In January 2014, the then Chief Minister, Dr Malik Baloch, declared an education emergency in Balochistan, vowing to uplift the dismal state of education in the province. Four years later, it is time to ponder what has been achieved since then.
Balochistan covers approximately 47 percent of the landmass of Pakistan, but its people have a long history of persecution and deprivation. Perhaps nothing but education can best depict the level of grievances in the province.
Having the lowest literacy rate, the education sector in Balochistan is highly neglected. It lags far behind the other provinces. The Economic Survey of Pakistan put the general literacy rate in Balochistan at 41 per cent, male literacy rate at 56 and female literacy rate at 24, in 2015-2016.
Before the education emergency, the picture of literacy rate in Balochistan was only slightly better with a general literacy rate at 43 percent, male literacy rate at 59 and female literacy rate at 25.[i] According to UNICEF, “almost 6 out of 10 people in Balochistan are illiterate.”[ii]
According to the Provincial Education Commission, there are 12,500 government-run primary, middle and high schools in Balochistan. However, a survey conducted by UNICEF from May 2016 to May 2017 traced 1,500 ghost schools (that is one in every 10 school) and found that 7,000 out of 12,500 schools consisted of a single room run by a single teacher while there were around 10,000 ghost teachers that continue to draw salaries from public funds. The survey also revealed that more than 2,000 schools were shelter-less besides lacking the very basic facilities such as drinking water, toilets, electricity, boundary walls, furniture, textbooks etc.
Despite the declaration of an ‘education emergency’ and contrary to the Balochistan government’s repeated claims of placing significant attention on enhancing children enrolment, the province is still on the top in terms of out-of-school children. In fact, children enrolments have considerably dwindled. The Economic Survey of Pakistan (2016-2017)[iii] noted that despite an increase in the Net Enrolment Rate (NER) at primary level, Balochistan has gone down from 39 per cent in 2013-2014 to 33 percent in 2015-2016.
Thus, the declaration of emergency by the government has been counterproductive by further decreasing the number of enrolled students in primary schools. According to UNICEF, in Balochistan, “seven out of every 10 children are out of school. Fifty-three per cent of all the children and 66 per cent of girls are not even in primary schools.”
The budget tends to highlight a government’s priorities. Balochistan’s budget allocation for education shows that it is the least priority. The total expenditure of Balochistan’s budget for 2016-2017 was Rs289 billion and it earmarked Rs49.1 billion for education in 2016-2017, that is only an increase of two percent in contrast with the allocated education budget of Rs48.3 billion in 2015-2016. A comparative analysis shows that this increase of percentage is the lowest among the other provinces of Pakistan. The education budget of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh have both increased by 19 percent and Punjab with an increase of nine percent in 2016 -2017.[iv]
The total outlay of budget in Sindh from 2016-2017 was Rs869 billion and it earmarked 20 percent (Rs176 billion) of it for education. Punjab received the highest amount of Rs1,681 billion for the budget and it earmarked Rs313 billion (19 percent) for education. Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa received Rs505 billion and it allocated 28 percent (Rs143 billion) for education.
These statistics negate any notion of an education emergency in Balochistan. Perhaps, the declaration of emergency was an eyewash to create an aura that the so-called middle class government of Dr. Baloch was up for the redressal of the most basic grievances of the province.
Besides, the failure of the government of Balochistan to provide enough schools for a population of over 10 million people is another reason for the appalling state of education. The existing schools are reported to deliver a low learning outcome because of the lack of qualified and trained teachers. One of the reasons for such an apathy is that teacher recruitment at the primary level is often politically motivated. The vacancies are not filled in on the basis of merit and talent but are distributed by the MPs to the family members of their most affluent and loyal voters.
It is being widely reported in the social media and local press that an increasing number of schools have become non-functional as they are being used for activities other than education. Separatist groups and human right activists often claim that paramilitary forces have converted many schools into counter-insurgency bases.
That said, the primary reason for these non-functional schools are ghost teachers whose names exist only on the paper. They never show up on duty. In a media report, the Education Department of Balochistan confirmed that they could merely verify 42,000 teachers out of 59,000 registered teachers in Balochistan.[v]
Teacher absenteeism in Balochistan is recorded as 15 per cent. In Punjab it’s 7 per cent, in Sindh 14 and in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa 14. Teacher absenteeism is among the most serious causes of the worsening education situation. It negatively impacts the overall potency of schools and pupils’ accomplishments. It also induces pupil absenteeism. What is more worrisome is the fact that absent teachers are often politically shielded from any kind of disciplinary action by those whom they vote to power.
Religious seminaries (madrassas) are also mushrooming across the province. There are an estimated 13,500 seminaries in Balochistan.[vi] The number of registered madrassahs is 2,500 while there are more than 10,000 unregistered ones. These madrassas seem to be outnumbering the government schools. It is also reported that the net enrolment rate in schools is decreasing while the number of students is rising manifold in the seminaries where they are provided free food, clothing, books and free religious education. Baloch nationalists often allege that it is an organized attempt by the Pakistani deep state to counter the growing nationalistic tendencies in Balochistan.
One of the consequence of growing extremism is attacks on girl education. The media has reported numerous incidents where girl schools and universities were attacked by religious extremists. Some years back, schools in the Panjgur district remained closed for months in protest against threats by Islamists to attack co-education schools. In 2016, a mysterious notice appeared on the notice board of the Turbat University threatening against the commingling of boys and girls.[vii]
The growing number of religious seminaries mean more religiously intolerant youths and that in turn means more attack on the secular population of Balochistan and less girls in schools.[viii]
Thus, the education emergency imposed by the government of Balochistan in 2014 has proved to be a hollow promise.