The provincial government of Pakistan's largest and poorest province Balochistan, has been running an aggressive campaign to curb “cheating” in exams at schools for the last two months. To raise awareness, the southwestern province's department of education has been using the slogan ‘cheating is the death of knowledge, cheating is the death of merit.’
Currently, Pakistan faces an education crisis of unprecedented proportions. According to Alif Ailaan, a campaign for education reform in Pakistan, 47% of children between 5 and 16 years don't go to school. The situation is far worse in Balochistan, where 66% of children are out of school.
I grew up studying in Balochistan's education system and little has changed since my time. To see whether the “cheating campaign” was effective, or even needed, I decided to visit a few schools in Gwadar and its peripheries, where student enrollment is 33%, one of the highest within Balochistan.
At one school, I asked Ahmad Baloch, a student of class 9, about the campaign. His response was, “Cheating may be the death of education, but in our case, what education? When we haven’t even been taught the entire syllabus of a subject let alone taught well, what is a student to do except cheat, and somehow manage to pass (their exams)?”
When I put the same question to another student Munawwar Ali, he said, “We don’t have a Physics teacher, we have studied only 1.2 exercises in the Math book, and the exams are now just around the corner. There’s no way for us but to cheat and pass the exams.”
The grievances of the students appear fair and valid. When I entered a middle school in Ghatti Dhor, I saw students having their classes outdoors, in the veranda, while sitting on the floor. Only five teachers were present at the school, with many others missing. The school building was in shambles.
Next, I visited the Kapri Muhallah school at Sarbandar, a small town near Gwadar. Locals there said that the school has long been awarded the status of a middle school (meant for classes 6, 7, and 8) but the dilapidated building only has two rooms. They also said that many teachers were missing from the school.
In the view of these findings, I find it hard to see the use of any campaign trying to address cheating in exams. If the students are not being taught in the first place, if the education infrastructure is not there, and if teachers are missing in most schools, what is the use of this campaign? It's simply a waste of resources.
The state of education in Pakistan in general is far from satisfactory. Key problems faced to improve the literacy rate are poor infrastructure, the existence of government ghost schools (buildings with no teachers), lack of training for teachers (most of whom aren't qualified) and importantly, financial insecurity which often stops parents from enrolling their children in schools.