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Rethinking education and social justice in Gilgit-Baltistan

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While Covid-19 has busted the myth of success and efficiency of the market economy and governance with the failing façade of profiteering at the cost of human welfare, people need to raise voice for their basic rights and push the state to improve the education and health systems

Muhammad Ali-Musofer

The Coronavirus pandemic has disrupted and paralysed the social and economic life across the globe. While humanity is experiencing threats to its survival amid the failure of neoliberal regimes worldwide, the notions of market economy and governance have already been challenged with the failing façade of profiteering at the cost of human welfare.

The pandemic has hit the education sector hard, rendering almost 2 billion children out of school globally. The pandemic has forced public and private sectors to rethink about socio-economic models and reprioritize their goals and targets

In peripheries and marginalised societies like Gilgit-Baltistan, the pandemic has intensified the issues of social justice including education and exposed the social divide. This situation, on the one hand, has laid bare the state’s neglect of the most important sector, and on the other, it has exposed the private sector’s claim of providing ‘quality education’.

After the closure of educational institutes, the issues of private schools are constantly making headlines in the mainstream media and social media. The representatives of private schools have been demanding the government to compensate their ‘loss’ and bear the educational expenses of students otherwise they will shift the burden on the parents who will have to pay the tuition fees of their children. This indicates the vulnerability of the educational system in Gilgit-Baltistan.

According to available data, the private sector’s share in the education system has increased exponentially to 30-35 percent, with more than 40 percent enrolment of the total strength of students in the region.

The higher number of private schools in GB is usually portrayed positively by showing that the people of GB understand the importance of education, and they are keen to provide quality education to their children. However, this phenomenon has multiple unseen implications in terms of social justice. The multiple education systems have increased the social divide and inequality in the region. Parents who do not afford to send their children to private schools, feel left out and unprivileged. While the students who go to private schools usually consider themselves privileged and develop an elitist mindset. This feeling usually affects the self-esteem and confidence of the students who are enrolled in public sector schools. Consequently, many of them drop out of school without completing their education. This, in the long run, leads to increasing the class system in the region which has been comparatively egalitarian.

It is a harsh reality that the majority of the population in Gilgit-Baltistan are living hand-to-mouth life. Partly because of the poor quality and performance of public sector schools and the social pressure, many of the parents are compelled to send their children to private schools. On the one hand, they have to work hard and on the other, they have to make compromises on their essential needs of life — food and health — to meet the expenses of their children studying in private institutions. As a result, their wellbeing and health are compromised which causes huge financial and social injustices.

The majority of those students who could not compete in the rat race of position and grades develop mental health problems and find themselves in a state of hopelessness leading to extreme steps of taking their life.

Education has been acknowledged as a universal basic right by almost all states of the world. Under Article 25A of the Constitution of Pakistan, it is the responsibility of the state to provide free and compulsory education to every child between the age of five and sixteen.

Gilgit-Baltistan, being part of the Kashmir dispute, comes under the administrative control of Pakistan. The UN resolution vividly stresses on Pakistan and India to make sure all basic rights, including access to education, are given to the people in the disputed regions under their respective administrative controls. Sadly, like other peripheries and marginalised parts of Pakistan, successive governments have miserably failed to fulfil their responsibilities and relegated Gilgit-Baltistan to the most neglected list of development agenda making space for the private sector to fill the gap.

The neoliberal notion of governance is dominating our society. Avoiding its responsibility to provide the basic facilities to people, the state shifts the burden to the shoulder of the people. It is, gradually, normalized through state discourses and people even forget to raise voice for their basic rights.

In GB, the history of formal education is not too long. When the government was not able to provide educational facilities to the people, NGO and community/private schools stepped in to fill the gap. Instead of strengthening its capacity to provide a quality education system, the government looked at the private schools as a permanent salutation for education in GB. This approach pushed education towards commercialization and students are considered as consumers.

The current pandemic has raised many questions about the role of the state and private entities. It is now evident from the response of the crisis that the only state can meet such challenges and the basic needs like education and health could not be left at the mercy of the market forces. The state needs to reimagine the post-Corona world and shift its priorities towards health care and education system to allocate substantial funds for the development of these sectors.

More importantly, people need to raise their voices for their basic rights and push the government to improve the education and health systems in the region.

Muhammad Ali-Musofer is a PhD student at the University of Queensland, Australia. His main interest is doing research in social justice and education with a special focus on the experiences and participation of marginalized students in higher education.

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