Civil society organization Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA), in collaboration with Oxfam in Pakistan, United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF) and Foundation Open Society Institute (FOSI) Pakistan organized a consultation session on Tuesday in Lahore, with stakeholders from government, civil society and education sector to discuss acceleration of notification and implementation of Punjab Free and Compulsory Education (PFCE) Act 2014.

Punjab Standing Committee on Education Chairperson Aisha Nawaz Chaudhry, Punjab Standing Committee on Gender Mainstreaming Chairperson Uzma Kardar, MPA Ayesha Iqbal, Literacy and Non-Formal Education Secretary Sumaira Samad, Advisor to Punjab Education Minister Aasiya Khurram Agha, School Education Department Additional Secretary, Women Development Department Secretary and members from Private Schools Association, civil society and academia attended the event.

The meeting explored ways to measure progress in achieving SDG4 of Quality Education and implementing PFCE Act 2014. There were clear pledges from education leaders and decision makers to ensure that all children are able to access quality education under Article-25A of the Constitution of Pakistan without any discrimination and the notification of PFCE Act.

Addressing the meeting, Aisha Nawaz said people were reluctant to send children to government school. She said that “we talk about that how parents were not aware but we don’t talk about that we had failed to provide quality education”.

Moderating the session, ITA CEO Baela Raza Jamil said the essence of ITA’s inspiration lay in children’s right to education as a fundamental constitutional right. She said currently the law lay in the cold storage with little action, as it was yet to be notified. “There is an urgency to ensure actions for legislation that can be implemented to improve actions for securing the rights promised in the Constitution of Pakistan. Moreover, it must be noted that the Government of Punjab is progressively working on improving the quality of facilities and learning in the province, so why is the RTE Act 2014 not being given its due attention,” she said.

Baela urged that every participant of the meeting was an important influencer in their own right; be it the teacher in the classroom, the head teacher in the school or the government officials influencing policy decisions. “There is an urgency to take actionable pledges,” she added.

A presentation on the current status of PFCE Act 2014 with a special focus on gender disparities was also given besides the targets and indicators of SDG4. Statistics from the Government Administrative data sets, MICS, Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) were also shared to highlight disparities among out-of-school children (OOSC) with respect to gender and wealth.

There was overwhelming consensus by the participants of the consultation that slow implementation of Article-25A in Punjab will clearly impact achieving the SDGs 2030 and SDG4 on education, just like MDGs in 2015 and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) commitments. There were calls to reverse this reality through a positive disruption needed urgently by all stakeholders in the education sector.

The meeting discussed the strategies to come up with a way forward to address the issue through multi-dimensional strategy, including the formation of a working group/Technical Advisory Committee to influence and ensure the PFCE Act 2014 notification from the cabinet and facilitate in finalization of the rules of business of the Act. The participants of the meeting were of the view that this consultation will serve as a liaison with the School Education Department for further consultative meetings on the development of the rules of business of the PFCE act 2014. They also sought recommendations to make the rules of business of PFCE Act gender sensitized.

ITA, in collaboration with Oxfam in Pakistan, initiated the Girls Education Matters (GEM) program to promote gender justice in the country. The program is embedded in the principles of gender justice and equitable timely financing for girls’ education. These are also the international commitments of Pakistan being the signatory of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030, Convention on the Rights of the Child and part of campaigns such as UN Girls Education Initiative (UNGEI) Platform for Girls Education, Girls Learn Women Earn and Leave No Girl Behind.

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