Education must be the top priority of the Balochistan government, which should provide both financial and technical support to improve primary enrolment and completion rates, reduce gender disparities, and encourage the private sector to participate in provision of education in the least developed province. Only the educated, skilled and healthy people can make the best use of the enormous natural resources of the province. Therefore in any development strategy for the province, human development should be the key factor, as the province has short of professionals and development experts. The province needs academicians, research scholars and professionals, as institutional and human development is a prerequisite for the economic development of the country’s most backward and least developed province.
Balochistan has a literacy rate of 39 percent, which is much lower than the national rate. The education sector has suffered from years of neglect and under-funding. Balochistan is the country’s poorest province with standards of living and social indicators lagging substantially behind the rest of the country. There is a strong nexus of high illiteracy with high poverty in the province. A lethal combination of militancy and poverty continues to keep the province far behind the other provinces in performance improvement in the educational arena killing all efforts and frustrating any prospect to bring improvement in poor state of education. With low participations in general education and low completion rates at primary and secondary levels, the unemployment and underemployment rates in the province are higher than the national rates. Had education been the priority and focus of the decision-makers in Islamabad and Quetta over the past six decades, the province would not be facing the insurgency-like situation today. Education would be instrumental in combating backwardness in the province.
Official statistics show a dismal state of education in the province, which constitutes 44 percent of the country’s total land mass. There are 12,600 primary, middle and high schools for more than 22,000 settlements in the province. The province will have yet to establish 10,000 schools on war-footings to ensure provision of education to children across the province. It has 57,000 government teachers, while it needs 60,000 teachers more. The province has only 1.3 million school-going children out of total 3.6 million children.
The province lags behind all the three provinces in the Net Enrolment Rate (NER). There is a strong correlation between household income and school enrollment. Long walking distances, lack of basic amenities, and teacher absenteeism are some of the main factors, together with poor-quality teaching and learning materials, that are responsible for low enrollment. Income-based inequities are a leading cause of low access to school education.
The situation of educational facilities in all parts of the province excluding Quetta is worst. The major problem is lack of quality of instruction due to teacher absenteeism, poor facilities, and lack of school supplies. Quality of education is the major factor resulting in low enrolment and high dropout rates. Lack of access is a problem for certain remote population in Balochistan, as schools remain closed due to unavailability of teachers. Expansion of elementary and secondary schools may be required in certain locations to accommodate remote areas and increasing enrolment of students, especially girls. Special efforts are needed to rationalize resources and to improve the internal efficiency of the education system.
Stuck in the cycle of poverty, the children in poor households are found receiving no education. Household income and school enrollment are interlinked. Income-based inequities are the main reason behind low access to school education in the province. Dropout rate of children is higher in the rural Balochistan where schools lack the physical infrastructure and educational facilities. Most of the schools lack basic amenities like drinking water, latrines, and electricity. Most of the schools are either single or two-teacher schools. There is extreme shortage of female teachers in rural districts. The literacy rate among the female is even less than 5 percent in most of the districts. The private sector has almost lost interest in providing education to the poor in rural Balochistan where the fragile public school infrastructure has failed to give better access to the poor and girls.
Girls’ education is more important in Balochistan. The government should consider the schooling of the mother as important as the family’s income in improving a child’s nutrition. Research studies have revealed that mothers’ illiteracy and lack of schooling directly harm their young children. Children under five are more likely to survive if their mothers have some primary schooling than if they have no schooling, and even more so if their mothers have some secondary schooling. In the early 1990s, several surveys found that parents refused to send their daughters to school because the shortage of female teachers in schools, which were co-educational and at a long distance from their residence. Only those educational programs for girls’ enrollment may succeed in Balochistan which are designed taking into account the traditions, cultural values, and socio-economic conditions of families and communities that influence demand for schooling.
The provincial capital Quetta witnessed a mushroom growth of private schools, language and computer institutes over a period of last ten years. The education in private sector was not limited to primary and secondary levels, it extended to higher levels with the opening of many private colleges and universities imparting education in Information Technology (IT), Management and Social Sciences. The establishment of the campuses of Preston University, Iqra University, Al-Khair University and Pearls’ Institute in Quetta can be cited in this regard.
In public sector, Balochistan University of Information Technology and Management Sciences (BUITMS) was established in Quetta in 2002. In July 2002, the former provincial government chartered the BUITMS for the delivery, promotion and dissemination of knowledge and to produce high quality manpower resources in the province. The BUITMS is currently being developed as a premier seat of learning in management sciences. The university also offers bachelors and masters degrees in business administration. It has emerged as a quality business school in the province, whose economic potential has so far been untapped and underdeveloped.
The government should arrange for launching on-job training programs for the people in Balochistan. The education at primary, secondary and higher levels and the technical education according to the needs of 21st century should be provided to the students in the province. Secondary level education should be prioritized that remains instrumental in provision of critical skills, which are highly desirable for the economic development of the province.
The government must take steps to combat technological backwardness in the province and establish technical institutes in various districts to develop human capital here. Not the government alone but all the social organizations, institutions and NGOs should come forward to help develop human resources in the province.
The provincial government must continue to increase its spending on education. It should encourage private sector but put checks on commoditization of education and ensure educational system free from discriminatory practices for all the citizens. Most of the private educational institutes have commercialized the professional education by charging high fees making it unaffordable for the common people.