Pakistan’s education system stands at a critical juncture with the constitutional decree of Article 25-A declaring education as fundamental right for children. According to Article 25-A, all children between the ages of 5 and 16 years are entitled to free, compulsory education provided by the state of Pakistan. Currently, Pakistan is home to 26.98 million children between the ages of 5 and 9 years who should be provided the opportunity for primary education. However, enrolment rates across the country are extremely low. Net primary enrolment for children aged between 5 to 9 years during 2010-2011 decreased to 56 percent (60 boys and 53 percent girls) from 57 percent in 2008. According to the Annual Status of Education Report of 2011, 32.3 percent of 5 year old children were not enrolled in any school facility whereas 57 percent children aged 3-5 years were un-enrolled. This study also shows that only half of the children enrolled in schools actually complete their primary education. Poverty, socio-economic limitations, gender disparities, a lack of educational institutions and an insufficient number of trained, qualified teachers all contribute to Pakistan’s debilitating state of education. However, lack of political will and interest are by far the most important factors affecting the availability of education and related resources.
In order to boost political will at the government level and increase the budgetary allocation for education in Pakistan, there is a need for a ‘ground-up’ approach of building community pressure on the government for education reform. Regular citizens, especially in rural communities, need to be linked to the education management system, the local, provincial and federal government, and to each other, to pool their resources and work toward advancing education. In 2013, RSPN partnered with the Sarhad Rural Support Programme (SRSP) and the National Rural Support Programme (NRSP), in 56 Union Councils in 7 districts of Pakistan (4 Districts of Punjab and 3 Districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) to generate awareness for education, and Article 25-A in particular. Funded by the nation-wide education campaign, Alif Ailaan, this project has now entered into its second phase, and has expanded to 11 districts with RSPN’s partner organizations; the National Rural Support Progamme (NRSP), Sarhad Rural Support Programme (SRSP), Balochistan Rural Support Programme (BRSP) and the Thardeep Rural Development Programme (TRDP). These RSPs are working with RSPN to create accountability mechanisms whereby organized communities can access and ensure quality education. The project is facilitating communities to actively engage with the political ‘system’, which includes political parties, public representatives and the Department of Education, to improve the state of education and related physical and policy level infrastructure. Through the formation of a ‘Parent Ittehad’ (parent’s union), communities are working together with the RSP-fostered Local Support Organizations in 88 Union Councils of 11 districts to identify problems in the education and school infrastructure in their communities and advocate with the political system to ensure that their problems are resolved, so that every child can go to school. Community activists and community resource persons are being trained by the Local Support Organizations, and will ensure the attendance and retention of every child in school. Thus, communities will work together and campaign for their basic right to education. This is a one year project funded by Alif Ailaan, which began in July 2014.
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