Balochistan, a resource-rich province, is considered to be the most backward region in the field of education – particularly female education. The province has been home to the highest proportion of illiteracy among girls.
The Balochistan government’s efforts to promote female literacy in the province and encourage girls who do not attend school to begin enrolling at educational institutions have been largely ineffective. Last year, the Balochistan government approved a coeducation scheme at all primary schools in Balochistan for the first time. The decision was taken in view of the insufficient number of girls schools in the province.
But the strategy did not provide a suitable remedy to increase the enrolment of girls. The dropout rate has remained abysmal at middle and high school levels and the provincial government has failed to take notice of the matter. In addition, the lack of government schools for girls, shortage of teachers, habitual absenteeism among the teaching staff and the failure to appoint teachers on the basis of merit has impacted the enrolment of girls. According a report revealed by the Academy for Educational Planning and Management (AEPAM), 1.8 million children in Balochistan do not attend school, over half of whom are girls.
It is no secret that every parent in Balochistan wants their children to study at private rather than government schools. Astonishingly, children of government schoolteachers do not study at government schools. This is primarily because private schools perform better than government schools. They ensure quality education, availability of basic facilities and infrastructure and the presence of dutiful and competent teachers. Private schools also appoint teachers on the basis of merit and their students have stronger learning outcomes.
Some years ago, I visited a government-run school in Turbat in the Kech district to gather information for a relative who wanted to have her son admitted in the second grade. When I entered the premises, I was shocked to see its dilapidated condition. The school’s building painted a dismal picture of neglect. Its boundary walls were broken and the roofs of a few classrooms had caved in, forcing students to study under the open sky. One of the senior teachers – whom I have known for a long time – advised me to admit my relative’s son at a private institution instead as it would guarantee a bright future for him.
A parent based in Gwadar said, “By the time, my daughter turned six, I [enrolled] her at a government school which was four kilometres away from our home. Unable to bear the transport costs, I would always accompany her to school myself. However, the day I found [out that] my child [was] unable to read Urdu and English despite studying in grade 7, I removed her from the government school. Afterwards, I asked the principal of a private school to offer her free education owing to [the exorbitant] fees, and I am grateful that he acceded to my request.”
The private school where I had once taught had all the basic facilities. There was a library and no teachers were involved in habitual absenteeism. The principal of the school never hesitated to dismiss teachers or deduct their salaries for being absenting from duty without a solid reason. In his spare time, he would always go through the notebooks of students to ensure that the teachers had checked them carefully. He also sought feedback from students about their teachers.
Unlike private school principals – who are often the founders of their schools – government school principals seldom shoulder such responsibilities and often remain absent themselves without any justifiable reason. A number of teachers who serve in foreign countries or work in other professions within the country are believed to grease the palm of the principals. Many of them also impose political pressure on them to mark their attendance and often threaten to have the principal transferred if they fail to do so.
The government of Balochistan has shown its commitment to tackle the problem of ghost teachers and absenteeism among teachers. But it has only managed to terminate less than 500 ghost teachers and still has no panacea for habitual absenteeism among teachers. The provincial government has been left with no option but to follow in the Sindh government’s footsteps by introducing a biometric attendance system for government teachers. They must also identify ghost teachers and verify if they have been appointed in a genuine manner.
The biometric system in Sindh has reaped positive results. During a visit to a government-run middle school in Karachi – which operates under the auspices of the Child Protection Unit (CPU) – I discovered that absenteeism among teachers had reduced to a great extent at the school and also the rest of Sindh. The school’s principal revealed that after the biometric system was adopted and surprise visits were conducted by government monitors, teachers started attending classes regularly and punctually.
Blatant acts of cheating during exams persist at government schools in Balochistan. Private schools, on the other hand, do not face such problems. Some private schools have installed CCTV cameras inside examination halls to successfully prevent cheating in exams. In February 2015, the Balochistan government launched a campaign against cheating titled ‘Goodbye to cheating’ and promises were made to install secret cameras at examination halls. But all these promises were to no avail as words were not translated into actions.
When it comes to introducing reforms in the education sector or eliminating the education crises, the Balochistan government claims to have no resources even though the province is considered to be rich in resources.
According a recent report, 38 education department posts have been lying vacant for ages. Around 25 of the vacant posts have been handed over to grade-17 officers who are comparatively junior to their counterparts.
It appears that the Balochistan government has yet to acknowledge the significance of education – especially female education. The provincial government has shown a firm disinclination to place education on its list of priorities and implement Article 25-A of the constitution. The question that now arises is: how can Balochistan prosper if its poor children are left uneducated? Enrolment at schools will not increase unless the education crisis is not tackled effectively.
The writer is a Turbat-based freelance contributor.