Article 25A of the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan Right to Education reads, “The state shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to sixteen years as may be determined by law”. The bill puts the responsibility on the government of paying all education related costs including stationery, school bags and transport for children aged 5 to 16 years. It also describes the obligatory role of the government in the provision of free education, the role of parents and the private education sector and the duties of the teachers.

This right to education clause was a part of the original 1973 constitution, which also included a deadline. By 1985, Pakistan had to be 100% literate but it was not to be. Zia-ul-Haq replaced the statute of limitation and inserted, ‘within reasonable time’ which meant never. No one had the courage to blast him for this onslaught against the nation. Even the courts remained silent while the nation continued to sink in ignorance.

I was prompted to write this article after going through one of the astonishing photographs from Dr. Isa Daudpota collection. In 1920 an eight year old Samuel Reshevesky in Poland took the chess world by storm. All the chess masters combined could not outplay him. To exploit his fame and fortune the family moved to United States where education was compulsory. Instead of attending school he was seen on the Chess Challenges. The State took notice of this violation and the parents were served with a notice of ‘Inappropriate Guardianship’. Samuel had to go to school and ended up with an accounting degree. The chess world lost its master.

As a nation we are also guilty of ‘Inappropriate Guardianship’. The architects of the constitution had the wisdom, courage and honesty of purpose to frame not one but several nation-building clauses. Like most dictators, Zia had no respect for the constitution and disfigured this article of faith. He openly remarked that he could tear the document and trash it. Musharraf the fourth usurper created another strange logical fallicy saying, “in order to save the state one has to overrule the constitution”. Such a statement shows a twisted mindset. The state exists because of the constitution, not the other way around.

Before partition the muslims of India took upon themselves to educate their young. There were several voluntary movements like Anjumane Himayat-e-Islam that ran schools and colleges. My family supported Islamia High School Ludhiana that produced scientists like Dr. Riazuddin who designed our nuclear bomb and his brother Dr. Fiazuddin who is also a prominent physicist. Migrants from Ludhiana mostly settled in Faisalabad where they founded the Pakistan Foundation School which was then nationalised in the seventies.

After the promulgation of the constitution in 1973 it was widely expected that state will shoulder its responsibility of education. The constitutional infringements in the eighties and nineties without the due amendment process has disfigured the unanimously agreed document. Finally in 2012 the 18th constitutional amendment brought back the Right to Education clause. By August 2013 every five-year child should have been accommodated in a school thereby achieving the first milestone of 100% primary coverage but they have failed miserably resulting in a serious constitutional violation. It calls for an education emergency.

According to the Government of Punjab it requires Rs. 700 billion to comply with article 25-A of the constitution. While funds are available for un-popular projects like the Orange Train and Metro Bus there is a lack of will to educate the future generations. Our primary coverage is the lowest in the world, 75% (as claimed), that means every year 25% of the school age children enter the ranks of the illiterate. Then there are hordes of youngsters who missed the net (60-80 million).

The education department of the Government of Punjab is almost as large as the Pakistan Army (550,000 employees). After the promulgation of the 1973 Constitution with the time deadline of ten years education become serious business. Professionals were called in, Abdul Hafiz Kardar was Minister and Prof. Muhammad Rashid Secretary in Punjab while Hafiz Pirzada was Minister and Dr. Muhammad Ajmal Secretary at the centre. With the fall of the elected government of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) education fell on hard times.

Education is the basic building block of a nation. No country has progressed with rampant illiteracy. As a nation we will continue to wander in the darkness of ignorance unless the constitutional provision is taken seriously and implemented. The courts must take notice of this blatant violation of this fundamental human right as enshrined in the constitution under article 25-A. We have waited long enough, it is time to move against illiteracy and ignorance. The struggle must go on till the light of literacy overcomes the darkness that engulfs us.