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Sunday, December 22, 2013

Balochistan: madressahs the fallback option

AT the age of 40, Abdul Rahim Jan earns a meagre income of Rs9,000 a month selling potatoes off a pushcart in the dusty Nawan Killi area of Quetta.

`I cannot pay school fees or buy costly books for my children,` he tells Dawn. So his nine-yearold son and seven-yearold daughter study in two seminaries. `The madressahs provide free religious education and food to them,` he says.

In Balochistan, there are thousands of families like that of Rahim Jan, pushed by a combination of religious, political and social factors into sending their children to madressahs. The madressah network, which is widely accused of recruiting `jihadis` and financing militancy, is not just spreading rapidly here but is also actively discouraging formal schooling. Yet where the religious-right is manipulating the situation, the government`s shortcomings are glaring, too: over 10,000 settlements across Balochistan have no schools at all, and the province has 2.3 million children out of school.

The Balochistan government has passed a bill declaring education free and compulsory under Article 25(a) of the constitution. Yet even those who could be in a position to improve matters present an alarming picture.

Sardar Raza Muhammad Bareech, for instance, is the adviser on education to the provincial chief minister. `Can you believe that there`s a high school for girls in the heart of Quetta that has no functioning toilet?` he points out. The institution to which he refers has more than 2,500 students. In Mr Bareech`s view, `we need to recruit some 60,000 new teachers and open about 13,000 new schools` to meet the target of educating all of Balochistan`s children.

Figures available with the provincial education department show that there are 57,000 teachersprovince has 2.3 million children out of school.

The Balochistan government has passed a bill declaring education free and compulsory under Article 25(a) of the constitution. Yet even those who could be in a position to improve matters present an alarming picture.

Sardar Raza Muhammad Bareech, for instance, is the adviser on education to the provincial chief minister. `Can you believe that there`s a high school for girls in the heart of Quetta that has no functioning toilet?` he points out. The institution to which he refers has more than 2,500 students. In Mr Bareech`s view, `we need to recruit some 60,000 new teachers and open about 13,000 new schools` to meet the target of educating all of Balochistan`s children.

Figures available with the provincial education department show that there are 57,000 teachersemployed in 12,600 primary, middle and high schools in Balochistan. But the provincial secretary for education, Ghulam Ali Baloch, says that there are more than 2,000 `ghost` schools with around 4,000 `ghost` teachers institutions and educationists that are dysfunctional or exist solely on paper.

Independent sources and educationists put these numbers even higher: wellknown educationist Nazar Muhammad Bareech, for instance, claims that there are more than 10,000 `ghost` teachers.

Meanwhile, according to Ghulam Ali Baloch, almost half of the 22,000 settlements across the province have no schools at all.

In the absence of schools, madressahs have mushroomed up in Quetta and in other parts of the province.

After the events of 9/11, when Pervez Musharraf decided that all seminaries across the country must be registered, in Balochistan the task fell to the Department of Industriesemployed in 12,600 primary, middle and high schools in Balochistan. But the provincial secretary for education, Ghulam Ali Baloch, says that there are more than 2,000 `ghost` schools with around 4,000 `ghost` teachers institutions and educationists that are dysfunctional or exist solely on paper.

Independent sources and educationists put these numbers even higher: wellknown educationist Nazar Muhammad Bareech, for instance, claims that there are more than 10,000 `ghost` teachers.

Meanwhile, according to Ghulam Ali Baloch, almost half of the 22,000 settlements across the province have no schools at all.

In the absence of schools, madressahs have mushroomed up in Quetta and in other parts of the province.

After the events of 9/11, when Pervez Musharraf decided that all seminaries across the country must be registered, in Balochistan the task fell to the Department of Industriesand Commerce. An officer of this department told Dawn on the condition of anonymity that around 2,500 madressahs are registered with the Balochistan government, and the number of unregistered seminaries lies at more than 10,000. `Most of them are located in the areas bordering Afghanistan,` he said.

As in other parts of the country, Islamic fundamentalism in Balochistan can be traced back to Ziaul Haq`s `Islamisation` policies. But the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11 contributed significantly to boosting radicalisation in the Pakhtun-dominated areas of the province.

Madressahs have been used to recruit fighters and finance militancy. But they also provide accommodation, clothes, food and books to their students, a lure that poor people, especially in isolated areas, find attractive.

Yet the challenges thrown up by religion, poverty and other factorscould be countered if only there were sufficient government schools.

Educationist Zubaida Jalal, a former federal minister for education, believes that `the government has failed to educate children.` She maintains that it is a myth that the sardars, or feudal lords,are an obstaclein the way of education in this province, and feels that poverty and unemployment are yet to be addressed here. `These issues are a hundred per cent behind the radicalisation,` she says.

Cumulatively, the situation is such that the demand for madressahs in Balochistan seems to be increasing.

Maulana Abdul Qadir Looni, the mohtamim or organiser of the Madressah Naumania and the secretary general of the Jamiat Ulema-i-IslamIdeological, told Dawn that his institution provides religious education to 145 students. The number of students is constantly rising at seminaries, he said, but `we have no space to give admission to new pupils.
By Syed Ali Shah : http://epaper.dawn.com/DetailImage.php?StoryImage=22_12_2013_001_007
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