Education is a right denied to many children across Pakistan,but the state of literacy, particularly of females is dismal in Balochistan with as much as 70% girls dropped out of school.
The statistics paint a bleak picture, with less than two per cent rural women educated and only 26 per cent overall female literacy in the province, as cited by sources in the education department.
Co-education schools and colleges exist in the Makran belt but the emergence of new militant organisations, who have warned girls of dire consequences, have prevented females from enrollment, plunging Balochistan to the lowest female literacy in Pakistan.
But the statistics and headlines hardly tell the story.
With limited access to schools in the province; most of the girls enroll themselves in primary classes but drop out as they get older. According to officials, the dropout rate is as much as 70 per cent with the highest being in Dera Bugti.
“Dera Bugti stands first in terms of low female literacy rate across the country,” said Saboor Kakar, Secretary Education Balochistan.
Kakar believes militancy is the root cause.
“The dropout rate in girls’ schools is worst in Balochistan out of all other provinces owing to militancy in the area,” he said while talking to Dawn.com.
In Panjgur, a district in Makran, the private co-education schools were targeted and threatened to shut down by militants, earlier this year in May. Parents were also intimidated into not sending their girls to school.
A school van was burnt in Panjgur and teachers were warned not to pursue their profession. After this attack, schools remained closed in the district for days, the closure prompted Baloch nationalists groups to stage protest demonstrations to mount pressure on the government to re-open schools.
“We will not allow forced-closure of schools in Makran,” said Ghullam Nabi Marri, the Central leader of Balochistan National Party.
A similar pattern was seen in other districts of Makran division which include Turbat and Gwadar. Even though the government is aware of the threats, they have failed to arrange separate classes for girls or to find an alternative.
The influx of teachers in Quetta
In Quetta, the female literacy rate is better as compared to far-flung areas of Balochistan. Female teachers in Khuzdar, Mastung and other troubled districts have either abandoned their profession or transferred their jobs to Quetta.
According to statistics provided by education department Balochistan, there is only one female teacher for every three students in Apwa Girls High School Quetta. In comparison, there is only one teacher for more than one hundred students in Kuchlak, Ghabarg and other cities in the outskirt of Quetta.
“Female teachers cannot do there job in an atmosphere of threats and intimidation”, said Gul Bushra Kakar, a renowned educationist.
The state of education in Balochistan has been grim for many years due to instability in the province.
“Although I am a native of this land, I refuse to teach in troubled parts of the province,” said Kakar who has been teaching for last 20 years.
Gul Bushra stated that owing to these threats, most of the teachers in rural Balochistan have either gone on long leave without pay or have quit the profession for the safety of their lives. “Several professors from Balochistan University were also forced into leaving their job.”
Not only are schools hard to access, but there are fundamentally fewer schools in the province with respect to its population.
According to Pakistan’s 1998 census, there are more than 22,000 settlements in Balochistan whereas the number of government-run primary, middle and high schools is approximately 12,000. The ratio suggests that almost half of Balochistan is deprived of schooling.
“We need establishment of at least 10,000 more schools to enroll children who are deprived of education,” said Sardar Raza Muhammad Bareech, the Advisor to the Chief Minister Balochistan on Education.
Constructing more schools does not seem to be the only solution for improving the education standard in the province. The legitimacy of the current few thousand schools is also under question. The number of ghost schools have been quoted to be as much as 3000 with more than 5000 ‘ghost’ teachers. These ‘teachers’, who have never stepped inside their schools, are regularly drawing their salaries.
Worsening law and order situation coupled with budgetary allocations, teachers’ absenteeism, and lack of schools, facilities and growing corruption have been the underlying factors behind low literacy rate in Balochistan.
Then there is the issue of poverty.
Children often do not attend school because most of them are working to support their stricken families for survival.
This year, the government of Balochistan had declared an education emergency in the province but it has largely remained confined to papers.