MANY of Balochistan’s social indicators are not encouraging, and the situation in the education sector appears to be particularly troubling.
Speaking in Quetta recently, the adviser to the Balochistan chief minister made some frank and worrying admissions about the state of education in the province.
Sardar Raza Barrech said that 1.6 million children were out of school in the province; two-thirds of these unfortunate youngsters were girls.
The official also observed that there was a shortage of schools, while the ones that existed lacked facilities. Such figures are routinely quoted by education activists and NGOs. While the latest version of the Annual Status of Education Report shows a slight improvement in enrolment figures as well as learning outcomes in Balochistan’s rural districts as compared to last year, there is still much ground to cover in the province.
It is welcome that a government functionary can realise and admit to the scale of the problem. Yet simply stating the problem will not be enough; thorough action is needed to remedy the situation.
While such a vast number of children out of school is problematic, it is just as unfortunate that school-going children are apparently not learning very much.
For example, discussing learning levels, the 2015 Aser survey says that 60pc of class five students could not read class two-level sentences in English.
On the other hand, 55pc of the surveyed class five children could not read a class two-level Urdu story. This small window into the state of education in Balochistan shows that matters still need massive improvement. While public education in Pakistan overall is mostly below par, in Balochistan (as well as in Sindh) the situation is particularly bad.
Teacher absenteeism is a problem, as is the menace of ‘ghost’ schools. So whether it is out-of-school children or poor learning outcomes, unless there is a complete overhaul of the education system in Balochistan the outlook will remain bleak.
A generation of illiterate or poorly educated children will have adverse socioeconomic and sociopolitical consequences for the province, which already lags behind in most fields.
Both the provincial administration and the centre must realise that while Balochistan’s law and order and political problems are indeed major and require full attention, the state of education is no less alarming and requires equal focus.
The state has promised to fight illiteracy in response to the Army Public School tragedy. Balochistan must not be left behind in this endeavour.
Published in Dawn, December 19th, 2015