GROWTH OF IT EDUCATION IN PAKISTAN
The recommendations in the IT Action Plan
significantly broaden and deepen the process of economic reforms by
encouraging competition, entrepreneurship and innovation.
By Dr. S.M.
Junaid Zaidi & Tahir Naeem
Sep 24 - 30, 2001
Recognizing the fact that like other developing
countries and the economies in transition, Pakistan has in general the
opportunity to leapfrog by acquiring Information Technology (IT), the
IT Policy and Action Plan was announced by the Government of Pakistan
back in Aug. 2000. It aims at universalizing IT and IT based education
at all levels of the education pyramid. The concern for upgrading the
human resources is at the heart of the initiative. A notable feature
of the Policy provisions is the conscious effort of the Government to
build necessary infrastructure and provide institutional support
including the human skills to give IT a pro-people thrust. These
recommendations flow from a perspective that Pakistan can become a
strong IT power only if IT reaches out to the masses.
Notwithstanding the fact that Pakistan is the 7th
most populace country in the world, stands at 147th place in the
literacy rate, 128th place as per the Human Development Index and
132nd position on GDP per capita basis among a total of 160 nations,
the advent of IT euphoria has taken over the policy makers and masses
alike. Planners aspire instilling an IT revolution comparable in size
and quality to the best in the world. Does it come naturally?
In order to further deliberate on the issues, let's
try to refresh some of the facts:
In software export market of US$ 315
billion; Pakistan's share was something close to US$ 100 million in
the previous year. In contrast, her neighbour India is the 2nd largest
exporter of software in the world with exports valuing over US$ 8
In order to tap a respectable share keeping in view the
size and resources, the experts aspire for a target of $400 million of
software exports by 2003.
In order to meet dictates of the domestic and export market
a workforce of nearly 30,000 IT professionals will be required by the
Producing 30,000 IT professionals requires about 3000
qualified teachers immediately.
Another 3000 professionals with project management
experience will be required (who could be MBAs with specialized
training in management of IT projects).
About 30,000 students took short courses leading to a
diploma or certificate. Of those enrolled in such short courses about
half took courses on office applications and thus are being trained
for office work rather than as IT professionals.
Allowing for the available strength of 9000 BCS and MCS
graduates, annual targets include production of about 2,000 quality
MCS graduates and 5,000 quality BCS graduates each year until 2003.
Another, 30,000 diploma, certificate holders will also be required to
work as the so-called blue collar knowledge workers.
The supply of IT manpower has picked up pace and shows high
growth rates (over 50 per cent a year) as the private sector has
responded rapidly to the high social demand for IT education.
The key problem though, is not matching supply with demand,
but the quality of manpower being produced. According to software
houses, only 10 per cent of BCS/ MCS graduates are of the quality
required for export projects.
The proliferation of colleges offering degrees and
certificate courses has resulted in large variations in curricula.
In order to take up the challenge and as part of a
comprehensive master plan for manpower development, an aggressive
program to upgrade IT education at various levels has been undertaken
by the Government under the auspices of IT Policy and Action Plan.
Training of 'Data Entry Operators' was initiated
in the middle of 2000. In its first three phases, nearly 8000 youth
have been given the training. This number will reach 10,000 after
completion of the on going fourth phase. Similarly, IT trainings in
office applications have been given to 5000 Federal Government
In order to target the lucrative software export markets,
specialized training in Medical Transcription and Java have been
initiated. A total of 764 trainees have successfully completed
training as Medical Transcriptionists, which include 183 Quality
Controllers and 581 operators. A total of 844 students at two levels
(intermediate and advanced) have been enrolled and approx. 1000 more
will be trained in the subsequent phase of the programme.
Over 200 institutions including the 26 recognized
universities have started programs, inter alia, leading to
Bachelors, Master and PhD studies. Bright student have also been
afforded financial assistance through awarding scholarships and
teaching associate ship.
The biggest challenge currently being faced by the
planners is the shortage of trained faculty who can undertake the
gigantic task of training enough people for the upcoming job market.
The problem is compounded with most graduates of the first tier
universities in the country opting to settle abroad for better
financial returns. An informal assessment reveals that graduates of
second or third tier universities have, in fact, presently taken over
a major share of teaching in IT discipline. Efforts have been
initiated to simultaneously undertake programs in the short, medium
and long term to ensure a steady flow of quality faculty in selected
areas of IT. Prominent national universities have been asked and have
started programs leading to certificate, Masters and PhD degrees with
active financial support being provided by the Government.
Setting up of the Virtual University is one step
forward in extending the frontiers of quality education to the general
masses. The key point is that the increased access to information must
not leave pockets of population marginalized. As for example, Virtual
University is envisaged to extend IT education opportunity to girls
who can otherwise, not undertake higher professional studies due to
social and cultural taboos on female mobility.
Another factor that affects quality of IT education
in the country is the proliferation of standards. The problems arising
from the multiplicity or more precisely lack of standards are
compounded by the rapid rate of technical obsolescence involved in
support services. The options for standardization of IT education in
particular are under serious consideration of the Government. In order
to ensure high quality training the Accreditation Council has been
constituted. The Accreditation Council will, inter alia,
collect data on training institutions, rate them as well take steps to
strengthen existing IT training institutions by encouraging them to
upgrade curricula, introduce new technologies through establishing
linkages with global IT firms, develop local faculties and will
provide scholarships to students.
A worrying fact is that while we try to match
supply with anticipated demand keeping in view the expected growth in
the export market, little emphasis is placed in adopting IT
applications at home. There is probably no time now to ask students'
fill-in the forms in triplicate or see people having computers at
their desktops and frustrating themselves with manually managing petty
accounts. The IT ecstasy has yet to invade the economic mainstream in
agriculture, industry, trade, services or even the education itself.
It needs to be remembered that we cannot support a sizeable export
market without having a culture that values and engross IT in its
Summing up, major issues confronting realization of
success of such an initiative include the following:
Developing and disseminating effective practices of learning and
Student scholarship and financial aid;
Identifying components and putting in place the IT infrastructure;
Quality assurance through monitoring and accreditation system;
Market linkages through internships, projects, placement service,
IT applications, etc.
Taken together, the recommendations in the IT
Action Plan significant broaden and deepen the process of economic
reforms by encouraging competition, entrepreneurship and innovation
the three principles which are cardinal for the country's progress
in the emerging knowledge-driven global economy. With enough support
extended by the Government it is time for the private sector to come
out and help realize the dream of a prosperous Pakistan having a
recognizable presence in the international IT arena.
*Respectively Rector &
Project Manager, COMSATS Institute of Information Technology,