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Friday, October 16, 2015

The right to education

In the elite’s quest to put an end to the unwritten private school ‘policy’ of draining parents’ bank accounts, many arguments — for and against — have been heard. Much media attention has been drawn to the cause. In September, the prime minister stepped in and ordered that no private school was to raise its fee this year. While this debate on private school fees continues, the crucial issue that should have actually been debated has been brushed under the carpet. The reality is simple and yet often dismissed as ‘naive’ or ‘impossible to achieve’. If the public system of education was given the priority it deserves, the debacle of increasing fees could have been avoided and, more importantly, the education system would benefit those it is intended to benefit: the students. Between 2003 and 2013, private school enrolment has increased from 26 per cent to 39 per cent. Out of the estimated 225,711 schools in Pakistan, only 66,089 are private schools, i.e., 71 per cent of schools are government schools and 61 per cent of children attend these government schools, while a mere 39 per cent are enrolled in the private education system. Similarly, out of the 1,406,090 teachers in Pakistan, only 680,908 are private school teachers. These statistics, provided by the state itself, are demonstrative of a reality the state must accept: significantly more resources are an immediate necessity in the public system of education in Pakistan. After all, Pakistan is not a state where the right to education is only to be guaranteed to children growing up in higher-income households. Article 25A of the Constitution states: “The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to 16 years in such manner as may be determined by law.” Similarly, Article 38(d) delineates the obligation of the state to “provide basic necessities of life, such as food, clothing, housing, education and medical relief…” Following the 18th Amendment, education has become the responsibility of the provinces. There exist a handful of laws across some of the provinces that guarantee the right to free and compulsory education, whether in the form of a legislative instrument or ordinance. Yet, implementation of these provisions is nearly impossible to identify. In addition to its own domestic law commitments, Pakistan has undertaken international legal obligations with regard to the provision of education. Pakistan is party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Under Article 13 of the ICESCR, Pakistan has undertaken to achieve full realisation of the rights to compulsory and free primary education for all and the progressive introduction of free secondary education. Moreover, Article 14 of the ICESCR binds Pakistan to “work out and adopt a detailed plan of action for the progressive implementation, within a reasonable number of years, to be fixed in the plan, of the principle of compulsory education free of charge for all”. Similarly, under the CRC, Pakistan is to ensure that primary education be “free and compulsory for all” and higher education accessible to all “on the basis of capacity by every appropriate means”. Moreover, Pakistan is to “take measures to encourage regular attendance at schools and the reduction of drop-out rates”. The fact remains that 47 per cent of Pakistani children are out of school. In other words, 25 million out of 53 million children, between the ages of five and 16, are out of school. It isn’t that the legislative framework for free and compulsory education does not exist at federal and provincial levels. There is a complete lack of political will on the part of each successive government in prioritising education. While those of us lucky enough to afford a private school education have platforms through which our voices can be heard, and the issue of our fees discussed, the majority of our population does not share that blessing. Instead of selfishly seeking benefit for a minority of the population (the elite), those in influential positions must voice the concern of the nations’ children: revamp the public education system. The government cannot be allowed to hide behind the excuse of ‘financial constraints’ when it comes to its lack of attention on education, especially when we have multi-million dollar projects in other sectors. Education is a priority and must be dealt with as such.

The right to education By Imaan Hazir Mazari
The writer is a Research Associate at the Research Society of International Law