QUETTA: On Universal Children's Day today, more than 2.3 million children have no access to education in Balochistan, geographically the largest and most backward province of Pakistan.
Poverty, worsening law and order situation, financial and social barriers combined with the lackadaisical attitude of concerned quarters are major reasons contributing to the sorry state of child education in Balochistan.
Ghullam Ali Baloch, the Secretary Education Balochistan told Dawn.com that only 1.3m out of total 3.6m children were going to schools in the province, a figure way below the numbers of other provinces in ten key social indicators including health, education, sanitation, literacy and drinking water.
Chief Minister Balochistan, Dr. Malik Baloch admitted that majority of children in Balochistan have been deprived of their right to education. However, he said: “We will bring back these kids to school.”
Dr. Baloch's government seems to be determined to ensure quality education to students. For this purpose, his government allocated substantial funds for development of education sector with an objective to open new schools and make the dysfunctional schools functional in every nook and corner of the province.
“If we fail to bring these children back to schools, it would be disastrous,” the chief minister said.
Madrassahs and hunger
In marginalised areas of the province, most of the parents opt to have their children admitted in madrassahs (seminaries) due to the absence of schools.
“Madrassahs provides food, accommodation and other facilities, something which schools cannot,” Niamatullah Khan, a well-known educationist explained.
Children in poor-marginalised settlements of Balochistan either work on daily wages to feed their impoverished families or go to madrassah's to get religious education.
Around 3000 seminaries were registered in Balochistan during military dictator and former president Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf's regime.
Sources in provincial industries department told Dawn.com that the number of unregistered madaris (religious schools) was more than 10,000 in the province.
The Afghan war in the aftermath of Noor Muhammad Tarakai's Red Revolution of 1978 severely affected the social fabric of Balochistan in general and Pashtun dominated areas in particular.
“People in remote areas still consider education as un-Islamic,” Niamatullah Khan said.
Apart from this, most of the teachers from other provinces of the country have left Baloch dominated areas as a result of threats to their lives and properties.
“There is serious dearth of teachers in Baloch areas as result of the growing insurgency,” Khan said.
For the poor parents, they have no option other than sending their kids to seminaries in absence of government-run schools.
“Madrassah's teach Islamic education and provides all facilities to my son,” Haji Muhammad Yar, whose son studies in a seminary in Pishin district, which borders with neighboring Afghanistan, told Dawn.com.
Government-run schools neither provide accommodation nor books to poor students, whereas every religious school is functional and providing books and other facilities to the students.
Little trust in public schools
“There is no education in government-run schools,” Mehmood Khan, who works a private TV channel said.
“Despite limited resources, I had my children admitted in a private school since the teachers are doing their jobs,” he opined.
The number of primary, middle and high schools across the province is 12,600 with 56,000 teachers. However, the Secretary Education reveals that 2000 schools were not functional and the number of teachers who were not performing their duties was more than 3000.
“I have directed the education department to take strict action against absent teachers,” the chief minister said.
However, independent sources put the number of absent teachers higher than what is being revealed by the chief education officer of the province.
Mujeebullah Gharsheen, the President All Government Teachers contradicts the data of education department and claims that the number of ghost teachers was more than five thousand.
He said the number of ghost and dysfunctional schools is more than 6000.
"A large number of teachers in Quetta and other parts of Balochistan have been working on fake degrees in educational institutions.
"Even in Quetta city there are 700 teachers working on fake degrees,” he said.
“They enjoy complete impunity,” Gharsheen said.
“The teachers are taking their salaries but not performing duties,” Baloch admitted. He said 95 per cent of schools in the province comprised one room one teacher and only five per cent of the schools had proper rooms and equipments.
Most of the government schools were located in Balochistan’s Jaffarabad and Pishin districts whereas Sherani had fewer schools across the province.
In most of the government-run schools, there is no check and balance on teachers. Otherwise, most of the government teachers are highly paid.
“Every month, government pays around 2 billion rupees to teachers across the province,” an official of the provincial finance department, who declined to be named, said.
It is irony of fate that every successive government makes claims for promoting education and improving the living standard of this least developed province.
However, ground realities negate these claims. If Balochistan’s ills are to be diagnosed, ‘education must be on the top of the agenda for the rulers’ since it offers solution to all the ills of society.