By Malik Siraj Akbar
World Bank (WB) has recently signed a US$22 million agreement with the Balochistan Education Foundation (BEF, a government-controlled body, to launch a four-year project to improve the quality of education in the province. The project, called Balochistan Education Support Programme (BESP), aims to improve the quality of primary education, especially for girls, through public-private and community partnership.
BEF managing director Abdul Ahad says BESP aims to set up 650 new community-based and 300 private schools across the province. Forty percent of students at each community school will be girls.
The project sounds promising and the government is making a big show of it. But experts are sceptical and say BESP’s success is doubtful. “Balochistan needs qualitative education to improve the current standards in the province,” argues Munir Ahmed Badani, a former secretary of education. He thinks the WB-BEF venture lacks a strategy to achieve that goal and predominantly focuses on quantity by setting up more schools.
Badani, currently a member of the Chief Ministers’ Inspection Team, disagrees with the argument that lack of resources has kept Balochistan backward in the realm of education. “It is lack of will on the part of certain interest groups that plagues education in Balochistan,” he says.
Other experts agree and point out that substantial financial assistance is pouring into the province from the federal government and the international donor agencies working in Balochistan. But these funds are not being properly utilised.
Balochistan’s indicators for education, like other spheres of life in the province, present a dismal picture. Here are some facts:
Balochistan occupies 43 percent of Pakistan’s total land area but is home to merely 5 percent of the country’s total population. Eight out of ten most deprived districts in Pakistan are located in Balochistan. At 36 percent, Balochistan has the lowest literacy rate in the country (Table 1).
The district of Dera Bugti has been in the news for long. What is hardly known, however, is the fact that it has the lowest literacy rate in Pakistan. Only 2 percent women in the district are literate on the ministry of education benchmark, which defines a literate person as “someone who can read of write his/her name”.
One expert, who has done extensive work in the education sector, points out that Balochistan’s backwardness is primarily owed to illiteracy. “A majority of the population is illiterate and hence not free. They can’t think freely and are beholden to the tribal elders,” he says. Statistics support his contention. Areas that are more tightly bound up with the tribal sardari system are more backward in every respect, including education. For instance, the districts of Turbat and Panjgur of the defunct Mekran Division, where the tribal system was abolished ages back, follow the provincial capital Quetta with the second and third highest literacy rates in the province. On the other hand, Dera Bugti, which has the worst manifestation of sardari system, has the lowest literacy rate in the province and the country. (Table 2)
Official records show a number of schools on the paper. On the ground the situation is different. Most of these schools either do not exist or were forcibly shut down by powerful local sardars. Haseeb Baloch, a social worker who has been a part of several monitoring teams set up by the NGOs to look into the issue, talks of multiple factors. These include, the social set-up, corrupt education authorities, poorly trained and motivated teachers (most of whom are political spoils), incorrect priorities, the problems of funds disbursement, and so on.
A former Balochistan education minister, who served during the 90s, candidly acknowledges that most appointments in the education department were made purely on political basis. “The system is corrupt from top-down. Everyone was involved in making political appointments. You can’t blame one person for it. You need to be corrupt if you wish to survive in this large tank,” he told TFT.
The provincial government, however, says that tremendous headway has been made during the past six years, especially since the coming to power of General Pervez Musharraf. “ We have travelled a long way from one to six universities in the province,” Owais Ahmed Ghani, Balochistan governor, tells TFT.
The government is not of the mark at least in the higher education sector. It has set up some good centres of learning in the province. The Balochistan University of Information Technology and Management Sciences (BUITMS), established in October 2002, is one such institute and offers excellent programmes in management sciences, engineering and computer sciences. However, as one expert put it, “how many people in Balochistan, where drop out rates are alarmingly high, can make it to BUITMS?”.
“At BUITMS, we are producing graduates of international standards,” claims Dr Mohammad Abbas Chaudhry, the vice chancellor. He says there is need to remove the ‘misperception’ that Balochistan is backward. “Balochistan is not backward. It lags behind other provinces simply because its students were never given quality education,” he says. Dr Chaudhry supports his argument by pointing out that admission to the varsity is purely on the basis of open merit and 90 per cent of the students qualify from Balochistan. “Not only this, they also clinch top positions,” he adds.
He is supported by Dr Shahida Jaffar, vice chancellor of the year-old Sardar Bahadur Khan Women University (SBKWU). She says the lack of opportunities have kept the women in Balochistan backward and deprived of higher education. “Within a year, we have some 800 female students enrolled in various disciplines at MA/MSc level. Numbers are still increasing by leaps and bounds,” she informs TFT.
But while the achievements at the level of higher education may be impressive, experts say the condition of primary education in the province remains abysmal. According to one official report, about 68 percent of children aged 10 years and above have never been to school; the ratio of those aged 10-14 and 15-19 is more than half. (Table 3)
Similarly, 77 percent of the population 10-year plus has not completed primary school in Balochistan. This is about the same for those aged 10-14 as many are still attending. This decreases to 64 percent for those aged 15-19 years. In Dera Bugti and Musa Khel districts, 86-87 per cent of those aged 15-19, respectively did not complete primary school or higher. (Table 4)
Pakistan is also a signatory of Education for All (EFA) drive, which is being run by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). EFA follows the Dakar Framework Education For All after the two-day-long World Education Forum held at Dakar, Senegal, on 26-28 April 2000. “EFA goals remain unachievable for even the next decades in Balochistan because we do not have the resources to meet these goals,” grumbles Balochistan’s deputy secretary and the head of EFA project in Balochistan.
Experts are of the view that unless tangible measures are taken to improve the state of primary education in the province, the progress at higher level would remain totally meaningless. “An uneducated Balochistan is neither in the interest of the country nor that of the whole nation. The only beneficiary would be the local sardars. They want to keep their people in eternal darkness,” concludes the principal of a Quetta-based private school.