WHY EDUCATION IS MORE IMPORTANT FOR BALOCHISTAN?

SYED FAZL-E-HAIDER
Nov 17 - 23, 2008

Role of education in revolutionizing the social attitudes, economic trends and political mindsets in a society is a fait accompli. It is highly important to develop human resources and to open up the society for economic activities and foreign investment. It is the educational backwardness that gives rise to negative perceptions over the development of an area. 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.

Balochistan is the poorest province of Pakistan, with standards of living and social indicators lagging substantially behind the rest of the country. Human development indicators are the weakest among the four provinces and improvements will need concerted efforts over the long term. The predominantly patriarchal social structures are a traditional challenge to human development and gender equity. 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.

Education is the best tool of human capital formation. The development of human resources will raise labor efficiency and revolutionize the social attitudes and institutions in Balochistan. Unfortunately education, the most important sector in Balochistan received least attention of the ruling elite in the past. 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 in the province. 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.

The province has proved to be the slowest with only a two percent increase in its literacy rate during the past eight years. The province has only progressed from 36 to 38 percent. Credible surveys place 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).

The situation of educational facilities in all parts of the province 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.

The social sector in Balochistan has suffered from years of neglect and under-funding.

The province has limited room to increase its social sector expenditures partly because of its high debt-service burden. The social sector expenditures mostly go to salaries, while non-salary expenditures are well below the global norms for the efficient and effective functioning of the social sectors.

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. 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.

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. 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.

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.

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.

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. It is the educational backwardness that has given rise to negative perceptions over the ongoing development process in the province. 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.