Participants in a policy dialogue held on Monday demanded that the draft law prepared by the Punjab Education Commission (PEC) for the implementation of Article 25-A of the Constitution (which provides for free and compulsory education as a right for children from the ages of five to 16) be made public.
The policy dialogue, Legislation for Right to Free and Compulsory Education, was organised by Oxfam GB and Institute of Social and Policy Sciences (ISAPS).
“The Punjab government has decided to be secretive in regards to this legislation,” said ISAPS executive director Dr Salman Humayun. He said that the proposed draft law had not been opened up for larger debate. “The government should seek diverse feedback on the draft law. The law needs to be made public for this reason,” he said. The PEC sent the draft law to the government on November 21.
Dr Humayun said that while the idea of free education was a noble one, the basic challenge lay in identifying who would be paying for it. “Education incurs expenditure. Who is going to pay and to what extent?” he asked.
He said there was a need for a clear definition of the term education. Dr Humayun said the age limitation was perhaps not a good identifying factor with regards to learning levels. “Do we want to define age or do we want to define grades (learning level)?” he said.
He asked whether the goals established under the law were possible since the Punjab government was already spending 25 percent of its budget on education. He said that according to a study almost 14 per cent of the budget was termed inefficient in terms of its productivity. “In such a situation is the federal government absolved of any responsibility in implementing Article 25-A in the provinces?” he asked.
According to the ISAPS, there are currently 4.4 million children between the ages of five to nine who are not in school. That number shoots up to 9.6 million in the 5 to 16 age group. In order to ensure that this population ends up in school, they have estimated that in the next 15 years as many as 65,000 additional schools, 263,000 new classes and 144,000 teachers will be required.
ISAPS research fellow Ahmad Ali A presented a model draft. “Our focus should only be ensuring the right to education,” he said. He said any cost which curtails a child’s access to education should be borne by the government.
The Society for the Protection and Rights of the Child (SPARC) regional manager Sajjad Cheema asked whether religious, technical and non-formal education would also be included in “free education”. Democratic Commission for Human Development executive director Tanveer Jahan said setting minimum standards may ensure quality education, but it would also compromise the right to free education for all, since a large number of schools would be closed down due to their failure to meet standards.
Schools Education Deputy Secretary Qaiser Rasheed said that while the government had allocated Rs15 billion as the school development budget, only Rs4 billion had been allocated for missing facilities. Rasheed said that the average cost of building a classroom was around Rs700,000.
Punjab Assembly Standing Committee on Education chairman Chaudhry Javed Ahmed said said he would make the draft public when it appeared before his committee.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 11th, 2012.
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