OPERATION BADAR

An educational movement aims at I.T revolution in Pakistan

By AMANULLAH BASHAR
Aug 06 - 12, 2001

Brief introduction of Ziaullah Khan

Ziaullah Khan did his Matric from Habib Public School Karachi. His early academic days do not portray him as a serious student or a leader was in the making. He made various unsuccessful attempts while in DJ Science College in ICMAP. He did his Masters in economic as an external candidate. He got admission in the Arizona State University from where he did his MBA in Finance, MS in Computer Engineering and Manufacturing and Masters in Accountancy in Information systems. He established his own company "Xeno Systems. He however decided to come back to the homeland to serve his own people. To make his dreams a reality, he has decided to train our people with highest level of education in the I.T sector. When he launched the "Operation Badar", he was alone but now he is flanked by a strong group of his team-mates.

What greater or better gift can we offer to the nation than to teach and train our youth? We generally claim to have a firm belief in this proverbial saying, but the ground reality denounces these claims. Over the decades, the hopeless rate of literacy prevailing in our country fully exposes the sincerity of efforts made by our leadership in this respect. It is the harsh fact that the quality education has been segmented to the affluent class while the majority of the people have been left to suffer the complexes of "Urdu-English Medium". The nature however never leaves the vacuum unfilled and has sent a man in the form of Ziaullah Khan, a non-resident Pakistani to bridge the gap. Ziaullah Khan, a world class IT professional was living in the United States for the last 15 years. Sacrificing the glamorous living, he decided to launch an educational movement in the name of "Operation Badar" to bring the cutting edge Information Technology to the grass root level at an affordable cost in Pakistan.

Ziaullah Khan, founder of Operation Badar singles out the quality education as the only solution for combating all socio-economic ills and problems confronted to the nation.

He feels that in order to achieve the target of economic revival, the country needs human resource development through quality education. Zia says that the global proliferation of Information Technology offers tremendous economic opportunities but only to the people prone to the current trends in education.

Operation Badar, in fact is the right direction towards the cherished goal through human resource development by providing the opportunity to the people irrespective to the social status for the quality education. Operation Badar launched hardly a year ago received an overwhelming response, which reflects in the registration of over 10,000 students in Karachi alone.

Zia says that his team, a group of the dedicated people is going to introduce Operation Badar in Hyderabad and Lahore in a couple of weeks.

In fact, Ziaullah Khan has an obsession to produce over one lakh IT professionals by broadening the network of Operation Badar in all smaller and major towns of Pakistan.

Currently, the area of education is facing acute shortage of qualified teachers in I.T sector. Operation Badar will produce quality professionals at a massive scale who would cater not only to the need of the trade and industry but also bridge the gap in education sector by providing highly skilled faculty staff for I.T education.

Operation Badar has already been introduced at 9 different educational institutions. The premises of these Universities and institutions are being utilized on off days. Operation Badar uses the premises and Lab facilities of these institutions on Sundays by conducting 4-5 classes of 3 hours each. Out of the total income 60 per cent goes to the management of the institutions and remaining 40 per cent is disbursed among the teachers. This is perhaps the first educational movement which has been launched without having any premises of its own.

Actually, it is the passion, which has been translated into the shape of Operation Badar. It is an obsession to spread the light of quality education to all segments of the society and to bring economic prosperity both to the people as well as the country. Interview of Ziaullah Khan is accompanied by shots of classes and labs at Institute of Management & Information Technology (IMIT), Technical Institute of Professional Development for Women (TPD) and National Institute of Emerging Technologies (NIET) at Preston University.

When his attention drawn towards the worldwide crisis especially in the US IT sectors, he said that although he was not an economist yet he believes that it's a temporary phase. As far as the US economy was concerned it moves in waves ups and downs, steep decline as experienced in the third world economies is not the character in USA. However it should not be our concern, we have yet to go a long way. The field is wide open and opportunities are always there for the right man and right education. Large scope for IT professionals exists even within Pakistan. Right now we are erecting the infrastructure and a strong foundation for a prestigious fort which has yet to come on the ground, he remarked.

Operation Mecca

The next step after achieving the targets of Operation Badar, Zia says that he has plans to launch Operation Mecca. This project aims to establish world class Software houses in Pakistan. The trade and business community has received the idea with tremendous zeal and fervor. They are willing to invest any amount to make Pakistan as an entity of I.T power on the world map. Zia has a firm belief to successfully hit this target in the days to come. A small office as the first step towards this direction has already been established.

Ziaullah says "Muslims of the sub-continent did not participate in the industrial revolution. The result has been centuries of subjugation, economic deprivation and military defeats. If we miss the digital and information revolution, the consequences are hard to imagine. In the past only the western powers had the technological edge over us, this time our neighbour has also made tremendous strides in this area. If we are not careful our very survival is at stake. However, the good news is that there is general consensus in Pakistan both on the individual level as well as at the national level that mastery of information technology is crucial for our survival. The only thing we lack is direction, focus, and a winning strategy.

The reality is that it will be very difficult for us to compete with USA, as it is at least 50 years ahead and India has about a 20-year lead. The only way we can leapfrog our competitors and effectively participate in this revolution is by focusing and gaining excellence in upcoming and cutting edge technologies. When Japan wanted to get into the watch making business instead of competing with Switzerland for the market share in mechanical watches, they completely changed the rules of the game they focused on Quartz technology and the rest is history.

Ziaullah while talking about Internet phenomena and the potential of commerce said that it provides the opportunity of a lifetime to take a big leap forward. Instead of turning out MCSCs or training people to create animations in Flash, we should focus on Electronic-Commerce Web Services Development technologies. The technologies we should develop expertise should be industrial standards so that our future should not be dependent on the economic interests of any one company.

The technologies that are emerging as industry standards for web and e-commerce services development are Java, C# (pronounced as C-Sharp), XML (extensible Markup Language) and UML, (Unified Modeling Language).

But before we create companies, which utilize these technologies to develop world-class products, we will need world class raw material. The raw material for the digital age is the human capital. Recently, universities and institutes that claim to provide IT training have been popping up like wild mushrooms all over Pakistan. However, most of them have outdated curriculum, face acute shortage of teaching staff and suffer from unchecked commercialism. The quality of education provided in these institutions is not upto the standards. The students from these institutions cannot complete with even the students of low level US institutions, let alone complete with the likes of MIT, Stanford or even Indian Institutes of Technology. Some might argue that the quality would improve with time. However, a close analysis reveals that problems are structural in nature and cannot be solved through conventional means. These institutions are in commercial nature, which itself is not bad but when combined with the ground reality that generally students who have money do not want to study and the students who want to study cannot afford the education. Because these institutions need the revenue to be commercially viable they have adopted lax academic standards as a policy both at the time of entrance examinations as well as making promotions to the next level. Also due to high standard for IT professionals the world over, there is an acute shortage of teachers in these institutes. Most of the academic staff has no or very little knowledge of the subjects they are teaching. This has resulted in the complete erosion of academic integrity and quality. In addition, some of these institutions in order to have strong marketing appeal have affiliated themselves with low end and highly commercial institutions from Singapore, Malaysia, England etc. These mentioned countries and the affiliated institutions in particular are about five years behind in cutting edge e-commerce and Web Services technologies resulting in the phenomena of "blind leading the blind", Ziaullah remarked. In the next year or two when the students of these institutions will start biting the street they will face mass unemployment which will result in disillusionment from the field in general.

Facing this grave situation "Operation Badar" has been launched with an objective providing very high quality e-commerce application development education at very low cost to the students and professionals in Pakistan. The organizers of Operation Badar have no financial interests in the program. The fee charged to students will be used to cover the cost of utilities, facilities, teaching etc. The target is to train 313 architects and 10,000 developers in the field listed above. The quality of education provided will be at least at par with the world leading institutions of higher learning. The cost of training will be less than Rs1000 per month. The total cost of the 15/19 month program will be less then Rs20,000. Scholarships will also be awarded on need/merit basis.

To put it mildly, the targets seem to be unrealistic and impossible to achieve given the dire ground reality. Indeed they are not realistically achievable if we apply the conventional solutions and wisdom. Operation Badar will have to employ new tactics and strategies.

The following strategies will be employed:

To reduce costs Operation Badar will not make any capital investment, utilizing already existing facilities. Existing computing and classroom facilities of Universities and Institutions will be used on weekends and during the nights. To accommodate a large number of candidates, auditoriums, cinema houses, marriage halls etc will be rented during the time when they are not being used for ordinary business.

Information and communication technology will be employed in all aspects of education to communicate with large number of students at low cost.

To overcome the shortage of teachers, the class sizes will be as large as the premises permit. However to maintain quality audio systems, projectors and other audiovisual equipment will be used. Email, news groups and other Internet technologies will be promoted. Emphasis will also be placed on identifying and training new teaching talent.

To maintain the highest quality standards, a process of continued filtering of students will be undertaken. The unwilling students will be immediately removed from the program. To maintain quality, mass level testing will be conducted on Internet. The programmers of Operation Badar have already developed the technology for such applications.

Students will only be admitted in the program after an extensive screening process conducted mainly through mass level intelligence and aptitude testing using Internet based applications. At major milestones during the program, students will be asked to take the Java Certification Examinations, which are jointly sponsored by most of the major technology companies of the world. The certification is recognized and supported by IBM, Oracle, Sun Microsystems. BEA systems, Hewlett-Packard, Novell, Oracle, the Sun/Netscape Alliance and Sybase. This will provide international recognition to our students, validate their knowledge base and make them highly sought after developers. It will also serve as a benchmark to check the quality and effectiveness of Operation Badar. By the end of the program students would have received three world-recognized certifications: Sun Certified Java Programmer, Certified Solution Developer and Certified Enterprise Developer and IBM Certified XML Developer.

Only students having exceptional aptitude for programming background will be admitted to the program. Once the operation are up and running taped classes will be shown in cinema halls in off-hours. For question and answers sessions newly trained teachers will be present. The view tapes of the classes will also be wildly distributed.

The operations of the program are already under way for a year. More than 10,000 students have already been enrolled in Karachi alone. These students are attending classes at Sir Syed University, Dadabhoy Institute for Management Sciences, APIIT, IMIT, Niet, Fahimunnisa Memorial Aligarh Institute of Technology for Girls and technical institute of Professional Development for Women have already joined the program in Karachi.

The extreme shortage of manpower trained in cutting edge Web Services based E-commerce technologies will assure that students training by Operation Badar will be in high demand both domestically and internationally. Given the economic realities of the global village they are likely to be immediately recruited by the US and European based high tech companies. Once overseas, there is no doubt that these developers will establish Pakistan as a software powerhouse and send back valuable foreign exchange. However this is not enough to change the fortunes of this land. What is needed is a parallel effort to establish world class Pakistan based software development companies. New companies will have to be established and old companies will have to be refocused towards e-commerce and Web-Services.

The results achieved so far by Operation Badar are very encouraging and have kindled the hopes for a prosperous future for our younger generation. No doubt, it is the quality education, which answers to all our problems. To be conscious that you are ignorant is a great step towards knowledge.

RECORDS

Records are generally made to be broken, but Taqi Hasan, an outstanding student of Operation Badar has set an unbreakable world record in the field of Information Technology. He has been declared as the highest scorer (100 per cent) of Sun Certified (US) Java Professional (SCJE) exams. A challenger may repeat this performance but will not be first. Afsah Shafqat, a 12-year old girl, yet another brilliant student of Operation Badar also achieved the world class performance. At her young age she achieved the touch of class being the youngest Sun Certified Java programmer of the world. Credit certainly goes to Operation Badar for the talent hunt and also for breaking all taboos such as certain level of education, grades and age etc. in vogue in our system as pre-requisites for entering the higher studies. It is unfortunate that uncalled for barriers in our education system are killing the wisdom at the cost of so called educational degrees and certificates. Operation Badar however has provided a platform to the people irrespective of their age and educational degrees to prove their worth and wisdom. The spirit reflects in the fact that over 500 students between the age of 12 and 19 are now studying in Operation Badar for juniors at Institute of Management and Information Technology under this talent hunt program. Students who will qualify in this 3 months course will be given direct admission in the regular Operation Badar program. It is worth mentioning that Afsah, the world record holder of Java programmer and her two sisters are also in the regular program.