LAHORE: With elections around the corner, a key question troubling many educationists is why even after eight years, Article 25A of the Constitution is not being fully implemented and whether any political party will promise to do so in the next government.

The Article came about in 2010 as part of the 18th amendment, stating that ‘The State would provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to 16 years’.

When Punjab promulgated the free and compulsory education act, it automatically repealed the earlier Punjab Compulsory Primary Education Act 1994. However, it must be noted that the rules to implement the previous law were also never formulated.

Idara-e-Taleem-o-Agahi, an NGO, pushed for its implementation. But today, Director ITA Baela Raza Jamil, also a public policy specialist, condemns the indifference shown by the government.

“Unfortunately the situation is bad in all provinces - the rules have still not been made and there is zero implementation,” she says.

Alif Ailan – a non-profit organisation campaigning for education reform in its Punjab Education Report 2018 quotes a figure of 22.6 million children who are still out of school – a majority of them girls. It also reiterates the worrying quality of education that children receive.

Once a law is passed from assembly it is up to the administrative department to bring the rules forward, says Mohsin Bukhari, deputy director legislation (law department). “The law department only vets the bill before its introduction in the assembly. For Article 25A, it should have been the school education department that is responsible for making the rules.”

Meanwhile, Punjab promulgated a Free and Compulsory Education Ordinance in 2014 and made it a law in November the same year. But again the rules to implement the law are still unformulated.

“We have asked Rana Mashhood many times about the situation,” says PTI Member of Punjab Assembly Naushin Hamid. “We have even asked him outside the assembly and every time his response has been that it is happening but we have yet to see anything.”

Dr Murad Rass (MPA PTI), member of the education standing committee, says there was ‘never any implementation of this law from the very beginning.’

Chaudhry Javed Ahmed, who has served from 2008 to 2013 as chairperson standing committee of education, has a lot to say.

“Our government does not seem to be committed to this work,” he says. “You can see this from the allocation of budget to health and education sector. But despite promises the government has consistently missed the four per cent mark in budgetary allocations.”

He says the Article has been reduced to a mere ‘political slogan’. Being from PML-N himself, Chaudhry Javed says during his tenure the committee opposed the Daanish Schools, saying the current infrastructure must be used instead of building new schools.

“Currently Sindh is the only province that has rules notified for its Sindh Free & Compulsory Education Act 2013 but still no implementation,” says Baela.

The fact that children are out of school creates situations where they are exploited, she says.

Only recently, Bonded Labour Liberation Front complained that the children at brick kilns were still working there and were not being sent to schools, says child rights activist Iftikhar Mubarik.

“The problem is too many departments are involved in providing children their rights and their mandate keeps overlapping,” he complains.

Meanwhile, in January this year, the Chief Justice of Pakistan also took notice of the matter.

An official from the Punjab government also said that the reasons included lack of political will, and resource allocations.

“There is little infrastructure in remote areas. In this case the government should pay the parents per child and see that they send their children to any other nearby schools. At least monitoring can be done,” he said.

But MPA Naushin Hamid says a lot of the reasons lie in the fact that the government may not want to even spend money, because ‘implementation is expensive’.

“Under the Article the private schools are supposed to give around 10 per cent seats free, but this is obviously not sitting well with the private schools,” she says. “Even with the Breastfeeding Act 2012, it took the government six years to bring rules for it to be implemented.”

Published in Dawn, April 21st, 2018