Bridging the gap

Published February 5, 2019

EDUCATION is an essential factor in determining a nation’s peace, progress and prosperity in the world. Unfortunately, Pakistan’s education system is still clamouring for reforms in every possible regard, with the perennial issues that plague the system making Pakistan lag further behind other developing countries.

When it comes to Balochistan — Pakistan’s largest province in terms of area, with a population of over 12 million residents and growing — the education crisis is even more acute, with a great number of dropouts from its schools, colleges and universities. One of the biggest reasons for this is the fact that there are too few education institutions spread out across the province, with most of its rural areas lacking in quality education opportunities. Besides the mere lack of schools, Balochistan is also plagued with shelterless schools, ghost teachers and nonfunctional schools.

Recent statistics for Balochistan’s education sector put the number of primary schools in the province at 11,627. Taking into account the vast geography of the province along with this present capacity, many students may have to journey as up to 30 kilometres in order to attend a primary school — a major disincentive for children to attain schooling, particularly given that poverty levels in Balochistan are already driving many children to quit schools and seek employment.

The situation gets much worse at the middle- and high-school levels. With only 1,271 middle schools in Balochistan, some children may have to travel approximately 270km in order to access the nearest middle school. With only 947 high schools in the area, meanwhile, is it reasonable to expect a child to travel up to 370km to attend the nearest high school to her? With such massive physical gaps between their homes and where the education institutions are located, in a poverty-stricken province no less, how can the Baloch afford to educate their children?

How are we to educate Balochistan’s children under such conditions?

According to a report furnished by Sanaullah Baloch, the leader of an opposition party in the provincial assembly, primary school enrolment rates in Balochistan stand at approximately 429,000 boys compared with 322,000 girls. When it comes to middle schools, enrolment is 123,000 boys and 79,000 girls. The figures get even lower when we get to high school enrolment: only 40,000 boys and 20,000 girls manage to make it this far.

Thus, more than 750,000 students are enrolled in primary schools, but only 60,000 students are likely to remain in school to reach matriculation — a shocking failure of the education system. The remaining students drop out, in large part, due to long distances between their homes and the nearest schools. One UN report stated that 70 per cent of Balochistan’s children are out of school; the province is said to be the hub of out-of-school children in Pakistan.

A great number of children also quit school due to a lack of teachers, which the government has been unable to resolve by planning to replace retired teachers with new appointments. There are over 30,000 vacancies in Balochistan’s school system, leading to many schools going without teachers for long spans of time.

Meanwhile, many schools — more than 6,000 — are deprived of proper classrooms, functioning out of derelict premises, or even entirely out in the open. In many rural areas, primary and middle schools consist of a single room with no sanitation facilities. It is estimated that over 30pc of schools in each of Balochistan’s districts.

Under such conditions, the notion of prosperity is only a daydream for the people of Balochistan. But one would hardly guess the magnitude of the crisis, if going by the lackadaisical attitude of the government, which tends to set its sights on other areas instead of reforming this much-neglected sector. It must recognise the fact that that education is the sole source of advancement, and thus needs to be its first priority.

Article 25-A of the Constitution puts it in no uncertain terms: “The state shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to 16 years in such manner as may be determined by law.” Many in Balochistan have been vociferously calling for this basic right, along with all other constitutional rights, to be upheld in the province. But we see none of our representatives working to protect and preserve these rights.

Nonetheless, the people of Balochistan beseech the higher authorities to hear their plea, and work towards reforming the province’s education sector by improving access to schools, standards of facilities, and quality of education. Balochistan’s out-of-school children must be given a fighting chance to become the generation that finally lifts the province out of poverty and neglect.

The writer studies law at the University of Turbat and is a part-time teacher.

alijanmaqsood17@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, February 5th, 2019

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