“It seems that even though the law of free and compulsory education (Article 25-A) was passed over a decade ago, the government departments are under the assumption that this law cannot be implemented and so, no coherent effort in this regard is necessary.” This concern was raised by Mukhtar Ahmad Ali, Executive Director, Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) during a round table discussion in Islamabad with the members of the Standing Committees of Senate and National Assembly.
This parliamentary roundtable was organized by civil society organizations including CPDI, Pakistan Youth Change Advocates (PYCA) and Pakistan Coalition for Education (PCE) in collaboration with Pakistan Institute for Parliamentary Services (PIPS).
Ms. Zehra Arshad, National Coordinator, PCE while providing an Analysis of Article 25-A, SDG 4 and Ehsaas program shared, “Pakistan has the second largest number of out-of-school children in the world. It is then not surprising that Pakistan stands last in the Human Development Index among South Asian countries. To add to this crisis, it is feared that an additional 1 million children might have dropped out-of-schools.” she emphasized on the importance of not merely ensuring the swift implementation of Article 25-A but also aligning it with the SDGs to ensure at least 12 years of free and quality education for all.
PYCA’s Executive Director Areebah Shahid commented on the progress towards SDG 4 goals and provided recommendations to achieve Agenda 2030. “There is a dire need to align Pakistan’s commitments under SDG 4 with the actual spending taking place under education. At the federal level this year, we allocated almost 90% of the monetary resources for tertiary education and merely 1.04% for school education. This huge disparity in funding priorities will only make us lag in terms of meeting our SDG commitments.” She also emphasized on the urgent need to introduce gender responsive education budgeting on the same lines as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to achieve the promise of equitable education.
Ms. Ghazala Saifi, Member of the Standing Committee for Education and the Parliamentary Secretary for National Heritage & Culture pledged greater collaboration between the government and civil society organizations. “The standing committee will look forward to conducting meetings in the presence of civil society stakeholders so that there is a sustainable platform for the exchange information, ideas and expertise.”
Senator Falak Naz Chitrali quoted the example of Chitral to highlight the malice of child marriages. “Suicide rate among young women in Chitral has increased over the last few years and the leading causes are either child marriages or marriages in which the woman’s consent is not entertained.”
While speaking about the flaws in our education system, MNA Nafeesa Inayatullah Khan Khattak pointed out that “If we look back in the history, the majority of the national heroes like Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan studied in very backward village schools. He was able to do so not just because of his passion but the provision of excellent teachers who believed in educating with passion rather than with corporal punishment. Incompetent teachers are contributing to the very high number of drop-outs. To ensure retention of students in schools, we need to bring in good teachers.”
In the closing remarks, the Chief Guest, Ms. Wajiha Akram, Parliamentary Secretary for Federal Education and Professional Training said “The federal ministry is not just aware of the issues but we are very actively working to overcome them despite having very limited resources at our disposal. We are currently in the process of upgrading the list of beneficiaries under the Ehsaas education Stipend program to ensure that children from families that fell below the poverty line after COVID can also immediately benefit from this nationwide initiative. Enhancing girls’ access to education remains at the heart of our current strategy and we will actively engage with civil society to ensure a process of two-way learning that can make education possible for the most marginalized children in Pakistan.”