July 27 - Aug 02, 2009

It is unfortunate that education, the most important sector in Balochistan received least attention of the ruling elite in the past, or in other words, the key sector was ignored. Today, the ignorance of the past has manifested itself as 'educational backwardness' posing serious threat to legitimate interests of the local people in wake of execution of mega development projects like Gwadar port in the province.

Territorially, the largest, economically, the least developed and the poorest, socially, the most backward and demographically, least populous and sparsely populated; province of Balochistan has ever remained on the political periphery of the country. On the other hand, being strategically located in the region and having vast untapped natural resources, diversity of climate, simultaneously five ecological zones, fisheries and strategic mineral resources like natural gas, copper, lead, zinc, iron and marble; it has the potential to emerge as Pakistan's new economic frontier.

Performance improvement in the educational arena can yield great potential returns in terms of development in Balochistan. Education and only the education can revolutionize the social attitudes, economic trends and political mindsets in the province. It is highly important to develop human resources and to open up the province for economic activities and foreign investment. It is the educational backwardness that has given rise to negative perceptions over the development process and provided the opportunists in politics with a chance to exploit the people' apprehensions and reservations about the Mega projects currently in execution stage in the province.

Presently, Gwadar port in Balochistan is all set to generate tremendous economic activity and create job opportunities for the local people. Gwadar has been designed as hub port and it requires handsome allocations for infrastructure development. There is a dire need for qualified and professional port staff for successful marketing of the port management to potential customers, building of export processing zone, trans-shipment and warehousing facilities, fixing of port tariffs for shipping companies in order to be competitive. Can Balochistan provide the required skilled manpower for executing the port-related operations?

There is a greater need to allocate significant resources for human development so that local people could benefit from the expected upsurge in economic activities in the province in the near future. The technological backwardness in Balochistan is likely to go against the interest of local people who may be deprived of having jobs in the Gwadar project for lack of skill and expertise. The primary beneficiaries of the project would be the non-locals and outsiders instead of the local people, who may be deprived of employment opportunities in port-related projects under the pretext of their technological backwardness. Access to the high-tech computing services is the requirement of present age of globalization. Information technology, scientific management related education and value adding knowledge are considered the keys and secrets of winning success in today's world of science and technology.

Many industries have been envisaged to be established in and around Gwadar. Skilled manpower would be needed for the operation of the port and the allied industries. Former government had decided to establish Gwadar Institute of Technology (GIT) in Mekran. Rs200 million had been allocated for setting up the new institute, which was aimed at strengthening entrepreneurship by establishing strong linkages between the institute and the industries of Gwadar port. The GIT was to be established under the supervision of Director General, Gwadar Development Authority who would be responsible for day to day activities. The GIT is a good step toward development of human resources in the province, and ultimately getting the local population involved in the development process.

The key areas need to focused for human development in Balochistan include: a rational and long-term planning, on-job training programs, technical education according to the needs of 21st century, secondary level education for development of critical skills, allocation of significant resources, setting up of technology institutes in various districts, the recruitment of qualified teachers, instructors and trainers, access to the high-tech computing services, information technology, scientific management related education and value adding knowledge.

The province has short of professionals and experts. It lacks the institutional capacity and human capital to utilize its vast natural resources. It actually needs competent doctors, engineers, bankers, entrepreneurs, businessmen, economic planners, architects, agriculturists, horticulturists, development economists, educationists, sociologists, academicians, research scholars, geologists, environmentalists, and experts in all its social and economic sectors to come at par with the other provinces of Pakistan.

Ground realities call for a rational and long-term planning for human and institutional development and promotion of professional education in Balochistan. The government should allocate handsome funds for IT education and developing IT infrastructure in the province. It can arrange internship program in Karachi, Lahore and other cities for IT students of the province at least for a period of six months. The province needs human capital and trained IT professionals.

Investment in professional education will provide Balochistan the required professionals for the development of various sectors of local economy. The better human capital equipped with professional education can be instrumental in increased productivity with modern technology in all economic sectors. This will enhance industrial productivity and increase exportable output of the country. There is only one medical college at Quetta- Bolan medical college- in the province. The students from far flung areas have to settle at Quetta to become a medical professional. There is one engineering university at Khuzdar district in the province.

The private sector should also come forward to establish high-profile and quality institutions for professional education. While encouraging private sector, government should check the commoditization of education and ensure educational system free from discriminatory practices for all the citizens of Pakistan. Most of the private educational institutes have commercialized the professional education by charging high fees making it unaffordable for the common people. In other words, professional education has become a privilege of only rich, who can afford costly educational packages offered by the private institutions. These private institutions have developed a symbol of status by offering costly educational packages to aristocratic classes of the society.

Balochistan is rich in natural resources. These natural resources however will have no impact on development if it is not matched with human resources that can tap this natural endowment. At the same time, the concept of good governance and a strong civil society needed for good governance is not imaginable without a population with a basic level of education. Therefore in any development strategy for the province, human resource development is a key factor. Institutional and human development is a prerequisite for the economic development of Balochistan- the country's most backward and least developed province.