ADDRESSING THE ISSUES IN BALOCHISTAN EDUCATION SECTOR

SYED FAZL-E-HAIDER 
July 27 - Aug 02, 2009

The situation of educational facilities in all parts of Balochistan 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.

Balochistan faces dual problems of high illiteracy and high poverty incidences. The province also shows large variations in educational attainment among different economic groups. With low participation, in general education and low completion rates at primary and secondary levels, the average literacy rate of the population aged 10 years and above is below 30% for Balochistan. As a result, while the unemployment and underemployment rates in the province are higher than the national rates, job vacancies are often unfilled due to lack of trained personnel.

Education is the most important factor that distinguishes the poor from the non-poor. For example, the proportion of literate household heads in poor households is almost half that of non-poor households. Poor households on average have 75% more children than the non-poor households. Most of these children are not receiving any education, and thus the cycle of poverty is perpetuated. There is a strong correlation between household income and school enrollment.

Education sector lacks physical facilities. The nominal existing facilities at primary school level are also in dire need of upgradation. Especially the rural Balochistan absolutely lacks the physical infrastructure and educational facilities wherein dropout rate of children is at the higher level. The governance issues affecting the delivery of education need to be addressed.

According to an estimate, the literacy rate for those aged 10 years and above is 28%, compared with the national average of 48%, in Balochistan. The rural literacy rate (23%) is significantly lower than the urban rate (54%), and literacy among rural females (10%) is only one-third of rural males (37%). According to another estimate, there are a total of 15,000 settlements in Balochistan. Out of these settlements, 7,000 are equipped with the schools of formal education sector. In most of the districts in the province, the literacy rate among the female is even less than 4 percent. Official sources claim that literacy rate of Balochistan is 31% as compared to 49% literacy rate at the national level.

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. While the enrollment ratio between boys and girls in Pakistan is 1.5:1, in the lowest income quartile it is 1.9:1, and in the lowest quartile in Balochistan it is 6.3:1. During a survey in rural Balochistan, 25% of the schools surveyed were not holding classes because of teacher absenteeism. The same survey showed that even in those schools that were holding classes only 85% of the teachers were present.

The disruption of teaching is acute, as most of the schools are either single- or two-teacher schools.

The continuation rate from primary to middle school is about 23%, and from middle to high school about 39%. A significant discrepancy in number between primary and middle schools forces high dropout rates after primary school. The government school network comprises 11,417 schools, with a reported enrollment of 813,763, including 590 "mosque" schools with 20,611 students. There are numerous shelter less schools, and even where buildings are available, these are in disrepair and lack basic amenities like drinking water, latrines, and electricity. The shortage of female teachers is reflected in the student-teacher ratios: 1:10 in boys' schools and 1:17 in girls' schools at the primary level, and 1:16 in boys' schools and 1:25 in girls' schools in high school.

In the urban areas, the private sector is however supporting the public sector in improving access to education. A survey of private sector schools in Pakistan, done by the Federal Bureau of Statistics in 2001, showed that Balochistan has only 5% of the 36,096 private schools. Given the sparse distribution of private institutions in most deprived parts of Balochistan, and the limited interest of the private sector in providing education to the poor, the public school infrastructure must be strengthened to give better access to the rural poor and girls. There is high need to eliminate social divide in enrollment along gender lines in the province.

Balochistan's poor education performance in the aggregate can be attributed largely to its poor record in educating girls. Only about one-third of girls, who should be in primary school, are enrolled in the province. Though mean boys' enrollment rates are not high either, especially among the poor, overall education levels cannot be improved without making a significant advance in the education of girls in Balochistan. 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 fact, the schooling of the mother is almost as important as the family's income in improving a child's nutrition. In the early 1990s, several surveys found that parents refused to send their daughters to school because the schools were too far away, there were not enough female teachers, and the schools were co-educational.

The educational programs for girls' enrollment in Balochistan should be designed taking into account the traditions, cultural values, and socio-economic conditions of families and communities that influence demand for schooling.

The province is grappling with the serious problem of teacher absenteeism that amply indicates how weak governance threatens the quality of education. A well-functioning educational system relies on a combination of social pressure, institutional pressure, and properly structured pay systems. The community monitoring can play important role through local school committees in Balochistan.

The community participation is more important for the success of educational programs. When the quality of the education available improves and students learn, families respond positively by sending their children to school and supporting them in their learning. The quality improves at a school when the local community is participating more strongly in its functioning.

Serious efforts and consistent policies are needed to beat back the prevailing educational backwardness in Balochistan. Undoubtedly, an effective and sustained educational reform hinges on a combination of policy and institutional changes. Equally important is to invest the right amounts for the appropriate types of education.

The experience shows that there is scope for collaboration between the public and private sectors in education, targeting low-income households, in Balochistan. Opening up the system to non-public provision with public-sector financial support can increase access and improve equity. This support will increase enrollment and the low-income families will benefit.

There is a need to follow a common set of professional standards in curriculum design. Arguably, this can be achieved most readily by creating overarching staff groupings that share common interests and provide a single career path.

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.

Need is to improve technical education, expand the curriculum in secondary schools and introduce vocational streams at the middle school level. Other major developments are the increasing community involvement in school management and the hiring of location-specific contract teachers, both requiring capacity building and training.