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On Campus : Education bill needs exhaustive discourse

Updated May 20, 2014
- File Photo
- File Photo

THE promulgation of “The Punjab Free and Compulsory Education Ordinance 2014” and its consequent introduction in the Punjab Assembly and referring to the Standing Committee on Education has earned widespread accolades but all stakeholders are in unison in saying that the law must be debated at length before enactment.

The ordinance has provided for Right To Education to all 5-16 years of age children in the province in line with the implementation of Article 25-A that was inserted in the Constitution under the 18th amendment in 2010.

Believing that the law will soon be passed by the Punjab Assembly, the stakeholders say the Punjab government should also act promptly by making rules for implementation of the law. They say the Punjab government had enacted the Punjab Compulsory Primary Education Act 1994 but it could never be implemented as rules were not framed. This Act has now been repealed.

In order to develop a better law, the stakeholders say the proposed law should immediately be translated into Urdu and public in general and key groups affected by it in particular including teachers, private and public schools; TVET bodies, civil society organisations and rights-based institutions should debate and render meaningful inputs to the rule-making process. The stakeholders also discuss that the government now needs to hold local body elections at the earliest to establish local councils as well as make suitable financial commitments to implement the law in letter and spirit.

Dr Baela Raza Jamil, director programmes at Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA), who has organised several policy dialogues and seminars for the implementation of Right To Education, says the Punjab ordinance as well as enactments on Article 25-A by the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT), Sindh and Balochistan reveal a progressive stance on areas of early childhood education as well as special and inclusive education. The Punjab ordinance, she says, goes a step further as it includes technical and vocational education as well. She says the Article 2 (m) enjoins that the youth in 16 plus age group will be supported for technical and vocational education.

She, however, regrets that neither Sindh and Balochistan nor the ICT have so far framed rules and rendered the enactments as passive instruments – so far.

Giving a critical appraisal of the Punjab ordinance that comprises six chapters and 26 articles, Dr Baela says there are specific definitional and broader areas of concern that must be addressed by the Standing Committee prior to the debate. In Chapter I, she says the Article 2 (a) definition says “child” means child of any or no gender from the age of 5-16”. The words “no gender” must be replaced by a child of any gender from the age of 5-16 to account for all genders.

Similarly, she says, the Article 1 (c) in Chapter I defines “disadvantaged child as a child, who belongs to a socially and economically disadvantaged class, or to any other group having disadvantage owing to social, cultural, gender or such other reasons or who belongs to such a parent, whose annual income is less than the limit which the government may, by notification specify.” This definition, she says, does not include reference to minorities or those affected by ‘terrorism or conflict’ and certainly not include children with disabilities.

In the Sindh enactment of March 2013, Dr Baela says the “disadvantaged” definition includes those children whose parents have been affected by terrorism” but also excludes minorities and children with special needs.

Under Chapter III, Article 9, 3 (a) referring to duty of parent to admit a child failing which “entitlements for subsidy or poverty targeted support” (social safety nets) may not be extended, she says a derogatory term “child’s mental incapacity” must be replaced by “child’s extreme different abilities”, which will include a range of disabilities for which a mainstream education option is not desirable and a ‘special school’ may be referred to, which has been covered in the ordinance.

Referring to Article 17 – subsection 2 that refers to duties of teachers and head teachers, she says, it does not refer to continuous professional development of teachers. With regard to failure in performing duties that may lead to “disciplinary action”, she asks, whether this clause extends to both public and private sector teachers?

With regard to Article 18 (Chapter V) titled “Protection of Right to Children” pertains to monitoring of right to education given to the government or prescribed authority, Dr Baela suggests that this needed to be clearly elaborated in rules to be made to ensure that citizens are part of such an authority in an ombudsman status.

She also calls for addressing the punishment regimes and renditions like “Protection of action taken in good faith” during the rule-making process, which should be sensitive to circumstance and principles of equity and justice.

The Article 24 “Power to make rules” appears to be giving powers only to the government and there is no reference to an Education Advisory Council (EAC) or something similar to ensure that the government is not alone in being the judge and the executive.

In the Sindh and ICT acts, she says there is a reference to the formation of an EAC or equivalent to make rules. The government alone as it stands in Article 24 must not be the sole authority to do so to ensure impartiality and equal extension of rules to government and private schools, she asserts.

Still, Dr Baela says, the Punjab ordinance compared to other acts on Article 25-A in the country is more independent and broad based, but there is also a concern that it is “government oriented”, excluding other citizens’ groups for rendering a balanced view of education, quality, inclusion and justice in making rules and monitoring implementation.

Overall the Punjab ordinance is good news resonating well with the recently debated Global Education For All Meeting (GEM) in Oman (May14-16, 2014) that reaffirms education as a fundamental human right for every person.

She also suggests that the Punjab government must follow the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government’s May 16 announcement allowing all women to enter tertiary education at any age. This will be a positive step towards post secondary opportunities for all women for lifelong learning and education backed entitlements.

The LUMS has set up a Centre for Entrepreneurship at its Suleman Dawood School of Business to tap into its institutional strengths, a vast ecosystem of its alumni and a supportive fraternity of visionaries and successful business leaders of Pakistan to build the first-of-its-kind platform that will scout, incubate, groom and facilitate capital access for the next generation of Pakistani entrepreneurs.

Speaking at the inauguration of the centre by LUMS Pro-Chancellor Syed Babar Ali, centre’s Executive Director Khurram Zafar, himself a veteran entrepreneur, said this was the first of its kind platform that would establish a multi-sector business incubator called The Foundation, coordinate the creation of a network of subsidised, Plug’N’Play business centres for startups, and work with investors to form a seed stage investment vehicle to support young business founders.

“In less than a decade, we aim to turn LUMS into the epicenter of an innovation city that will breed and house some of the largest regional enterprises,” he asserted.

The first batch of six startup ventures, selected by an independent board comprising successful local entrepreneurs, will start their four-month long incubation cycle from June 2.

mansoormalik173@hotmail.com

Published in Dawn, May 20th, 2014