MISCONCEPTION OF YOUTH REGARDING IT EDUCATION

By Sakina Halai Co-ordination Officer Kalia Group
Jan 20 - 26, 2003

In the early days of the year 2000, the growth of the Information Technology (IT) industry was at its peak. Dot Com and the New Economy were the buzzwords. The IT industry especially in North America wanted thousands of qualified IT professionals with Internet and programming knowledge. Many young people from Pakistan took this opportunity and got lucrative jobs there.

In December 2000, the bubble busted. The dot boom turned into dot doom and the New Economy fell down like a ton of bricks. With it the economy of the whole world went into a deep recession and many blue chip companies saw a drastic cut in their profits. Layoffs started to take place and loads of people were out of a job in days. With the 9/11 unfortunate incident the problem was compounded. USA posed strict restriction on visas and dashed the hopes of thousands of youth to reach the free world.

With all the above reasons students with no exception to their parents started to think that IT is no longer profitable enough to study in terms of job opportunities here in Pakistan or abroad. The scenario can be judged from the fact that the enrolments in IT institutes has dropped down to 50% which shows that the youth today, are looking for new options to study in fields other than of IT.

This situation has been exacerbated by some of our leading newspapers, which have circulated misleading reports creating misconceptions in the minds of our youth that IT is no longer a viable choice for a career because of lack of jobs and severe workforce cuts in companies of the western world. This negative approach towards information technology can harm the security and progress of our country as well as the opportunities available to uplift our masses. This situation needs to be rectified on top priority basis.

The reality is far removed from the myths rampant in the minds of our youth, which I would like to address in this article one by one.

MYTH #1: NO MORE JOBS IN THE LOCAL AND INTERNATIONAL IT INDUSTRY

Worldwide or if we can say that the IT industry in North America is maturing which means that the maniac growth has slowed down and the industry is trying to find its equilibrium point. So, the opportunities there have lessened but not finished.

The scenario in the local IT industry is quite different. Pakistani IT industry is growing with a lot of new companies coming up. Kalpoint.com, KalSoft (Pvt.) Limited are just a few of several examples. According to the Chief Executive of KalSoft "In Pakistan we don't have the quantity of software professionals but we have the quality."

Employers constantly complain that there is not enough skilled manpower available in Pakistan. Several have said that most management positions in their organizations are vacant because of the lack of a suitable candidate for employment.

Currently, Pakistan exports about $40 million worth of software a year to the entire world, as compared to $8.5 billion from India, $5 billion from Ireland and $1.5 billion from Israel. The total size of the IT services market in the world accounts for $315 billion, and is projected to reach $465 billion by the year 2003. In order to increase our exports to lets say even to one percent we will need the human resource because exports are subject to the availability of human resource.

Moreover, from January 1, 2005 Pakistan will be part of WTO free trade agreement through which there will be no more quotas and each country will have equal opportunity for the same target market. Pakistan will come in direct competition with India and China. India has more than three hundred thousand professionals, whereas in Pakistan we have hardly ten thousand.

Just one IT professional can generate on an average of $30,000 exports per year. In order to have an export of over one billion dollars, we need to have about 35,000 IT professionals fruitfully employed in Pakistan. It should be our target to start producing 10,000 IT quality graduates in Pakistan each year in order to have multi-billion-dollar exports. So in order to compete with these countries we need more IT professionals to get their market share.

MYTH #2: 'IT' IS BORING

There is severe lack of career guidance among our youth especially in the genre of IT education. Instead of focusing on what they have aptitude for they follow what everyone especially their friends are doing. It is not necessary that one follows the crowd and does BCS or MCS. A person can do so many things because of the variety available in IT.

For instance, one can mix an assortment of subjects together with IT. A person can become a web developer, graphics designer or a graphics artist if they enjoy art and IT. If anyone is detail oriented he/she can become a database administrator, or if they enjoy working with people and computers they can become a system analyst. One is not pigeon holed into doing the same kind of work. So this is a myth that IT is boring, it gives a lot of choices for a person to establish their careers in.

MYTH #3: IT LITERACY AND CAREER IN IT ARE ONE AND THE SAME

IT literacy is different from having a career in IT. IT literacy can be defined as having the basic knowledge of information technology, which enables people to enhance their own productivity in their career of choice.

Information Technology (IT) is the language of the 2lst century and without learning it no progress and prosperity is now possible. History is witness to the fact that only those countries and companies have been considered successful who have embraced IT. They only have soared into the league of developed nations and companies with billion dollar profits.

Developing countries like Pakistan need to upgrade their economies and become competitive in the global market place through IT. In order to make progress it is essential that Pakistan educates, trains and bring its workforce to international educational standards, incorporate new technologies and modern management practices into its industry, and bring intense focus on building an information-based economy by upgrading the technical and managerial skills of its people.

Nowadays, we can observe from advertisements in newspapers that most job vacancies require a person with IT literacy. The Government of Pakistan is also thinking on making IT literacy a must for all jobs. In the future no jobs will be available to people who are not IT literate. Even peons will have to be IT literate. People from every profession will have to learn IT.

MYTH#4: NO NEW MARKETS HENCE NO NEW JOBS

Why do we always have to look at North America especially USA and Canada for job opportunities? There are other regions and countries in the world where there are loads of openings available and where our youth can not only learn but also contribute greatly. For instances markets such as China, Eastern Europe, The Middle East, Latin America, and Russia.

Jobs can be created through joint ventures with companies from these countries on a variety of fronts with our local companies. For example, China our immediate neighbour and one of our best friends has a decent telecommunication system, an improving transportation system and a well-established banking infrastructure. Our expertise lies in the areas of advanced technology and good English language skills. Theirs and our expertise can together bring in domestic and foreign projects and hence create jobs.

MYTH#5: NO POTENTIAL FOR E-COMMERCE OR E-GOVERNMENT

Most businesses and corporations have not yet tapped the potential of e-commerce in Pakistan. They have not been able to understand that e-commerce is a powerful force unleashed by information technology that is growing faster than any other technology in history.

In Pakistan the e-commerce industry is in its infancy and is just beginning to take shape. For Pakistan the opportunity lies in the over three million people of Pakistani origin living abroad in various parts of the world. They definitely would have need for products which are not as cheaply or freely available in their adopted lands as in their homelands. In India a local paan seller utilized this opportunity very well by setting up the first virtual paan shop on the Internet called the Muchhad Pan House (www.paan.com) and now exports paans to the USA even.

Like India, we also have some notable examples like Hi-Utility, a B2C site focuses on selling utility products from the Far East to local e-shoppers; PakistaniShop their strategy has been to sell Pakistani goods to Pakistanis/Indians living abroad (especially in North America) and Sentiments Express is a premium gift delivery service within and outside Pakistan through which you can send anywhere in Pakistan flowers, cakes, mithai, and fresh fruit.

These websites have boosted the confidence of the ordinary Pakistani Internet user of e-commerce because according to rough estimates Pakistani per annum US dollar online expenditure has reached half a million from almost nil a few years ago.

Also there is a market for inside Pakistan as there are more than one million people using the Internet in Pakistan.

One can establish more such type of websites for markets other than of North America like Norway, UK and European countries where a sizeable number of Pakistanis also live. Trained professionals with IT and management skills will be needed to tap this market.

Also some students of FAST opened up a virtual store two years back by the name of AZFA Traders where a person could buy from a list of thirty items. After the first year of its establishment it made a profit of two lakhs. This is an example of entrepreneurship at its best. One can find and sell services or different other type of goods on the Net without a lot of initial investment.

Like business to business transactions through the Internet, Pakistan must also develop the infrastructure for government-to-government and government-to-business transactions which, in short is termed as E-government (EG). Contrary to popular belief E-government is not about computerization or the Internet. In simple terms Electronic Government (EG) can be defined as serving the citizens through well-articulated processes (wherever possible enabled by information technology) by giving them the choice of when and where they can access government information and services.

The real solution lies in the fact that information is made available and accessible to those who need it at the right time and the right place. It requires the fundamental change in how the government operates and this implies a new set of responsibilities for the executive, legislature and the citizens.

Pakistan government has also developed the EG program over a period of 14 months with extensive research and was submitted to the Federal Government cabinet. So valuable is the EG program to governments that most of them appointed ministers to drive the program in their respective countries. Examples are Singapore, China, Andrah Pradesh province in India.

In the future the world will not measure economies by the number of industries or the tonnes of agriculture produced in the economy but with the yardstick of efficiency and effectiveness to conduct government-to-business and business-to-business transactions. Governments without e-governance will lag behind they will lose what power they have.

One should be prepared for such ground breaking programs because whenever EG will be implemented professionals will be needed to run it and maintain it.

CONCLUSION

The end results of the above mentioned clarifications of myths are that IT literacy is not a choice anymore but a necessity for an individual or a nation just like learning English and Urdu. Our youth must acquire IT education and then adopt career according to their aptitude and interest. Careers in IT in the local industry are on the rise and job openings in foreign markets other than North American countries are also available. There are also many areas of IT where they can establish their careers. Also, e-commerce and e-governance in Pakistan are not far-fetched ideas but will become necessities in order to survive as a nation.

We have full faith in the Almighty Allah and are very optimistic that the newly elected government will play its role in acquiring excellence in information technology and thereby ensuring a prosperous future of honour and dignity for all Pakistanis.