Dost Muhammad Barrech
CHIEF of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa in his recent statement says “Balochistan is the future of Pakistan and it is our duty to fully assist its government and people towards a peaceful and prosperous province”. Prior to that statement Bajwa articulated, “Pakistan was incomplete without Balochistan.” Intriguingly, Balochistan is widely known for Gwadar Port, Reko Diq, Saindak and Sui gas but unknown for its exacerbating basic infrastructure, health, education sectors and social well-being of the people. A query remains: why is such a valuable province lagging far behind in human developments and internet services in the 21st century? Those who are at the helm of affairs are into oblivion to answer the posed question. The aftermath of the COVID-19 appears to be altering complexion of world politics including educational activities from traditional approach to online activities and online classes. Online activities particularly for Pakistan are emerging phenomenon, comprehending its components is prerequisite for policymakers. Organizing such activities in Balochistan, most backward and marginalized province economically, politically, and socially would bear unfruitful results for teachers and students of university on account of multifaceted reasons.
During the prevailing pandemic disease, HEC has directed universities to commence online classes for the purpose of accomplishing complete course of the current semesters. Five districts of Balochistan: Kalat, Surab, Awaran, Panjgur and Turbat have been witnessing suspension of 3G/4G services. Anticipating online classes in suspension of internet services in the outbreak of COVID-19 explicitly means destroying students’ career. Suspension of net in digital era is beyond one’s comprehension, disconnecting people from the world, plunging the province towards further backwardness and darkness, denying the fundamental rights of citizen. Article 19, the Constitution of Pakistan grants a thorough right to freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Freedom of speech is an essence of democracy, guaranteeing consolidation of democracy in the land of pure. Meanwhile, load shedding has tightened the noose around the province, far flung areas still bear more than 18 hours load shedding for indefinite period, causing psychological disorder; batteries of laptops and smartphones remain unfulfilled, ensuing in missing of crucial online classes.
Poverty in Balochistan is in full swing. According to Sana Baloch, an elected MPA of Balochistan, more than 70 percent people in Balochistan live in abysmal poverty. The COVID-19 would further be accelerating poverty exponentially in the province. Resultantly, destitute teachers and students are unable to purchase electronic gadgets like computers, laptops and smart phones. However, Balochistan has50 percent mountainous areas, geographically scattered province, land line internet connections seem to be unviable for far flung villages. Suffice it to say that for online classes, teachers are unprepared and untrained in distance education in delivering lectures. They should be trained and be made accustomed to online classes, without proper training, jumping from traditional learning to online classes certainly proves to be counterproductive. Various disciplines of science like Botany, Zoology, Biochemistry, Microbiology courses are laboratory practical-oriented. A teacher can deliver a lecture but performing laboratory experiment by student from home is simply out of the question. Practical work of laboratory be brought under consideration. As the saying of Nelson Mandela goes “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Educational sector of Balochistan instead of most powerful weapon in changing the world is in wretched condition, moving the province towards quagmire.
The province has the lowest literacy rate of the country, having 43% of male and 25% for female respectively, possessing approximately 10,000 ghost teachers and more than 3,500 ghost schools .Universities students, thus, are primarily the product of aforementioned ghost schools and ghost teachers, who are utterly incognizant of science & technology and online classes. HEC and University of Balochistan ought to take stringent and aggressive measures to ensure offering online education during the COVID-19, providing education to those, who are inhabiting physically out-with the geographical jurisdiction of the university. Stimulating new students for enrollment in universities be ensured by giving them incentives of greater learning granting them to programs through the use of technology. Equipping teachers and students with sophisticated technology is essential to the technological race. Presumably, COVID-19 era would move us towards online activities, adept teachers and students in technology inevitably will steal a march on others. In short, Balochistan lacks 21st century’s requirements, arguably portraying medieval era. 21st century reckons to be the century of science & technology, advanced education, economic equilibrium, political & social justices and freedom of expression. Materializing such components in Balochistan in letter and spirit, will incontrovertibly guarantee a prosperous Pakistan and successful future of CPEC projects.
— The writer works at the Institute of Strategic Studies, a think-tank based in Islamabad.