EDUCATION TO ALLEVIATE POVERTY IN BALOCHISTAN

SYED FAZL-E-HAIDER
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)
Apr 26 - May 2, 2010

Any single measure of poverty, such as headcount ratio based on specific poverty line does not fully capture all the dimensions in which poverty manifests itself. It does not reflect the real causes of wider human sufferings. 'Poverty of opportunity' index, a composite of deprivation in three vital dimensions, health, education and income is quite useful in this regard. In case of Balochistan, any single measure of poverty indicates that it is the poorest province of Pakistan. The incidence of poverty is higher in Balochistan than any other province despite the fact that it is endowed with rich reserves of gas, oil, coal, gold and copper. Over 50 per cent population is subsisting below poverty line in the province. Though poverty in the province is more "shared" poverty, yet income-based inequities in human development need to be addressed. The UNDP Pakistan National Human Development Report 2003 found that out of Pakistan's top 20 most backward districts, 50 per cent are in Balochistan. The access to education is also far below the ratio of other provinces. The province faces dual problems of high illiteracy and high poverty incidences.

Education can prove an effective tool in combating poverty in the province. It is highly important to develop human resources and to open up the province for economic activities and foreign investment.

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 per cent 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.

Unfortunately, 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.

The province 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 only 36 per cent 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. And even though there are increasing job opportunities abroad, especially in the Middle East and Malaysia, many youths lack the skills to seek jobs. Official sources claim that literacy rate of Balochistan is 31 per cent as compared to 49 per cent literacy rate at the national level.

There is a dire need to create technical hands, skilled labor, sharp brains and stable minds to combat poverty in Balochistan. Local youth are still deprived of the opportunities and facilities, which are necessary to make development in any field of science and technology. Computer literacy is the high demand of present digital age.

Rural Balochistan absolutely lacks the physical infrastructure and educational facilities wherein dropout rate of children is at the higher level. According to an 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 per cent.

Technical education and vocational training (TEVT) system in Balochistan suffers from many structural and operational problems, leading to poor education quality, unequal access, limited resources, low efficiency, and weak linkage with the labor market. High dropout rates and a passing rate of less than half for examinations attest to the inefficiency of polytechnic programs. Finding work for graduates also takes a long time, partly because the skills needed for the jobs available are mismatched with the technical education given. Access to quality TEVT programs also remains limited, especially for the rural populations.

Efforts should be directed to increase education ratio and improving health standard in the province. 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 dire 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.

Being a tribal, traditional and hence a closed society, Balochistan's development poses enormous challenges, which can be met only through educating the people on modern lines. The province in fact, needs educational academies, not the army garrisons. The least developed, the most backward and the least populous 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.

The better human capital equipped with education in science and technology can be instrumental in increased productively with modern technology in all economic sectors. This will enhance industrial productivity and increase exportable output of the province. 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. There is a pressing need to create technical hands, and skilled labour in wake of the execution of Mega seaport project in the province.

Performance improvement in the educational arena can yield great potential returns in terms of development in Balochistan. Undeniably, business education is the highest-return investment available in the province. Business education at all levels-secondary, higher & university- can revolutionize the social attitudes, economic trends and political mindsets in Balochistan.