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Education is key


January 29, 2016

While security concerns are premised in the unfortunate reality that terrorists in Pakistan have chosen to attack educational institutions, the state of Pakistan must not allow these concerns to brush under the carpet other, equally important priorities – particularly that of ensuring access to education to all.

In the aftermath of the terrorist attack on the Bacha Khan University, the KP government announced that the university would remain closed for a specified period of time. Following this, the Punjab government announced that all private and public sector schools are to remain closed till January 31.

Prior to this announcement, there was a counterterrorism drill that took place at the Punjab University. Not only were all students not informed of this drill, but the media was allowed to broadcast the entire operation. As if it wasn’t enough that students in this country are already psychologically disturbed and traumatised when it comes to something as simple and basic as attending school, now terrorists are also aware of how exactly the state will be countering their attacks.

There is no doubt that closing down schools and conducting counterterrorism drills falls within the responsibility of the state to ensure that incidents such as the APS attack and the Bacha Khan University attack are not repeated. Simultaneously, we mustn’t forget that shutting down schools is exactly what the terrorists want. While students and their parents are genuinely terrorised and scarred, the state cannot afford to give the impression that it, too, is terrorised and helpless.

Article 25-A of the constitution of Pakistan stipulates: “The state shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to sixteen years in such manner as may be determined by law.” Following the enactment of the 18th Constitutional Amendment, enforcing the right to education has become the responsibility of the provinces.

While the provinces have developed requisite laws in the area of education, implementation is severely lacking. The Balochistan Compulsory and Free Education Ordinance 2013, NWFP Compulsory Primary Education Act 1996, Punjab Compulsory Primary Education Act 1994 and the federal Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2012 all exist to serve the same purpose, as outlined in Article 25-A of the constitution. But they remain significant only on paper.

In light of the existential terrorism threat faced by Pakistan, there is little to no focus on the field of education. What the state fails to realise is that without access to quality education, the radicalisation of our youth will be further exacerbated. Apart from ensuring attendance of teachers and students, and monitoring the quality of education imparted by academic institutions, the state also has an obligation to mainstream madressahs.

At present, there is no legislative or policy framework that deals with the madressah system. One can only imagine the content being taught, the quality of education the students are receiving and their ability to compete with their counterparts from the mainstream schooling system.

That is not to say that all madressahs are producing radicalised terrorists – they’re not – but the state cannot risk the lives and futures of its youth by allowing this parallel education system to operate without any checks and balances. Not only is there a need for a federal and provincial framework in this regard, resources must also be immediately focused towards implementing such a framework.

While we have devised a temporary ‘solution’ to deal with those who have already engaged in terrorist attacks, we are lagging behind in our counterterrorism narrative, an essential component of which is securing and enforcing the right to education for our children. By steering further from securing the right to education, the state of Pakistan is not only in violation of its own constitution but also its voluntarily undertaken binding legal obligations pertaining to education.

Pakistan has ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) as well as the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). While many laws have been passed to give effect to the rights enlisted in the aforementioned conventions, there exists no implementing legislation for either the ICESCR or the CRC. Without comprehensive incorporation, guaranteeing effective implementation remains a distant dream.

The writer is a lawyer.

Email: [email protected]

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