The Pakistan Institute for Parliamentary Services (PIPS), in collaboration with the Center for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) organized a Parliamentary roundtable on the topic of Girl Child Education on December 13, 2021. Honourable MNA Ms. Wajiha Qamar, Parliamentary Secretary for Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training, chaired the 4-hour session, attended by around 22 participants comprising Honourable Members of the Senate and the National Assembly Standing Committees on Education, Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI), representatives from Pakistan Coalition for Education (PCE) and Pakistan Youth Changes Advocates (PYCA) as well as members of civil society and media. Ms Tehseen Khalid, Director (Research) PIPS, moderated the session while Mr. Muhammad Hanif Khan, Deputy Director (Research) PIPS was the rapporteur. The proceedings commenced by recitation of verses of the Holy Quran by Qari Anees-ur-Rehman. Ms. Tehseen Khalid, Director (Research) PIPS welcomed the participants.
Mr. Mukhtar Ahmad Ali, Executive Director (CPDI), reflected on the importance of transparency in the education sector, stating that any society that enjoys free flow of information helps in exposing inefficiencies, corrupt practices and incompetence in the system. He expressed that more efforts should be made to develop good mechanisms and a functional system capable of delivering to the masses. He emphasized the importance of developing a collaborative mechanism among all relevant stakeholders to work together for the betterment of education in the country. While deliberating on the concept of open parliaments, he emphasized that in committee meetings, all stakeholders should be included in order to have multiple perspectives on an issue. He proposed that parliamentary committees hold public hearings on various pieces of legislation because when multiple stakeholders collaborate, the overall efficiency of the system improves. PCE’s National Coordinator Ms. Kaneez Zehra Arshad, while talking about laws and actions for equitable access to education, focusing Article 25A of the Constitution, SDG4 and Ehsaas program, she said that there is no synchronization between the three due to a lack of coherence between the three in terms of planning, implementation, and monitoring. The civil society is working as a parallel organization and not along within the system, unlike developed countries where the government departments and the civil society sit and discuss issues together for a way forward. She also mentioned the age limit for free and compulsory education enumerated in Article 25A of the Constitution till the age 16, describing it inconsistent with our international commitment under SDG4 which requires 12 years of schooling by the member States, hence she recommended amending in the Article 25-A of the Constitution to raise the age cap to 18. She informed the participants that the Government of Pakistan has prioritized primary and secondary level retention and enrolment in SDG4, but that despite all efforts, the Government of Pakistan’s Voluntary National Review for 2019-2020 did not include a progress review of SDG4 in the country. She suggested that all parties work together to discuss the issue and develop a comprehensive education report, which will be due in July 2022, before Pakistan’s VNR is released. When speaking about Pakistan’s investment trajectory in education, Ms. Areebah Shahid, Executive Director, PYCA, emphasized that we have 9 years left to meet our SDG4 targets and that, despite all the challenges, we can meet them if we work together. She suggested that budget reports should be aligned to the targets or indicators within the SDG4 for which the education budget is allocated and it should mention those targets that we have adopted as national targets ratified by our parliament. She also said that SDG4 requires equitable education and our education provisions and accessibility should be across gender or physical disability lines. It is therefore important to have budget reports specifying the allocations SDG targets. Moreover, the budget documents or budget call circular should specify the budget funds allocated to girls and boys education. She said that although after the 18th amendment, at the federal level their primary responsibility is towards catering for tertiary education except those primary or secondary schools that fall in federal area. She also highlighted that the government of Pakistan did not even adopt the target SDG 4.3 which talks about the Tertiary education but we are spending a hefty amount of budget on tertiary education. She also suggested that the database for the Ehsaas program’s education stipend scheme be updated to reflect the intra-and post-COVID era. Honorable Ms. Ghazala Saifi, Member Federal Education Standing Committee, National Assembly of Pakistan, urged for bringing education to homes through digitalization, particularly for girls who are unable to attend school for various reasons. She opined that the girls must also be taught different essential skills. She stated that we must devise a system where we can identify and also cater for those children that have high acumen and understanding, in order to reward them in terms of allocations with special needs and requirements. She also highlighted the issue of different standards of primary schools in a locality, district, division or city. She expressed the need for the parliamentarians to collaborate with all the concerned stake holders on a regular basis, in order to share ideas thus finding ways to improve our education sector. Honorable Ms. Nafeesa Khattak, Member Education Standing Committee, National Assembly of Pakistan, and convener to SDG4, said that we lack good teachers in our education sector, which is also a big reason of rising drop outs in the country. She also raised concerns regarding education budgeting suggesting that the government should increase education budget. She informed the participants about a full-fledged research project on school infrastructure in the federal capital, which took about a month and a half to complete after visiting each school in the capital. She stated that, unlike private schools, all government schools in the federal capital meet all requirements, including sports facilities, libraries, and laboratories. She asserted that we must take steps to obligate all private schools to provide such facilities. She proposed that the government engage civil society in school infrastructure as well, because our priority is our children. She also informed that National Vocational and Technical Training Commission (NAVTTC) is now also conducting farmers and agriculture related trainings such as honey trainings, kitchen garden trainings. She suggested that we utilize vast lands of government schools to train children in basic agricultural skills. Honorable Senator Ms. Mehr Taj Roghani, Member Education Standing Committee, Senate of Pakistan, commented that our enrollment is not that bad. She said that the main problem is the girl students drop out, and that the rural areas are worse than the urban areas. Our strategy should have more focus on the drop outs rather than enrolments. Honorable Senator Ms. Falak Naz, Member Education Standing Committee, Senate of Pakistan, and a resident of Chitral, expressed concern about the rising number of suicides in the area, as well as the prevalence of psychological issues, particularly among girls. The primary cause of psychological problems in the city is early marriages. She suggested that we should also deploy psychologists for children in schools, particularly in Chitral. She also raised concerns about the city’s unemployment, which she believes should be addressed by policymakers. Ms. Tehseen Khalid, Director (Research) PIPS, commenting on inclusive coalitions and consortiums, regarding addressing the education in the country, she gave an example of education specific technology consortiums named ‘Read Together’ that was organized in Hong Kong during the time COVID pandemic. The Consortium was based on 60 different organizations ensuring the online education content. She said Pakistan follow such examples for improving the online education system in the country. Honorable Ms. Wajiha Qamar, Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training, acknowledged that open parliaments and the participation of key stakeholders in the consultation process can be beneficial to the education sector. She suggested that the Ministry’s website be improved so that it can be used by any stakeholder, including Parliamentary Committees which not only helps track the government’s expenditures but also aids MPs in making informed decisions. She said that alignment of budgetary allocations with SDG4 targets and indicators can be enable all stakeholders to keep track of allocations but also assist in evaluating the spending in relation to the budgeted amount. While discussing about the disparity in budgetary allocation to primary, secondary and tertiary levels, she recommended that budgetary allocations at each level in the education sector be at par. Ms. Wajiha Qamar, viewed that considerable improvement have been brought in the training and facilities to teachers, along with improved pay packages. However, she emphasized that there still room for improving the linkage between a teacher’s performance and their promotion, and that the promotion should not merely depend on seniority of a teacher. She informed the participants that NAVTTC has established a National Accreditation Council, which is currently operating at the university level but needs to be expanded to the school level as well. She stated that there are numerous scholarship programs available through the Ehsaas program, or Bait ul Maal, national education foundation and national endowment scholarship children. However, all of these efforts, as well as others within and outside the ministry are isolated and disjointed and that they must be brought together on a common platform. She also informed the participants that the government is working to implement a food program for children in collaboration with various private organizations that will incentivize out-of-school children. Honorable Ms. Wajiha Qamar recognized the panelists’ concern about a lack of information about SDG4 progress in the Voluntary National Review of 2019-2020, and she stated that collaborative efforts are needed to address such issues. In her closing remarks Honorable Ms. Wajiha Qamar applauded the organizers for conducting roundtable meetings on education. She concluded that increased engagement among legislators, education department officials, and civil society is critical to ensuring a prosperous future. The roundtable ended with the vote of thanks by PIPS.