Statistics continue to pour in, telling us that the extent of the educational crisis that Pakistan faces — Balochistan in particular — is overwhelming. Here’s one example: since independence, the district of Lasbela has only produced one CSS officer, according to the Minister of State for Petroleum and Natural Resources Prince Jam Kamal Khan. It has been up to the provincial government to pick up the pieces, and the efforts it has made, while yet to deliver results, are encouraging.
First, there has been a sincere effort to eradicate nepotism from the selection process. To start with, Chief Minister Abdul Malik Baloch, along with other parliamentarians, has surrendered his discretionary powers for the selection of teachers, as had previously been the practice. According to Abdul Sabor Kakar, the secretary of the Balochistan education department, now teachers are being employed only through the Balochistan Testing Service (BTS), the National Testing Service (NTS) and the Balochistan Public Service Commission (BPSC). The salaries of primary and middle school teachers have been bumped up to match the salaries received by grade 15 government officers. They are to be selected by the BTS while the NTS selects high school teachers against a pay scale of grade 16 and above. It is also mandatory for NTS selected candidates to clear the BPSC examination as well in order to have teaching jobs. (Still, an investigation into the practices of the BPSC has stalled the reform from coming into effect fully.) Smaller measures, like the erasure of remote interviews, which had been exploited and taken advantage of, have also been put in place.
The Balochistan government has also made an effort to bring in more qualified teachers. Following the amendments made by the provincial government, terms and conditions have been changed for recruitment, according to Muhammad Anwar, a former educational director. Before the amendments, a person who had only passed high school was eligible to teach, armed only with a Primary Teaching Certificate. Now, a two-year Associate Degree for Education (ADE), which can only be accredited by the University of Balochistan, is necessary for the same position. The first batch of 200 teachers under this programme graduated this year.
Middle school teachers require all of the above and an additional Certificate in Teaching. Secondary school teachers must possess two masters degrees: a degree in their specialisation as well as a Masters in Education (the previous requirement was just an undergraduate degree).
Part of the effort to bring in more qualified teachers has also included targeting bogus enterprises that sell fake degrees. In addition, the government has also banned private teaching centres from offering the ADE to aspiring teachers, which instead now offer other teaching degrees. The benefits are obvious — standardised teacher training, as well as greater supervision over recruitment — but then so is the potential for further graft. Given the state of the BPSC, the government has hardly shown itself to be more reliable than the private institutions it has abolished. Also, given the state of educational institutes and infrastructure across the province, one wonders whether certified private vocational centres might have helped reach those districts and towns where the government continues to be absent. In this regard, perhaps, the provincial government should reconsider its decision to stop private institutions from offering ADE.
Despite the changes, problems are still aplenty. PPP Senator Sardar Fateh Muhammad Hasni has admitted that the recruitment process has been less than transparent in the recent past; in many cases, recruitment officers ask for bribes from aspiring teachers if they want to be selected. “In most cases, job-seekers have to meet the financial demand of the job providers [the asking price for a bribe] if they are not politically influential enough,” he said.
Despite earnest attempts to fix what it sees as a flawed system, the provincial government’s battle against entrenched nepotism and a basic lack of infrastructure will be laborious and difficult, rendering the process to find and train good teachers equally fraught. But the first steps have been taken, and Balochistan is definitely on its way.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 26th, 2015.