Author: Zaarain Baloch
Balochistan’s education system is plagued with numerous issues – the lack of qualified teachers, underequipped government schools, an outdated curriculum, the thriving culture of nepotism and favoritism, and open cheating in the annual board examinations are but a few. But in the past few months, another major problem has made its way into that list: school arsons.
In the past few months, government and private schools were set on fire in different areas of Balochistan, including Kech, Windar, Pasni, Panjgoor, and other parts of Balochistan. The locals say the perpetrators sabotaged the schools in the middle of the night and fled. The furniture, books, lab equipment, and computers in these schools were burnt to ashes, and most schools had to be shut down as a result.
According to reports, three schools were burnt down in district Kech alone, making them dysfunctional. School arsons were reported in other areas of Balochistan, but this was the first such incident in Kech. The perpetrators threw pamphlets into the school, citing jihad against the western education system as their primary motive for the arson. An obscure group named Al-Furqan Islami claimed responsibility for setting the schools on fire.
The group claimed that the schools are importing the western education system into Balochistan, which will morally deprave the public and undo the fabric of the society. Instead of sending their kids to these schools, the culprits demanded, parents should send their children to religious seminaries where they can acquire religious education and become successful in this life as well as the afterlife.
This rogue group also threw leaflets in Panjgoor, warning the parents to not send their children to private schools. The group said that parents should send their children to government schools. The group did not justify their preference for public education over private education. Perhaps the fact that most private schools are co-education where girls and boys sit together in one classroom may have something to do with it. Schools in Panjgoor were shut down due to safety reasons for three months following the warning leaflets and a few attacks. They were re-opened this year in August with apprehension and fear.
The line of reasoning these groups present is flawed and ludicrous. Firstly, which religious book demands its followers to set the schools on fire to spread religious education? And who makes these self-proclaimed protectors of faith in charge of issuing moral edicts in the name of religion? Secondly, why do Balochistan’s schools suffer this fate? Why don’t similar incidents occur elsewhere in Pakistan, like Punjab or Sindh? Why do the Baloch children have to suffer through this tragedy? Thirdly, why does the government not take notice of these incidents? Considering that these incidents have been reported and extensively covered by the Baloch media, why is the government not taking any action?
Balochistan’s education is already reeling from a variety of issues. According to the 2018-19 Real Time School Monitoring System, a booklet published under the Balochistan Education Project that monitors government schools, there are 15,000 schools in Balochistan. The report monitored 74% of these schools, a whopping 11,000. The results were shocking: 3000 schools were found closed, while the remaining 31% of boys’ schools and 33% of girls’ schools lacked basic facilities, such as furniture, books, clean drinking water, labs, toilets, clean classrooms, and qualified teachers.
The schools that do have these facilities are not faring any better. The quality of public education is abysmal, and parents are willing to burn through their savings and pay exorbitant fees to send their children to private schools. The poor quality of higher education means thousands of students travel to cities like Karachi, Islamabad, and Lahore, where they can find quality education. Despite all these problems, some rogue group of self-proclaimed protectors of faith has decided to make the situation worse by burning down schools.
The school arsons engendered a massive public outrage – students and members of the civil society took to the roads in different areas of Balochistan to protest against the wave of school burnings. The Baloch Students Action Committee (BSAC) has been at the forefront of this struggle, spreading awareness, organizing demonstrations, and carrying out social media campaigns. The protestors in Uthal said that Balochistan’s education system suffers from numerous problems, and the school arsons are tantamount to throwing gasoline on the fire. The protestors claimed that these incidents are not isolated and random, but the products of a well-thought-out conspiracy to spread fear and terror and keep the Baloch youth away from education.
In Turbat, hundreds of protestors gathered on the streets, carrying placards and chanting slogans against the school arsons. The protestors said Balochistan’s education system is at the cusp of destruction, and the school arsons are nudging it into oblivion. The protestors questioned the government’s silence and inaction on the issue. The protestors said the wave of school burnings is the result of a conspiracy to deprive the Baloch nation of education.