A month after marking International Literacy Day on September 8, the Pakistani nation celebrated the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Malala Yousufzai. The teenaged education campaigner has been raising awareness for the globally-acknowledged right to education for every child.
As a citizen of a nuclear-armed Asian nation, what are your rights to get education at the state’s expense? This week, The Express Tribune looks at the laws, rules and regulations that protect every child’s right to free and compulsory education.
What the constitution says?
In 1947, Pakistan was founded in the name of Islam - which calls for a system that places strong emphasis on equal education opportunities for every man, woman and child. At the same time, despite undergoing three major overhauls, the country’s constitution failed to acknowledge free education as a fundamental right of its citizens.
In 2010, however, the parliament inserted Article 25-A to the chapter of fundamental rights of the constitution, declaring the provision of free-and-compulsory education for children between the ages of five and 16 years as the responsibility of the state.
The article states: “The state shall provide free and compulsory education to all children between the ages of five to sixteen years in such manner as may be determined by law.”
Responsibilities of provinces
A little later, the parliament added the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, devolving various subjects from the federal concurrent list to the provinces so they may run their affairs in an efficient manner.
The incumbent and successive governments have been celebrating the historic devolution of powers meant to ensure better governance. They, however, took years, instead of days, to prepare and pass their own laws relating to education. Punjab promulgated the law in mid-May this year.
The devolution of governance and administrative powers further down to the metropolitan level is another step to serve the masses. The metropolitan and district municipal corporations are primarily responsible for running and maintaining public schools across the country. What has unfortunately happened is the creation of notorious ‘ghost schools’ that have come to exist even in large urban districts, such as Karachi. In Punjab, alone, there are at least 83 ghost schools, 442 schools under illegal occupation and 169 non-functional ones, according to data compiled by a court-appointed commission and submitted to the Supreme Court last year.
Litigating for rights
In December last year, the Supreme Court had ordered authorities to make ghost schools operational in their respective provinces, where the judicial officers had found out 2,088 ghost schools during personal inspections.
The apex court had ordered the relevant authorities to make all these government schools operational.
While the Supreme Court’s orders were equally implementable across the country, there are still various constitutional petitions pending with provincial high courts pleading to order the authorities to provide facilities such as teachers, non-teaching staff, and even furniture, water and toilets.
The state of affairs has made educationists believe that the government lacks the will to protect this fundamental right, which is their prime duty.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 15th, 2014.
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