Though “ghost” (phantom) teachers and schools in Balochistan could be traced back to early years of the current decade, yet a provincial minister officially declared in 2016 that there was no record of 15,000 teachers and 900 schools with almost 300,000 fake registration of students.
Certainly, it was a matter of concern for all concerned. But a bigger appalling reality of today is the fact that the provincial government has failed to identify and fire “ghost” teachers even after the passage of over three years. The ghost schools still run on paper and the teachers are still drawing salaries every month and receiving funds in the name of fake students.
Abdul Rahim Ziaratwal, the education minister in 2016, made a startling revelation in the Balochistan Assembly, saying about 900 ghost schools had been detected with 300,000 fake registration of students, and out of 60,000, 15,000 teachers’ records were found missing. A year earlier in 2015, the provincial education department had fired 450 absenting teachers. Abdul Saboor Kakar, the provincial education secretary, told the media the funding had been stopped to some 650 ghost schools and 450 teachers sacked, who never taught at any school, but were drawing their salaries regularly. He said Balochistan had some 12,500 government schools and efforts were being made to increase the number of functional schools. At that time, about one third of primary school age children were out of school, while 42pc of the population aged 10 and above was illiterate, according to the Education for All 2015 National Review report.
In 2017, the Balochistan education authorities again admitted the presence of approximately 10,000 ghost teachers, and those attending schools casually. The next year, Balochistan Education Secretary Tayyab Lehri told the media in 2018 at least 1,800 state-run primary, middle and high schools in the province had been found non-functional. Another 2,200 schools were without shelter and 5,000 primary schools were being run by single teachers. The secretary claimed that despite suspending 179 teachers, ordering inquiries against 97 and issuing show-cause notices to 82, the size and gravity of the crisis needed a bigger crackdown.
However, he then shared good news with the media that the total number of government primary, middle and high schools had increased to 13,000 across the province. He claimed declaring an education emergency in the province to ensure the implementation of Article 25-A of the Constitution, though majority of over 10,000 ghost teachers continued drawing their salaries without being detected.
In the beginning of the current year, the United Nations Children’s Fund, commonly known as Unicef, released a report, making a painful disclosure that 70pc children are still out of school in Balochistan, and the highest number of out-of-school children belong to rural areas. The report revealed that Dasht district has the lowest literacy rate and the largest number of non-functional or ghost schools in the province. Also, in Awaran, one of the most beautiful places in Balochistan, school buildings destroyed in the 2013 earthquake, are yet to be reconstructed.
Education Secretary Tayyab Lehri, in a telephonic talk with Cutting Edge, admitted that over one million school age children in Balochistan were out of school currently. He says the incumbent government has taken various measures to handle the ghost schools and their teachers and force teachers to come to schools and teach their students. Recently, the provincial cabinet approved the Balochistan Essential Education Service Act, 2018. Under the proposed legislation, teachers would be barred from observing strikes, locking classrooms or boycotting classes to press for the acceptance of their demands. However, he admits, the issue is enormous and needs comprehensive and continuous efforts to get resolved.
In May 2019, says Lehri, the education department suspended over 2,000 teachers across the province over their continued absence from duty. Those suspended belonged not only to far-off districts but also the provincial headquarters. Such teachers were suspended in Quetta, Pishin, Dera Bugti, Qilla Abdullah and other districts of the province. The education secretary says at least 10,000 more teachers have been recruited during the past five years and the number of government teachers from primary to high school levels currently stands at 70,000 in Balochistan. He says notices are being issued to absenting teachers every month; 81 teachers were issued notices in Dera Bugti and over 200 in Pishin in two months. Other remedial steps taken in a meeting include making over 1,800 schools functional and upgrading 67 middle schools and 80 higher secondary schools in the province, he says.
However, education problems are not limited to merely ghost schools and their teachers in Balochistan. Those attending schools have to face various problems due to missing facilities in the so-called functional schools. According to education department documents, 9,247 government schools in the province have no facility for drinking water while 9,838 schools do not have toilet facilities. As per the documents, the province has over 13,000 primary, middle and high schools with an enrolment of 899,383 male and female students. Over 7,900 schools do not have boundary walls, while there are 5,296 “one room, one teacher” schools.
An officer of the Balochistan Planning and Development Department told an English-language daily that despite allocation of Rs. 2 billion in the last two financial years for construction of washrooms and the provision of missing facilities in government schools, the task could not be accomplished. These budgetary allocations made in 2016-17 and 2017-18 lapsed and schools could not get the missing facilities, regretted the official. “What’s the use of declaring an education emergency in the province if there’s no political will and capacity to utilise even the budgetary allocations,” asks the official.
Zubair Torwali, who has been working in the fields of education and development in Balochistan for the last many years, says around 1.9 million children in the province are out of school and more than half (51pc) of them are girls. According to statistics, 1.3 million children are missing out on secondary education. There are 11,627 primary schools and just 42 higher secondary schools, he tells Cutting Edge.
As a keen observer, he says Balochistan has made little progress since 2013 in curtailing teacher absenteeism, identifying ghost schools, and partially addressing the inequality between the numbers of primary schools and the number of middle and high schools. Between 2011-2012 and 2016-17, the budget for education rose from Rs. 22.66 billion to Rs. 48.61 billion, though significant challenges persist, he says. While the recurrent budget for expenses, such as teacher salaries and learning materials, has risen each year, the development budget for infrastructure, missing facilities and teaching materials has declined. The current education development budget stands at Rs. 6.44 billion against a recurrent budget of Rs. 42.18 billion.
However, Mr. Torwali adds, the real issue is not of budgetary allocations merely. The provincial authorities, both political and administrative, in fact, lack the political will and a sense of ownership as far as the education sector is concerned. Otherwise, he adds, identifying the ghost schools, ghost and absenting teachers and fake registration of students to secure government funds would not require more than a year. However, it is painful that more than 5,000 ghost teachers are still drawing salaries and getting other financial benefits for the last five years, when for the first time, the issue was brought to light by the authorities themselves, he adds.