ISLAMABAD – The participants of a meeting has demanded revision of the ‘Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2011’ to maximise the required prospects and safeguarding future of the young generation.

Academic experts hailing from different government, semi-government and private institutions discussing the Act, already passed from Senate, said that the penalties mentioned in the Act were not clear and it should be explicitly stated whether the penalty would be criminal or civil.

They also asked for clarifying that which procedure must be followed once a penalty is imposed, officials from Ministry of Human Rights told APP here on Sunday. They said instead of using only the term “he” in the act when referring to a child, it is more appropriate to use “she/he” to be more gender sensitive. This simple change would go a long way in ensuring that girls are also allowed to reap the benefits of this Act. They asked that it is necessary to make sure children know their rights and are aware of their entitlement to free and compulsory education.

The Act must make clear provisions for what is to be done in case of emergencies such as floods, earthquakes etc, participants of the meeting said, adding, displaced children must be accommodated elsewhere to avoid a break in their education. During the clause wise discussion on the bill, the meeting members said, Section 1 (3) of the Act reads, “It shall come into force on such date and in such areas ...”

Commenting on this point, the participants agreed that the use of the word ‘areas’ was entirely too vague and left the areas of FATA, GB and AJK undefined. The areas in which the law holds must, therefore, be defined more clearly in the Act, they stated. Section 2 (a) (ii) reads “a school established, owned, or controlled by the Local Government”. Here the participants were of the opinion that other authorities designated by the Constitution to act in place of the local government should be mentioned.

Section 2 (d) speaks of a parent “whose annual income is lower than the minimum limit specified by the appropriate government”. The participants agreed that further clarity is necessary as to what exactly is the amount that “minimum limit’ indicates.

This is necessary as otherwise ambiguity may rise as to whether this refers to poverty levels, minimum wage levels etc, they sought. Section 2 (g) reads, “Free education means education free of any education related costs including expenditure on stationery, school bags and transport.” The participants felt that this section should include whether or not uniforms will be provided as well, as that amounts to a significant cost for low income households.

Section 2 (k) outlines the definitions of “school” for the purposes of this Act. The participants agreed that the term “school” has the potential to be restrictive. It would be preferable to replace it with a more all-encompassing phrase like “educational institutes” to include madrassas etc. Section 3 (3) (j) reads that the government is obligated to “provide all training facilities for teachers and students.” Here it should be added that all training facilities must conform to the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Section 5 (3) mentions “service rules” which schools must adhere to. The participants discussed that while service rules are in place for the public sector, there is no corresponding set of rules for the private sector.

There must be more clarity on what rules will apply to private schools, madaris etc.

The participants agreed that the use of the terms “formal and non-formal education” in the Act was beneficial as it effectively covers a situation where a child too old to be enrolled in a formal system still has a right to education in a different system.

Officials of the National Commission for Human Development, the Ministry of Education and Training, National Commission for Child Welfare and Development, Ministry of Human Rights, United Nations Children Fund, OXFAM, Sahil, SPAARC, Idara-e-Taleem-o-Agahi and others attended the meeting.