Balochistan is the most neglected province in terms of education, especially female education. Education for girls and women in Balochistan has never been given serious attention and no real concerted efforts have been made so far to spread literacy among girls in the province. .
In a recent case, a 10-year-old schoolgirl was crossing the Gwadar Port Road along with her elder sister to go to her government school, when she was hit by a car. Luckily, she suffered only minor injuries. The incident came as no surprise to me since I have seen litte girls in school uniform in Gwadar walking long distances or crossing roads with difficulty to reach their school.
Late last year, the then Balochistan additional secretary of education Mohammad Tayyab Lehri stated: “There are 13,000 schools in Balochistan, 2,500 of which are for girls.” Anybody with common sense can understand that the existing schools are insufficient to cater to the education needs of the girls of the province. According to the 1998 census of Pakistan, Balochistan has 22,000 settlements but the number of government-run schools at present is 13,000.
In mid-April this year it was reported that Panjpai, a sub-tehsil of Quetta district, had no high school for girls. A high school for boys was established in 1978 there. In the absence of a girls’ high school, girls in the area have no option but to put an end to their education after completing middle school.
Nazarabad village, which is around 60 kms away from Turbat city, does not have a high school for girls. There is a high school only for boys in the village. This is despite parents’ and students’ constant complaints.
Shini kandar, a village in the Gwadar district, has only one primary school for girls, and has no private school. To continue with their education, girls have to go to schools in Gwadar city, which is more than six kilometres away from the village.
Say a female resident of the village: “Having completed my primary education in my village I could not pursue my studies study further because of lack of middle/high school in my village. My father who had a strong desire to educate me and made me a teacher could not afford to pay for a private commercial transport and thus I had to gave up my studies and remain illiterate”.
When it comes to out-of-school girls in Balochistan, journalists and politicians instantly hold parents responsible for depriving their daughters of the blessing of education. I recently read news stories accusing parents of refusing to send their daughters to school in the province. In reality, that is one side of the story. Parents mostly refuse because they either cannot afford transport expenditure or are of the opinion that walking long distances to attend school is dangerous on several grounds.
Girls in Balochistan have had a very difficult time in getting an education. Unfortunately, both the federal and the provincial governments as usual seem uninterested in helping them out.
What is even more unfortunate is that the existing schools for girls lack free textbooks, teachers, and basic facilities – including drinking water, toilets and boundary walls. Moreover, teacher absenteeism is very common in these schools. Having met the students of the Government Girls High School Shambay Ismail Gwadar a couple of months ago, I was surprised to know that their school has not distributed free textbooks to all the students of the school.
Early this year, young schoolgirls in the Buleda tehsil of Kech district held a protest demonstration against shortage of basic facilities and teachers. The helpless children carried placards. However, the protesters were not aware of the fact that demands relating to education for girls are always ignored in this province.
After the Balochistan government imposed an education emergency in January 2014, there was hope that girls’ and women’s education would be given some attention for the first time in the province. However, the so-called emergency was on paper only and words were not turned into action. Instead, the provincial government has just focused its attention on higher education. Therefore, the female literacy rate has gone down and right now stands at 47 percent.
Although Article 25-A of the constitution states that ‘all Pakistani citizens’ aged between five and 16 years have the right to free and compulsory education, too many girls in Balochistan remain deprived of their constitutional right.
However, the government should see the urgent need for more girls’ schools and focus on constructing more schools in the province. If the government is not able to construct as many girls’ schools as the province needs, it can purchase buses for picking and dropping girls and women who wish to attend school. Being the least literate province, Balochistan has to understand and tackle its education crisis.
The writer is a Turbat-based freelance contributor. Email: Monis.ali.balochgmail.com