Challenges before the new Education Minister

The Baloch Hal Editorial Jan 18th, 2010

By Malik Siraj Akbar

It is depressing to recall that Balochistan is the least educated province in Pakistan. More depressing is the fact that education is one of the most neglected sectors in the province. Pakistan People’s Party MPA-elect Tahir Mehmood has been appointed as the new education minister by Chief Minister Nawab Mohammad Aslam Raisani. Mehmood replaces his brother late Shafiq Ahmed Khan who was gunned down in Quetta a few months ago.

While contesting by-elections and winning a seat that was vacated after the killing of Shafiq Ahmed Khan was an easy job for Mr. Tahir Mehmood by virtue of support extended to him by his party and several other political groups in the province, dealing with this key portfolio, on the other hand, is not going to be an easy task. The new education minister will be required to work extraordinarily hard to improve the state of education in Balochistan.

With a literacy rate of only 34% (20% for women), Balochistan’s education sector is plague with multiple challenges. Days before his assassination, former education minister Shahfiq Ahmed Khan had disclosed that the province was home to as many as 3500 “ghost schools” –schools with buildings and staff registered in the official record but dysfunctional in reality. He had pledged to dismantle these ghost schools and make them functional. This dream could not materialize as the education minister was killed before he could fulfill his promise. However, ghost schools in Balochistan, no matter what their actual number is, need to be grappled with immediately.

Besides, one reason for the educational backwardness of Balochistan is the deep-rooted political influence in recruitment of teachers –a process that often inducts incompetent teachers in the public schools. The new education minister must take notice of political appointments, transfers and posting of teachers.

People have by now stopped talking about the ‘cheating culture’ in the educational institutions of Balochistan. Cheating from text books and handbooks during examinations is so common among the students at school, college and even university level that many students now consider it as their ‘democratic right’ to cheat during the examinations. No education minister or secretary has ever taken the issue of cheating very seriously nor were concerted efforts ever made to curb this negative trend. Plenty of students enrolled in the government schools entirely hinge on cheating during examinations for passing their tests.

With such students, who fully depend on cheating, what are we actually expecting form our younger generation? They can give us anything except an education young generation.

Every government has snubbed this alarming trend by making various excuses. For example, the government officials are often heard admitting that cheating is our culture and it is not possible to end it overnight. Of course, no one is asking for ending the cheating culture “overnight”. As the cheating culture has, ironically, become the ‘democratic right’ of students after many years ‘struggle’, it needs to be reversed with similar struggle on the part of the government.

Firstly, the government must recruit teachers on merit not on political grounds. The packages being offered to public teachers should be improved and compatible with the economic needs of the time. Teachers must be made punctual and dutiful. The services of senior education experts should be hired to revise the current syllabus so that it is prepared while considering the modern educational requirements.

According to National Economic Survey (NES), 8.6 percent out of the 10,381 educational institutions in Balochistan are in a ‘dangerous’ condition. About 24.7 percent of these need major repairs while 36.6 percent require minor repairs. Only 30.2 percent are in satisfactory conditions.

The total number of institutions in the country that have buildings is 216,490. Out of those, 51.6 percent are in satisfactory conditions, 26 percent need minor repairs, 17 percent need major repairs, and ‘only’ 5.7 percent are in dangerous conditions.

About six percent of the schools in Balochistan do not have buildings, nine percent lack electricity, 12 percent are devoid of clean drinking water and 11 percent are without proper latrine.

The province also has the smallest number of educational institutions – 10,381 against the national number of 216,490 out of which 106,435 are located in the Punjab, 46,862 in Sindh and 36,029 in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). This, according to the NES, means that “out of the total number of institutions, 48 percent are to be found in the Punjab, 22 percent in Sindh, 17 percent in the NWFP and 5 percent in Balochistan.” With 43 percent of the total national territory and vast natural resources, Balochistan happens to be the largest province of Pakistan. But the province has the lowest literacy rate.

Balochistan’s total literacy rate is 34 percent against the national literacy rate of 52 percent – 57 percent of which is for the Punjab, 50 percent for Sindh and 49 percent for the NWFP. The literacy rate among males in Balochistan is 39 percent, the lowest in the country. The Punjab has 60 percent and Sindh and the NWFP both have 54. Similarly, the literacy rate among women in Balochistan is also the worst in the country. With only 27 percent literate women, Balochistan stands poorly against the national female literacy rate of 48 percent – 53 percent for the Punjab, 42 percent for Sindh and 27 percent for the NWFP.

Balochistan also lags behind all the three provinces in the Net Enrolment Rate (NER). “The NER for primary schools was 42 percent in 2001-02, which increased significantly to 52 percent in 2005-06. Overall, both the sexes have recorded a 10 percent increase in 2005-06 as compared to 2001-02. The Punjab (57 percent) has ranked first followed by Sindh, the NWFP, and then Balochistan,” the survey stated.

Balochistan has proved to be the slowest with only a two percent increase in its literacy rate during the past seven years. The province, according to the NES, has only progressed from 36 to 38 percent.

Balochistan also has the lowest presence of private schools – 1,750, as compared to 48,541 in the Punjab, 12,574 in Sindh and 11,276 in the NWFP. The NES has noted that more than 76,000 private institutions in Pakistan attend to the educational needs of 12 million children. The trend in enrolment shows that the gender gap is closing down in the case of private schools as compared to public schools.

During the previous government, Balochistan experienced improvement in the state of higher education as more universities were opened in the province. However, too little was done to improve the state of education at primary level. It is hoped that the new education minister will pay more attention to the improvement of primary education in the province. The task of improving the state of education in Balochistan is surely overriding but not impossible.

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