One of the principles of policy as stated in Article 37(b) of 1973 Constitution of Pakistan lays down that “the state shall remove illiteracy, and provide free and compulsory secondary education within minimum possible period.” This Article remained a pious wish, as provision of education was only a policy principle and not a fundamental right.The 18th Amendment of the Constitution has added Article 25(A), making the Right to Education obligatory for the state and also justiciable. It too, however, will be enforced when a law is passed to give effect to this ‘Right’. With the subject of education devolved to the provinces, now each province has to promulgate such legislation.Earlier this month, the Senate approved a Right to Education law to enforce Article 25(A) in the federal territories. None of the provinces has as yet promulgated the required legislation.Mention here may be made of the special efforts made by Unesco to help expedite the preparation of the required draft law. Former Senator S.M. Zafar deserves credit for drafting the legislation and introducing it in the Senate. The Sindh Education Department too is currently being assisted by Unesco to prepare a draft bill. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is also seized of the matter.To understand the meaning and implications of the Right to Education (RTE) Act and the pursuant legislation, one may have a look at the provisions approved by the legislature in India. There, the Constitution was amended in 2002 while enabling legislation was passed in September 2009. The draft bill remained mired in controversy for a number of years. The constitutional amendment and the enabling legislation were opposed by the private education sector. There was criticism of a number of provisions relating to the private sector and certain aspects of the scheme of the implementation. The private sector educators’ lobby questioned the provision of 25 percent reservation for disadvantaged children in their schools and took the matter to the Supreme Court on the ground that it violated their autonomy and was a drain on their resources. The Indian Supreme Court upheld the law (April 2012) with the observation that it shall not apply to schools run by minority groups that receive no government funds. The main features of the Indian RTE Act are mentioned below:lFree and compulsory education to all children of India in the 6 to 14 age group; lNo child shall be held back, expelled, or required to pass a board examination until completion of elementary education; lA child above six years of age who has not been admitted in any school, or though admitted could not complete his or her elementary education, then he or she shall be admitted in a class appropriate to his or her age;lProof of age for admission: for the purposes of admission to elementary education, the age of a child shall be determined on the basis of the birth certificate issued in accordance with the provisions of Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1856 or on the basis of such other document, as may be prescribed. No child shall be denied admission in a school for lack of age proof;lA child who completes elementary education shall be awarded a certificate;l Calls for a fixed student-teacher ratio; lWill apply to all of India except Jammu and Kashmir;lProvides for 25 percent reservation for economically disadvantaged communities in admission to Class One in all private schools;lMandates improvement in quality of education;l School teachers will need adequate professional degree within five years or else will lose job;lSchool infrastructure (where there is problem) to be improved in three years, else recognition cancelled;lFinancial burden will be shared between state and central government.Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi’s (ITA) Baela Raza, who started the first-ever Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) in Pakistan and launched the One-Million Signature campaign for RTE, organised a meeting in Lahore on July 19, 2012, to discuss the RTE legislation. The meeting was attended by a number of Senators, MPAs, Punjab Education Minister, Senior Advisor to Chief Minister, PEF Chairman, Pacade Chairman, representatives of CSOs (including Ms Nasira Iqbal) and the media. The ITA inter alia circulated in the meeting, a paper on a comparative analysis of the Indian and Pakistani RTE laws.The Indian law is more specific about the norms and standards for the registration of schools. Minimum qualifications of the teachers too have not been clearly specified in the Senate Act. In India, teachers are prohibited to give private tuitions; in Pakistan, there is no such restriction. In Pakistan, an Education Advisory Council shall be responsible for ensuring implementation. Yet, it is not clear which body will monitor the implementation. In India, the body that will oversee the implementation would be independent of the monitoring mechanism. While detailed guidelines for the implementation have not been provided in the Senate RTE Act; in India, guidelines for curriculum and implementation have been spelt out. A major difference between the two laws relates to the compulsory provision for free education in the private schools. In India, this requirement is 25 percent; while in Pakistan, it is only 10 percent. Again reimbursement to private schools has not been clearly specified.The state obligations and various components of implementation would require heavy financial investment running into billions. Improved schooling will have to be provided. Better teachers with enhanced training standards and facilities would be required. Missing infrastructure facilities, including adequate buildings, drinking water, toilets, electricity etc, would have to be put in place.The Senate law lays down the following obligations of the state:lProvide free education to every child; lEnsure admission of children of migrant families;lEnsure compulsory admission, attendance and completion of education;lEnsure safety of travel of the child and the teacher to and from school;lEnsure availability of a neighbourhood school;lEnsure that the disadvantaged child is not discriminated against and prevented from, on any grounds whatsoever, pursuing and completing education;lProvide infrastructure, including school building, playgrounds, laboratories, teaching and learning material, and teaching staff;lMonitor functioning of schools within its jurisdiction;lDecide the academic calendar;lProvide all training facilities for teachers and students;lEnsure good quality education conforming to the prescribed standards and norms;lEnsure timely prescribing of curriculum and courses of study for education; andlProvide proper training facility for teachers.If all the provisions are only modestly implemented, it will require a considerable revamping of the elementary education in Pakistan. The provincial governments and civil society organisations will also have to launch awareness and advocacy campaigns to sensitise and influence parents and the private sector for fully availing the opportunity of totally free education. The writer is an ex-federal secretary and ambassador, and political and international relations analyst.Email: pacade@brain.net.pk