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Plight Of Medical Students From KP And Balochistan

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In recent years we have seen a rise in protests and hunger strikes organized by students all across the country especially by those belonging to historically deprived regions. The most prominent of these students are those from ex(FATA) students and Balochistan. Last week students from ex-FATA held a 28-day sit-in and a 5-day hunger strike for restoration of quota seats in Public universities of Punjab, after which they were able to hold talks and finally the Governor of Punjab agreed to restore seats.

Now a very similar strike is being held by the students of ex-FATA and Balochistan demanding the increase in medical seats in government colleges of all provinces. Last year the PMC allowed the medical colleges to induct 272 students from ex-FATA: double their allotted quota. But later they changed it to a one-time decision and the seats were then decreased to the previous number.

These allotted seats for ex-FATA students were first allocated during president Musharraf’s tenure where 29 FATA and Balochistan students were awarded scholarships by HEC each year on the basis of a annual test. Later these seats were increased to 265, out of which 132 were given to ex-FATA students and 133 to Balochistan.

After some time, the HEC reduced these seats again, leading to a case filed by the students which they eventually won – restoring the 265 seats. Originally there were 3 seats for medical students in each of the different provincial medical colleges, which was increased to 4 by PM Imran Khan. However this year after HEC announced its test results it was again discovered that these seats have been cut down to 29 again with a division of 14 reserved for ex-FATA and 15 for Balochistan, which has lead to protests both physical and on social media since early February. But no heed has been paid by the government.

These aspiring medical students who belong to underprivileged and tribal areas have been sleeping on the roads of Islamabad for the past 10 days. Most of them say that they have been shuffled back and forth by government offices. One directed them to the other: none of them willing to take responsibility for the issue. Some remark that HEC is ready to allocate funds but PMC does not want to give seats on the basis that increasing seats would compromise the standard of education and instead they recommend an increase in the number of colleges in difference provinces, directing the students towards the provincial government – which, for their part, show them the way to the federal government! And the circle goes on and on. So far all efforts have been futile as no steps have been take to accommodate the students or address their situation.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) recognizes “education” as a fundamental right, as does the Constitution of Pakistan. Article 37(b) of the Constitution states that “The State shall remove illiteracy and provide free and compulsory secondary education within minimum possible period.” Yet, Pakistan ranks at 136th in the Human Development Report. The reasons for having such a low percentage is mainly due to divergent education opportunities due to a number of factors including the regional disparities, rural-urban locations, gender, the income gap, difference in medium of instruction in schools, curriculum and syllabus as well divide in beliefs. The result of this is a literacy rate of below 60%,with less than 47% of women being literate and 71% of men.

In areas like ex-FATA and Balochistan this percentage is even lower, a dropout rate of 77% was cited in a report released by Alif Ailaan in mid-2016 and a total dropout rate of 73% for all primary students. This means that most of the children drop out of school before even getting to the primary fold, and in the current pandemic situation these figures have further plummeted. And those students who struggle and somehow make way through high school wanting to break this cycle and are being discouraged by such unjust policies.

The educational sector is already on the path to decline as it has remained at the lowest level – both in standard and allocation in budget. The withdrawal of educational opportunities like scholarships by HEC and reserved seats for students from underdeveloped and war-affected areas where even basic health facilities are not available will result in a blow: to not only the education and health sector but put thousands of lives and futures at stake.

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