As the Punjab government prepares to implement Article 25-A of the Constitution intended to ensure free and compulsory education, stakeholders are skeptical about the law’s success.
The promulgation of the Punjab Free and Compulsory Education Ordinance 2014 by the governor came just two days before the Punjab Assembly was to convene. The cabinet-approved draft of the bill will be tabled in the next session on Friday (today).
With the legislative ball rolling, stakeholders are skeptical of the implementation and processes established by the government for the ordinance.
Iftikhar Mubarak, spokesperson for the Child Rights Movement, a collection of non-government organisations working on child rights, said the intention behind the ordinance was appreciated but the process could have been reformed. “It would have been better to deliberate the issue at a larger and public forum, before making it an ordinance,” he said. Mubarak, who has been advocating for child rights for over 10 years, said the biggest challenge would be retention not just enrollment of children. “The government keeps stressing enrollment without working on mechanisms that would ensure retention through a conducive learning environment.”
The ordinance also requires private schools to provide 10 per cent of their students with free education from grade one to 10. This provision,present in the approved draft that the cabinet received, was met with reservations by private school organisations. All Pakistan Private Schools Management Association Chairman Adeeb Jawadani said it was unjust for the government to slap the private sector with such a responsibility while not relieving it of any tax burden.
The ordinance also takes into account teachers’ duties, which includes assessing learning abilities, maintaining punctuality and discipline. The Punjab Teachers’ Union will hold a protest outside the National Assembly in at the end of May against the ‘continuous victimisation’ of teachers. “Imposing an emergency in education through hasty legislation will not benefit anyone,” Punjab Teachers Union (PTU) General Secretary Rana Liaquat Ali said. “Policies regarding teachers must be reconsidered to stop demoralising and discouraging teachers. We want to work hand in hand with the government in the wake of this legislative ordinance.”
In the days leading up to the promulgation, Punjab Governor Chaudhry Muhammad Sarwar said, “It is a very sad state of affairs that basic rights such as education are yet to be addressed with millions of children out of school.” The governor said teachers would be recruited on merit. In addition, he said, funding by the Department for International Development (DFID) worth £350 million over the next three years for education would greatly strengthen the sector in Punjab.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 16th, 2014.