This August 14 was memorable. It marked a politically charged energised roll out of enrolment campaign in almost all provinces as an action to end the ‘education emergency’. The newly-elected governments have launched school enrolment and registration drives; the ministers and secretaries of education are publicly sharing evidence district by district on ‘who is in and who is out of school’ from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to Sindh. Pakistan is currently ranked only second to Nigeria in the number of out of school children.
Politicians and bureaucrats are making bold public statements on education eager to actively implement Article 25-A of the constitution. The energy is high with mobile caravans and campaigns for enrolment and registration drives, demonstrating a strong political will to make the right to education a reality.
The education and literacy crisis has finally created the buzz and volume that was much needed. The media, parents, civil society, and parliamentarians are talking education and action for education. Some are even walking the talk despite a very poor track record on out of school children such as in Sindh that has 32 percent children aged 5-16 who have no access to any schooling.
Sindh is the first province to have enacted the Sindh Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2013 in March this year. The act is awaiting rules for implementation. Instead of being a mere paper exercise it can be substantive, mobilizsng an entire population of stakeholders desperate for quality education.
On a recent visit to Benazirabad/Nawabshah district, for a unique registration drive led by the minister and secretary of education and literacy Sindh, there was a strong sense that this could potentially morph into a very exciting initiative. I monitored the exercise in five primary schools in sub-district Qazi Ahmed. If followed well it could be the beginning of the first Child Smart Card for every child in Pakistan.
The scheme is quite simple. The registration drive is aiming to document the new cohort of class 1 children enrolled in the 2013-14 academic year. For five days teachers and supervisors were mobilised to fill out basic information regarding the child: name, address, school (public/private), class enrolled, birth registration certificate number (never found in rural areas); date of birth; parents/guardian’s CNIC, head teacher’s information and CNIC and contact number signed off by the head teacher and the child with the latter’s thumb imprint. This information will be processed by the departments and Nadra and linked to the household and parents’ CNIC to track the child’s education and, perhaps later, health indicators as well.
If the scheme works well and is scaled up as planned across the province the child could have a reason to expect a well-being and rights-tracking mechanism. It may be very worthwhile for all provinces working on Article 25-A to move forward together in sharing ideas that will inform the Herculean task of bringing all 25 million out of school children into some form of learning environment that is fully recognised.
This meeting could be called by the prime minister in September ahead of the upcoming UN General Assembly meeting in New York. It would not be a show and tell meeting but one where Nadra and the departments and ministries of education, population and health can take forward this initiative as a holistic measure for the Pakistani child – the child that is desperately waiting to make it to the finish line for the MDGs, and education and health for all goals.
Many civil society and media groups can be mobilised instantly to help prepare for a proposed national convention on education emergency and action called by the prime minister. The lead invitees must be the chief ministers, chief secretaries, ministers/secretaries for education, population and health and Nadra, parliamentarians, and civil society representatives. Time is ticking fast towards the 2015 MDGs and implementation is awaited to our constitutional commitment under Article 25-A.
I continue to remain an optimist seeing a glass half full in education, but I could not help notice that of the five schools visited, all but one was a two-teacher school, four had only one teacher, three schools were shelter-less, one completed school remains without a SEMIS Code that allows it to be on the ‘official books for development and grant schemes”.
No school had more than 40 children on their enrolment registers – about 22 to 25 on average were present that day and the girls clearly lost out in this bleak unprotected context. This is a wake-up call on this International Literacy Day to follow Article 25-A, which ensures education as a fundamental right.
The writer is an education activist and director programmes at Idara-e-Taleem-o-Agahi.