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 Science & Technology

IT Scenario of Pakistan

Problems & solutions

By Nazir Ahmed Shaikh
Head of Department Computer Science
 Bahria University, Karachi Campus
Dec 03 - 09 , 2001

The pace of layoffs dramatically increased following the Sept. 11 incident. IT industry in USA has laid off tens of thousands workers. In October, more than 415,000 jobs were eliminated in the United States and the unemployment rate jumped to 5.4 per cent from 4.9 per cent in September the biggest one month surge in 21 years.

Though the IT sector of Pakistan is negligibly small, still it's painful to see software houses are closing down and IT professionals are unemployed. Long before the incident of Sept. 11, recession was started in nearly every sector/field including IT and after Sept. 11 things have became worst.

 

Reasons

The sufferings of Pakistani companies or professionals are not only due to this recession there could be several other reasons like global economic slagness.

Many of the businessmen, who were very successful in their respective businesses, jumped on to the bandwagon of IT, sensing big money but were totally unaware of the unique marketing strategies necessary to get business from local and foreign market. Many businessman ventured into this business hoping that families or buddies will fetch business for them.

Due to these rapid openings, there was a sudden demand of programmers. Programmers with little or no experience started demanding high salaries. Businessman, expecting lucrative business hired these "half-baked" personnels. As a result, they become jobless and even lost whatever they were getting before from their ex-employer, when such companies either didn't able to get the projects or left the projects half way down.

When Dr. Atta ur Rehman took over the charge of Ministry of Science and Technology, he took some very aggressive and much expected steps to give a boast to the IT industry of Pakistan. Incentives like exemption in sales tax, duty, tax holiday, etc. were offered. But again it backfired. The businessmen just to save more money on taxes, diverted towards IT business (which was not their piece of cake). These companies were working on a one-point agenda of making profits in least possible time with minimum input of efforts, time and manpower. Now, these companies are either closed down or working with a small staff.

Some have got a novel idea of getting business through IT institutes for twofold purposes i.e. first to pay to their employees and secondly to make easy money. Cashing the boom of the IT, they've opened so-called IT institutes and even hired incompetent and less paid staff or diverted their existing staff to teach IT courses. "Teaching is a full time job moreover it is an art that everybody can't do." It has been observed that people with highest qualifications are sometimes failed to deliver the goods because of poor communications skills. These so-called IT professionals are not competent enough to embark on this altogether new profession. These institutes started issuing useless certificates and diplomas to the desperate students who know nothing about IT.

Certification is another new aspect. These IT institutes after downloading software from the websites of prominent brands have started coaching certification. They've got cheap photocopy material or pirated CDs to do so. Worst cum worst there are some "professionals" available in town that can give exams on behalf of others. When these "certified" people go for a job-interview, they miserably fail. These types of people are not suitable even for the job of a computer operator. As it's now become our culture to always look for short cuts without realizing the consequences. The same is happening in IT world. Every Tom, Dick and Harry wants to become IT professional assuming to make easy and fast money. What they forget is the aptitude or logical thinking ability. Moreover how can one becomes a professional by just doing a certificate course in JAVA or webpage development tool? Many people after wasting considerable time and money realize that they are in a wrong profession.

Even the so-called foreign affiliated universities are churning out uncountable useless graduates. These bungalow-universities, taking the advantage of lenient policy of the government, making money with both hands. Some universities, both in public as well as private sector, are following poorly designed and outdated syllabus, with no proper computer laboratories and competent faculty. There is no such thing as standard. Almost 80% of these institutes are imparting substandard education to their students. The degree like MCS (Masters in Computer Science) has no meaning attached. The classes of Masters and PGD (Post graduate Diploma) are offered to any kind of bachelors' degree holder, irrespective of computer or even mathematical background. Classes in these universities are merely a bunch of heterogeneous mixture and at the end all pass out are unsatisfied. Those with no computer background, pass out with a lot of blank spaces in the basic concepts while the ones with computer background only revise their previous courses. These students have everything on their resume, but any company working on real technologies cannot take the risk of hiring them. Hence they contribute nothing but employment.

The overall academic standards are very low. There are very few faculty members who keep themselves updated. For example they have no idea of the new technologies like WAP or .NET environment. Most of the postgraduates are totally unaware of XML or WML etc. In their opinion webpage development is limited only to learning of FrontPage or some HTML codes. With this superficial knowledge, there is very little chance of getting employment in good software houses. Moreover, such students cannot compete the students even coming from third world countries, who come up with very sound and in-depth knowledge of the subjects.

The affiliation process with Sindh Board of Technical Education is not very difficult. Institutes, after getting affiliation with SBTE in one area, run courses in other areas without hesitation and of course with "legal umbrella". By doing this, they are producing useless manpower.

The monopoly of PTCL in providing bandwidth is another issue. The way our ISPs are working and providing services to their customer is a painful tale. There is no control what they advertise and what they actually provide.

We talk about providing Internet to small towns but do we have basic infrastructure? Villages and small towns are a distant world; in the mega city of Karachi the basic facilities of electricity and telephone are in a pathetic condition. How can one develop quality software in these conditions? When uninterrupted power supply or clear phone line is a dream, how the deadlines can be met? Or transfer the finished product to the local or foreign client is electronically possible?

Can high quality products be produced out of inferior inputs?

Answer is NO. We may have accomplished some short-term goals but are now getting exposed and not in a position to sustain our position further. The companies are getting closed and unemployed youth with higher IT degrees from poorly structured unchecked institutes are on the roads. Unfortunately neither the graduates nor their parents know why they are unemployed despite spending time and money in this highly flourished sector.

 

Solutions

There should be a legislation regarding opening of software houses. Though new software houses can be open as small business venture or even cottage industry but the owners or working partners or people holding key position of such companies must be qualified personnel.

The earnings or benefits got from tax exemptions must not be allowed to divert to other businesses of the owner. Companies should be given incentives to invest in R&D rather than producing run-of-the-mill software.

A proper national accreditation body should be established to whom all the IT institutes must be affiliated. The body should be made responsible to collect data on the IT institutes and rate them. It should either be federally controlled body looking after all the IT institute, irrespective of size or it could be decentralized by giving the job of monitoring diploma/certificate institutes to provincial governments. This will also reduce the workload on present setup of UGC.

All the Universities, both in public and private sector, must be very careful and follow strict rules and procedures to cover all the relevant aspects while awarding affiliations.

The responsibilities of the accreditation body should not be limited to guidance of the institutes only but it should also monitor them; Help should be extended in designing market-oriented syllabus and recommend books. It is not recommended that the body should interfere in the hiring process of the faculty but there must be minimum selection criteria.

Though a well established system of training of school teachers in shape of B.Ed and M.Ed is functioning but there is no such system available for the teachers of graduate and postgraduate level. Seminars and workshops should be conducted in regular interval, so that the faculty should keep abreast of the latest technological advancement. A pool of experts, both from academicians as well as from IT industry, would be invited to act as master trainers. These types of Training of Trainers (TOT) sessions must be made obligatory to attend by the faculty members of the accredited institutes.

Subjects of IT should be included in the syllabi of school teachers training programs to develop teachers for certificates and diploma courses. This will not only fill the gap of trained teachers at secondary level but also provided technically trained people at computer institutes level.

Government must allocate a substantial amount of funds for R&D. The procedure for project approval needs to be drastically changed in order to make it easier and quicker.

Free leased line internet access should be given to the public sector Universities. A wide-band Intranet should be established with centralized data warehouse, containing teaching and research material that could be shared by others.

IT experts should be appointed at Pakistani embassies/consulates abroad in consultation with EPB, PSEB and PASHA to promote Pakistani IT products abroad.

It is hope that the present government will rapidly develop the infrastructure and create trained individuals and teams. This is the only way left through which we can prosper and stand with other countries in this competitive world in shortest possible time.