Aug 20 - 26, 2007

The recently issued National Economic Survey (NES) debunks the stark facts about the education sector and miserable condition of educational institutions in Balochistan. The province has proved to be the slowest with only a two percent increase in its literacy rate during the past seven years. It has only progressed from 36 to 38 percent. The survey places the province in the lowest rank of literacy rate among both males and females and the lowest ranking in the Gender Parity Index (GPI). It also lags behind all the three provinces in the Net Enrolment Rate (NER).

According to the NES, the NER for primary schools was 42 percent in 2001-02, which increased significantly to 52 percent in 2005-06. Overall, both the sexes have recorded a 10 percent increase in 2005-06 as compared to 2001-02. The NER at the primary level increased from 0.82 to 0.85 during the same period. Some districts in Balochistan have the lowest enrolment and literacy rates in the world, with one district recording only two per cent enrolment at the primary level, observed recently a World Bank education economist.

Balochistan's total literacy rate is 34 percent against the national literacy rate of 52 percent 57 percent of which is for the Punjab, 50 percent for Sindh and 49 percent for the NWFP. The literacy rate among males in Balochistan is 39 percent, the lowest in the country. The Punjab has 60 percent and Sindh and the NWFP both have 54. Similarly, the literacy rate among women in Balochistan is also the worst in the country. With only 27 percent literate women, Balochistan stands poorly against the national female literacy rate of 48 percent - 53 percent for the Punjab, 42 percent for Sindh and 27 percent for the NWFP.

The latest data marks the literacy GPI for Pakistan at 0.46 with a provincial break-up of 0.67 for the Punjab, 0.89 for Sindh, 0.46 for the NWFP and 0.37 for Balochistan. Balochistan's journey towards the attainment of a higher literacy rate from 2001-02 to 2005-06 has been embarrassingly slow as compared to the other three provinces. The Punjab has outdone all the other provinces improving its literacy rate from 47 to 57 percent. Similarly, Sindh has increased to 55 percent from 46 percent in 2001-02 and the NWFP from 38 to 46 percent.

The education sector in Balochistan is confronted with diversity of problems. It 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.

According to the NES, The total number of institutions in the country that have buildings is 216,490. Out of those, 51.6 percent are in satisfactory conditions, 26 percent need minor repairs, 17 percent need major repairs, and 'only' 5.7 percent are in dangerous conditions. 8.6 percent out of the 10,381 educational institutions in the province are in a 'dangerous' condition. About 24.7 percent of these need major repairs while 36.6 percent require minor repairs. Only 30.2 percent are in satisfactory conditions. About six percent of the schools in Balochistan do not have buildings, nine percent lack electricity, 12 percent are devoid of clean drinking water and 11 percent are without proper latrine.

The province also has the smallest number of educational institutions 10,381 against the national number of 216,490 out of which 106,435 are located in the Punjab, 46,862 in Sindh and 36,029 in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). This means that out of the total number of institutions, 48 percent are to be found in the Punjab, 22 percent in Sindh, 17 percent in the NWFP and 5 percent in Balochistan

Balochistan also has the lowest presence of private schools - 1,750, as compared to 48,541 in the Punjab, 12,574 in Sindh and 11,276 in the NWFP. The NES has noted that more than 76,000 private institutions in Pakistan attend to the educational needs of 12 million children. The trend in enrolment shows that the gender gap is closing down in the case of private schools as compared to public schools. One strong reason could be the presence of almost twice the number of female teachers in the private sector as compared to the public sector. In private schools, the student to teacher ratio is 1:29. The male teacher to female teacher ratio is 1:2. In the case of the public sector, the ratio of male teachers to female teachers is 1:0.6. Private sector institutions are growing rapidly, i.e., from 36,096 in 1999-2000 to 81,103 institutions in 2005, showing an annual average increase of 25 percent..

Despite Balochistan's abysmal state of education, the cash-starved province has been left in lurch by the federal government in its efforts to improve the state of education. The NES states that the provincial government will need to rationalize the suggested allocation increase by enhancing non-salary expenditures for primary and secondary schools. This includes the provision of missing facilities in existing infrastructure, the provision of quality services such as teacher training, the increase of resources for new infrastructure, a girls incentive programs, and the provision of on-the-side incentives such as free textbooks, uniforms, transport, and scholarships.

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.

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 shelterless 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.

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. 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, in Balochistan the schooling of the mother is almost as important as the family's income in improving a child's nutrition.

Presently, when there is a development process at the cost of Rs.140 billion is underway in the province, investing in female education is a critical link for Balochistan's prospects for faster growth and performance on several human development indicators. 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.