Free and compulsory primary education is the right of every child. This has been internationally acknowledged in a host of declarations and covenants, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 26). While being a signatory and open proponent of these international declarations on education, Pakistan did not afford the same legal status to its children’s education domestically for 60 years. While many agencies and state policies were introduced to battle illiteracy, there was no collective commitment for education, especially from the political stakeholders.
This changed in 2010, when after decades of conventions and committees, the National Assembly and Senate of Pakistan passed a constitutional amendment finally declaring that it was the state’s responsibility to ensure free and mandatory education for ALL children between the ages of 5 and 16. This was followed by similar ordinances passed by provincial governments.
Why is this important?
The state already had many laws, constitutional clauses, and agencies to promote literacy, what difference does a national and provincial commitment to compulsory primary education make?
Firstly, the Federal and provincial compulsory education ordinances bring wider political ownership to the cause of free primary education for all children. In the past, despite numerous policies and international commitments, education had failed to establish itself in the national priorities. Many believe that this situation was contributed to by the lack of the political ownership. By ratifying the right to free and compulsory education for all children, Pakistan’s political stakeholders have also publicly declared to improve connected educational issues like improved financing, equity, and learning experience in public schools.
Secondly, it enforces the state’s obligation to create a system that caters to the educational needs of all children in the country between the ages of 5 and 16, without discrimination and with consistency, in line with the needs of the 21st century. This obligation sets a clear national objective for education, and binds the provincial and federal government to develop policies and development plans geared towards fulfilling it.