Each time we encounter through macabre media stories about child rapes; torture on child domestic labor, child labor, young suicide bombers, cannibals eating dead children’s bodies in Bhakkar repeatedly let loose by the authorities, slums being dismantled without notice where the most vulnerable children are getting education in Pehli Kiran schools, we are reminded about the illusion of entitlements in Article 25 A on the Right to Education (RTE), its promises and prospects. Just to remind our readers, Article 25 A was the best gift for citizens and children of Pakistan by the democratic government on April 19th 2010 as a fundamental constitutional right to education under the 18th Amendment. It states “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.”
Four years down the road on this historic day our stocktaking reveals that the children of Pakistan must wait some more.
On December 24th 2012 RTE was passed in Islamabad for ICT. On March 12th 2013 the act was passed for Sindh; In March 2013 the Ordinance was passed in Balochistan now enacted by the current government in 2013. In January 2014 the Draft Bill was cleared by the Cabinet in Punjab which awaits passing by the Assembly, whilst Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa has a draft bill ready but to date it has not been made public or shared at formal levels for enactment. (All enactments can be accessed at www.rtepakistan.org )
No rules have been made thus far for implementation and like many laws this too may be a half measured action of the state if not addressed with urgency. On a more positive note each one of the acts in many ways has an inclusionary perspective on early childhood education, special education measures and in the case of Punjab – technical vocational education. Having said that, private sector unlike India; where reservation for any child seeking admission is 25%, in Pakistan it is only 10%. Whilst in India the cost is being compensated at government rates, in Pakistan there is no clarity or dialogue on these provisions and many more. Alongside, in India the implementation of RTE has been not smooth at all; many contentious issues persist across haves and have nots and across public and private systems giving the impression that the non-compliance punishments are only for the private sector whilst public sector gaps go unnoticed.
In Pakistan the fear of delays on making of rules where enactments have taken place (ICT/Sindh/ Balochistan), nor the announcement of Education Advisory Councils as mandated by all acts, is a major concern to the public and the people are not silent. Several public interest litigation (PIL) cases have been filed for the implementation of Article 25-A. One such petition was filed by the Pakistan Coalition for Education (PCE) in January 2013. Following a hearing regarding case on January 30, 2014, the Islamabad High Court issued an order for immediate enactment and implementation of Article 25 A. Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui stated in the order “that all respondents including Ministry of Education, Ministry of Finance and Federal Directorate of Education” to file a report and para-wise comments within a fortnight. The petition demands promulgation of secondary legislation based upon minimum standards set as an example for the rest of the provincial education ministries. To date there has been little action. Other PILs have been filed in the High Courts of Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi.
Recently in India a powerful Public Interest Litigation was filed by National Coalition for Education (NCE) in the Supreme Court regarding non-implementation of Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009 for 6-14 year olds. The august bench headed by the Chief Justice P.Sathasivam, issued notice on the PIL which sought construction of 150,000 new schools or expansion of the existing institutions; noting that there was a "systematic and widespread violation of children's right to education across the country" including non-compliance of the several specific requirements under the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009
Similarly, the RTE ACT of ICT 2012 and Sindh 2013 clearly define the duty and obligation of the government to provide quality and basic infrastructure within the legal jurisdiction. However, ASER Pakistan (2013) states that 51% children in Class 5 cannot read a sentence of class 2 level in Urdu/Sindhi/Pushto, 57% of Class 5 cannot read sentences in English of Class 2 and 57% class 5 children can do Class 2 level division. Simultaneously, 53% and 36% primary government schools do not working toilets or drinking water respectively. This clearly states the policy gaps amongst the nebulous legislation that has been passed and the reality that exists.
In Pakistan the implementation phase is awaited. The rules in India are being taken as a blue print where the fundamentals on education budgets; enrolment, compensatory programs have a different evolution under the nationwide campaign Sarva Shiksha Abhyaan (SSA). Whilst India’s education budget is 4 % of GDP, in Pakistan it has been held down to under 2%, with recent announcement by the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to enhance to 4% by 2018!
In Pakistan, rule making must be an authentic exercise aligned to our baselines, our realities across public and private sectors and backed by parliamentarians, bureaucrats, citizens and judiciary at all levels for strong visible actions. What is clear that an undertaking such as 25 A requires resources, imagination, benchmarking with conviction that this is an act of inclusion and quality so that indignity and violence against children can end. It must happen immediately to show that Pakistan can accelerate its pace towards meeting MDGs and plan for beyond universal primary education for children aged 5-16 to address pre-primary up to secondary level and post-secondary learning for 21st century challenges. 25 A must become a reality about entitlements, capabilities, human happiness with responsibilities for our children and youth, for this generation, and the generations to come.
Baela Raza Jamil is the Director Programs for the Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA), Center for Education and Consciousness. She is a public policy specialist, former technical adviser Ministry of Education, Pakistan and activist in the education sector. She is also a member of the Technical Advisory Group of the UN Secretary General’s Global Initiative on Education, member Advisory Board of the Global Monitoring Report (GMR) Paris, Advisory Board on Assessment UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS) and professionally associated with BAICE, CIES, SAFED, ARNEC & ASBAE.