by Dr Shahid Siddiqui
7 June, 2010
IN the last couple of months a number of teachers have been targeted and killed in Balochistan. Some of them had been living there for more than four decades and were immersed in the local culture.
They included teachers, principals of colleges, a university dean, an acting vice-chancellor and the education minister. A factor common to all these people was that they were non-locals and came from other provinces. The repercussions of these targeted killings are multi-dimensional but the main victim appears to be education.
Balochistan is the largest province in the country with an area of 347,190sq km, or 43 per cent of the total area of Pakistan. The population constitutes only five per cent of the country’s total population. It is this vast difference between area and population that attracted people from other provinces to come and settle here. Among them were a number of educationists who made important contributions in their field.
It is important to note that it’s not essentially a population-related issue and in the case of Balochistan the population is projected as decreasing by 1.3 per cent by 2025. The apparent cause of the problems is of a political nature and has led to a sense of deprivation and socio-political exclusion.
Balochistan has a history of army operations that goes back to the initial years of Pakistan. The last one was during the Musharraf era when Nawab Akbar Bugti was killed in an operation ordered by Pervez Musharraf and widely condemned. The backlash of this murder was swift and severe.
The anger was demonstrated in many ways, as has also been the case in the past when armed resistance occurred. Yet on all those occasions, violent reaction was confined to the rural areas and the targets were not civilians, especially not teachers. The teaching profession has enjoyed much respect by the masses in traditional Baloch society. It is a recent and surprising phenomenon that political revenge has picked on teachers as targets. This has had a direct impact on education.
The role of education in the process of development is considered crucial. We live in an age of knowledge economy where the literate citizens of a country constitute its human capital, which plays a significant role in national development. A more comprehensive definition of development includes education, in addition to income and health.
According to the Economic Survey of Pakistan (2009-10) Balochistan lags behind in terms of the literacy rate, which is 46 per cent as compared to 59 per cent in Punjab, 56 per cent Sindh and 49 per cent in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The Gender Parity Index (GPI), as defined in the Economic Survey of Pakistan, is the ratio of females’ enrolment to the males’ enrolment. A GPI of more than one indicates that in proportion to every male in the school, there is more than one female”. The GPI index score for Balochistan is 0.35 which is lower than Punjab (0.69), Sindh (0.61) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (0.49).
As part of the gender divide in education, there is a vast difference in the literacy rate between the urban and rural areas of Balochistan. These unequal divides on the basis of gender and area suggest that a sizable portion of the population has not been given the opportunity of obtaining education and is thus not fully active in the process of development.
The recent phase of unrest that started with the murder of Nawab Akbar Bugti in 2006 took an ugly turn when the teachers came under attack and many were killed. These killings had associated chain reactions. Teachers who came from other provinces suddenly found they were unsafe and started applying for transfers. According to one estimate more than 70 faculty members of the University of Balochistan have submitted transfer applications. This is a huge number given that there are only 200 faculty members in all. A sudden and en masse departure of qualified faculty will have a serious effect on the quality of education.
Besides the university, a number of colleges are now also closed. The school system has stopped working, for even those that remain open are practically dysfunctional because of the absence of faculty members and very low student attendance.
This is a disturbing situation that has a direct impact on Balochistan’s younger generation. Long closures of educational institutions, the sudden departure of qualified faculty, the very intolerant attitude towards other ethnic groups and a threatening environment on campus will have a negative impact on the academic scene.
Balochistan, which is already lagging behind in terms of development, needs innovative initiatives to cope with the educational challenges of quantity, quality and fair distribution on the basis of gender and the rural-urban divide. Such initiatives were launched a couple of decades ago with the help of foreign funding agencies and had some positive outcomes for students and teachers. All of them have now, unfortunately, come to a halt.
The local teachers and students have tremendous potential. What they need is exposure to quality education and professional experience. It is through education that Balochistan can realise the dream of sustainable socio-economic development that promises enhanced political awareness and a creative means for exploring the freedom of expression and ideas. But education that ensures such dreams can take place only on campuses with peaceful classroom interactions, where disagreement can be shown in an agreeable manner and where teachers are respected and considered important.
The writer is the director of the Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences at the Lahore School of Economics and author of Rethinking Education in Pakistan.
My blog: http://shahidksiddiqui.blogspot.com