Tale of neglect

April 12, 2019

Email

ARTICLE 25-A of the Constitution declares that the state is obligated to provide free and compulsory education to all children between the ages of five and 16. And yet, despite being enshrined as a fundamental principle of the state, education remains one of the most neglected sectors in the country. With a population predicted to swell to 240m by 2030, according to some estimates, the challenges of a growing young population and the lack of resources and opportunities that await them will continue to haunt this country for years to come. Taking notice of this, Chief Justice of Pakistan Asif Saeed Khosa reminded the federal and provincial governments of their obligation to provide quality education to the citizens of the state. He asked the representatives of the provincial governments to appear before the court and present whatever data and information they had collected on the issue, and explain what they have done to fulfil their duty. In the absence of government schools, private schools have cropped up all over the country, many of which charge exorbitant fees that most middle- or working-class families simply cannot afford. Towards the end of last year, the former chief justice Saqib Nisar had ordered several upscale private schools to decrease their fees by 20pc after protests by parents erupted over the hike in school fees.

The privatisation of education and healthcare was encouraged by previous governments as a means of filling gaps in the provision of quality services; but it was also a way for the state to hand over its responsibility of meeting the basic needs of its citizens. There is one group, however, that continues to be excluded from this understanding between the state and the private sector: the poor. And even though government schools provide free text books and do not charge fees, there are other expenses such as uniforms, copies, stationery and transport that the poor struggle to afford, particularly in households that have many children. The budget for education and healthcare continues to be a dismal percentage of the total fiscal budget. There are few schools, and most tend to be at the primary level. Secondary and tertiary schools are even rarer. On the other hand, unregulated madressahs can be found in nearly every street and neighbourhood. Rather than admonishing private sector institutions for being exclusive and elite, which they certainly are, the state should examine its own role in creating such inequalities.

Published in Dawn, April 12th, 2019