THE will of politicians can be gauged from the fact that two years have lapsed since the 18th Amendment which gave the right of free education to every citizen by inserting Article 25, ‘Right to education’. Unfortunately, provinces are still far from implementing the bill in the assembly.
Although funds allocated for health and education have been transferred to MPAs for local schemes, education is not a priority. The bill contains many vague definitions. For example, it says: “The state will provide free and compulsory education to all children from the age of five to 16.”
The RTE (Right of Education) India Act came into being in 2008 and all the clauses included in the RTE Pakistan are copied word for word. It is worth mentioning here that globally the age group to provide free and compulsory education is from three to 16, but we lowered India’s age by offering it to children from five to 16 compared to India’s RTE age group which is six to 16.
Second, it is not clear if the state would provide free education to children who have not been able to attain education due to some reason or the other. Will he or she be readmitted to school after 16 years?
Third, the bill states that it would facilitate children who are coming from far-off places, but it is not clear if the state would provide transportation or compensation.
Besides, before devolution of ministries, the state was spending 2.5 per cent of the GDP on education but surprisingly with the shrinkage of ministries the budget also shrank to 2.1 ranking the lowest in the world, which spends less than 2.3 per cent on education.
On the one hand, the centre is transferring authority to provinces and, on the other hand, it is restraining the provinces by cutting the budget. Providing free education implies bringing more children back into the school, making more buildings and hiring new teachers. For all this to happen we need more money as well.
According to a survey, 9.5 million children are out of school in the country and the way the population increases by 2.1 per cent it is an uphill task to provide free education without any penny.
Homework needs to be done before implementing the bill. There is a need to set up an education commission to frame policies to ensure access and quality of education. Many countries have adopted the policy to set penalty on parents who do not enrol their children at schools; the same should be followed here because only financial obligation can produce a sense of ownership which is entrusted to provide quality education and bring back children to schools.
Once the bill is enacted, policies have to be framed by the education department and to be enforced by EDO and DDO at district level later on.
There is a need to strengthen the existing department and sections rather than setting up parallel department by investing a huge budget. If the same amount is spent on the existing structure by building their capacity and enhancement, much amount and energy can be saved.
Last but not least, if we really want to set up a literate society, we need to put the right people at the right place and, more importantly, there is a dire need for political will to implement the bill. We need mass mobilisation to influence the ERs, and all NGOs, civil society members and media are requested to make efforts like introducing a signature campaign or sending postcards to children from across provinces from, for instance, chief ministers or education ministers or start a million-man march to emphasise education.
ASHFAQ AHMED SIYAL Karachi