.

On April 19, 2010, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan, devolved education to provinces, and also guaranteed “free and compulsory education for all 5-16 year olds as a fundamental right under the Article 25-A”. It was called a landmark amendment, but regrettably the Centre as well as provinces, Islamabad Capital Territory and other territorial units, including Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJK), Gilgit-Baltistan and erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), have failed to implement the constitutional amendment in letter and spirit.

 

At a time, when 25 million children are out of school, none of the provinces or federating units seems interested in notifying the rules of business to implement the Article 25-A of the Constitution.

 

Ahmad Ali, a research fellow at the Institute of Social and Policy Science, says: “Legislation without rules is like a water tank without a tap for using water.” In a talk with Cutting Edge at a seminar in the federal capital last month, Mr. Ali said the federal government had passed the article in 2012, but since then the Capital Administration & Development Division — the body which looks after 422 education institutions — has yet to take it seriously, as the reshuffling of officers and several levels have made it a daunting task. In Islamabad alone, there are around 45,000 children between the ages of five and 16, who are out of school.

 

The provinces were to get it passed from their respective assemblies, as well as formation of the rules of business for implementing the legislation, but little or no groundwork has been done to that end so far.

 

Three provinces — Sindh, the Punjab and Balochistan — have passed the education law, none of them — including Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu & Kashmir — seems prepared to frame rules of business to implement and streamline the enrolment of children.

 

The Punjab, the most prosperous and population-wise biggest province of Pakistan, first promulgated a free and compulsory education ordinance in 2014, and made it a law in November the same year. However, the rules to implement the law are still unformulated.

 

The Punjab Assembly Standing Committee on Education chairman told an English-language daily that there were several hiccups in notifying the rules, including implementation of the Local Government Act and passage of private education institutions’ regulation bill. Then, we would be in a position to get it done, he added.

 

On the other hand, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa authorities also claim that the relevant law would be enacted soon. As for Sindh, the education special secretary is heading a committee that is formulating the rules of business. “We are formulating the laws and are in talks with the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) for registration of the out-of-school children,” an official told Cutting Edge by telephone.

 

In Balochistan, the province with a little population compared with other provinces, the problem seems to lie with resources. “We don’t have enough funds to cover such a vast area,” the Balochistan education secretary told a reporter. “The government has covered only 12,000 settlements for schools out of 22,000 in the province,” he said.

According to Ahmad Ali, the rules of business pertain to strategy to bring students to school and achieve 100% enrolment by 2030. An Alif Ailaan report, issued last year, said that proportion of out-of-school children increases as the level of education rises as much as that by the higher secondary level almost 85% are not in school.

 

A UNESCO report, released two years back, revealed that public sector schools in Pakistan comprise 75% of the primary education system in the country. The private sector schools consist of 10% while the remaining 15% are madrasas.

 

Ahmad Ali says the figures seem to be heartening, but if we take stock of the nature – let alone the quality of education being imparted in these schools – the numbers become unsettling. Part of the problem flows from the fact that the people who are responsible for enforcing the Article 25-A belong to the upper strata of society and their own children study in private schools, which could not be afforded by poor families. Consequently, they do not have any sufficient incentive to improve the quality of education in public sector schools, which explains why there is bureaucratic inertia in improving the condition of our public sector schools.

 

Another crucial issue is very high dropout rate among schoolchildren. A survey, led by the World Bank, suggests that most children who start school, drop out by the age of nine with just 3% of those starting public school graduating from the final year. This retention rate is abysmal. If only two-fifths of third-grade students have the ability to subtract 25 from 54, then unsurprisingly, many parents will turn away from the system. Resultantly, the difference in enrolment between children of the richest and poorest households is greater in Pakistan than in all of the 96 developing countries.

 

Educationist Ahmad Ali believes many students from low-income backgrounds drop out because of financial constraints. Others who can afford it are reluctant to do so because the poor quality of education, offered in public schools is not worth expending your savings on, as it does not open up many job opportunities. As these damning statistics show, even if these households do spend money on educating their children, it does not guarantee any upward social mobility.

 

The fact that the Centre as well as the federating units and other territories of Pakistan are failing to fulfil their constitutional responsibilities is also evident from the annual budgetary allocations for the sector. The then prime minister, on March 28, 2014, had vowed in front of the national and global leaders that the education budget would be doubled to 4% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). However, after passage of more than five years, the budgetary allocations hover around 2.5%, up from 2%, in the financial year 2018-19.

 

It is also a matter of concern for every citizen of Pakistan that the country is still off-track on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). However, Shafqat Mahmood, minister for Federal Education and Professional Training, told Cutting Edge at a workshop recently that the country stands firmly committed to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to be achieved by 2030. The SDG-4 is a focus on comprehensive education from early childhood to lifelong learning, ensuring the principles of inclusion and equity.

 

The minister says that the SDG-4, in its scope of seven targets and three means of implementation, encompasses the age group 5-16 as per the Article 25-A and also pre-school, post-secondary, tertiary and technical education as lifelong learning.

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