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Exploring the Right to Education in South Asia

Education is an enlightening experience that invokes insight into the hollow structure of the human mind. An educated person has a whole new approach to the happenings in the world. He who knows and he who does not know can never be equal. A spark that ignites the ideas protruding from the consciousness of minds is what education is. Every human on Earth has a legitimate right to an education that no power can ever label as a qualified privilege. The right to education is an absolute one. Education does not mean the surfaced and biased education we get but the rational education that is away from all merits of censorship. Education is a combination of transparency and bare truths that are unavailable at the grass-roots level due to the interests of the big fish. The UDHR adopted in 1948 proclaims in Article 26: 'Everyone has the right to education,' but it was a mere tactic to silence the voices of people. Today, the literacy rate in South Asia is 73.28%, which includes the basic skills of reading and writing. On the other hand, the education we get today is nothing more than facts and figures, with a few nonsequential phenomena being taught in the most inspiring way. What needs to be taught has been obnoxiously censored or removed from the shelves of all the libraries in the world. This region consists of countries that practice their backgrounds, histories, and struggles. The diversified national aspects compel a national educational system policy rather than a blanket curriculum for all. Versatile mindsets and different intellectual battles are essential liberties to be upheld. The problems inculcated in these education systems are due to many reasons that need improvement instead of overhauling because, no matter what, this system has produced some brilliant minds. We need to come up with solutions to eradicate the impending challenges in this region concerning education. Only this way can we become the actual versions of ourselves, break the slavery chains, and live as perceptive, educated, and free men.

Explaining UDHR

Firstly, to examine the right to education from a universal perspective, we must look up Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). It establishes the right to education as a fundamental human right. It states that everyone has the right to education, emphasizing that education should be free, particularly in the elementary and fundamental stages. Compulsory elementary education is emphasized, highlighting the importance of providing foundational knowledge and skills to all individuals. Technical and professional education is also underlined, aiming to make such education widely available to equip individuals with specialized skills for specific fields or industries. Additionally, the principle of equal accessibility to higher education based on merit is underscored, emphasizing that individuals should have equal opportunities to pursue higher education. International organizations such as UNESCO, UNICEF, the World Bank, the ILO, etc. are responsible for overseeing the implementation of the right to education, working towards inclusive and equitable educational systems, removing barriers to education, and promoting quality education for all. The right to education outlined in Article 26 of the UDHR serves as a vital foundation for ensuring that every individual has the opportunity to acquire knowledge, develop skills, and reach their full potential.

A Glance at the Constitutional Provisions of South Asian Countries

In South Asia, the right to education is enshrined in the constitutional provisions of each respective country. In Bangladesh, the constitution emphasizes the establishment of a universal system of education, extending free and compulsory education to all children, and eliminating illiteracy. Bhutan's constitution guarantees free education up to the tenth standard and aims to provide technical and professional education while ensuring equal access to higher education based on merit. India's constitution mandates free and compulsory education for children aged six to fourteen. In Nepal, citizens have the right to access basic education, with compulsory and free education provided up to the secondary level. Additionally, citizens with disabilities and indigent citizens are entitled to free higher education, and communities have the right to education in their native language. Pakistan's constitution ensures free and compulsory education for children aged five to sixteen. Sri Lanka's constitution emphasizes the eradication of illiteracy and universal and equal access to education at all levels. These constitutional provisions highlight the commitment of South Asian countries to providing education as a fundamental right, aiming for universal access, compulsory education, the elimination of illiteracy, and the promotion of equal opportunities for all individuals to pursue education.

In all South Asian countries, Education begins at the primary level and ends at the tertiary level. Alongside primary education, pre-primary education is offered in public schools in various developed areas and in private schools. Technical, vocational, and professional education leading to on-site work-related skills are also available and require a basic level of secondary education for admission. In the coming paragraphs, an effort is made to understand the educational structure of South Asian Countries.

In Bangladesh, the schooling system is organized into primary (grades 1–5) and secondary (grades 6–12) levels. Education is compulsory until the end of grade eight, and national public examinations are conducted at various stages. The country has public and private schools, with public schools offering free education up to the secondary level. There are also foreign schools, including those following the Cambridge system, and Madrassahs that cater to Islamic education. Moreover, Cadet Colleges administered by the Bangladesh Military provide room and board education. The medium of instruction in Bangladesh can be either English or Bangla, with both languages being compulsory subjects. Higher education in Bangladesh is offered by public, private, and international universities, leading to bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees. Entrance exams are typically required for admission to higher education institutions, and discussions are ongoing about implementing a uniform admission test. One of the biggest challenges in the schooling system is the low performance in primary education, particularly in rural areas where school attendance, dropout rates, and class repetition rates are high. Efforts should focus on improving access, quality, and equity in education across all regions of Bangladesh, addressing the disparities between urban and rural areas, and enhancing the learning outcomes for all students.

Bhutan's schooling system comprises three levels: primary education or lower secondary classes (pre-primary to 6), middle secondary classes (7 to 10), and higher secondary classes (11 and 12). National examinations are mandatory at the end of classes 8, 10, and 12. Public-sector institutions offer free education to all citizens. Government scholarships and monthly stipends are awarded to academically outstanding students for higher education, both within and outside the country. Schools in Bhutan are categorized as public, private, and monastic. Some are entirely boarding schools, others entirely day schools, and some are a combination of both. Monastic schools cater to monks. While Dzongkha, their national language, is a subject of instruction, all other subjects are taught in English. Higher education institutions offer diverse academic programs, including medicine, nursing, engineering, information technology, law, social science, and commerce, offering both bachelor's and master's courses. Though most colleges do not require entrance exams, a few, such as law schools, may necessitate an LSAT exam. Student selection is based on performance in higher secondary examinations and interviews. Both public and private schools adhere to the same curriculum and teaching methods, with public school teachers receiving additional training from the Education Ministry to enhance their skills. While Bhutan has made strides in improving the quality of education, addressing the quality gap between urban and rural schools remains imperative. Ensuring consistent standards, adequate teacher training, and effective implementation of teaching methodologies are vital for overall educational enhancement.

India's education system has recently undergone a reorganization and is now divided into four stages: foundational, comprising pre-school/Anganwadi and classes 1-2; preparatory for classes 3-5; middle school for classes 6–8; and secondary for classes 9–12. The recent provision offers free education for all until the age of 18. The Education Grants Commission oversees all stages of education in India. The country has four main types of schools: public, divided into state and central schools; private, international, and religious schools, catering to different curricula and boards. The first language is used as the medium of instruction until age 8, following recent advancements. State-level schools use native dialects, while private schools primarily use English. Scholarships are available after the 12th grade, and higher education includes bachelor's to post-doctorate degrees with a focus on research and practical work, often offering internships for hands-on experience. Entrance exams are mandatory for college and university admissions. Although some government colleges offer free higher education for women, disparities between public and private, urban and rural schools, still persist. Effective policies passed by the government require better implementation, and the personality and skill development of students need improvement. The quality of education in public schools is compromised, necessitating non-conventional educational approaches to meet contemporary needs, including personal development programs and employment-based learning. While some states offer startup plans for fresh graduates, further expansion is necessary to empower the education system.

The schooling system in Nepal is organized into two levels: primary (grades one through eight) and secondary (grades nine through twelve), with pre-primary education available in some areas. Students usually begin grade one at age five and undergo national examinations at the end of classes 8, 10, and 12. While public schools offer free education up to a certain level and provide facilities, there is a significant disparity between public and private schools. Many children in remote villages lack access to education beyond the primary level, and government schools struggle due to insufficient resources, including skilled teachers and textbooks. The medium of instruction in both public and private schools is primarily English and Nepali, with English being a compulsory subject. Higher education in Nepal encompasses bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees, with some universities offering graduate and post-graduate diplomas. Transitioning from school to higher education often involves entrance exams for local students, while foreign students may undergo interviews as well as entrance exams for admission. To improve the schooling system, it is crucial to address the discrepancies between public and private schools and allocate resources to enhance the quality of education in public institutions. Furthermore, a shift towards practical education methods is needed to provide students with hands-on learning experiences and better prepare them for real-world challenges.

In Pakistan, the schooling system is organized into four levels: primary grades 1–5, middle grades 6–8, secondary grades 9 and 10, and higher secondary grades 11 and 12. Education is compulsory up to grade 10, with national examinations held in grades 9 to 12. The country has public, private, religious, and foreign schools. Public schools offer free education, while private schools charge fees. Religious schools can be private or public, offering Islamic and convent education, and foreign schools follow the Cambridge System. The medium of instruction includes Urdu and English, with both being compulsory subjects. Education is free for all in public schools up to grade 10, with additional facilities and financial support for financially deprived students in grades 11 and 12, and minimal annual charges for other students. Disparities exist between public and private schools, with limited opportunities and resources in public schools. Higher education in Pakistan encompasses professional and research-based fields leading to graduate, post-graduate, and doctoral programs, with several types of universities available. While higher education is not free, exceptional students can receive scholarships and stipends. Transitioning from school to higher education requires entrance exams. The examination system in Pakistan currently focuses on rote memorization, and a shift toward promoting creativity and holistic learning is necessary. Efforts should also be made to bridge the gap between public and private schools and provide equal opportunities for students across the education system.

In Sri Lanka, the school system is divided into primary grades 1–5 and upper grades 6–13. Three main examinations are conducted: a scholarship examination after the 5th grade, an ordinary level examination after grade 11, and an advanced level examination after the 13th grade, with results usually announced within 5 or 6 months. The country has four types of school systems: public, private, religious, and international. Public schools are overseen by the state government, while private schools are managed by churches and private organizations. Religious schools, known as Sunday schools, are run by churches, and international schools follow international syllabuses. Instruction is provided in English, Tamil, and Sinhala, with Sinhala being the predominant language. Public schools offer free education up to the 13th grade, with a charge of Rs. 15,000 for A-levels. Students are legally required to attend school until the age of 14. Public universities are free without special scholarships, but admission to these universities requires high grades in the A-level examination, with the aggregate calculated by dividing the student's average by the country's average that year. Public schools provide free books, and public transportation, though not free, is affordable at around 10 to 12 rupees. However, an entrance examination is required for law school. Challenges faced by the education sector include a significant gap between public and private schools, a lack of teacher training in public schools, low English language proficiency in public schools, disparities between Colombo and other city schools, and an inadequate syllabus in subjects like Science and History. Moreover, the secondary education system concludes at the age of 19, comparatively late compared to other countries where students enter universities at 17, and the lack of adequately trained teachers impacts the overall education standard, particularly in public schools.

Challenges Faced by South Asia

The education sector in South Asia faces a myriad of challenges that significantly impact its progress and development. Access and equity remain fundamental issues as there is a substantial disparity between urban and rural areas, with marginalized communities and indigent groups facing barriers to accessing quality education. Furthermore, the quality of education poses a major concern, with a shortage of well-trained teachers, outdated teaching methodologies, and inadequate learning resources leading to subpar learning outcomes and a mismatch between imparted skills and the demands of the job market. Infrastructure and facilities remain inadequate, particularly in remote areas where a lack of basic amenities like clean water, sanitation, and electricity hinders the learning environment.

Gender disparities persist, with girls experiencing higher dropout rates and lower enrollment in secondary and higher education, often due to prevailing social norms and cultural beliefs. Proper allocation and management of resources are vital to improving the quality of education, as the education sector frequently receives inadequate funding. The shortage of qualified and motivated teachers remains a pressing issue, necessitating robust teacher training and professional development initiatives to enhance teaching capabilities and commitment to education. Furthermore, curriculum relevance is essential; a practical and up-to-date curriculum that prepares students for real-world challenges and aligns with market demands is crucial.

The integration of technology in education is lacking, limiting access to digital learning resources and innovative teaching methods that can revolutionize the learning experience. Inadequate monitoring and evaluation mechanisms hinder the ability to assess the effectiveness of education policies and programs and implement necessary improvements. To address these challenges, concerted efforts from governments, international organizations, and local communities are required. Investment in education, improvement in teacher training, enhancement of infrastructure, and fostering gender equality are critical steps toward building an inclusive and thriving education system in South Asia. Embracing technology, updating curricula, and establishing robust monitoring and evaluation systems will further contribute to the region's quest for equitable and high-quality education for all.

In conclusion, education is a transformative journey that enlightens the mind and shapes one's approach to the world. It is a fundamental human right that should be accessible to every individual without discrimination. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) recognizes this right in Article 26, highlighting the importance of free and compulsory education at the elementary and fundamental stages. However, the actual implementation of this right faces numerous challenges in South Asia. Disparities in access, quality, and resources persist, particularly between urban and rural areas. Gender disparities and inadequate teacher training further exacerbate the situation. The region's diverse national aspects call for tailored educational policies to meet the unique needs of each country. To overcome these challenges, effective policies must be translated into action, focusing on improving access, quality, and equity in education. Adequate investment in infrastructure, teacher training, and technology integration can lead to a more inclusive and effective education system. Monitoring and evaluation mechanisms are essential to assess progress and identify areas for improvement. By addressing these challenges, South Asia can foster a generation of perceptive, educated, and free individuals who contribute to the region's progress and prosperity.

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