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Information Technology

The language of 21st century

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Information Technology

Society

Special Report

Dec 25 - 31, 2000

"It is a well known fact that Information Technology is the language of 21st Century and without learning it no progress and prosperity is now possible." This has become the popular axiom which is a truth as we see that the days have come when a man not knowing this technology is taken as an illiterate, though he may be well educated and talented to any extent in his field of education/discipline.

The main objectives of developing Information Technology in Pakistan are: to secure our status as a sovereign nation as well as to bring about economic stability. These points are elaborated as under:

Our future as a sovereign nation: Needless to mention that we as a sovereign nation are, in the present given circumstances, left with no other alternate except to promote this technology. The solution of our economic crisis as well as our very existence as a sovereign nation depends upon its development.

At times example of India has been cited which has recently increased its war budget by 27 per cent and this has been done by it when its software exports are around $5 billion. What shall happen when its exports would increase to around $50 billion a year by 2008 or so? What alternate we would have been left with except to accept Indian dominance?

If we don't wish that state of affairs in the future. we have to wake up even today and utmost efforts should be put in for the development of this technology in our country.

Our THINK TANK has to find out ways as to how we can develop information technology and to increase our computer software exports to the extent that the ratio between India and Pakistan should be increased from 100:1. Initially, this should be improved to at least 3:1 to enable us to maintain our present defence ratio with India.

At this juncture, for us the point to ponder is that if India starts earning $ 50. billion per annum only on account of the Computer Software exports by 2008 and we don't do anything extra-ordinary in this direction to match the same; shall we able to maintain our desired ratio at that time? Shall we be able to live with dignity and honour? Then. No.1 priority of our THINK TANK should be to find out satisfactory answer to these questions, the earlier the better.

Improvement in the economic scenario: Today, we are passing through the worst economic crisis of our history. Our foreign exchange reserves don't touch even the figure of $ 2 billion despite lot of foreign debts and alms. Unemployment is rampant. Our exports are decreasing for whatever reasons. We are facing the worst inflation making it much difficult for a common man to meet tooth ends. Under the circumstances the only ray of hope remains this technology. If we give full concentration on it, most of our problems would be solved. For example:

* It will increase the chances of not only employment but good employment with fair income not only on local level but on international level. It is true that we have heavy demand of computer experts in the country but on global level the demand is even higher.

* Only U.S.A. requires 150,000 computer experts every year and for that purpose they generously issue visas but we cannot avail this opportunity. Indians take away almost 40 per cent (i.e. 60,000) of total visas issued by the Americans. U.S.A.: expects only 5% (i.e. 7500) from our country but we can not meet that much demand. Heavy demands of talented persons in software are pouring in from worldwide sources but we can not take advantage of such demands.

* Our exports are on the decreasing side. The overall world demand of software is more than $ one trillion ($1000 billion) with 25 per cent annual increase in it. This requires correct and realistic planning and honest implementation.

Increase in employment and export would certainly enable us to pay off our foreign debts without any difficulty. Not only this but we would be able to stand on our own feet.

The three key players: Precisely speaking, there are three key players who have to contribute in the development of Information Technology in Pakistan viz: the Government, the Private Sector and NGOs. They have to play their roles separately as well as in co-ordination with each other to achieve the objectives.

A. The Role of the Government:

The role of the government is multi-dimensional which is precisely described as under:

* Need for a full-fledged Federal IT Ministry.

One thing must be born in mind that Information Technology is a multi-dimensional subject. Only councils or task forces would not work in this matter. If we really want to go ahead in this field we must have proper planning, infrastructure, far reaching policies and all this calls forth a full-fledged and independent Information Technology Ministry at Federal level.

Here again example of India can be cited. In India, a full-fledged federal ministry is working with all the necessary powers vested in it which keeps a vigilant eye on all the dimensions of this technology. Half hearted efforts through task forces and councils would hardly be able to bring the desired results.

* Infrastructure

It is well said that the role of the government in promoting the software industry should be that of an enabler and the Government should take extra care not to become a competitor of the industry it is trying to promote. Rather, it should work in a way so as to make this technology easily accessible to every citizen at the lowest possible cost/expenses.

In this connection the prime necessity is the availability of infra-structure. The government should take initiative in this regard. So far the work done is far from satisfactory as even the Indus Technology Park at Karachi where 90 per cent of IT manpower is available, awaits implementation.

* Communication

Communication, Computer Technology and Robotics are integral parts of IT technology and without proper communication, the desired IT development is not possible.

PTCL should be impressed upon to provide necessary communication facilities on marginal profit. It has become the general tendency of few government departments to think in terms of revenue only and social aspect of given facilities is not taken into account at all. This tendency should now be changed. We don't oppose a nominal profit or income but certain economic rates should be introduced which may prove beneficial for the development of this technology in the country.

Moreover, some world renowned high tech companies like Microsoft and Oracle are active in our country under certain agreements. They seem to be much keen in providing our masses necessary training in all the areas relating to this technology. These companies can be assigned the task of training our educators/teachers/instructors and this will go a long way in contributing toward accelerating the pace of development in this line of trade.

* Financial aspect

Finance is the main impediment in the way to our overall progress. A good number of persons having good and productive ideas can not implement them because of the lack of liquid resources. If they are given a helping hand through the State Bank of Pakistan channellizing through scheduled banks and DFIs, they can contribute much toward national prosperity.

Example of Pak Libya Holdings can be cited at this juncture. They are inviting talented IT related personnel to come forward with their idea with feasibilities . Needless to mention that Pak-Libya is a financing company which has diverted its certain funds for this purpose.

* Brain Drain

It is observed that our brilliant students immediately proceed abroad after getting certain level of training or education in this field. Therefore all our efforts and resources spent on their training go waste. Such brain-drain should be prevented at least for the time being by enacting certain laws in this respect.

B. PRIVATE SECTOR

Private sector is very keenly looking forward to revolutionary developments through this technology and a number of ventures belonging to local entrepreneurs are in the field. It is estimated that some 300 companies have either started their operation or are in the process of starting the business solely or in collaboration with certain world renowned high-tech companies.

The main role of the private sector includes: striving for the development of this technology, attract foreign investments and arrange to train the manpower in this field.

Here the question again arises that the private ventures can not go any farther in absence of infrastructure or financing by the government.

A good number of individuals are also trying their luck on the strength of their intelligent assets. They also require helping hand from the government.

C. Non government organizations (NGOs)

NGOs and other private sector organization should be encouraged through financial incentives such as scholarships, donations etc.

The NGOs can also play their role and they have gone much far in this direction but the main handicap is the infrastructure which hinders its pace of progress. Therefore full concentration should be given on this very important factor. The NGOs belonging to Memon Community have done a lot. In brief description of which is appended below for your perusal.

* Computer Education Improvement Programme (CEIP) at School Level

Our next generation will be taken as literate only when they would be computer literate. To achieve this target, almost all the schools of our (Memon) community have started computer education. It has been observed that almost all the schools including non-community schools are not getting desired and proper results of computer education in spite of putting in a lot of efforts. This issue was analyzed and a computer programme has been chalked out with the name of CEIP by our NGO named KO-ORDINATION GROUP (KG).

This programme consists of data collection, syllabus designing, book publishing, teachers training, career guidance and IT events. Programme will start from next academic year in few selected schools.

We are expecting that after this programme, the schools will be able to give better and more professional computer education to students. Besides this programme, we are also trying to get an affiliation with some international bodies like Cambridge, Oxford or NIKAS for better IT training of our youngsters.

* Urdu Tutorial for Computer Applications

Unfortunately, we don't have any software or even any tutorial in our national language. However, Microsoft application softwares are available in many other languages like German, Arabic. etc. Usually our students are not very good in English and therefore have total dependence on teachers.

To improve the situation, we have started developing multimedia interactive tutorial of Windows and other MS Office application in Urdu Language. Soon we will try to translate it to other languages so that all students will be able to learn IT basics independently. This tutorial will not only help students but also the elders of the society.

Co-ordinated efforts by all the three key players: There are some fields in which all the three key players viz: the government, private sector as well as the NGOs some of which are enumerated as under:

* Manpower Training

There have been now no two opinions that investment in manpower training is the best investment today, specially with reference to Information Technology, the countries like Japan and Sweden could achieve material progress only with the help of their well trained and talented manpower otherwise these countries had no mineral or agriculture resources yet they have become economic giants only on the strength of their manpower.

It is a well recognized fact that in this industry the manpower has to play twin role. The manpower is the basic requirement for the development of this industry and simultaneously the same manpower is the beneficiary. We have plenty of raw material required for this purpose in form of manpower and all what we are required to do is to train this manpower in a way so as to make it more and more productive.

This manpower can be trained through computer centres/institutions to be set up all over the country. Even the buildings of our present schools colleges and government offices can be used which mostly remain idle in the afternoon/evening. Proper funding should be made to such premises through NGOs .

Moreover, some world renowned high tech companies like Microsoft and Oracle are active in our country under certain agreements. They seem to be much keen in providing our masses necessary training in all the areas relating to this technology. These companies can be assigned the task of training our educators/ teachers/ instructors and this will go a long way in contributing toward accelerating the pace of development in this line of trade.

In the recent past, it had been learnt that our armed forces are chalking out certain programmes for training the civilian IT teachers and trainers. If this programme implemented this will give us a uniform method of teaching our pupil throughout the country.

* Awareness:

What is most lacking in our society is the awareness towards the importance of this technology. This work calls forth comprehensive campaign through electronic media as well as print media effectiveness of which cannot be denied. This can be properly used for creating awareness in the masses toward this technology. Exclusive Radio/TV channels should be established or used for this purpose.

Moreover, it is also suggested that our children should be imparted knowledge of computer right from Class I so that they don't feel strange toward this technology when they grow up and reach higher classes.

Essay writing, elocution contests, debates and other festivities may also prove fruitful towards making our children familiar with this technology.

Conclusion

The importance of Information Technology needs no elaboration. It is the need of the hour, particularly in the circumstances which Pakistan is facing. Our economic well being as well as our survival as a sovereign nation depends on its development. We have abundant manpower with the best talent and IQ. What we have to do is to develop, rather we have simply to inspire them and they will do the rest.

All the three key players as described above should play their individual as well as joint role with shoulder to shoulder on war footing to achieve the objectives in sight at the earliest.

Infrastructure should be provided by the Government through a full-fledged IT ministry. Half hearted efforts would not work. There are a lot of school, college and other official buildings and premises which can be used for training the masses but this calls for a proper programming and monitoring under a proper I.T. Ministry on federal level.

Information Technology education should be spread in such a way that makes it most effective, most economical and most convenient and accessible to every Pakistani, and, young Pakistanis in particular.

I am of the considered opinion that all can be done with convenience as nature has bestowed us with all the required infrastructure, what we have to do is to develop it and by doing this we shall be able to proceed along the path of prosperity Insha Allah.

Few suggestions for the promotion of Information Technology in Pakistan submitted to Federal Minister for Science & Technology by Hanif S. Kalia, Ko-Ordination Group Welfare Trust (Pvt.)