AT a time when Balochistan has numerous non-functional schools and schools that lack basic facilities such as boundary walls, permanent buildings, drinking water, toilets and electricity, laptops are being distributed among students of colleges and universities of the province.[TOP]
Recently, Chief Minister Abdul Malik Baloch announced a grant of Rs5 million for the provision of laptops to 100 students of Turbat University. In fact, this is not the first time that free laptops have been distributed among students in the province. Last November, Federal Minister for States and Frontier Regions Abdul Qadir Baloch distributed nearly 250 laptops among students of the University of Balochistan under the prime minister’s laptop scheme.
However, while the state is distributing laptops amongst university students, schoolchildren are, in many instances, facing various hurdles. For example, some weeks ago, it was reported that the owner of a school building forcibly expelled teachers along with 500 students from a government school in Quetta owing to non-payment of rent. The school has never been provided a permanent building. Here the question arises: how can we forget the plight of helpless students and concentrate on the provision of free laptops? Quetta alone has 44 government schools operating out of rented private buildings — in many cases the rent is not paid regularly.
Visiting a friend in Zamuran, district Kech, a few months ago, I was shocked to see the nearby government primary school turned into an animal pen; all the rooms of the school were in a shabby condition. My friend is lucky enough to have admitted his children to a nearby private school — many parents in the neighbourhood cannot afford a costly private education for their offspring.
Early last month, residents of Zamuran, including children, broke their silence and held a demonstration to protest against the closure of schools and teachers’ absenteeism, but to no avail. It is tragic that while several schools are non-functional in the province and deprived of basic education, so much attention is being given to the distribution of laptops.
We don’t bother to understand the agony of the parents who find their children illiterate and out of school due to lack of functioning government schools in their locality. According to a report released by Alif Ailaan, an NGO working for the promotion of education, 216 non-functional schools exist in the province.
Another survey conducted by the Institute of Social and Policy Sciences, shows 36pc schools in Balochistan have no access to drinking water, 55pc of schools are without toilet facilities and 56pc schools have no electricity. More than 15pc schools are without buildings. The less said about the poor condition of buildings, the better. It appears that the provision of basic facilities is not the top priority of the government.
Under Article 25-A of the Constitution the state is responsible for providing free and compulsory education to all children aged five to 16 years and yet 2.3 million children are out of school in the province. The federal and Balochistan governments have been unsuccessful in encouraging children to attend school despite several attempts.
There is no denying the fact that non-functional schools and lack of basic facilities keep students away from school; many join the labour force at a very young age.
If the federal and Balochistan governments wish to serve students in a better way or see a huge reduction in the number of out-of-school children as soon as possible, they should ensure that all children aged from five to 16 years are provided with free textbooks and free uniforms in the province besides being given basic facilities in schools.
Surprisingly, at present many students are even deprived of free textbooks in different parts of Balochistan. No one focuses any attention on these hapless students. Moreover, neither the NGOs nor the federal and provincial governments have made efforts to provide free uniforms to needy students in the province whose parents face great difficulty in buying the costly material and then paying a tailor. A number of students have given up their education owing to unaffordable uniforms.
However, there are instances of community members rising to the occasion. Take the example of the principal and the teachers of the Gulshanabad Government Girls Middle School, Turbat. In order to prevent needy students from giving up their studies owing to unaffordable uniforms, the principal of the school collects zakat biennially from the teaching staff and the money is spent on needy students’ uniforms. This is what the poor students actually need.
Distributing laptops, while neglecting non-functional schools that have deprived millions of children of an education, makes little sense. Balochistan does not need laptops right now; the money being spent on these can be utilised in better ways.
The writer is a teacher and a social worker.