QUETTA -- Militancy and issues such as teacher absenteeism have been hindering education efforts in Balochistan Province, according to education experts, but provincial officials vow they are doing all they can to improve the situation.
"In restive areas of Balochistan, including Awaran, Turbat, Panjgur, Mashkay and others, more than 15,000 government and private educational institutions have been closed and the public has no way to educate its children," Zahoor Abid, a Quetta-based education policy expert and retired education department official, told Pakistan Forward.
"Militant groups targeting both girls' and boys' schools have warned [school administrations] to stop teaching students the curriculum of Pakistan," he said.
Without security, the teachers and other staff of educational institutions cannot provide their services, he said.
"Residents of conflict-affected areas are very worried about the future of the new generation," he added.
"In Balochistan, more than 80% of residents are dependent on government educational institutions, but this sector is not providing the required quality of education to our students," Asad Ali, a senior activist with Ikhlas Welfare Society in Quetta, told Pakistan Forward.
A number of insurgent groups have carried out many attacks on boys' and girls' schools in the province in an effort to destroy the education sector, while extremist groups in particular "believe that the Pakistani educational system is against Islamic ideology," he said.
Balochistan also has a history of teacher and educator slayings. For example, in November 2014, science teacher Ghulam Ahmed Kharal was killed in Bolan District, and in April 2010, Professor Nazima Talib was slain in Quetta.
The first step to counter these threats is to ensure the safety of teachers working in militancy-hit areas, said Ali.
Due to constant threats from militant groups, the government is working to eliminate the fear from the mindset of teachers, said Kashif Mehmood, a senior official on the Pakistan Higher Education Commission.
Militant groups, in an attempt to draw attention to themselves, focus on teachers because they are "soft targets", Mehmood told Pakistan Forward.
"In the past few years, a large number of private educational institutions have been closed in the aftermath of threats received from different militant groups, including Tanzeem-ul-Islami-ul-Furqan (TIF), which claimed responsibility for various attacks in restive Panjgur District and other parts of the province," Muhammad Hanif Kondai, president of the All Balochistan Progressive Private Schools Association, told Pakistan Forward.
Children in areas hit by militants continue to be deprived of education, and "without security, parents cannot send their children to school," he said.
"Education reforms in Balochistan is the top priority of provincial government -- we will not compromise our future," said Muhammad Ayoub Sabir, chairman of the Balochistan Education Review Committee.
The militants aim to "destroy our education system in the province and promote extremism and radicalization", he told Pakistan Forward.
The provincial government is trying its best to revisit its education policy, address the issues of security, and promote the advanced educational system, he said.
"The lack of awareness in restive areas of Balochistan is also a big hurdle in streamlining an educational system, therefore we are also focusing on an awareness campaign to foil the agenda of anti-peace elements," he said.
The provincial government is also taking steps to tackles ongoing issues within its own bureaucracy.
The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) recently arrested and charged nine officials from the provincial education department in Quetta who were allegedly involved in hundreds of "ghost appointments" of non-existent teachers, Abdul Shakoor Khan, a NAB spokesman in Balochistan, told Pakistan Forward.
"More than 60,000 government teachers are employed in the Balochistan Education Department, and our investigation revealed that thousands of teachers are fake," he said.
"NAB is working closely to unearth" this ongoing issue, he said.
Actual teachers who fail to show up are another issue, said Muhammad Ali, a teacher in the Morning Star Fellowship Schools System in Quetta.
"In rural areas of Balochistan, the absenteeism of teachers in government schools is one of the main issues that need proper attention," he told Pakistan Forward. "If provincial governments pay attention and ensure the punctuality of teachers in government schools, I am sure it will greatly improve the education structure of Balochistan."