Rising above the mountains of Balochistan, the Princess of Hope is finally beginning to see in the province what she was once named for: hope. From new schools, art academies, and universities in Lasbela and Turbat, education is offering hope to the people of the province, especially in places where education once was a distant dream. Aisha Saeed tells a tale of how education is helping students in Balochistan integrate into the national discourse.
hen we first discovered that a university in Lasbela would be part of our itinerary, we prepared to expect some rundown buildings, a few faculty members and some students without a clue of where they were. But when I recall how we swayed to the tune of Attan – a traditional Pushto dance – under a starry night with hundreds of radiant young faces, I realize how perceptions can be so very misplaced.The Lasbela University of Agriculture, Water and Marine Sciences lies a short distance outside the main town and is one of the few Pakistani universities offering a degree program in marine sciences. With an enrolment of over 3,000 and purpose built campus with state-of-the-art facilities, the university is truly an educational oasis appearing out of nowhere.
After years of militancy, the state of education in Balochistan is finally seeing a turnaround, especially in the higher education domain. And we were lucky enough to be part of a delegation that was provided a chance to witness the change firsthand. he initiative we were a part of began a few years ago, aimed at mobilizing and integrating the youth of Balochistan and providing them exposure to the people and educational infrastructure in other parts of the country. Similarly, the organizers arrange visits of students from other parts of the country to Balochistan, where they can interact with students of the province and see how they are progressing.
From Radicalization To Education
Gwadar was almost unheard of in Pakistan until the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor gave it a celebrity status in when it was initiated in 2013. Back then, militancy was at its height in Balochistan, affecting all sections of the social setup, especially education. But with return to normalcy, education has again become a normal for the people of the province. In Gwadar, the delegation had the opportunity to meet Commander Southern Command Lt Gen Muhammad Waseem Ashraf. In his discussion with the group, Lt Gen Ashraf said education was the key to eradicating radicalism in any area. He said the military and the government of Balochistan along with Chinese assistance had set up schools and vocational centers for uplifting the people and challenging radical elements. “If someone wanted to take revenge from someone, they should build a school in that area,” he suggested. The commander added that schools as well and military and cadet colleges that granted access to education to the province’s youth were a silent weapon against insurgents.
For a relatively smaller population of Gwadar, the number of schools currently in running is an encouraging sign. On a higher level, National Security Workshop Balochistan has been launched that provides access to teachers and other professionals from Balochistan to various events, workshops and seminars, giving them a chance to understand the complexities that hold back the development of the province. Besides, the Balochistan Education Endowment Fund (BEEF) has swelled to Rs 8 billion, with 45,000 students granted scholarships at their doorstep. The only merit needed to secure a BEEF Scholarship is to be a good student. The merit required to get into a medical college in Balochistan has been lowered to 59% – in an effort to encourage students to go for higher education.
Balochistan Education Endowment Fund (BEEF) has swelled to Rs 8 billion, with 45,000 students granted scholarships at their doorstep
Girls are getting opportunities too, as the Pak-China Girls School on the outskirts of Gwadar is committed to providing education to girls of the area up to middle level. Pak-China Technical and Vocational Institute at Gwadar, established under the objectives of CPEC, is to shape and enhance skills of Baloch youth so that they are prepared to grow as the port city grows itself.While education is at the top of priorities for every stakeholder in the province, a lack of teachers willing to work in such far-off places, and the unavailability of software to deliver modern day education remains a challenge. According to the Economic Survey of Pakistan 2018-2019, Balochistan remains one of the most neglected provinces in terms of education. It currently stands at a 41% in terms of literacy rate; the lowest among all provinces. The government of Balochistan had allocated Rs 12.45 billion in 2018-19 for 205 ongoing and 449 new development projects for education.
After years of militancy, the state of education in Balochistan is finally seeing a turnaround, especially in the higher education domain
Out of the total allocation, an amount of Rs 1.77 billion had been allocated for primary education, Rs 4.15 billon for middle education, Rs 3.03 billion for secondary education, Rs 2.11 billion for college education, Rs 0.57 billion for university education, Rs 0.74 billion for general education and 0.069 billion for technical education, the statistics showed. But such huge gaps in education that have developed over the years due to consistent neglect and by insurgency cannot be expected to get corrected all at once. More efforts are underway to change the mindset of the younger population through exposure via student interactions and exchange – to make the locals feel less alienated from the rest of their fellow countrymen.
Getting To Know
Sensing the general disenchantment of the youth of Balochistan with the state and countrymen in other parts of Pakistan, a group of concerned citizens established an organization with the sole objective of rebuilding the lost trust of Baloch youth with the rest of Pakistanis. The team worked under the supervision of Senator Anwarul Haq Kakar, and took up the challenge to change the perception of the Baloch people through fostering people-to-people connections.Working as partners with the Government of Balochistan, they initiated the Youth Mobilization Campaign.
With Chinese assistance, the military and the government of Balochistan has set up schools and vocational centers for uplifting the people and challenging radical elements
It began at the district level and then moved on to the provincial level, working round-the-clock by mobilizing the general public, especially victims of terrorism. In the first phase, families of victims of terrorism in Balochistan were mobilized and sent to various parts of the country for interactive programs. Having received positive feedback from stakeholders across the society and educational institutes, the scope of the mobilization campaign expanded from Balochistan to the rest of the country.At present, higher education departments (HED) of all four provinces and the Higher Education Commission (HEC) of Pakistan are jointly facilitating student exchanges to forge a greater sense of national cohesion.Umer Duabia, a student from GCU Lahore, told Academia Magazine, “The visit to Gwadar and getting to know of its geographical importance was indeed an eye opener. I realized that if we avail this opportunity with full zeal, our next generations will lead in all industrial and economic zones.”
Senator Kakar told Academia Magazine that the aim behind the recent visits (youth mobilization campaign) was to connect the student community from all provinces.“The impact has been tremendous, and many people who had never had the chance to visit other parts of the country were given an opportunity by the government to exploit this opportunity. Since its start, the project has helped students’ outlook towards nation building and they feel a part of the larger part of the Pakistani family,” Kakar added.
A student-to-student interaction initiative aims at mobilizing and integrating the youth of Balochistan and providing them exposure to people and educational infrastructure in other parts of the country
The change in and around Balochistan is not the commercial fodder you would find being repeated on mainstream media day in and day out, but those who have seen the progress made over the past few years can vouch that things are on the right track. Balochistan has suffered a lot in the past few decades, and it would require herculean efforts to bring all sectors of the province at par with the rest of the country. But initiatives such as this are a promise that the powers that be do want things to change for the better and are taking effective measures to make the youth of Balochistan as empowered and privileged as their peers in Punjab, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.