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Free education for children may be a distant dream

April 26, 2014

LAHORE: The Punjab Free and Compulsory Education Bill 2013 that may bind the government to ensure education to children aged 5-16 years in the province has been consigned to cold storage, and there is no indication of having it passed from the Punjab Assembly in the near future.

Sources say the bill had been passed by the Punjab cabinet in its previous tenure and consequently presented before the Punjab Assembly. However, the assembly was dissolved after its five-year tenure. Since then, there seems no progress on the subject. Only Punjab Education Minister Rana Mashhood had in February stated the Right to Education Bill, already passed by the Punjab cabinet, would be presented before the Punjab Assembly for approval in the first week of March.

Civil society organisations working for education are continuously demanding the government make the free education bill public for an open debate so it could be made into law, which would be free of controversies and apprehensions.

The Punjab government is supposed to enact the Punjab Free and Compulsory Education Bill to ensure right to free and compulsory education for all children between 5-16 years of age, which was recognised under Article 25(A) incorporated in the 18th Amendment.

In Punjab, millions of children aged 5-16 were still out of school and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif had last week launched Students Enrolment Campaign with a commitment to enrol some four million of such children this year. He also committed to enrolment of all out-of-school children by May 31, 2016.

According to the Punjab Free and Compulsory Education Bill 2013, every child shall have a right to free and compulsory education from Class I to X, non-formal education, vocational education or a combination of all or any of the two.

The bill states the local government shall maintain a record of children up to the age of 16 years, ensure and monitor admission, attendance and completion of education by every child residing within its jurisdiction.

It further states that in case a child above five years of age has not been admitted to any school or after admission could not complete education, the local government shall develop a mechanism to ensure admission of the child in a school according to age, previous class and other circumstances.

The bill states the government and local authority shall have concurrent responsibility for providing funds to offer free and compulsory education to children. The government shall also be required to establish the requisite number of schools and devise a scheme for using the schools in the evening.

It says the government and local authority may encourage enterprises, institutions and other segments of civil society by granting exemption or rebate in taxes and offering incentives for those who establish, maintain or run schools for provision of free and compulsory education to children. The government will also give grants-in-aid to encourage admission and support school attendance of a disadvantaged child.

The bill has also assigned duty to parents to get their children admitted to schools and help them attend, except in the case of a reasonable cause that may be physical or mental incapability to attend a school or already receiving proper education, or there is no school within a distance of two kilometres. The parents failing to perform their duties towards education of their children will not be entitled to any subsidy or poverty-targeted support of the government, the bill states.

Referring to the responsibilities of schools and teachers, it states the government has envisaged that schools shall not collect any capitation fee or subject the child or his parents to any screening. Those violating these provisions will be punished with a fine up to Rs50,000. It says the in-charge of respective schools shall ensure that a student is not subjected to corporal punishment or harassment.

The bill states the government or the prescribed authority shall ensure that the prescribed pupil-teacher ratio is maintained in each school maximum within two years from the date of commencement of this law.

In order to protect the right of children, the bill says the government shall take all necessary measures for effective implementation of this law and inquire into complaints relating to right to education and take appropriate action.

The bill states the Punjab Compulsory Primary Education Act 1994 has been repealed and this law, when enforced, shall have an overriding effect and all other such laws shall be brought in conformity with the scheme and objectives of this law within five years.