The Balochistan Education System campaign launched by citizens in Pakistan’s most backward district of Awaran challenges stereotypes to improve education
A small village, Abdul Sattar Goth, in the Awaran district of Balochistan houses around 1,000 people who are largely dependent on agriculture. Situated 300 kilometres north-east of Karachi, the village has only one school — Government Boys Primary School (GBPS), Abdul Sattar Goth. But it has been closed for several years.
On October 4, a group of residents from this village travelled all the way to provincial capital Quetta, a 12-hour journey that involved changing two buses, to meet Muhammad Khan Lehri, advisor to CM Balochistan on education, who is also de facto education minister. After waiting outside his office for a couple of hours, they were told the advisor was in a meeting. They came back the next day and the day after but every time the advisor was in a meeting and could not meet them.
After waiting for 19 days to meet the advisor, this group of activists from Abdul Sattar Goth decided to launch a campaign to make functional not only the school of their village but also of the entire Awaran district. They called their campaign “Balochistan Education System”.
With the help of social and local media, the Balochistan Education System campaign started on October 23, spreading awareness about the plight of education in Awaran. Just after two days, on October 25, GBPS Abdul Sattar Goth was made functional. This was just the beginning of the campaign.
With a population of just 121,680 people – according to the 2017 census – Awaran is the most backward district in Pakistan. It had the lowest Human Development Index (HDI) score of 0.173 in the Pakistan National Human Development Report, 2017. The district was badly affected by the ongoing low scale separatist insurgency in Balochistan. Education was a major victim of backwardness coupled with insurgency. In fact, Awaran ranked 137 out of 141 in the Alif Ailaan District Education ranking, 2017. For all practical purposes, Awaran is the face of impoverished Balochistan.
The Balochistan Education System has the support of many citizens of the district who want improvement in the education of this impoverished district. “Our generation could not get proper education in Awaran because of closed schools and we do not want the next generation to suffer the same way,” says 34-year-old Shabbir Rakhshani, spokesperson for this campaign. Rakhshani could not acquire proper education in his teens due to the non-functional schools of Awaran.
The Balochistan Education System has the support of many citizens of the district who want improvement in the education of this impoverished district.
The activists of this campaign started a district-wide informal survey of all schools. They challenged the data about the functional schools in the district, as shared on the Education Department website. So far, this campaign has identified 192 closed schools in the district out of 380 sanctioned schools. “The number of closed schools can go up as the survey progresses,” Rakhshani tells TNS. “Due to closed schools, more than 12,000 children of school-going age have been deprived of their right to education.”
The total budget for schools of Awaran, excluding salary budget, for the year 2019-2020 is Rs30.96 million. According to the details of the education survey conducted by the Balochistan Education System and shared with TNS, Rs5.8 million of this amount is being released for 63 schools, which are closed but are shown functional in government records. According to the survey, Rs2.09 million were allocated for uniforms that were never provided to students. Rs1.46 million are allocated for sports but there is no sports ground. Likewise, Rs1.08 million are allocated for science labs but there are no such labs in the entire district.
Furthermore, the survey has also revealed that small community schools in the district are operational which employ teachers on contract. However, the overwhelming majority of teachers employed permanently by the Education Department do not bother to show up for their jobs. Some of these teachers have even employed proxy teachers, who take classes on their behalf for a few days a month, in return for a small remuneration.
Masood Haleem was appointed the District Education Officer (DEO) of Awaran in December 2016. Haleem was in grade 18 but was given the charge of DEO, which is a position of grade 19. There are 10 schools in his village, Haleemabad. As per the survey of the Balochistan Education System most of these are non-functional. Earlier this month, he was transferred out of this position after the start of this campaign. However, Rakhshani claims that Haleem was transferred after a high court order that all junior officers should be relieved of charges above their grades.
Muhammad Anwar Jamali has been appointed as the new DEO of Awaran. “I am yet to take the charge [DEO Awaran] and therefore not in a position to comment on the ongoing educational campaign in Awaran,” he tells TNS.
Hussain Jan Baloch, Deputy Commissioner (DC) Awaran, told local journalists that action will be taken against the officials of Awaran district who are involved in the embezzlement of funds. He said he has recommended Secretary Education to sack 75 absent teachers in Awaran.
However, activists of the campaign are not happy with the actions of the government. “We have exposed the flaws and corruption in the education system of Awaran, but the government is yet to take notice,” says Rakhshani. “We expect Provincial Ombudsman, Anti-Corruption Establishment and National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to take notice of this corruption.”
While the campaign is advocating for improvement in the education system of Awaran, the political leadership of the district is completely missing. Quddus Bizenjo, the speaker of Balochistan Assembly and former chief minister, is MPA from Awaran. He only visits Awaran at the time of elections. The same is the case with his political opponents from other political parties. Despite the absence of their political representatives, activists of the Balochistan Education System vow to continue their campaign for the betterment of education in Awaran.