The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (‘the Committee’) expressed its concerns on the issue of privatization of education in Pakistan as the state underwent its first ever review earlier this month. The review focused on the status of implementation of the rights guaranteed under the 14 substantive articles of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966, ‘the Covenant’).
In relation to the right to education, guaranteed under Articles 13 and 14 of the Covenant, the Committee expressed its reservations over the state’s policy of privatizing education through support for low-fee private schools. The Committee also noted that: ‘the absence of proper assessments of the impact of the public-private partnership initiatives on the right to education prior to their adoption as well as of their effectiveness in realizing the right to education since their adoption’ was concerning.
Furthermore, the Committee raised concerns over the lack of regulation of these schools which has resulted in low standards of quality. The Committee also expressed unease that such schools could contribute to segregation in a society where only, ‘high income families send their children to high quality private schools, while low income families have to send their children to underfunded public primary schools’, or to the country’s Basic Education Community Schools, a growing number of which are delivered through public-private partnerships (PPPs) and which are, ‘not properly monitored by the State party’.
In view of these worrying observations, the Committee asked the State of Pakistan, represented by the Minister of Human Rights, Senator Kamran Michael and the Minister of State for Law and Justice, Barrister Zafrullah Khan to, ‘carry out an assessment of the impact of public-private partnership initiatives based on a human rights perspective and the effectiveness of low-fee private schools in meeting the State party’s obligation under the Covenant’.
The Committee also recommended improving the quality of these (private and PPP) schools and ‘make sure that no child drops out of school for being unable to pay the non-fee expenses’. Further, the Committee recommended that Pakistan not only prioritize increasing the level of public funding for education, but also address the underspending of the existing education budget in certain provinces.
These concluding observations were made subsequent to the review of the state by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which expressed similar apprehension over the level of privatization in the country. Nonetheless, privatization by way of public private partnerships and support for education entrepreneurs has continued in the country, notably in Punjab where the number of partner schools jumped from 3967 to 6148 in 2015 and continues to rise.
Ms.Zehra Arshad, National Coordinator of the Pakistan Coalition for Education shared her views on the CESCR concluding observations saying: ‘Given the status of education in the country where almost 21 million children are still out of school, the rapid privatization of education without a thought on how this development will impact the rights of children to a quality education holds an alarming significance, as echoed by the UN committees. I am hopeful that the state will give considerations to these recommendations on a priority basis.
Ms. Zehra Arshad, National Coordinator of the Pakistan Coalition for Education shared her views on the CESCR concluding observations saying: ‘Given the status of education in the country where almost 21 million children are still out of school, the rapid privatization of education without a thought on how this development will impact the rights of children to a quality education holds an alarming significance, as echoed by the UN committees. I am hopeful that the state will give considerations to these recommendations on a priority basis.
Pakistan Coalition for Education (PCE) has been engaged, since the previous Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) review, in highlighting the issue of rapid commercialization across the country. PCE has organized public forums in Islamabad and Karachi where this issue was discussed in detail with both coalition partners and civil society at large. Additionally, PCE called for stronger regulation in subsequent alternate reports to the Committee of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, as well as the upcoming Universal Periodic Review of Pakistan at the Human Rights Council later this year.
Since Pakistan’s last review by the CRC, Pakistan has in some ways implemented two of the recommendations made to it by PCE. However they have not been implemented in the best of ways.
For a while, there have been constant demands from the civil society in Pakistan to increase the education budget. PCE also had recommended that the state significantly increase the budget for education, which has been done this year. For example, in Punjab, the overall development budget has increased but the non-salaried budget which is important for the upkeep of the schools has been significantly decreased by 11 billion rupees. Similarly the share of education from total provincial budgets has declined in all provinces during the last few years. The share of primary education which is mandated by the Article 13 of CESCR has been slashed in Sindh and Punjab which are the most populous provinces. Similarly, in Balochistan, the development budgets for education and the non-salaried budgets have been reduced significantly in the current financial year.
In 2014-2015, all provinces reported underutilization of the allocated budget with Sindh having the largest percentage of underspent education budget of 21%, followed by Punjab at 18%. In addition to this, most of the budget was spent on recurrent expenses such as salaries with Sindh spending 91% of its expenditure on salaries and allowances, whereas Punjab spending around 85%. This leaves little room for actual expansion of access or quality of education through non salaried budge.
Perhaps the most notable of the issues we raised, was the absence of RTE legislation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Earlier this year, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, approved the introduction of the draft bill to be passed by the legislature in the near future.
KP moving towards the RTE bill is seen to be a positive step towards ensuring the Right to free and quality public education to all in Pakistan. However the debate around the privatization still remains a divisive one. Even more so, with the need to direct the public finance towards addressing equal access of education for everyone without resorting to commercialization of education.
Pakistan Coalition for Education along with its development partners aims to continue to call for regulation on privatization of education. In this regard, the alternate civil society report to the Human Rights Council for the Universal Periodic Review has been submitted for review later this year. Nationally, the public awareness forums on financing and privatization of education are also planned in addition to the meetings with the National Commission of Human Rights. In addition to the advocacy, additional research on the existing PPP frameworks in the provinces is also being planned.
About the writer:
Nida Mushtaq is a Research Coordinator with the Pakistan Coalition for Education (PCE). She tweets at @nedo9011