It is no secret that Balochistan is the most under-served province in the country. Years of neglect, a lack of infrastructure development, sparsely populated communities, and a deteriorating security situation in Balochistan have made it difficult for large scale development programs to have an impact on socio-economic outcomes in the province. Therefore, it is not surprising that only 56 percent of 6-10 year olds and less than half of 11-15 year olds are enrolled in school in the province. Girls are particularly disadvantaged as results from a recent World Bank study suggest that females are 4.5 times more likely to be out of school than males in the 6-10 age group, and are 15.5 times more likely than males to be out of school in the 11-15 age group (all else equal). This article will discuss some of the challenges that explain these poor educational outcomes for the project and the way forward to address these issues.
Findings from Balochistan suggest that poverty plays a significant role in explaining whether or not a child goes to school: Children belonging to the poorest wealth quintile are 4 times more likely to be out of school than children belonging to the richest wealth quintile. The opportunity cost of schooling increases as a child gets older, as he or she is expected to support the family, by working either outside or inside the home. Children between the ages of 11-15 who have indicated that they have worked for pay in the last month are 25 times more likely to be out of school than children who have not worked, all else equal. However, poverty is not the only factor that impacts schooling outcomes in Balochistan: access to schooling is a major obstacle to schooling as children who live more than 30 minutes away from a primary school are almost 4 times more likely to be out of school than children who live within 15 minutes of a primary school (all else equal).
To address these factors and improve educational outcomes in the province, there are supply side measures that can be taken, particularly school construction and rehabilitation of girls’ schools. In the 1990s was a drastic increase in provision of educational services particularly for girls: between 1990 and 1998 there was a 241 percent increase in the number of primary girls’ schools in Balochistan and a 159 percent increase in girls’ enrollment at the primary level (Anzar, 1999). In 2006, the World Bank approved the Balochistan Education Support Project (BESP) to establish community schools in rural areas, support new private schools, and promote capacity building of schools throughout the province. As of August, 2012, there are 27,000 children (43% girls) enrolled in 633 community schools across the province (“Implementation status & results,” 2012). However, much more needs to be done to ensure that both boys and girls have access to quality schooling in this province. In addition to school construction and rehabilitation one of the main priorities should be developing a pool of educated female school teachers within the province. This will prove challenging as only 20 percent of women above the age of 10 have ever attended school in Balochistan (PSLM Surveys, 2010-11). Social taboos on females traveling outside their villages, makes the identification of a potential pool of female teachers even more difficult.
It is evident that given the prevalence of poverty throughout the province, supply side interventions are only part of the picture. Poverty and the opportunity cost of schooling play an important role in parents’ decisions on sending their children to school. Therefore, in order to improve educational outcomes, a more holistic approach must be adopted to address poverty within the province. Cash stipends to girls, that are conditional on student enrollment, is one such demand side intervention that could incentivize parents to send their girls to school. A study of Conditional Cash Transfers (CCTs) and school enrollment in Nicaragua shows that CCTs are associated with improvements in school enrollment for poor households (Gitter & Barham, 2009). CCTs have also been offered in Pakistan; as of 2010-11, under the Punjab Education Sector Reform Programme (PESRP), 375,605 girls in grades 6-10 in 15 low literacy districts have benefited from stipends (“Punjab Education Sector,” n.d.). Although, cash stipends may provide necessary short term relief to families, they are not a long term sustainable solution. One sustainable approach to ease the economic burden of families is to offer microfinance loans to poor households. Although some studies of the impact of such loans on the schooling decisions of poor households have demonstrated that microfinance loans have no impact on schooling decisions of households, authors have advocated conditioning microfinance loans on school attendance of children to incentivize parents to send their children to school (Douglas, 2012). Such innovative demand-side approaches in addition to supply-side school construction and teacher development should be explored to reduce the opportunity cost of schooling and improve educational outcomes for poor families in Balochistan. More critically, these interventions must supplement infrastructure development projects across the province. The proposed Iran-Pakistan Gas Pipeline Project is one such project which could a have substantial economic impact on Balochistan, not only through the provision of gas and electricity to under-served areas but also through job creation. The precarious security situation within the province that has ethnic, tribal, and sectarian roots has further complicated the situation making it extremely difficult for the government and donor agencies to operate within these insecure areas. Let us hope the next government addresses the security situation, abides by the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline agreement, and invests in additional development projects to begin to make amends for years of indifference and neglect.
Ali Ansari is a consultant with the World Bank, working on the Punjab Education Sector Project and the Promoting Girls Education in Balochistan Project. Ali completed his Masters in Economics and Education from Columbia University, and has authored research papers on Education in Pakistan.