An unfriendly foreign education project for Balochistan
By Malik Siraj Akbar
A foreign non-governmental organization, Save the Children, has initiated a five-year project with the collaboration of Netherlands in Balochistan to improve the quality of education in the country’s least educated province. The projected has been launched amid great fanfare and media hype with projections of yielding positive results in the domain of education in Balochistan in the future. Under this project, a target of educating some 73000 children in the districts of Quetta, Mastung and Qila Abdullah has been set.
Balochistan Education Programme, as the project has been named, would especially focus on the education of girls in Balochistan where the women’s literacy rate is as low as 19 percent. The state of adult male literacy rate, 37%, is also not very encouraging. Thus, Balochistan’s education sector is confronted with multiple serious challenges which need to be overcome by paying constant attention.
The 8.8 million Euro project for Balochistan comes partly as good news for the education sector of Balochistan which seems to have suddenly become the hub of all the negative reports which emanate from Balochistan. Depressing news has been coming from the education sector of Balochistan in the recent times as many teachers have applied for no-objection certificates to leave the province in the wake of a spate of target killing of teachers. Not many foreign countries and non-governmental organizations have been enthusiastic to come forward to assist the education sector, or any other sector for that matter owing to growing law and order problems, in the troubled province.
Save the Children officials have not discussed in public, however, about the yardstick that was adopted to choose the three districts for its educational project. All the three districts which are going to benefit from the grand project do not necessarily fall in the category of the most backward places in Balochistan in the education sector. Quetta, Mastung and Qila Abdullah do not face the worst problems of accessibility and quality when compared with several other remote districts of Balochistan.
Given the selection of three districts with lesser needs, one believes Save the Children project has been trapped by vested political interest groups. These interest groups in the NGO-mafia have diverted a significant project away from the Baloch population which is direly in need of educational assistance. There are no indications that the majority but still deprived Baloch population would benefit from the project.
It is totally unfair to initiate projects on the name of Balochistan’s backwardness and then deprive the originally backward people of the province from the fruits of such projects. Save the Children would have done a commendable service to the people of Balochistan if it launched this project in a remote district like Dera Bugti where the women’s literacy rate is as low as only 2%. As the provincial capital of Balochistan, Quetta does not need any educational initiative from a foreign donor as it is already the center of hundreds of projects under progress. There are excellent public and private schools already imparting quality education in Quetta city. Similarly, scores of NGOs are also working for the women’s literacy in the provincial capital and its neighboring districts.
In the same way, Mastung is the closest district to the provincial capital whose students can easily come to Quetta every day to get education and go back home. The selection of Mastung as one of the beneficiary of this project further gives currency to the perception that the project is politically-influenced given the fact that it happens to be the electoral constituency of the chief minister of Balochistan.
Qila Abullah is far better than many other districts of Balochistan in the field of education. Thus, Save the Children should review its selection of three districts with better state of education and divert the project to three most backward and deserving districts of Balochistan so that the project benefits the deserving people. We believe the international organization, which has a reputation for its excellent work done in the past, was badly misled by its consultants during the process of selecting districts. In fact, this is a major problem many international donor agencies face while working in Pakistan, particularly Balochistan. Their local staff loves to drawn handsome salaries but refuses to go to remote and backward places to work. This time, people working in the education project have also thought on similar lines that they would draw hefty sums as salary while living in Quetta. If they are required to travel inside Balochistan for field work, they would either go to Mastung or Qila Abdullah. This negative trend has to end if the NGOs truly want to help the marginalized people. They should be mentally prepared to go to places like Dera Bugti, Kohlu, Wasuk, Awaran and Chagai where people live centuries-old circumstances.
Baloch political parties should play their role in this regard and make sure that this project does not end up as a means of squandering several million euros. It should reach and benefit the deserving Baloch kids who have been denied education by successive governments under varying pretexts.
(The Baloch Hal is the first online English newspaper of Balochistan)