Illustration by AbroWe’re adept at making laws, but there is no mechanism for their implementation. Therefore the Sindh Provincial Bill (Article 25-A) Right to Free and Compulsory Education is another addition to a plethora of laws that have remained unimplemented in Pakistan.
Many questions are being raised about the implementation of the new education law. There are several reasons for this. The laws adopted in the past have remained inoperative, giving no results. Education in Sindh has gone from bad to worse since the promulgation of the Sindh Compulsory Primary Education Ordinance of 2001. So what difference will the new legislation make?
There is no denying the fact that free and compulsory education should be a privilege for all children irrespective of their class and gender.
Though an education advisory council, comprising nine educationists, has been proposed to implement the act, past experiences show all such panels have proved indifferent.
There would have been much improvement even if the 2001 ordinance, which now stands repealed, had been implemented in letter and spirit. The same is the case with employment of children’s acts of 1991 and 2001 and the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act of 1992. Today there are millions of children out of school and doing labourious jobs. Occasionally, children and their parents are found working as bonded labour. Many more children are working in insecure environments and subjected to torture.
Before Sindh, the National Assembly had passed a free and compulsory law for the Islamabad capital territory. Under the federal law, parents who would refuse to send their children to school would be penalised. The punishment may include a Rs25,000 fine and three-month imprisonment. Those guilty of making children do labourious work would be fined Rs50,000. Additionally, they would undergo six months’ imprisonment.
Education for children across the country is a basic human right. But access to free and compulsory education in rural areas is still a long way to go, especially for girl students.
The government has made laws for Sindh and the federal capital, but enforcing these laws is the need of the hour. In India, a bill for free and compulsory education was passed for the entire country in 2009.
The National and Sindh assemblies passed the bills unanimously to ensure free and compulsory education to all children of ages five to 16 years. In Sindh, private schools would be bound to reserve 10 per cent admissions for disadvantaged and terrorism-affected children. The criterion of disadvantaged children is those children whose parents earn less than Rs8,000. There are fines for the private school owners if they violate the law and charge fees from the disadvantaged children. Such owners may be fined between Rs50,000 to Rs100,000 for violating the law. They could face imprisonment ranging from one to three months. There are even fines for parents who would refuse education for their children.
The fact is that most of the parents now have realised the benefits of education and allow their daughters to get education along with the boys in the classrooms. Being taught by male teachers is also not an issue anymore. But there are still some families out there which are not comfortable with that idea.
The main constraint for girls’ education is that schools are not in close proximity to their homes. The parents of girls often stop their education at class five because the girls are not allowed to travel to other towns or cities due to security reasons. Despite the fact people in rural areas have realised the importance and benefits of education for girls. Still education is a privilege that is reserved for boys. Most of the village girls get primary or deeni (religious) education.
The boys can manage to travel in buses to go to places several kilometres away but it is unsafe for girls to travel in local buses for further education. Schools within reach of each child are necessary to increase the literacy rate. Empowering women is the focus of many feminist groups and most of them agree that education can pave the way for their emancipation.
“The state shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to 16 years in such a manner as may be determined by law,” says the Constitution of Pakistan.
Under the bill, provision of free and compulsory education to all children of age five to 16 years is the state’s responsibility.
Now there is a need for a proper mechanism for the implementation of this law and the availability of schools that are within the reach of each child. There must be separate officials responsible for enforcing this free and compulsory education law. If the government can’t provide schools in all areas, then it must provide transport to take the children to nearby schools. There must be officials who regularly visit the schools and check the attendance of teachers and students as well. There can also be consultation with the community and parents about teachers’ postings. Though some laws offer incentives like scholarships there could be provision of giving cash and one-time meals to children, like in India, in order to increase classroom enrolment. More than that there is a need to make such laws workable and result-oriented.
The writer is a member of staff.