AMONGST the fundamental rights the 1973 constitution grants is the right to free and compulsory education to children from five to 16 years under Article 25A, in “such manner as may be determined by law”. Likewise, Article 37 of the chapter ‘Principles of Policy’, also puts emphasis on education.
The principles of policy do not confer legal rights or provide legal remedies. They are instruments of instruction or general recommendations that are addressed to all authorities in the state to remind them of the basic principles of the new social and economic order promoted by the constitution.
The fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution have to be enforced by the state, and in the case of their violation the courts are duty-bound to provide legal remedies available under the law.
If in any part of Pakistan there are lapses in ensuring elementary education (in public institutions), if schools and educational institutions have not been created, and there are obstacles to providing free elementary education — for instance, lack of teachers and funds, and schools being blown up — the superior courts can be approached. Or they can take suo motu action against the violation of this right.
The prime objective of these constitutional guarantees is to enable the efficient participation of citizens in the progress of the country.
In this context, merely inserting education in the list of fundamental constitutional rights appears insufficient in the absence of practical steps.
The state of education is appalling in Pakistan. The situation can be gauged from reports that suggest that 25 million children are deprived of education in Pakistan, never mind their constitutional rights. Equally shocking is the fact that every 10th child in the world who does not attend school is a Pakistani.
According to the UN’s International Human Development Indicators, Pakistan spends only 2.7 per cent of GDP on education which comes to less than the subsidy our national airline receives every year.
Female education, especially in the terror-hit areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata, has suffered even more. Some reports indicate that since 2009 over 300 schools have been blown up by the Pakistani Taliban in the area.
The decentralisation of education was done by the previous government. Local governments were given administrative control of schools and the federal government was responsible for planning, policymaking, provision of funds and for enacting laws regarding the curricula, for establishing centres of excellence and determining the standards of education.
The provincial governments were made responsible for overall monitoring and higher education. This arrangement could have existed but none of the provincial governments established a vibrant local bodies system despite the constitutional requirement under Article 140A.
The newly elected democratic government amended the Concurrent Legislative List through the 18th Amendment, and education devolved to the provinces.
Under this new arrangement provincial governments are liable for funding, planning, policymaking and for all other necessary steps leading to the betterment of education in their respective territories.
The provincial assemblies have been given the power to enact laws to regulate educational institutions and develop syllabus and curricula.
This arrangement was put in place with the objective of bringing education systems under effective administrative control and improving the standard and quality of education in the country.
Unfortunately, it has been observed that the provincial governments have miserably failed to establish an effective regulatory system and also fallen short of creating uniform, modern curricula.
Devolution seems to have been introduced without taking its perils into account. Clearly, the framers of the 18th Amendment failed to realise the dire effects of haphazard decentralisation.
In the absence of central control on the curriculum, the standard and quality of education has deteriorated even more and the gap between public and private education (not including the religious seminaries) is increasing day by day.
In line with this constitutional change, where the devolved departments and powers of local government are concerned, the chief ministers are exercising financial and other control according to their own discretion.
The best way to provide uninterrupted and comprehensive education is to administer it through the local bodies system.
It is important to note that devolution and decentralisation of administrative controls is imperative for the provision of effective education but at the same time no state can afford numerous educational systems at the primary level.
In Pakistan we must have a uniform curriculum at the elementary level in order to prepare a sound academic foundation and reduce the intellectual divide.
Education being the most important fundamental right needs to be treated with utmost seriousness. The government must rebuild the schools of Fata and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and make arrangements to provide free and compulsory education all across Pakistan.
The immediate and unhindered provision of education is a constitutional responsibility of the state and its organs. Meanwhile, the blowing up schools is an attempt to abrogate Article 25A of the constitution. And abrogation is defined as high treason liable to punishment under Article 6 of the constitution.
The writer is an advocate.