Balochistan, “the land of ghost schools and teachers,” has announced the opening of 100 new middle schools, and allocated Rs1,500 million in the annual budget 2021-22 for the initiative.
The opening sentence, especially the part in the inverted commas, should not offend anyone, as there is no finger-pointing in it at all. Few years ago, a minister had admitted on the floor of the provincial assembly that there was no record of 15,000 teachers, and 900 schools. Abdul Rahim Ziaratwal, the education minister in 2016, had made a startling revelation in the assembly that at least 900 “ghost” schools had been detected with 300,000 fake registrations of students, and out of 60,000, 15,000 teachers’ records could not be found.
In 2017, the Balochistan education authorities again admitted the presence of approximately 10,000 ghost teachers, and those attending schools casually. In 2018, Balochistan Education Secretary Tayyab Lehri told the media that at least 1,800 state-run primary, middle and high schools in the province had been found non-functional. He claimed suspending 179 teachers, ordering inquiries against 97 and issuing show-cause notices to 82 others, though the size and gravity of the crisis needed a bigger crackdown.
Abdul Saboor Kakar, a provincial education secretary in the past years, had told the media that funding had been stopped to some 650 ghost schools and 450 teachers were sacked, who had never taught at any school, but were drawing their salaries regularly. In the succeeding years, what happened to the remaining ghost schools and teachers is not known. At least, the mainstream print media did not provide any detail of catching the remaining ghost teachers and identifying other ghost schools.
This year, the provincial government has announced the establishment of 100 new middle schools. How many of the new schools will be functional, is anybody’s guess.
Coming back to the budgetary allocations for the financial year 2021-22, the provincial government has decided to upgrade 198 more schools in the province. The allocation would be aimed at improving the sector with the provision of quality furniture, sports, computer labs, science equipment and other basic facilities to public sector schools in far-flung areas of the province. According to official reports, there are at least 2,200 schools in the province which are functioning without any shelter, and 5,000 primary schools are being run by single teachers. According to official data, Balochistan has some 12,500 government schools, but more than one third of the primary school age children are out of school, while 42% of the population aged 10 and above is illiterate, according to the ‘Education for All’ review report.
In February 2021, Balochistan Minister for Education Yar Mohammad Rind admitted that there was an acute shortage of teachers in the province. After giving away appointment letters to 388 male and female teachers at a ceremony, he also promised elimination of ghost teachers and employees from the Education Department. Through his pledge, he once again endorsed in the beginning of this year that the issue of ghost schools and teachers still persists despite the passage of at least one decade.
Another related development occurring in the third week of June 2021, was the resignation of the education minister. No new education minister has been appointed, showing the importance the provincial government attaches to the education sector.
However, to meet the “acute shortage” of teachers in the province, the government appointed 6,592 staff to the Education Department. According to official documents, the government approved regularisation of 1,493 GPE (Global Partnership for Education) teachers and creation of around 2,349 new posts.
In the financial year 2021-22, Rs8.463 billion has been allocated for the development of primary and secondary education and Rs53.256 billion for its non-developmental expenditures.
Balochistan Finance Minister Mir Zahoor Baledi, in his budgetary speech in the house on June 18, said that in the context of Article 25-A and SDG-4 of the Constitution, a huge amount of Rs1,500 million had been allocated under the “Read Balochistan, grow Balochistan” initiative. During the financial year 2020-21, Rs3.542 billion had been released for 197 different projects for the construction of new schools in remote areas of the province. The finance minister announced that in the financial year 2021-22, it had been decided that 198 schools would be built and upgraded and 35 girls high schools were being upgraded.
The budget speech, however, brought good news to the higher education sector: an increase in the annual grant of universities from Rs1.50 billion to Rs2.50 billion. Also, over Rs97 million were allocated for the construction of a new boys college in Jiwani tehsil of Gwadar district. The finance bill said that Rs937 million were being utilised by girls colleges under the provisions of various facilities including clean drinking water, construction of washrooms and other facilities.
However, bad news was that no allocation was made in the federal or Balochistan provincial budget for the establishment of the much-touted University of Gwadar. The harbour city is expected to be South East Asia’s new hub for trade, tourism and investment with an economy of $30 billion by 2050, as per Gwadar’s master plan. In comparison, Iran’s Chabahar area, often seen as Gwadar’s rival, has two universities.
The construction of a modern university in Gwadar was first announced in May 2017 by the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as part of a development package for the port city. It was included in the federal public sector development programme in 2016-2017 and 2017-18. Later, in November 2018, a charter for the university was vetted by the Higher Education Commission and a bill for the establishment of the university was passed by the Balochistan Assembly. According to HEC official sources, the federal government had approved Rs1b for the establishment of the university in 2018, and a piece of land measuring 500 acres was allotted in September 2018. However, the project was apparently shelved later, and even in the 2021-22 financial year, no allocation was made for the very important higher education project.