In the provincial budget 2017-18, the Balochistan government allocated Rs. 45 billion for the education sector. Whether anybody believes it or not, the provincial authorities themselves admit that a significant part of the allocations would go to ghost schools and ghost teachers this year also, as in the previous many years.
A report, officially released by the provincial authorities some months back, revealed that the Balochistan Education Department could not verify the presence of over 15,000 teachers during the verification drive, launched by the government three years ago.
According to a Dawn report, the Education Department, which launched the verification process at the beginning of 2014, to trace and terminate ghost teachers, could only verify 42,000 teachers, out of the total 59,000 registered teachers in the province.
According to official data, Balochistan has approximately 59,000 teachers, serving in primary, middle and high schools. However, only 42,000 could be verified till the start of the current year, according to an official. Balochistan Education Minister Abdul Rahim Ziaratwal does not deny the figures. Talking to Cutting Edge by telephone, he admitted that the government could not verify more than 15,000 teachers in the province.
In response to a question about another disclosure, the minister clarifies that not 1,500, but 1,400 ghost schools could not be verified during the campaign. But, he adds, one must appreciate that the Education Department spotted over 900 ghost schools and the budget for these schools was stopped immediately. A huge sum of Rs. 400-500 million was being paid to these ghost teachers, he says.
The minister says the provincial government has evolved a five-year Balochistan education sector plan under which not only new schools will be set up, but also upgrading of existing schools will be carried out and centres for early childhood education introduced.
As many as 725 new primary schools will be established, 500 schools will be upgraded to middle level and 500 middle schools will be upgraded to higher level in financial year 2017-18. The minister says that the Education Department was not oblivious of its responsibility. In August last year, the government terminated services of more than 400 government schoolteachers, who had been absent from duty for a long time. Also, the department stopped funds allocated for 650 ghost schools, adds.
However, the issue is multifaceted and deep-rooted. An Education Department official alleged that a number of ghost teachers belong to families of tribal elders and politicians. He told Cutting Edge at a seminar in Quetta in March this year, that hundreds of such teachers are office-bearers or members of political parties, and some of them even enjoy official protocol because of their political connections. That’s why no action is taken against them, though the authorities knew about them well, he claimed while requesting anonymity.
Another issue related with absenting teachers has connection with teachers unions. “They (union leaders) often pressurise officials of the education department for posting and transfers of teachers in their favourite areas, and also create obstacles in taking punitive action against the absenting teachers,” he claims.
The allegations were authenticated by the adviser to chief minister on education, Sardar Raza Mohammad Baraich. He told the media that he had to face political pressure for posting and transfer of teachers. “On a daily basis, I have to give time to political leaders and workers in my office who put pressure on me for postings and transfers of government teachers in their favourite areas,” he said.
According to the Education Department data, over 5,000 schools in the province are schools with just one room and one teacher, and over 2,000 schools in the province are shelterless.The data, made available by Alif Ailaan, an independent education initiative, for the year 2016-17 showed that only 44% of the 10-year-old and older population of Balochistan ever attended school. Of these, a mere 35% completed primary level or higher. In the 6-10 years age group, 73% are enrolled in primary schools, run predominantly by the government.
Apparently, the province has been doling out huge funds every year for the sector. But is it a reality? There are various question marks over it.
According to official figures, in 2015-16, education was the secondlargest head of expenditure in the current budget, receiving almost 22% of the total. In the next two budgets, the sector slid to the third position. The share in 2017-18 is down to 18.9%. The revised budget of 2016-17 shows an underutilisation of 6 per cent of the budgeted amount.
The allocations show that within the current budget, primary education
is the largest claimant. The allocation in the budget for 2017-18 is Rs. 15.9 billion, which is 42% higher than the previous budget. Curiously, it is only 1.3% higher than the revised budget.
In fact, the revised budget overshot the budget by 40.2%, a rare happening, especially in the case of primary education. An upgrade of schools and teachers, besides creation of thousands of new posts, will make a difference only if it does not land up with “ghost” workers.
A cursory look at the provincial budgetary allocations makes it clear that since 2015-16, the expenditure on tertiary education has increased by 90%, while primary education experienced an increase of only 4 per cent. As a result, the share of primary education in the education budget is nearly stagnant while that of tertiary education has gone up rapidly. This is a clear case of misplaced priorities.
The allocations show that the development budget for education follows the pattern of the current budget. With a share of 11.2%, it is the third-largest item of expenditure in the budget for 2017-18. The revised estimate for the previous year overshot the budget estimate by 82.3%. The budget allocation for 2017-18 is less than the revised estimate of 2016-17 by 18.7%. There is an increase of only 4.3% over the expenditure in 2015-16. Within the development expenditure on education, the largest claimant is the tertiary education with a share of 51.8%. In contrast, primary education gets 25%. Again, all revised estimates for the previous year overshot the budget, but the margin was the lowest for primary education and the highest for tertiary education.
And if we cast a look at the current and development expenditure together, the share of education was 19.9% in 2015-16. Given the generally poor indicators, the share of education was anything but high. Instead of increasing the share, the budget for 2016-17 brought it down to 16.8%. The revised estimate for that year increased to 18.1%, still less than 201516. In the budget for 2017-18, the share of education has again been brought down to 16.9%, almost the same as the previous budget. It clearly showed how hollow are the slogans of the provincial authorities of giving education a top priority.
As far as the main issue, the constitutional obligation, is concerned, i.e. the large number of out-of-school children, the share of primary education in total education spending has fallen from 37.6% in 2015-16 to 32.9% in the budget for 2017-18. For the same period, the share of tertiary education has risen from 16.9% to 22.3%. Normally, current expenditure is the major component of the education budget.
Mostly, the funds for the education sector remain unutilised almost every year, and the budgetary allocations are revised in the third or fourth quarter of the financial year. In the revised estimates of 2016-17, the development expenditure was actually higher than the current expenditure by a wide margin of 40%. As no financing sources have been identified, the deficit shown in the overall budget will most likely affect the education budget.
The biggest reality of the current times is that the education sector in the most underdeveloped province of the country does not need tall claims or figure-fudging, but sincere and concerted efforts to establish education on a strong footing and make it a genuine priority of the government.