The National Assembly adopted on Tuesday a bill which after the president’s assent will guarantee all children of five to sixteen years of age free quality education.

The Senate has already passed the bill: ‘Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2012’.

Originally, the bill was meant for schools established by the federal government and within the Islamabad Capital Territory, but, referring to Article 25-A of the Constitution, the National Assembly unanimously called upon all provincial governments to adopt similar bills as soon as possible, ensuring access to quality education for all children of school-going age.

After the passage of the 18th Amendment, the federal government cannot legislate on education for the provincial governments. However, Article 25-A of the Constitution asks the state “to provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to sixteen years in such manner as may be determined by law”.

Seeda Iqbal of the PPP had moved it as a private member’s bill in the Senate and Yasmin Rehman also of the ruling party in the National Assembly.

An exuberant Ms Rehman, who received compliments from all around for getting the bill adopted, said: “We are already late in the field of education, thus, the provincial governments shouldn’t wait any longer and come up with similar legislations on emergency basis.”

When asked what was the need of such a bill in the presence of Article 25 of the Constitution which ensured free education to children up to sixteen years of age across the country, she said: “It was just one-liner article which needed to be put in actionable words and with this act, we have done that.”

Shedding light on salient features of the bill, Ms Rehman said it had addressed the issues of both quantity and quality — infrastructure and syllabus development, teachers training etc — in the education sector. Parents’ involvement in the management of schools by sitting on their advisory committees, which had been mandatory under the act, would help improve educational standards, she added.

Ms Rehman said regularisation of private schools had been made stricter. The schools would have to fulfil a certain criterion, otherwise their registrations would be cancelled along with penalties of up to Rs200,000.

Moreover, all private schools would ensure 10 per cent quota for poor children of their areas, she added.

After the implementation of the bill, child-employers will have to send them to schools, otherwise will be liable to pay a fine of Rs50,000 and undergo three years of imprisonment that will help discourage child labour in the country.

Shehnaz Wazirali of the PPP said although the act had been passed as a private member’s bill, the entire National Assembly should take pride in it because the law would ensure a bright future for children. She specifically asked the provincial governments to take their cue from this ‘good piece of legislation and start a national movement for education of “our children”.

Asia Nasir of the JUI-F also praised the law and called for its implementation in letter and spirit. “The government should provide all necessary support, including adequate funding, because we have now everything in a written form,” she said.

Bushra Gohar of the ANP said the passage of the bill was a ray of hope when education was under attack by extremist forces in the country.She supported an international move to honour Malala Yousufzai with the Noble Prize for Peace and urged the house to pass a resolution to the effect.

When contacted, renowned educationist and scientist Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy said successive governments had made such announcements but did nothing. “First of all our lawmakers should tell us about its implementation plan. Does the government have enough resources to put the law into action? What about teachers’ training,” he asked.

Dr Nayyar, another educationist, said the government required to spend immense amount of money to send children up to 16 years of age to school. “We need to spend 6 per cent of the GDP on education against the current 1.7 per cent because one third of children of this age group don’t go to schools at all and there is shortage of 50 per cent teachers in our existing schools,” he said.