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 Thursday, November 11, 2021. The roundtable aimed to stimulate dialogue on the issues confronting girl child education as well as to provide a platform for the exchange of ideas in order to generate policy recommendations and a way forward for the Members of the School Education Committee of the Provincial Assembly of Punjab. Honourable Ms. Aisha Nawaz, Chairperson Standing Committee on School Education, Provincial Assembly of Punjab, chaired the 4-hour session, attended by around 25 participants including Panelists comprising MPAs from Punjab and seasoned experts. PIPS Research Wing hosted the event along with participants from the 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), Pakistan Institute for Parliamentary Services, moderated the session while Mr. Hanif Nasar Khan, Deputy Director (Research) PIPS, was the rapporteur, who recorded the Minutes and Proceedings. The Proceedings commenced with the recitation of verses of the Holy Quran by Hon. MPA Chaudhry Sajid. Mr. Muhammad Rashid Mafzool Zaka, Director General (Research), PIPS welcomed the participants and gave a presentation on the overall effective role of Parliamentary Committees in legislative scrutiny. Mr. Zaka said that the Parliament has four major roles that include law making, executive oversight, representation of its constituency and budget. He said that the parliamentary committee has a crucial leading role to play in the executive oversight especially viz a viz scrutiny of education policy, review of budgets and assessing of existing laws. Mr. Zaka also suggested two models that can be applied by committee members in scrutinizing any public policy on education and assessing the laws presently enforced to ensure universal and free education. Mr. Zaka, shed light on the key role of the parliamentary committees to hold line departments accountable. The implementation of education across Punjab can be made manifold more effective by strengthening parliamentarians’ oversight in the implementation process. Mr. Mukhtar Ahmad Ali, Executive Director, CPDI, deliberated upon the right to information and expressed the need to work more on the certain limitations that exist and its appropriate implementation with respect to the dispensation on the right to information. It was discussed that the Parliamentary Committees can take up major role on the issues revolving right to information. Public finance expert and author of the recently published white-paper “Public Invest in Education: An Appraisal of SDG 4 in PakistanMr. Asim Bashir Khan while providing an overview of the findings and recommendations of the white-paper said “Both the federal and provincial governments understand the fact that the current state of public investment in education is not up to the required mark. This is evident from the majority of the sector plans as well as the Vision 2025 document which pledges to allocate 4% of the GDP to education. However, in reality Pakistan has been unable to allocate more than 2.5% of its GDP in the last 20 years. The COVID crises have led to a further decline in public investment in education with merely 1.5% of GDP being allocated for education in the fiscal year 2020 – 21.” PCE’s National Coordinator Ms. Zehra Arshad, while talking about equitable access to education said “Although our international commitment according to SDG 4 is to attain 100% literacy, we still have 22.84 million out-of-school children of which 12.16 million are girls. This number is further expected to increase by at least 4.2% in the aftermath of the pandemic.” She further warned that with merely eight years remaining until the conclusion of the United Nations Agenda 2030, Pakistan is on the verge of missing its targets under SDG-4 (i.e., quality equitable education) by a huge margin. Commenting on the institutional and cultural barriers limiting girls’ education in the post-pandemic context, PYCA’s Executive Director Ms. Areebah Shahid, urged the parliamentarians to revisit the data of the beneficiaries of the Ehsaas Education Stipend Program, which is based on the lists of vulnerable households prepared almost a decade ago. She urged that “Thousands of households have fallen below the poverty line as a direct impact of the pandemic and it is imperative that the Ehsaas Education Stipend Program also takes stock  of this new situation.” She also urged the members of the Punjab Assembly to adopt gender-responsive budgeting on the same lines as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa so that educational planning and spending could effectively prioritize girls’ access to quality education across the province.  Dr. Suhail Shahzad, Special Secretary Education Department, Government of Punjab, informed the participants that the overall spending of US $18 spent on a child in the country, being not even the half spent on a child in India; it should be increased. He shared that Education Department has no less than 5 lac employees but only 155 teachers’ training centers. It was highlighted that vacancies in any department including education are rarely filled in a timely manner as a result the students are deprived of teachers. Dr. Suhail Shahzad also raised the need on enacting laws especially with respect to housing societies that rarely allocate or reserve plot or land for public schools but instead sell out the plots at lucrative price to elite private schools. The MPs and civil society experts reiterated that it is causing great social disparity in already existing big gap among haves and have-nots. The participants overall agreed upon the need to increase in the government’s annual budget on child education.  Hon. MPA Shamim Aftab, while talking about the need to curtail learning losses pointed at the need for piloting small digital and hybrid learning initiatives to make the country’s education system resilient and better prepared in the face of emergency situations such as the current pandemic. In her closing remarks Honourable Ms. Aisha Nawaz, MPA and Chairperson Standing Committee on School Education, shared that notification of Punjab Free & Compulsory Education Law 2014 remains the priority of the Standing Committee. She also desired to hold similar meetings in different districts of the Province especially the vulnerable districts viz a viz drop outs or education standards, with participation of all the stakeholders. She reiterated that such knowledge sharing meetings and roundtables would allow open discussions between all the stakeholders to reach for a common goal. She concluded that “The best way to move forward is to have greater engagement between legislators, education department officials and civil society activists so that the consequent policy direction is both participatory and inclusive.” She also expressed interest in attending similar round tables to learn about the challenges in the education system directly from the district officials and community members.

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