Article 25-A: What does the ‘free’ in ‘right to free education’ imply?
Pakistan faces many challenges today, but education is one of the biggest. It includes huge disparities in terms of opportunities, particularly for girls and the rural population. There are also the issues of poor quality of education, low enrollment and high drop-out rates. Reportedly, over 25 million children between five and 16 years of age are out of school. This fact points to the emerging and critical social imbalance of education, even as a fundamental right.
Article 25-A, the Right to Education, was inserted in the chapter of the fundamental rights of the Constitution as part of the Eighteenth Amendment. The amendment to the Constitution was the first step. Now, it is imperative that efforts be made for the provision of this right and that we work towards its implementation.
However, some of the Article’s implications have not been clearly thought through. For example, Article 25-A calls for the right to ‘free’ education but what does ‘free’ mean? The cost of education doesn’t include just tuition fees. There is also the cost of other charges like admission fees and expenditures on uniforms, books and stationery. Is Article 25-A giving the right to ‘free’ education in the sense of covering all costs of education or just tuition fees?
If the objective of the Article is to ensure education for all children then clearly the term ‘free’ will need to be looked at in light of the total cost that a child/parent has to bear for the education.
Nonetheless, even while policymaking is still underway, efforts to implement the Article have continued. Yet, in the Islamabad capital territory, which has a population of less than a few million, Article 25-A has not yet been implemented. Among the many challenges faced, there are significant institutional, budgetary and human resource constraints. Working with these constraints will be a Herculean task for the new government. And, given the size of the task, it is not going to be possible to implement the Article within a short span of time as the officials concerned have hinted. Our government will need to make long-term plans for its implementation.
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