February 20, 2013
Understanding the precise process of implementing Article 25A of the 1973 constitution of Pakistan in its true letter and spirit is a profound one, which is to-date, not completely understood by the majority. The simple statement of Article 25 A enshrined in the eighteenth constitutional amendment on April 19, 2010, “The state shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to sixteen years in such a manner as may be determined by law” entails complex implications for implementation within the educational setup in Pakistan as we know it. The State according to Article 7 of the Constitution comprises Federal and Provincial governments ‘and such local authorities in Pakistan as are by law empowered to impose any tax or cess “in the federation.
The 1973 constitution had declared free and compulsory education up till the secondary level primarily the responsibility of the state through Article 37 B. The Punjab Compulsory Primary Education Act, 1994, the N.W.F.P Compulsory Primary Education, Act 1996, Sindh Compulsory Primary Education Ordinance 2001 and ICT Compulsory Primary Education Ordinance 2002 are all examples of efforts to apply this notion, however unfortunately, with little success (23% rural children still out of school). One major reason for this is that the implementation process was flawed and non-existent. Moreover, since Article 37 B was part of Principles of Policy, the state was only obligated to provide free and compulsory education subject to availability of resources. Now that the same comes under fundamental rights chapter, the state is duty bound at all levels to provide free and compulsory education to all children aged five to sixteen’ to devise immediate legislation to provide this fundamental right.
Exactly 32 months down the road, the federation score card is as follows:
a) The first Right to Free and Compulsory Education Bill 2012 has been signed by the president on December 19th, 2012 whereby it is now declared a law for the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT). The next step is to make the rules of business prior to its implementation.
b) Sindh has taken the lead by passing “Sindh Rights of Children to Free and Compulsory Education 2013 Bill” recently. Punjab has drafted legislations but not presented in the cabinet and the assembly for approval. Punjab has not shared the draft laws with the public.
c) Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have not drafted the Bill with reservations about resources.
d) Pakistan Muslim League – Q has presented their own draft bill to the Punjab Assembly on December 24, 2012 suggesting that Pakistan will witness a plethora of such bills on party lines rather than on non-partisan basis.
While the declaration of Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2012 for ICT is indeed welcome, it is expected that implementation will face multiple problems.
Firstly, since the actual enforcement of this Act will be dependent on the ‘rules of business’ including identifying roles and responsibilities, unpacking these will create chaos. For example, section 3 of the ICT Act states that education must be provided in a “neighborhood school”, but the definition of “neighborhood” will be given in the rules; will education be left out where it seems inconvenient?
Secondly, the draft Bill should have been open to public debate to widen ownership and reduce ambiguities. Currently, the ICT Act is insensitive to ‘religion’ (no mention of religion in non-discrimination clause) and ‘gender’ (the use of “he” only) and is also impractical. For example, the bill says that private schools will have to provide free education to 10% of its enrolled deserving children without actually explaining how the low cost private schools can manage this. Nevertheless, one sincerely hopes that the formation of rules will be more comprehensive with clear institutional jurisdiction of territory and responsibility. According to the latest survey ICT has only 5% children out of school (ASER 2012).
Along with these technical considerations, making RTE a reality requires mass mobilization for awareness raising and advocacy. The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) with more than 9000 volunteers covering 132 rural and 6 urban districts for the year 2012 serves as a major community mobilizer. Media campaigns are also powerful for mass mobilization. Since ASER comprises volunteers from the same locality, it helps the people understand their own village issues pertaining to this fundamental right – particularly issues of access, quality and equity. With the devolution of power to provinces, the ASER data gives a clear landscape of the targets of access and quality. For instance even though 34% children are out of school in Balochistan (28 out of 30 districts surveyed), unfortunately no legislation is being debated in this province. Moreover, the shockingly low learning levels for reading Urdu/Local Language taught reveal that pedagogies need to be revised, especially in Sindh, Khyber Pakhunkhwa and Balochistan (40%, 43% and 37% children enrolled in class five can read a simple Urdu/Sindhi/Pashto Story respectively).
Article 25 A has been a boon to the fundamental rights of the citizens in Pakistan. However, to optimize it, one must read it in conjunction with Article 25 or “Equality of Citizens”, as the latter embeds Right to Education (25A) for ALL! With Pakistan having the highest number of out of school children in South Asia (second highest in world) equity seems distant, the most agonizing part remains resources to education. According to the Economic Survey of Pakistan 2011-12 Pakistan spends barely 2% of its GDP on education. Moreover, the issue of each political party presenting its own RTE draft bill complicates matters further by opening a whole new debate of either uniting for the cause of education or making it a source of political pre-election gain. With the pitiable level of resource allocation and lack of will to engage the public in legislation, the road to enforcing Article 25 A seems quite a challenge – a challenge that the Right to Education Pakistan Initiative (www.rtepakistan.org ) with ASER at its backbone and media alliances such as Zara Sochiye has accepted to undertake.
 Annual Status of Education Report 2012