Free and Compulsory Education in Punjab

The early years of children's education are building blocks of their upcoming adult life, responsible for how they will behave and work in society, providing a solid base for lifelong learning and equipping them with learning abilities. Today children start their education around the age of five and continue it till sixteen to complete their compulsory school education. In this technophile era, we cannot emphasize more the importance of education for a person and his country. Education enables a person to make sound decisions by developing critical thinking and cognitive abilities. Thus, an educated person is usually a productive and responsible citizen who plays a vital role in the country's development, respects and protects fundamental human rights, and enhances the overall quality of life.

But what if the opportunity to get an education is not provided to a child? What if a 16-year-old boy cannot even read the headlines on the TV and newspaper? Will he be able to become a responsible citizen? Can he make sound decisions for himself and his country? The answer is a no, and this situation seems to be a case in Punjab since the Punjab Act of 2014, Free and compulsory Education under the 18 Amendment Article 25 A, was passed, but with the government's sway, responsible authorities did not fully implement it. It took a decade to implement the bill of free compulsion education all over the Punjab, which has not yet been implemented at the grass-root level.

It takes away the opportunity for a poor child to educate himself and thus makes him a burden instead of a supporter for the family and the country. We have a high dropout rate of 23 million children (5- to 16-year-old) out of school due to a lack of resources and awareness. According to a 2015 Survey, the literacy rate in Punjab is 63%, 60% in Sindh, 53% in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and 44% in Balochistan. Punjab is leading other provinces in literacy rate, but it is much less than other progressive countries. It indicates that only the education bill is not the issue for dropping out of students from school. There are numerous other reasons. The education trend has decreased a lot in rural areas and some urban areas, too, especially in the pandemic and the recent rise in inflation. Poor people are compiled to retain their children from school to work so they can earn a little to support the family.

Along with this, the poor infrastructure, shortage of teachers and lack of training for the available teachers, less physical material facilities, and less awareness add up to portray a horrific picture for our future generation. Lack of education is a severe issue in the long run. We try to follow in the footsteps of developed countries, but we're not following a straightforward and essential step they took by providing free and quality education to their citizens. As education promotes tolerance in a person, lack of education does precisely the opposite. We are witnessing a high rate of criminal cases against minorities, women, and other weak parts of the societies and it is all related to a lack of education.

Providing quality education is the state's responsibility, and we have seen apparent negligence from the governments on this part. There is a lack of good leadership in education, which is causing the primary issue. PTI government's much famous Single National Curriculum (SNC) was the last time education was discussed by the majority of the masses and in the mainstream as well as social media but that too in a controversial light. Furthermore, if there is progress on education policies, that is entirely in the papers and usually near the elections when governments need to show something to the public.

The solution to all these problems is solid policies by the government focused on developing and promoting education in the country. It is said that giving education to the poor is more beneficial than providing donations, as education will bring them up from the poverty line, while donations will not. But mere policies cannot work alone. Policymakers should define a time for implementing and completing goals defined by these policies, just like other national projects and responsible authorities must be held accountable for any delays or mismanagement.

Education must be a common interest for all political parties and should not be used for political gains. Instead, giving education to every citizen must be a priority for all the parties, and it should be at a high position in their charter while going to the public for elections. After all, providing education will not benefit a single leader, a single party, or a single province. It will help the whole of Pakistan.

ePaper - Nawaiwaqt