About five years ago it was a historic moment when Article 25-A was incorporated in the Constitution of Pakistan through 18th Amendment which affirms that “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”. Article 25-A brought some hope to improve the grim situation of education in the country which hosts the second largest number of out of school children in the world after only Nigeria. However, today the state of education in Pakistan remains dismal. The 18th Amendment also devolved the subject of education from federal to provincial governments and now provinces have command to formulate their policies regarding education. Legislation for the right to education has been passed in Sindh, Balochistan, Punjab and Islamabad capital territory. The province of Khyber Pakhtunkhawa (KP), however, is still in process of drafting a bill.
After successful legislation at the federal level, there have not been very positive signs for the implementation of the Act at provincial level. The Punjab Free and Compulsory Education Act 2014 guarantees that the private schools will provide free education to 10 percent students. But how will private schools ensure this and what will be the mechanism or criteria of enrollment of those 10 percent students, especially in elite schools of urban areas? Though Punjab’s education indicators are better than other provinces but still there are myriad challenges of enrollment, retention and quality of education. ‘About 17% children in Punjab have never been to school. This ratio is much higher in Sindh and KP where 37 percent and 25 percent children have never been to school respectively,’ according to a UNESCO Report on Education in Pakistan.
Although in the previous budget almost all the provinces have increased their education budget but still Pakistan is lagging behind in the field of education both in terms of access and quality of education. The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER 2014) shows the decline in the learning levels of children by 5 percent in 2014. In the rural areas survey which was carried out across the country, only 46 percent children of class five can read story in Urdu, Sindhi or Pashto languages which was 50 percent in 2013. Similarly about 42 percent children of class 5 could read sentences in English and 40 percent children could do two digit division in Mathematics. In urban areas situation is comparatively better but not satisfactory. In assessment of the quality of learning in Urdu, English and Mathematics, the ratio was 60%, 56% and 53% respectively. The private schools have better performance in terms of learning levels as compared to government schools. On the other hand 21 percent children between the ages of 5 to 16 years are out of school, the same proportion as that of 2013. Another important aspect which was noticed in the report was the growing trend of paid private tuition, especially in private schools children of urban areas where 42 percent of surveyed students were taking tuition after school hours. The report highlights the positive trend in teachers and students attendance where government school teachers and students have almost equal ratio of attendance (about 90 %). The schools were lacking in a number of essential facilities and multi grade teaching is also a trend observed in the findings.
In a recent briefing session with parliamentarians which was organized by Pakistan Coalition of Education regarding the implementation of the Punjab Free & Compulsory Education Act 2014, the School Education Department’s Deputy Secretary Budget and Finance, Mr. Qaiser Rashid admitted that there are almost 6,000 schools in Punjab where multi grade teaching is being provided to students.
The major issues confronting the implementation of free and universal education include insufficient budget allocation, rampant corruption, administrative expenditures, lack of transparency, outdated curriculum and last but not least the lack of political will to revamp the education sector. Education sector has never been the top priority of our successive regimes. As a result of this criminal negligence Pakistan will not be able to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) on education by 2015. Pakistan is hardly spending 2 percent of GDP – Gross Domestic Product – on education sector which needs to be enhanced. The Global Partnership for Education organized its Replenishment Pledging Conference in Brussels, on June 26, 2014 as part of its second replenishment campaign. The government of Pakistan has pledged the amount of worth 9,495 million dollar for education sector and aims to gradually increase the budget allocations up to 4 percent of GDP by 2018.
The 18th Amendment has empowered the provincial governments for implementing the right to education in the country. The provincial oversight can improve the service delivery and ensure transparency and accountability. It is high time to impose education emergency in the country on war footing. It is the need of the hour to do some practical steps rather than sweeping dust under the carpet. The state of Pakistan must fulfill its promise to enroll every child into school so that we could stand on equal footing with the comity of nations.