CAPITALIZING ON BURGEONING YOUNGSTERS

SHABBIR H. KAZMI
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)

Nov 21 - 27, 20
11

Many experts say that huge population of Pakistan is a reason for dismal economic growth. However, they fail to recognize that a population of 200 million, with large percentage of persons below the age of 25 could be an asset.

Deployment of youngsters equipped with the latest technologies can help in ushering in economic revolution. However, this is not possible without focusing on human resource development (HRD). The first step in this direction is imparting education to achieve the predefined national objectives.

The fear of 'brain drain' is there but Pakistanis joining the transnational companies cannot only help in earning huge foreign exchange but also projecting positive image of the country.

To explore the poor state of HRD and coming up with suggestions for imparting education with a cause, PAGE talked to Tariq Kaleem, chairman standing committee on higher education of federation of Pakistan chambers of commerce and industry (FPCCI) and member board of studies (business administration), University of Karachi.

PAGE: HOW MUCH DOES PAKISTAN SPEND ON EDUCATION ANNUALLY?

TARIQ KALEEM: Quantifying the amount may not be easy because of spending at different strata i.e. by the federal, provincial, and local governments. In federal budget, around two per cent is allocated for education, which is a miniscule amount when compared with other spending. This clearly indicates that education comes very low on priority. Private sector has established institutions at almost every level but its endeavor is driven by profit motive and only elites of the society can afford to pay the fees. Lately, some of the public sector universities have also started charging higher fees to attract high quality faculty. The country spends around Rs20 billion on higher education but the amount can take care of only one percent of the total population. Around the world, higher education is expensive but universities offer billions of dollars scholarships not only for the local but foreign students. This helps them ultimately retaining the talent and most of the students going abroad for education never return to Pakistan.

PAGE: WHAT ARE THE REASONS OF POOR ALLOCATION TO EDUCATION?

TARIQ KALEEM: Creating class difference was the hallmark of colonial system but the legacy continues because the policies are made by those who represent less than one percent of population of the country. Since most of the public representatives belong to rural areas, they have a mindset very different from those living in urban areas. As such they find it more convenient to send their children abroad for higher education than creating quality institutions in Pakistan. Added to this is the massive corruption evident from highly depleted condition of government schools, ghost teachers, and outdated curriculum.

Around the world countries wishing to accelerate their GDP, growth rate first determine priority areas and then formulate/implement policies to achieve those objectives. They know what sort of workforce has to be developed and then facilitate the institutions to prepare people having the required skills. Over the years, Pakistan has suffered due to misplaced priorities. A debate is still lingering on whether focus should be on industry or agriculture. The center of attention has been import substitution rather than exploiting the comparative advantage. The situation becomes even more complicated when the new government suspends/terminates most of the programs initiated by the previous government. It is true that every government tries to follow its manifesto but there cannot be any compromise on the national objectives.

PAGE: WHAT CHANGES EDUCATION CAN PUT FORTH TO IMPROVE THE CURRENT SOCIOECONOMIC SITUATION?

TARIQ KALEEM: Gone are the days when education was considered a mark of distinction. Now the success of an individual is measured by 1) wealth accumulated, 2) power attained and 3) fame earned no matter how. Therefore, younger generation also tries to find out the shortcuts rather than working hard and paying less attention on education. In my opinion, getting degree just can't change the mindset. Education enables a person to differentiate between good and bad and doing the things in most appropriate manner. Above all, it allows integration of the country in the global community. A country cannot survive in isolation as it needs to trade with other countries and the success is determined by its competitiveness.

PAGE: IS THE CURRICULUM IN USE AT PRESENT IN THE COUNTRY WELL TIMED?

TARIQ KALEEM: Education can be divided into four key segments 1) primary, 2) secondary, 3) vocational and 4) higher. However, all the segments have to be integrated in such a manner that movement from one segment to another becomes smooth. Therefore, the curriculum attains the prime importance. The right curriculum can be developed only when there is a greater interaction between the educational institutions and trade and industry. Human resource need of business enterprises changes with the passage of time and deployment of new technologies. Those businesses grow faster which are integrated with the global markets.

PAGE: WHY ARE THE POLICYMAKERS CONTENT WITH THE STATUS QUO?

TARIQ KALEEM: Normally, people resist change, as they fear of change. However, in education countries benefit from the experience of others. Many of the countries, which became independent much later as compared to Pakistan, have progressed faster because they focus of education, especially imparting education in national and regional languages.

PAGE: WHAT SHOULD BE DONE TO COME OUT OF THIS STATE?

TARIQ KALEEM: To begin with Pakistan should come up with a national education policy and the right curriculum. We need not reinvent the wheel but benefit from the experience of other countries. Though some isolated islands of excellence have been developed in the country, these could cater the needs of a small segment of the society. The quest for finding the right curriculum must continue and it will be most appropriate if private sector takes the lead. The linkages between academia and industry must be strengthened.