With half of Pakistan’s population living below the poverty line, the poor here take no interest in sending their children to school. Instead they let them take up low-paid menial jobs.

The Pakistan Social and Living standards Measurement (Pslm) Survey shows that at present 7.3 million children aged between five to nine years are out of school. The overall number of Pakistani children missing schools hovers around 20 million.

Children aged between five and 14 years hardly complete their education, while children aged 16 to 20 lose interest in acquiring professional education due to lack of resources to meet their education expenses. Furthermore, the mushroom growth of private schools has created problems for poor families since such education is too expensive for them.

To enhance the literacy rate in the country, the NGOs have suggested that the government should enforce article 25-A under the 18th Amendment in the country. This article obligates the state to provide free and compulsory quality education to the children in the age group of five to 16 years. The free education is to be provided by the federal and provincial governments.

The inclusion of this article in the constitution was a historical step. It opened the door for making elementary education completely free and compulsory and ensured that every child be provided with the fundamental right of acquiring good quality education. But as this constitutional provision is yet to be enforced (despite being part of the constitution), many poor families are deprived of free education.

Though the federal government has declared ‘Education for All’ its top priority, yet free education is still inaccessible to the common man because there is no action being taken on their plans.

It has been observed that the education budget has been increased manifold so that the provinces can meet the challenges effectively. Special federal grants have also been provided to the provinces, particularly for under-developed regions. A Basic Education Trust Fund has been established by the government and local philanthropists also contribute to the fund. The financial operations of this fund shall be properly audited to ensure that all donations are put to the right use. Other initiatives of the federal government include the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP). According to the BISP chairperson, three million non school going children of beneficiary families will be provided free education under the Waseela-e-Taleem programme this year.

But even with all the available funding mentioned, the bottom line results are still not satisfactory due of lack of effective planning.

Let’s now take a look at the initiatives taken at the provincial government level with respect to free education.

The provinces have the major responsibility of providing good quality free education. The Punjab Government has made some relentless efforts in providing modern education to deserving children without considering their economic status. The Danish Schools, established in the backward areas of the province are providing quality education to the children of farmers, cab drivers, cart pushers and poor families, free of cost. The Punjab Government ensures free distribution of course books and other necessary stationary items to the schools. Separate schools for boys and girls are established where highly-qualified local and foreign teachers are teaching very effectively. The provincial government is also providing vocational training to the poor and needy people. This training is being launched at the provincial level so that the youth can gain technical skills for getting employment.

The Government of Sindh has launched a major initiative called the Benazir Bhutto Shaheed Youth Development Programme (BBSYDP). The project under this development programme (BBSYDP Technical Education Wing Sindh TEVTA phase 1V-2012) is offering unemployed youth with skill-development training and job-oriented certification to qualify for the local and international markets. Low-income families facing severe economic problems are benefitting since poor unemployed youth get both technical education and training from the same institution.

The Sindh Education Foundation (SEF) has been facilitating new approaches to learning and education and development opportunities to underprivileged people at the grassroots level. With financial support from the Department of Education and Literacy, Government of Sindh, the foundation has expanded its network to around 3,000 schools in the underserved areas of Sindh where quality education is provided free of cost.

The present government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has put its plan to provide free compulsory education up to the secondary level. The government at least needs 40 billion over the next four to five years to execute its plans. The required funds will be spent on the construction of new schools and distribution of free books among the students. The government aims to provide best educational facilities despite having limited resources.

Meanwhile, Balochistan today presents a dismal picture with hardly any province-wide literacy project. No one is guiding the government to make up for the lost time and start opening literacy centres. There is hardly any activity to spread literacy in the province, mainly due to the fact that there has been a net decrease in the financial allocation for education there. Out of these meagre allocations, not even 0.5 per cent is being spent on literacy programmes in the province.

In view of the above, the government should provide more funds for rapidly upgrading literacy programmes in the provinces, to meet the target of enhancing literacy rate in the country.

The NGOs are playing a pivotal role in providing free education in Pakistan. These organisations have motivated the poor families to enroll their children in schools. They have opened new schools and also renovated the old depleted ones in katchi abadis to accommodate a large number of children in the community. The World Bank, Unicef and other NGOs have an arrangement with the government to provide funds for the provision of uniforms, books and other stationary items to the needy students. Scholarships and loans are also given to these students to encourage them to acquire education.

To create awareness regarding the importance of education among people, a motivational campaign has been launched by political and religious leaders and social workers throughout the country. The role of the media cannot be undermined as a powerful medium which could help influence the government and society to pay due attention to this neglect.

Still despite the all the mentioned efforts, the literacy rate in our country is very low. The reasons for this have to be investigated and rectified. Consequently, the whole society and the concerned departments of the state are responsible for the provision of free and compulsory elementary education for all children. Furthermore, the Article 25-A of the Constitution needs to be enforced without discrimination. Neither the federal nor the provincial government has taken the required steps for its implementation so far, although the deadline set for it was June 2011.

The writer is a teacher.

sadiawali@hotmail.com


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