Free and compulsory education

Published: November 14, 2012

Pakistan’s goals for education will remain goals rather than becoming realities, unless stakeholders act in unison. PHOTO: FILE

As the second education-related news story this week, the National Assembly passed a bill to ensure free education to children between the ages of five and 16. The Right to Free and Compulsory Education Bill hints that, perhaps, our government has begun paying closer attention to Pakistan’s youth and its future. The Bill’s passage comes after a recent UN report identified Pakistan as having the second worst global rate of out-of-school children, with 5.1 million children out of school. On the Education Development Index, Pakistan ranks 113 out of 120 countries.

Our country has been failing to meet the UN’s Millennium Development Goals in education and is not expected to achieve its literacy rate of 88 per cent and 100 per cent enrolment in grades one through five by 2015. Another dismal fact is that Pakistan only allocates 2.3 per cent of its budget towards education, which is a decline by 0.3 per cent since 1999 — a true testament of moving backwards with respect to progress in a developing nation. While the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution already provides the right to free education for every child between the age of five and 16, perhaps the Bill will help ensure the provision of this right uniformly at the provincial level. Currently, disparities exist among provinces in the enforcement of education; it is higher in Punjab than in Sindh and other provinces. Providing free education is the first step in ensuring that every child obtains basic education. Next, attending school must become a requirement and once this has been implemented, laws must be introduced to make it strictly illegal for children to be out of school.

While many citizens have stepped up in helping to assuage these bleak statistics, whether through privately funding the education of their servants’ children or by setting up public funds like The Citizens Foundation, Shehzad Roy’s Zindagi Trust and the Developments in Literacy project, it is high time that the government took the lead. If children of school-going age are caught out of school with unexcused or undocumented absences from school, parents should be held accountable. Until all stakeholders act in unison to promote education, Pakistan’s goals for education will remain mere goals rather than becoming realities.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 15th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (10)

  • sabila khan
    Nov 15, 2012 - 3:47AM

    it would be great if you’d knew the difference between budget and gdp. pakistan allocates 2.3 percent of its gdp to education

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  • gp65
    Nov 15, 2012 - 6:21AM

    “If children of school-going age are caught out of school with unexcused or undocumented absences from school, parents should be held accountable. “

    Unexcused or undocumented absence implies that the child is already enrolled which is often not the case. The first step therefore is to work towards 100% enrollment
    This can only be done if he government can ensure
    – there is atleast one accesible school in walking distance
    – some type of support is available for really poor parents for non-fee related expenses such as uniform, books etc.
    – the teachers actually show up at school and there is not a high level of absenteeism
    – enough women teachers are enrolled – particularly for girls’ schools

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  • Toticalling
    Nov 15, 2012 - 12:34PM

    I am glad that such a bill has been passed and that to initiated by a woman leader. Hats off to her.
    In my view it is also important that due to rising intolerance in certain circles, the text books are changed to delete those texts which arouse hatred towards other faiths. Here are some examples:
    “Hindu pundits were jealous of Al Beruni,” according to a Social Studies textbook for Class VIII (Punjab Textbook Board, page 82). “The Hindus… had always been opportunists,” reads another one (Social Studies, Class VI, Punjab Textbook Board, page 141). And yet another one: “The Hindus have always been an enemy of Islam” (Urdu, Class V, Punjab Textbook Board, page 108). The indoctrination and hate start right from school, and are not just limited to madarssas, but also spread out to what are known as English-medium schools. It has now gone viral.
    But it is the beginning of a new era. I hope I live to see all children having school education and are able to read and write, if nothing else, for a start.

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  • Ali Ashfaq
    Nov 15, 2012 - 7:06PM

    Why should be our leader bother about spending 4 percent of GDP while their own beloved children are studying abroad. None of them get education or medical treatment from within Pakistan. A true and sincere leader will try to spend on education.

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  • wonderer
    Nov 15, 2012 - 8:17PM

    Now that compulsory education has become a reality, it is time to look at what is to be taught. The most important lesson we have learnt from our past is that it does not pay to teach falsehood. Let truth, and nothing but the truth be our guiding light. Amen.

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  • gp65
    Nov 15, 2012 - 9:15PM

    @Toticalling: I have said this elsewhere and I will say it again. Thank you for being so openminded. May your tribe increase.

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  • Toticalling
    Nov 15, 2012 - 10:39PM

    @gp65: Thank you. But I am not sure if I understand about my tribe increase wish

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  • gp65
    Nov 15, 2012 - 11:05PM

    @Toticalling: “But I am not sure if I understand about my tribe increase wish”

    Sorry I was unclear – just a way of saying that I wish there are more Pakistanis like you.

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  • Mirza
    Nov 15, 2012 - 11:05PM

    It is a great Bill and a very balanced Editorial. It is to help young and poor to bring them to respectability. The sad fact is we spend more money (despite the stories of corruption) on WMD and expensive war toys than on education, healthcare and other basic human rights and needs. The worst democracy is better than the best dictatorship and if it is allowed to function people would see the benefits in a decade or so. That is why some forces are upset with the functioning of Parliament. It is time to put our money where our mouth is.

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  • Ali
    Nov 16, 2012 - 10:23AM

    It is positive step for free eductation but require proper policies & procedures to implement in better way to get outcome. Passed a bill in Pakistan not a big issue, its implementation is worrying factor.

    Free Basic education is primary right of every Pakistani child, this also should be conveyed to their Parents by using different communication channels. In rular areas the situation is very worst, required special wake up alarm to convince them.
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