European Union and UNICEF helping revamp basic education in Balochistan

Rehabilitating schools in Balochistan to bring back students

Adresh Laghari
Students interacting with the teacher in their classroom
15 February 2017

Jaffarabad, Balochistan - February 2017: It is break time and children are excitedly heading to the play area at the UNICEF and European Union supported Government Boys’ Primary School in Mohib Ali Umrani, a small village in Usta Muhammad tehsil. The school, located in Jaffarabad district, Balochistan, was originally conceived as a boys’ school, but now it is open to girls as well since there is no separate girls’ primary school nearby. Among the girls is 11-year-old Rehana Bibi, a fifth grader who loves mathematics and is also the treasurer of the school’s child club.

"The whole village stopped sending girls to school due to lack of basic infrastructure and facilities."

Rehana, 11 year old Fifth Grader

Rehana’s family took her out of school three years ago. “The elders did not like us girls sitting in the open all the time,” she says. Back then, the school lacked basic facilities: no toilet, no boundary wall, and no source of water, let alone clean drinking water. The building, damaged once by floods in 2010 and then by heavy rains in 2012, was more a hazard than a facility itself. “The whole village stopped sending girls to this school,” adds Rehana. On top of that, frequent unexcused absenteeism of the teachers was making matters worse. “But now the best thing is that my father himself is taking care of the school all the time along with other elders in the village,” she adds with a smile that is radiating joy.

Standing within earshot is her father, Fateh Ali. He’s a humble Baloch man who makes ends meet by cultivating a small piece of land. Now a member of the Parent Teacher School Management Committee (PTSMC), Fateh Ali previously stopped Rehana from attending classes because of the poor condition of the school. “Many of us villagers had our daughters continue their primary education at home, coming to school only for exams,” says Fateh Ali. That is how Rehana passed the second and the third grade. For two years, Rehana and other girls of school-going age were not attending classes and were also not enrolled in the village primary school. Many children, particularly girls dropped out at an alarming rate, because of safety concerns and lack of confidence in the quality of teaching and learning in the school. This region is one of those most affected in terms of primary school dropout rates for children, especially for girls.

Young girls playing a game of tag in school
Rehana Bibi (11) during a game of tag with other girls from her class during break time at the Govt. Boys’ Primary School Mohib Ali Umrani, Jaffarabad, Balochistan

Balochistan Basic Education Programme (BBEP)

In 2016, UNICEF’s Balochistan Basic Education Programme (BBEP), an initiative generously supported by the European Union (EU), with Jaffarabad as one of its focus districts, stepped in. A team from UNICEF along with monitoring staff from the Secondary Education Department visited the Mohib Ali Umrani village, inquiring about the performance of Rehana’s school. This gave way to a series of consultations that led to the rehabilitation of the school. It also paved way for a significant increase in enrolment rates and brought about a drastic change in the villagers’ as well as the teachers’ attitude towards the education of their children.

As a first step, UNICEF helped reactivate the village PTSMC, bringing new members, including Rehana’s father, on board and mobilising them to take steps for sustainable improvement in both the school’s environment and performance. A Local Education Council (LEC) – a council under the Secondary Education Department, Government of Balochistan – was also formed so that the process is aligned with the education reforms. The council comprises key stakeholders in basic education from a group of public schools in a union council, e.g. teachers, PTSMC chairs, education department officials. It is responsible for ensuring and overseeing the performance and the environment of the school. A School Development Plan (SDP) was developed in consensus with the PTSMCs, school teachers and students for the Mohib Ali Umrani school, highlighting major requirements of the school to become fully operational. The PTSMC was then provided with a grant of 250,000 rupees (roughly US$2,500) by UNICEF. The PTSMC also contributed to the school plan in cash as well as in kind donation. This helped construct a toilet and renovate the school building.

Within months, even when the SDP was still in its early initiation phase, Rehana and other girls of the village were back attending regular classes. She now regularly sees her father, the PTSMC member, at her school. “These days, on our way back from her school, she even talks about the progress of the boundary wall construction which is underway,” says Fateh Ali, with a sense of pride for her daughter. Next in plan for Mohib Ali Umrani PTSMC is to concretise the planned water storage system for the school. “At the moment, the villagers take turns in bringing clean drinking water to the school,” says Fateh Ali.

 A male student walking towards his classroom after using the toilet
A students walks back towards to the classrooms after using the toilet constructed with UNICEF and EU support at Govt. Boys’ Primary School Mohib Ali Umrani, Jaffarabad, Balochistan.

Mobilising for Change

“The problem we had at the Mohib Ali Umrani school is an example for the challenge the government and its partners face in the efforts to revamp education in Balochistan,” says Palwasha Jalalzai, an Education Specialist with UNICEF in its Balochistan Field Office. “This is a deep-rooted problem with a multitude of factors, affecting schools in remote and deprived areas. Notable among these factors are the communities’ lack of awareness of their children’s right to education, and the lack of understanding of the institutional processes already in place.”

Ellen Van Kalmthout, the Chief of Education at UNICEF Pakistan, explains the idea of the EU funded UNICEF initiative. “It accompanies the government in the reform process, aiming to ensure accountability both at grassroots and provincial levels to improve the quality of education,” she says. “This means targeting community behaviours with two broader goals in mind that translate into its strategy: advocate for education, and mobilise for institutional approaches to ensure sustainable quality education.”

Indeed, BBEP responds to this aspiration. It is a multi-dimensional intervention that is aimed at strengthening the quality, performance, governance and management of the education system in Balochistan. It focuses on 11 districts in the province i.e. Quetta, Pishin, Killa Abdullah, Killa Saifullah, Zhob, Sherani, Katchi, Naseerabad, Jaffarabad, Lasbela, and Gwadar. The remaining 20 districts of Balochistan are also being covered under BBEP by the World Bank, also funded by the European Union. The Bank’s role is to increase access, while UNICEF focus is to support the provincial government in improving the quality of education, while the World Bank focuses on improving access to education.

One major tool for effective planning and management to support data and quality is the Education Management Information System (EMIS). With funds from the EU, UNICEF has also invested in the Real Time School Monitoring (RTSM), an innovative online tool integrated with the EMIS for improvement of monitoring of schools. Through this tool, on-ground monitors feed the system with information. The information helps identify schools in need of activation, staff absenteeism, inadequate facilities and other such elements of monitoring that are challenges to enrolment and continuation of education for children. This helps decision makers in the education department take timely and evidence-based actions for improvement of services.

School officials examining the educational records of students
Muhammad Rafiq, Rehana’s teacher, shows an on-ground monitor and a Balochistan education department official the attendance record for the Education Management Information System (EMIS) at Govt. Boys’ Primary School Mohib Ali Umrani, Jaffarabad, Balochistan.

Ensuring quality and improving enrolments

A key pillar of EU funded BBEP is to support the Balochistan government in building capacities of the teaching staff in public schools. In Rehana’s case, for example, her school teachers were given on-job basic pedagogical skills training and guidance on classroom support. This led to Rehana’s school becoming completely free of corporal punishment and also increased learning opportunities for the children. The success of these efforts is evident from the fact that in one year, the enrolment rate at the Mohib Ali Umrani primary school has more than quadrupled: from 39 students and no girls in early 2016 to 179 students at present and 40 girls. Under the EU funded BBEP, UNICEF is also working with the Balochistan government to initiate a training plan for school teachers called the Continuous Professional Development.

Another step towards providing sustainable quality education to children of Balochistan is the formation and the continued improvement of the Balochistan Examination and Assessment Commission (BEAC). This commission is responsible for conducting standardised exams for grade five and grade eight. BEAC conducts eighth grade exams in summer zone, and grade five exams in winter zone. These zones divide schools between those that remain open in summer and others that function in winter. This year, Rehana and her classmates will sit in the standardised BEAC exam for grade five. If they pass the exam, they will advance to the middle school located nearby.

“I could not have been any prouder of her,” says Rehana’s schoolteacher Muhammad Rafiq before starting a regular PTSMC meeting with his fellow members, and the visiting Deputy District Education Officer (DDEO). “In fact, I am proud of the whole village,” Rafiq adds.

“We are extremely thankful for the EU-funded UNICEF education support programme,” says the DDEO Haji Abdul Rahim Nawra who has come to Mohib Ali Umrani for a PTSMC meeting. “Colleagues and juniors in my department are always interested in new developments in the programme at provincial level,” he adds. “It is helping the children of Balochistan more than any other project we have seen so far.”

EU- UNICEF improving education for every child

After one year of support to the education sector reforms, 379 PTSMCs, including the one at Rehana’s school, have been activated in the 11 focus districts. As a result, all 379 schools have undergone School Development Plans similar to the one at Mohib Ali Umrani. This means that more than 77,000 students in these schools are now safe from corporal punishment; have a friendly and safe learning environment; have received handwashing and hygiene awareness; and, where it is adolescent girls, have received menstrual hygiene management guidance.

11 year old student Rehana reads from a text book during class
Rehana (11) is reading a lesson on names of animals from her book during a class of Urdu at Govt. Boys’ Primary School Mohib Ali Umrani, Jaffarabad, Balochistan.

What started for Rehana as the renovation of her school in which her father was involved, triggered the desire and commitment from children and parents. It enabled Rehana and many other children in Balochistan to get access to education and improve their chances to reach their full potential in life. It has also transformed Rehana into an agent of change. She convinced her father to send her two younger sisters to school. She did the same for her cousin who is now in the same class with her.

Back in her classroom after the break, a mix of vitality and excitement for learning in Rehana and her classmates is too pleasing to miss. There is a sense of inspiration in the way these children understand the value of being at school. What is even more wonderful is to see an inspired Rehana speak out when the teacher asks if the class would like to share what their future plans are. “I want to become a teacher and help girls get an education, and be successful in school,” she responds with an air of confidence and belief hanging about her.