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.