GENDER DISPARITY IN SCHOOL EDUCATION

SYED FAZL-E-HAIDER
Sep 10 - 16, 2007

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.

There is high need to eliminate social divide in enrollment along gender lines in the province. A World Bank education economist recently observed that 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. 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.

According to the National Economic Survey, 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.

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.

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 in dire need of both financial and technical support to improve primary enrolment and completion rates, reduce gender disparities, and encourage the non-government and private sector to participate in provision of education. According to one estimate, net primary enrollment rates for boys are 28% and for girls 20%, which are very low. Gender disparity in school education is still a long way from the Millennium Development Goals. There is a need to make substantial investments to achieve the MDG related to primary education.

Education achievement reflects the province's over all low development indicators. Literacy levels at 37 per cent lag far behind those of other provinces, and the national average of 53 per cent. Enrolment of girls in schools, meanwhile, is constrained by insufficient women teachers, lack of qualified local women who could potentially become teachers, long distances affecting mobility, and cultural and social issues in rural areas which hinder girls education.

The predominantly patriarchal social structures are a traditional challenge to gender equity in Balochistan. The rugged and inaccessible terrain, limited water resources for irrigation, large illiterate population, ethnic diversity, and traditional women's status are added challenges to economic growth and human development in Balochistan. 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 province's social sector indicators underscore the high degree of gender inequality: in primary school, for example, the net primary enrollment rate is 28% for boys but only 20% for girls. Women's inferior status is perpetuated by their curtailed mobility, discriminatory tribal and cultural practices, women's limited voice in critical household decisions, and political marginalization. The gender reform agenda of the government is based on estimates from studies for the Balochistan Resource Management Program.

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. According to an estimate, out of the total number of institutions, 48 percent are found in the Punjab, 22 percent in Sindh, 17 percent in the NWFP and 5 percent in Balochistan. Serious efforts and consistent policies are needed to beat back the prevailing educational backwardness in the province.

The World Bank has already approved the Balochistan Education Support Project and announced a $22 million credit for the project that is aimed at improving access to and quality of primary education with special focus on girls literacy in the province. The project seeks to establish new community schools in rural areas where the community is able to enroll at least 20 students in a school, and there is no girls school within a 2-km radius. The World Bank credit carries a 0.75 per cent service fee, a 10-year grace period, and a maturity of 35 years. The credit will also support setting up private schools in semi-urban and urban areas. The project is to be implemented through the Balochistan Education Foundation (BEF), an apex financing body with the mandate of supporting public-private and community partnerships in education.

DISTRICTS

PRIMARY ENROLMENT RATE(%)

LITERACY RATE(%)

FEMALE TO MALE LITERACY RATIO

BALOCHISTAN

Awaran

51.89

14.79

0.24

Barkhan

91.66

15.67

0.27

Bolan

42.04

15.74

0.30

Chagai

61.53

26.99

0.36

Derabugti

62.20

11.73

0.16

Gwadar

54.40

25.47

0.39

Jafarabad

48.97

18.51

0.31

Jhal Magsi

49.88

12.28

0.34

Kalat

43.09

19.86

0.32

Kech(Turbat)

70.58

27.51

0.43

Kharan

37.76

15.05

0.24

Khuzdar

39.37

17.46

0.33

Killa Abdullah

42.77

16.10

0.29

Killa Saifullah

51.75

17.55

0.36

Kohlu

47.52

12.15

0.27

Lesbela

50.04

22.30

0.33

Loralai

67.01

20.47

0.31

Mastung

61.63

27.58

0.42

Musakhel

29.29

10.37

0.33

Nasirabad

41.89

12.69

0.26

Panjgur

57.08

31.35

0.57

Pishin

61.48

31.14

0.28

Quetta

74.92

57.07

0.66

Sibi

57.19

25.47

0.39

Zhob

52.53

16.78

0.28

Ziarat

122.47

34.34

0.33