Last week, a fleet of well-decorated minibuses veered through the dusty Grand Trunk Road, with a firm resolve to make a lasting impact upon the land and its people: ‘Education for all’.
Alif Ailaan’s ‘Education Caravan’ left their Islamabad office to push deep into Punjab, passing from Jhelum to Multan, edging further South to Rahim Yar Khan and Bahawalpur. At each place, it arrived with a strong message for the local politicians and other stakeholders.
“At the district level, we function as a political pressure group,” shares an overwhelmed Imran Khan, the campaign’s civil society head, after an exhaustive five days of activities rounding up both school-going and out-of-school children. “In this way, we keep the conversation going. The overarching idea is to emotionally galvanize local communities”
As the passing of the ‘Right to Free and Compulsory Education’ bill nears its one-year mark this November, an unparalleled discourse has taken sprung out from Pakistan’s political and social fabric. While a framework to tackle the 25 million out-of-school children remains elusive, pressure groups in the form of non-government organizations and social activists are playing their part to mold this conversation into action.
Alif Ailaan, an alliance for education reform, is one such pressure group that has been at the forefront of the battle to bring these children back to the classroom.
“Nothing motivates political order more than the constituents’ demand,” says Mosharaf Zaidi, head of the Alif Ailaan campaign. He adds that the vacuum between the enactment of the bill, and its tangible deliverance requires greater participation from education activists.
An unrealistic bill?
And yet, despite the time that has passed, many are unclear what Article 25-A actually entails.
One such person is Mohammad Masud Elahi, the headmaster at a government school in Machine Wala.
“I have heard about the bill,” he says. “Education is free but some of these children can barely afford notebooks and uniforms even.”
Rehana, 49, has been headmistress at a Government Girl’s Community Model School in Dari Ali Akbar Sangi since 1995, where religious minorities make up a large portion of its estimated population of 15,000.
“There is a lot of work to be done,” Rehana says as she expresses her ambivalence towards Article 25-A, adding that the government is not equipped to tackle the lofty bill. “To bring every child to school means to assess the needs of every child, including those who are handicapped or belong to minority groups.”
Memoirs of the travel
The GT Road cuts across Dina, a sprawling town 10 miles from Jhelum city, where only 2.9% children remain outside the fold of education. This statistics, and a press conference organized at the office of Dina’s newly sworn MPA, Mehr Fayyaz to welcome the caravan, painted a somewhat rosy picture.
“We should be spending 10% of our GDP on education,” speaks out Fayyaz, claiming that education will be his priority during his incumbent tenure. A few miles off, over 200 school children and their teachers are at their wit’s end, waiting without shade at a small public park, sloppily holding up banners for an “awareness walk”.
“These walks don’t achieve anything,” expresses 51-year-old high school teacher, Abdul Majeed.
As the awareness walk disperses in Jhelum, 13-year-old Abdur Rahman fans himself with a brochure endorsing education.
“Don’t just write about it,” he shouts, turning towards the caravan. “Do something for us.”
• Only 6% Pakistanis are aware of their constitutional right to a free and compulsory education.
• Currently, Pakistan has the world’s second highest number of out of school children
Source: Alif Ailaan http://tribune.com.pk/story/601448/education-caravan-road-that-should-be-more-well-treaded/
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