Learning against odds

March 12, 2023

The passion for education in the marginalised communities of southern Balochistan is unimaginable

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s a learner, it brings me joy to see a well-functioning educational institution. It makes me even happier to witness the same in the province where I live. I experienced similar feelings last month when I travelled to Turbat, a city in southern Balochistan.

In terms of literacy rate rankings, the province occupies the last position in Pakistan. However, in February 2023, books worth Rs 3.5 million were sold out at the Atta Shad Literature Festival at Kech. The education sector in the province has a lot of room for improvement. The city of Turbat, close to Gwadar, serves as a practical example for other parts of the province to emulate.

While some areas of Balochistan excel in terms of education, most of the province is facing a resource drought. Multiple obstacles hinder the educational journey of students in marginalised societies in one way or another. The people and students of Turbat are not exempt from these difficulties. The fact that they live ten hours’ journey away from the provincial capital does not make the matters easier.

According to a survey, 80 percent of the schools constructed in Balochistan between 2013 and 2019 remain non-functional. One wonders about the apathy and lack of seriousness on the part of the government. The abysmal situation reminds one of the words of Lev Tolstoy, “if you feel pain, you are alive. If you feel other people’s pain, you are a human being.” Nevertheless, the city of Turbat has been performing exceptionally well.

During my stay in Turbat, I visited several educational institutions and had the opportunity to learn more about the region’s rapid progress in education. During my journey, I witnessed young girls below the age of ten walking to schools several kilometres away from their homes.

For those who are not familiar with Turbat, this city is located in Kech district in Makran division, close to border with Iran. Turbat was once the capital of the state of Makran. The distance from Quetta to Turbat is approximately 750 kilometres. The climate in Turbat is one of the hottest in South Asia. Fuel-transport from the Iranian border is one of the main sources of income. Drivers who transport petrol from the border to various parts of Balochistan commonly use Zamyad, an Iranian model of vehicles. Last year, Kech topped the list of Balochistan’s districts by education.

The first female cadet college in Balochistan was established in Turbat. The University of Turbat offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in several subjects. Makran Medical College in Turbat has highly qualified instructors trained from Karachi and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. To maintain the educational standards, the medical instructors are paid double the amount that instructors receive in other medical colleges in the province.

The educational institutions in Washuk, Baseema, Naag and Panjgur pale in comparison with Turbat. Other parts of Balochistan should learn from Turbat’s example.

All parents, regardless of their education level, have a sense of providing education to their children, both boys and girls. The difference in literacy rates between males and females is not as high as in other districts of the province. The literacy rate among females is approximately 57 percent.

It may be worth mentioning that the Atta Shad Government Degree College in Turbat has a bus transport system for students. Some of the buses travel up to 50 kilometres to bring in 50 students to the college. Such examples are rare in Balochistan. Additionally, students from Turbat have gained admissions into universities throughout the country.

The well-maintained standard of education in Turbat reflects the local people’s interest and seriousness towards education. The existence of a public library in Turbat was a testament to the community’s inclination towards pursuing education. The library has unfortunately been closed for three years.

A camelback library has been introduced in Gwadar, which is only two hours away from Turbat. Books are carried on the backs of camels and distributed in villages, promoting reading habits among the masses. Consequently, the people of the Makran division, in general, are well-read, hardworking and educated.

Given Turbat’s success in the face of numerous challenges, it is surprising that other regions fail to deliver similar educational outcomes.

It seems that the determining factor of the level of education in a district in Balochistan is the intent of the authorities. In Turbat, everyone, regardless of their literacy, lauded the policies implemented by the former chief minister, Dr Abdul Malik Baloch. His impact was evident in the public sector colleges and universities. People may or may not support him politically, but they all say, “Yeh saara kaam doctor saab nay kia.

During my journey, I also visited other cities and parts of this region, such as Washuk, Baseema, Naag and Panjgur. However, the educational institutions in these areas pale in comparison to Turbat. Other parts of Balochistan should learn from Turbat’s example. The commitment of the political leaders is of utmost importance.

Before returning to Pishin, the taxi driver hesitated to tell us the fare for the trip, stating that we were guests and might become upset. The impact of education was also evident in the behaviour of the people. In general, the people of Turbat prefer buying a book to buying a pair of shoes. It is high time for other cities in Balochistan to learn from how Turbat has developed its education sector.

The writer tweets DawoodKhanHere. He can be reached at dawoodkhan0666gmail.com

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