Punjab Free and Compulsory Education Act: There are a lot of loopholes that need to be fixed

To make this act a success there is a need for all the stakeholders to play their part

Right to free and compulsory education is acknowledged across globe and now Punjab Government also recognizes this right. The act acknowledges the right by stating that State shall provide free and compulsory education for children of ages five to sixteen. The current setup has been ruling Punjab since more than seven years straight and an act about free and compulsory education now is like a breath of fresh air. Punjab being the home of more than half of the population of Pakistan, this act will improve the literacy rate and benefit children of this country. This act shows the concern of the State towards the right to free and compulsory education by stating the roles of the all the stakeholders in the ideal case. Even though the Act makes a great effort to reform the current education system still there are a lot of loopholes that needs to be filled. It does show the resolve and will to reform the education sector but its practicality is a huge question mark.

The Act states how free and compulsory education will be ensured through the use of local governments. It does seem like a joke as its evident how active local governments have been since the local bodies’ election. It does acknowledge the responsibility of the state to ensure free and compulsory education for children but the mechanism prescribed seems like a dream. It states that local governments will ensure a lot of things including maintaining lists of children up to sixteen years old in their jurisdiction, monitoring admission/transfers and completion of education by every child. This looks like a really big responsibility for local governments which will require a lot of funds and expertise but funds are something that only graces its appearance in metros and flyovers.

Even though parents are relieved from paying the school free, uniform, books etc, it’s still not a good enough motivation to send the children to schools. This reminds me of the time when children were paid a stipend to go to school. Child labor is too prevalent in Punjab which demotivates the parents from sending their children to school. Children earn to support their families, which makes education sounds like a loss not a gain. A good step to ensure that parents send their children to school is making them illegible to other aids and schemes if they fail to comply with the law. Problem with this is that other poverty targeted programs are so few and give so little that they are already pretty unattractive to the poor.

The act also talks about the responsibility of the private schools to teach the underprivileged children of the society. Imposition of this condition on the private schools with act as an added burden to the children studying in the private schools as they will increase the fee for the rest of the children to cover up the added cost. This would be unfair to the children seeking education at the private school. If the schools are paying taxes they are contributing to the state repository and that should be enough. State should work on improving the quality of education provided by the public sector to reduce the gap between private and public sector rather imposing such conditions. There is no mentioning of improving education quality at public sector, remunerations of teachers, teacher training and education etc. Government can seek help from the private sector to develop the curriculum and bring latest tools and skills to impart knowledge at the government schools. 

The act does talk about removing the financial hurdles that children may come across to seek education. Removing hurdles means a massive budget will be required for the schools to run the system. There is no explanation or details in the bill regarding allocation of funds to schools. There is no mechanism of transfer of funds from state to local governments to schools. The biggest role to make this act possible is of school management, but there is no incentive for them in the act. The act vows to remove the financial barriers, but it missed the fee asked by the examination boards. It must explicitly state that no such fee will be asked by the examination boards.

We all are aware of lack of basic facilities at public schools. Not just facilities, the teaching quality is far below the acceptable standards. This act may increase the number of students at school but if it will actually educate children is uncertain. The law would’ve been more impactful if the emphasis was on improving infrastructure, facilities and teachers training programs. It’s so easy to talk big and state that schools will be disabled-friendly, but this again requires massive funds. The schools with disabled students should get more funds to provide better facilities or there should be separate facilities for disable children.

The act can be taken as a step in the right direction but a lot needs to be done to fill up the gaps. Implementation mechanism is lacking with no clear demarcation of how the government and the local bodies will share the responsibility. The local governments have a huge responsibility under this act but their ability to perform all these is ambiguous.  This act has needs to specify the share of the local governments to perform all these duties. The formation of school management body is mentioned but its formation, roles and responsibilities are still unclear. There’s a lot to be done on this nine page act to make it robust. School management body can have members from the community, local government, parents, provincial government etc. these bodies can oversee all the matters of the school just like the boards in companies.

To make this act a success there is a need for all the stakeholders to play their part. Implementation of this act requires parents, local governments, state, school administrations and community in general to take responsibility and perform their respective duties. The law does come with the penalties but just like the other clauses the implementation part is missing. Where to launch a complaint, who will implement the penalties is again missing... there are a lot of loopholes in the act that needs to be fixed. It is not an outcome of a complete thought through process and seems like done in a hassle. Implementation and execution of this act has no prescribed mechanism. There is a need to make a model union council where the responsibilities are shifted to the local government. That model needs to be studied to see the problems faced in the implementation. That would help fill in the gaps to bring out a robust and more functional act that will truly ensure the right to free and compulsory education. Otherwise this is mere wishful thinking.

Asad Raza Naqvi

Asad Raza Naqvi completed his MBA from Lahore University of Management and Sciences (LUMS) and is a technology enthusiast

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