PESHAWAR, March 9: A bill on free and compulsory education in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has been awaiting the provincial cabinet’s approval for more than two years.
The government has held financial constraints responsible for delay in the said legislation.
According to the relevant officials, after the 18th Constitutional Amendment, the elementary and secondary education department prepared the bill proposing provision of free and compulsory secondary education to all children between the age of five and 16 as a constitutional requirement.
The bill was presented before the cabinet in 2010 but it has yet to be approved.
When contacted about delay in legislation for free education, Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain said his government was sincere and wished to provide free and compulsory education to children but it couldn’t do so due to availability of limited finances.
“Free education is the right of every child but financial constraints are the main hurdle to it,” he told Dawn on Saturday.
Article 25A of the Constitution introduced through the 18th Constitutional Amendment says the state shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to sixteen years in such manner may be determined by law.
The minister said realistically speaking, even if the assembly passed the compulsory education law and had no resources to implement it, then it would itself be a violation of the law.
“Our government has spent four per cent of the gross development product on education. The education spending of other provinces are far less,” he said.
According to the bill a copy of which is available with Dawn, parents are bound to admit their children to schools until the completion of secondary education except for reasonable excuses.
Three reasonable excuses are mentioned in the bill for non-attendance of school by a child. Of them, the first one is that if a child is incapable of attending school by reason of sickness, infirmity on mental incapacity or it is not desirable that the child should be compelled to carry on his education on account of peculiar circumstances.
The second reason is that a child, who is receiving instructions equivalent to education otherwise than in school, which, in the opinion of the relevant authority, are sufficient. Similarly, where there is no school within a radius of two kilometres from the residence of the child, are also exempted.
The bill suggests that the government implement this law through parents teachers council (PTC) on school level.
“The PTC will endeavour that every child shall attend a school under its jurisdiction and would take such steps as it may consider necessary or as may be specified by government.
“The parents whose children are not admitted to schools, the PTC, after giving to the parents an opportunity of being heard and after such inquiries as it may consider necessary, may pass an order directing the parents to admit their children to schools,” the bill says.
Officials in education department said the government would require to invest additional Rs40 billion annually in the education sector for five years to implement the proposed law after its approval by the assembly.
They said the money would be used for constructing new schools on need basis.
“Keeping in view the provision of the proposed law that there should be a primary school in radius of 1.5 or two kilometres area, the province needs 22,000 more schools,” an official said.
Another official said the education department had fulfilled its responsibility by forwarding the free education bill to the cabinet in 2010.
“Now, it is the duty of the government to pass it,” he said.
When contacted, regional manager of Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child Jehanzeb Khan said under the 18th constitutional amendment, it was the state’s responsibility to provide free education to children.
He demanded that the provincial government legislate on free education without delay to the benefit of millions of children.