While going about day to day activities, there is nothing to suggest that education for everyone aged 5-16 years is defined in the Constitution as a fundamental right. From the children who clean windscreens to the toddlers playing on the pavement and those who pass by unflinching; we, as a society, exude apathy when it comes to the education of our future generations, among other things.
The exact wording in article 25A of the Constitution is:
“The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to 16 years in such manner as may be determined by law.”
According to a report by the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency on the enforcement of article 25A, further support is needed to develop it.
Further legislation is needed to define and elaborate different modalities and rules for provision of free and compulsory education, as spelled out in last part of Article 25-A “in such a manner as may be determined by law.” This law has yet to be framed and approved by the Assemblies.
The National Assembly passed the ‘right to free and compulsory education bill’ last year while the Sindh government recently took a big step forward by passing the free education bill and thus far, remains the only province to have done so.
However, it must be asked why it took so long for the framework to be defined for what is described as a basic right? And why there is no action from the other provinces?
Moreover, when our politicians can go through the trouble of passing the law, why is there no regulation which ensures the implementation of said laws?
I have spent several evenings with children at the Blackboard Learning Centre (BLC), which is a free-for-all, after-school centre for children going to government schools, ranging from kids in kindergarten to students studying in grade six.
The centre is a place where children’s understanding of what they learn in school is reinforced to help them improve their concepts, with the ultimate aim of equipping them to be transferred to better schools. It is also open for students who are not enrolled in school and the two groups follow separate plans.
The initiative, started by Abu Turab Zaidi, operates with the help of volunteers and donations.
“BLC was established to supplement the education already being imparted to children in whichever schools their parents can send them to,” Zaidi said.
Citizens like Zaidi, who are privileged enough to be helping the less fortunate, are stepping up where the government fails its people. While it is a commendable effort, it must be asked why there is even a need for such initiatives? Why is the government not waking up to the problem of the deteriorating standard of education?
During one of the classes, I asked the teacher at BLC (who also teaches at a government school) why the children in senior classes had the same understanding of basic concepts as the children in the junior classes.
The teacher’s reply, which was shocking as well as saddening, made the case for BLC’s efforts to transfer children out of government school and to better schools, stronger.
She explained that the children are promoted to senior classes even if they fail because the teachers have to maintain a certain pass/fail ratio. If this ratio is not maintained, the teachers are questioned and in some cases, replaced. So, in order to save themselves and their jobs, the teachers promote students even if they are not competent enough.
This cycle leads to entire generations of people who reach the intermediate level and can barely spell their names in English, a subject which is part of their curriculum since pre-school.
How much of a difference are initiatives such as BLC going to make when everything about the system reeks of insincerity? The children are eager to learn and are being sent to schools but who is responsible for what is happening inside the classrooms?
Even if education is proritised by parents belonging to the lower class, their resolve is shot down by the substandard education on offer which does not equip their children with skill or knowledge. They see a better alternative in using their children for labour, which contributes to another problem of society.
Our people want better futures, but who is listening?