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Unsheltered: Balochistan's 7,000 crumbling schools

Updated Jun 22, 2015 04:07pm

In the outskirts of western Quetta, stands a crumbling house, roofless and decaying, without any boundaries. But for the poor and the marginalised, this four-room dwelling is adequate enough to be considered their school.

Unfamiliar with the concept of polished shoes and ironed uniforms, the students are all either barefoot or are wearing worn out slippers.

As I make my way inside, I can hear a student of class one fluently reciting Urdu alphabets from a book he is holding. Belonging to an underprivileged family, this student is Israr Ahmed, whose father works as a driver for a living.

Killi Mubarak, housing approximately 30 students’, is amongst the 40 rental schools in Quetta, all of which are in depleting conditions.

The Education Department pays rent to the owner of this mud-walled school.

“I don’t know how regularly the government pays the rent,” says Siddique Ahmed, who has been teaching at the school since the past eight years.

No drinking water, furniture

The school lacks basic facilities, including toilets and drinking water is also not available in which case children bring water from their homes.

“We bring drinking water from our homes,” says 13-year-old student Ahmedullah, explaining the conditions at his school where students come from severely underprivileged families that cannot afford to buy uniforms.

“And because most of the students are poor, we cannot introduce uniforms," a teacher of Ahmedullah, who is among the total of four teachers currently teaching in the school, says.

The school also lacks adequate furniture for the students; tables and chairs are missing while faculty vehicles are parked right next to students’ seating arrangement.

Although the Balochistan government has announced that it is implementing Article 25-A of the Constitution that declares education as free and compulsory for children, this is yet to be implemented in the less privileged neighbourhoods of Quetta as well as in the rural parts of Balochistan.

In this regard, students present at the school often complain that officers at the Education Department hardly visit the vicinity. However, teachers are of the view that the visits are rather frequent.

“A learning coordinator visits this school twice a month,” says Siddique.

7,000 shelterless schools

According to the Chief Minister’s Adviser on Education, Sardar Raza Muhammad Bareech, more than 7,000 primary schools across the province are shelterless. These are all single room schools with just one teacher at the students’ disposal.

The Balochistan government has allocated around 24 per cent of its budget towards the education sector for the 2015-16 financial year.

However, Saboor Kakar, the Education Secretary for Balochistan, says that more than 70 per cent of the budget is being spent on teachers’ salaries and petrol allowances whereas about 20 per cent of the budget is being spent on the development of new schools and colleges.

Quality education in Balochistan remains an unfulfilled dream for the poor and the underprivileged who cannot afford to opt for a private education, an option which is available to children from middle class families.

Another issue that needs addressing is that there are seven to eight different types of curricula that are being taught in Quetta.

“Education is almost for sale,” states Nazar Bareech, an activist working on education in Quetta, elaborating on the subject.

Capacity building

Inadequate capacity of teachers and non-availability of basic facilities remain primary reasons behind the poor quality of education.

Most teachers in rural parts of Balochistan lack the aptitude required to teach science and mathematics.

“Capacity building of teachers is integral to quality education,” stresses Education Secretary Kakar.

However, he adds that the government of Chief Minister Dr Malik Baloch still deserves appreciation for its decision to recruit new teachers across the province through the use of the National Testing Service (NTS).

More than 4,000 teachers would be appointed through NTS within the next couple of days and the process is already underway.

However, it appears that even this has not escaped what have come to be known as tactics used within the political establishment to use the process for its own ends. The education department has nonetheless succeeded in holding tests and interviews through NTS.

Source: ASER 2014
Source: ASER 2014

According to statistics provided by the Education Department of Balochistan, more than 90,000 candidates have appeared in tests and interviews from all 32 districts of the province.

Curtailing the culture of ghost teachers, schools

The education department has also launched an inquiry against thousands of ghost teachers and schools operating in the province.

“The education department has terminated about 800 ghost teachers,” Kakar declares, adding that the government of Dr Malik Baloch should be appreciated for its measures to improve the state of education in the province.

Inquiry committees have been established at district levels to expose ghost teachers involved in drawing salaries from the national exchequer, he adds.

“To be precise, political leaders and high-ups in the education department must come up with more and concrete measures to ensure the provision of quality education along with accessibility of basic facilities to children," he said.

With their energies sapped under the scorching summer sun, the unpredictable load-shedding worsens the condition of these underprivileged children. But they continue on in the hope for a better future.

The state of education 2015

Design by Shameen Khan and Hussain Ali
Design by Shameen Khan and Hussain Ali