The state of education in Balochistan has always been in jeopardy, with low literacy rates and a lack of access to schools — a constitutional right in Pakistan and elsewhere in the world. According to the Provincial Education Commission, there are just 12,500 primary, secondary and high schools in a province that encompasses over 22,000 human settlements. Up to half the population has no access to schools. Compounding the problem is the fact that of those 12,500 schools, 7,000 are those which consist of little more than a single room with a single teacher. Currently, 66 per cent of the province’s school-age population — some 1.8 million children — is out of school. And the situation may be even far worse than these statistics indicate, given the existence of hundreds of ghost teachers and ghost schools.
The government of Balochistan likes to take credit for ‘addressing’ the problem, saying that it has increased the budget of education from nine per cent to 22 per cent. But that may not be enough. Sardar Raza Mohammed Badech, adviser to the Balochistan chief minister on education, admitted that even with this increase in funding, significant change or improvement is unlikely since the province simply does not have the necessary resources for tangible results to materialise.
And so, in a province where the literacy rate is already the lowest in the nation, problems with the education system continue unchecked. Despite the government’s declaration of an education emergency, there has been next to no demonstrable progress beyond the launching of a website and the offering of useless statistics.
The chief minister has expressed particular dissatisfaction regarding the ongoing problem of absenteeism amongst teachers. These teachers are often seen to be participating in protest demonstrations but rarely set foot in an actual classroom. Unfortunately, they wield considerable power as they are an important part of the vote bank, so they are able to essentially blackmail the government into getting their way.
There is no excuse for depriving children of this mineral- and resource-rich province of their right to a decent education. The federal government, as well as the network of international non-profit organisations, must make it a priority to increase the number of schools and to establish a proper system of teacher accountability. Denying education to children for any reason is a violation of the Constitution. It is also a contributing factor to overall lawlessness. Given Balochistan’s meagre financial resources, unless the federal government changes its negligent attitude towards the education crisis in the province, Balochistan will never be in a position to guarantee even a 90 per cent enrollment rate for children of school-going age. This embarrassing situation has to change. The future of the province’s children depends on it.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 22nd, 2015.