The Punjab government is facing a gigantic task at hand to deal with ensuring 100 per cent enrolment and curtailing ever-consistent trend of dropouts from primary and high public-sector education institutions respectively, which are equally facing lack of facilities and shortage of teachers.
Secondly, after the passage of the 18th amendment from the parliament, responsibilities of the education sector have been devolved to the provincial governments, but none of the dispensations, including Punjab, has initiated legislation in their respective parliamentary houses despite a lapse of one year.
Observed speakers at a seminar ‘Right to Free Education: Constitutional Obligations for Punjab’ held here on Monday at a local hotel jointly by the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) and the Punjab government. Representative to Pakistan of UNESCO Dr Kozue Kay Nagata set the tone of the seminar in her opening remarks, and concluded by depicting hope for actualising the desired targets “seeing sincerity and working of the Punjab government”. Minister Education Mian Mujtaba Shuja-ur-Rehman did not turn up to deliver the concluding address.
Secretary Literacy and Basic Education Department Dr Allah Bakhsh Malik, while speaking on ‘Situation Analysis of Education in Punjab: Challenges and Issues’, talked frankly about the problems confronted by his government, efforts of the political leadership, overall development context, and role of education in social and economic development.
Dr Malik mentioned that the educational situation was not ideal because of high dropouts, that is, out of 40 per cent students reaching class-IV, 77 per cent never opt for obtaining the matriculation certificate.
About the legislative responsibilities of the provincial government, he mentioned that curriculum, syllabi, planning, policy, Islamic education and standards were with the provincial dispensation, while there was a need to improve interprovincial coordination as well. He told the audience that the Punjab government would be tabling the Right to Compulsory Education Bill 2011 in the Assembly soon.
About enrolment, he said with 15 per cent increase in education budget, 100 per cent enrolment could be achieved in 2024-25, with 20 per cent increase it could be done in 2019-20, and with 25 per cent increase in education budget, 100 per cent enrolment could be achieved in 2015-16. “Rs 3387 billion for the last, Rs 3895bn for 2019-20, and Rs 4064bn are required for achieving 100 enrolment rate of 5-16 years of population by 2015-16,” he mentioned, adding that achievement of targets was closely linked to resource absorptive capacity. While quoting a research, he admitted that the system lacked capacity to efficiently absorb even the available financial resources though the education sector had suffered from persistent and acute under-investment. “Pakistan ranks amongst the bottom five countries of world, so far as public expenditure on education, as a percentage of total public spending is concerned,” he quoted a source.
While speaking about the missing facilities, Dr Malik said 40 per cent of public schools at primary, elementary and secondary level, lack basic facilities like drinking water, 17 per cent had no roofs, 39 per cent were without drinking water, 62 per cent without electricity, 50 per cent without toilet facilities and 46 per cent did not have boundary wall.
However, he commended provincial political leadership for putting its foot forward to do the best for the sector. “We need to go extra miles, and the call is: education for all and by all,” he said, while hoping to actualise Millennium Development Goals.
Secretary Education Department (Schools) Muhammad Aslam Kamboh talked about the budgetary allocations, and wanted that these should be linked to the materialisation of the goals. He said the government was making appointments on merit, while handsome salaries were being offered to teachers.
Secretary General UNESCO Pakistan Muhammad Dawood said the largest illiterate population of Pakistan was in Punjab, while the problem was acute in Southern Punjab and rural areas. He also talked at length about ‘pulls and pushes of the influential’ causing damage to the sector, and impediments to legislation.
UNESCO’s Arshad Saeed Khan asserted that implementation for Article 25-A of the constitution – The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to sixteen years in such manner as may be determined by law – was linked to further provincial legislation of the Education Act and framing of rulers, but no province had achieved this. He further mentioned that 40 per cent children of poor parents did not go to school, and development of up-town schools versus improperly maintained public sector institutes was creating bifurcation in the system, which would ultimately lead to division in the society. “Hence equitable free standardised education should be available to all,” he demanding, while enlisting various parliamentary acts awaiting implementation after a passage of decades even. After elaborating various trends of non-enrolment and dropouts, he observed, “keeping these consistent trends in mind, unless exemplary steps are taken, only 70 per cent enrolment can be made possible by 2015.”