Baluchistan: Declaration Of Education Emergency Without Structural Reforms Is Meaningless – OpEd


Present Situation and Living Standards of the People

Baluchistan, which is home to about 12 million of Pakistan’s 208 million people, is the country’s largest province, stretching from the Arabian Sea coast through a vast desert and mountainous landscape to Iran in the west and Afghanistan in the north. It accounts for nearly half of Pakistan’s land mass and is immensely rich in natural resources, including oil, gas, coal, silver, cobalt, copper and gold, (Sandik & Recodek). The gas, gold, and copper reserves of Balochistan are among the largest in Asia and account for half of Pakistan’s gas production. Further the 700 km coastline, Gawader Deep seaport which is a gateway to Central Asia, is the destination of CPEC. The province’s resources generate about a billion dollars every year for the federal government, but its people barely receive their share of state investment and opportunities.

Despite this huge mineral wealth and geo strategic importance, Balochistan is the poorest region of Pakistan. Much of the population is malnourished, illiterate, and semi-destitute; living in squalid housing with no sanitation, electricity, gas or clean drinking water, particularly without health and education facilities.

Balochistan along with all its other issues, including a poor security situation for the last twenty years, as the province is in its sixth insurgency the longest and bloodiest in its history coupled with lack of true representation in the centre, unemployment, mass scale corruption and natural disasters, the province faces a severe crisis in both secondary, higher and vocational education. 

In fact, the kind of education system we have in the Province is, sadly, suffocating and predominantly passive. From the very beginning, Baluchistan has been one of the world’s and with in-country has the lowest literacy rates, with an estimated one million children out of school 78 per cent in being girls.

Why such pitfalls in the education system?

The genesis of the education crisis can be traced to the tribal governance system of the British popularly known as the ‘Sandeman system’,. The colonial frontier governance model had no intention or interest in educating the people. That governance system corrupted tribal social structures and fortified the position of mostly illiterate tribal sardars by extending to them patronage in exchange for performing specific administrative functions. Neither the Sandeman government nor the tribal chief were interested in educating the people. That policy is still vague specifically about education in the province and it has gotten further prominence and strength since 1980 due to the Afghan revolution with the mushroom growth of religious seminaries, the rest is history.

The postcolonial state perpetuated this colonial policy about education which is continuing till now. Though the province emerged in 1973 and got its first university but all the successive governments irrespective of civil or military gave the least priority to the education sector. Under article 25-A of the 1973 constitution, the state is bound to provide free and compulsory primary education to all children but contrary to that unfortunately despite pumping billions in education each year the province has a large number of out-of-school children, high dropout rates, large scale missing facilities, wide gender disparities in education indicators and poor quality of teaching (and learning) in the classroom. Low children’s access to school emerges as the biggest challenge in the province.

The situation has resulted from several factors, including poor communication infrastructure, uneven development, continuously worsening security situation, abject poverty throughout the province, bed governance, unabated mass-scale corruption, lack of political well, meager financial allocation, and least priority for education sector.

The situation is worse than other federating units. The state of education is home to the worst indicators with a whopping 81 percent of girls having failed to complete primary school; the figure for boys is 52 percent. In addition, 75 percent of girls had never set foot inside a classroom as compared to 40 percent of boys.

One of the most significant issues facing education is the deterioration of school facilities across the province. The non-provision of essential facilities has badly affected the school education sector. Out of the total of 15000 government-run schools with an enrolment of about one million students, more than 1940 schools are running without proper buildings, about 8000 schools have no boundary walls, and some 11850 schools lack drinking water. Further, 12300 schools have no electricity, and 950 schools are run without libraries, science labs, or IT labs. The provincial government has turned back to meet the demand for missing facilities due to a lack of commitment and financial resources.

More than 3200 schools are non-functional due to the almost nonexistence of a monitoring system coupled with a shortage of about 2500 teachers, and the teachers already engaged in teaching have received no professional training in content knowledge and pedagogical skills because of a lack of budgetary allocation. The education directorates are flooded with incapable, politically motivated nonprofessional staff.

The biggest blow to happen to school education in 2022 was the continuation of the rollout of the PTI’s politically motivated, ill-advised ill-thought-out, unplanned, and hasty introduction and imposition of a Single National Curriculum. Ours is the most hackneyed examination system. The run-of-the-mill repetition of close-ended questions dispirits learners and teachers. Students are tested for their memory, not for creativity.

The teacher is the backbone of the education system. In our case responsible for poor education in the province is also the flawed recruitment process and political induction of teachers in education. Further teachers’ incapability and lack of proper training, as we attract less qualified individuals to the profession. Teachers hardly feel comfortable introducing themselves as such, whereas professionals in other sectors with the same or even lower rank have personalized vehicle number plates and roam around with security protocol.

Furthermore, four different and opposite types of education public-private- Urdu & English mediums, Madrasah including formal & informal education systems coupled with non existing regulatory body for the private education sector and the medium of instruction are also the big obstacle and pushing the province into the low quality of education.

On the other hand, our higher and vocational education is facing the same flawed approach to education since beginning, resulting in multiple challenges in the province. The Colleges, Universities, and vocational institutions possess unique capacities to develop knowledge, mobilize education resources, and provide learning and technical opportunities to a diverse population in the province. They are the driving forces for a fundamental shift but they hardly fulfil the purpose.

Higher education is facing continuing jolts specifically and uncertainty after the devolution of education under the 18th amendment in the constitution in the year 2010, it is incumbent upon the province to finance and restructure the whole education system but since then all the governments utterly failed in their responsibilities to do so. Education remained the least prioritized sector in the governance system in the province.

On the other hand, the Higher Education Commission’s (HEC) share in the university’s educational expenditure is also decreasing day by day. Until a few years ago, the HEC used to cover 30 to 35 percent of the university’s expenditure, which has now come down to 15 percent. So, the university’s cumulative income is gradually decreasing while expenses are constantly increasing, which is leading to an alarming impact on the financial health of these institutions.

Further, the mushroom growth of universities and their campuses across the province on a political basis coupled with financial mismanagement in the universities has added more to the ongoing deterioration in higher education as the Universities in the province spend more on building and maintenance, thus shifting the emphasis from teaching, research and learning to administration and control. Consequently, the two biggest universities, Baluchistan and BUTIMS are facing a financial crisis and their teachers and employees have always been on the roads to protest their unpaid salaries for the last four months. Neither HEC nor the Provincial government is listening to their just demands. Educational activities are suspended and poor students in thousands are suffering.

Though the present political government headed by Chief Minister Sarfraz Bugti has announced an education emergency followed by Minister of Education Rahila Durrani so far, it has neither made any financial arrangements for providing financial resources to those universities nor initiated any structural reforms in the education sector. Only the imposition of an emergency does not serve the purpose because such an education emergency was too imposed in the year 2015 by Dr. Malik Baloch, the then Chief Minister in the province. Such announcements always go into smoke and hardly address the challenges in the education system.

The present state of education in the province

In the 21st century and the ave new year 2024, the irony is that our children have no access to education and those in education institutions are not getting quality education. They mostly remain illiterate or semi-literate, consigned to a life of hardship and poverty. Worse still, the literacy rate isn’t even improving despite spending billions. 

The political elite class ( tribal, political, and bureaucrats) in Balochistan seems — to be not set up to educate kids. Their primary purpose seems to be to spend financial resources on unnecessary and unplanned construction of buildings to get kickbacks and provide jobs to teachers on political grounds without merit and benefit their voters. Education is a mere byproduct because education ministers ( by design) mostly were under metric, and needed to be educated first in the province.

Education for social development must be about quality. It must be equitable inclusive and accessible. We should not forget that most of our population comprises the youth, who are vulnerable to a knowledge deficit because of an impoverished and outdated system of education.

We should advocate for the education system to be restructured to serve the common man, a goal that is not being pursued by academia, policy experts, educationists, or politicians. We need schools and institutions of higher education to be authentic learning spaces and not instruments of coercion and indoctrination or incubators of deceptive ideologies.

Our most common dilemma is viewing education in isolation from the socioeconomic, sociopolitical, and sociocultural landscape in terms of learning design and supportive mechanisms. Political, and economic stability and security are necessary for development. The same is true about education because without improving security and governance, improvement in education will be a destined dream.

The bottom line is that costs in education sector specifically higher education are rising while public support is simultaneously drying up. The responsibility of providing adequate support to all education institutions, particularly public universities is now the responsibility of provinces under the 18th Amendment. 

How to tackle educational challenges?

Education needs drastic structural reforms at the policy level and the availability of required financial resources. Redundant curricula, outdated pedagogy, insecure environment, untrained teachers, and in the absence of a robust monitoring system, mere imposition of education emergency does not work. We need to think more about how to facilitate learning in schools colleges vocational centers and universities.

Last but not least Balochistan, to emerge from the quagmire of abject poverty, ignorance, and deprivation, there is one – and only one – way forward: to divert its resources to secondary, higher, and technical education, science, technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship. For this purpose, political well, government comment, and a holistic approach of the bureaucracy are the free requisite for sustainable structural reforms and bringing back the education system on track in the province. For this purpose, the present government should take two steps on an emergency basis.

One is the implementation of the policy document, “Baluchistan Education Sector Plan 2020-25”. Balochistan, despite all shortcomings, in terms of Human and Financial Resources, the then provincial government headed by Jam Kamal Khan and in my incumbency as Secretary of education with the help of UNICEF was the first among the federating units to prepare and approve such robust and revolutionary documents in the education sector in the country. This document has been prepared within the ambit of articles 25-A and 37-b of the 1973 constitution (18th amendment 2010), Balochistan Compulsory Education Act 2014, article 26 of the human rights declaration, and SDGs “sustainable development goals “- 4,5,8, respectively. The Sector Plan has been based on a detailed education sector analysis through a comprehensive consultative process and proposed a major recommendation about weak areas in the public education sector.

Second, is the establishment of an Independent Provincial Education Commission in line with 18th amendment and devolution of education. The commission should be free from political interference, fully empowered, financed, and manned through merit. Punjab and Sindh has done and khyber Pashtoonkhawa is on his way but our province stands nowhere and clueless in this regard.Those two steps if taken on the emergent basis by the present political dispensation will fix the chronic, deeply routed challenges in the education sector and change the dream of meaningful education into reality in the province.

Sher Khan Bazai

Sher Khan Bazai is a retired civil servant, and a former Secretary of Education in Balochistan, Pakistan. He can be reached at [email protected].

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