IT EDUCATION IN PAKISTAN
Very few institutions in Pakistan respond to the needs of an industry-based education
By ARIF AHMED
Oct 24 - 30, 2005
At present, the world is visibly divided by a 'technology boundary'. On one side are the technologically advanced countries that used their scientists, researchers and engineers for rapid economic growth. On the other side are the technologically backward countries that are demoted to the role of consumers - always in need of expertise, equipment, high-end research, facilities and constant aid.
Today's economies are largely service based economies where almost all jobs require 'knowledge workers'. Educational institutes must cater to the needs of the knowledge economy. Very few institutions in Pakistan respond to the needs of an industry-based education which makes the students really compatible to the requirements of the professional world. Our education system is still failing to deliver the basic minimum purpose of mass education i.e. to make people literate enough to become economically useful in society. Educational credentials, which are certificates of competency in a sane society, have become a marketable product, being sold exactly like consumer goods.
Education will always have to be updated and compatible according to the time, to keep up with the evolving economy and demands of the job market. Quite relevantly, almost all of education worldwide has become heavily influenced by virtual and real teaching techniques.
Today's youth are different from any other generation before them. They are exposed to digital technology in practically all aspects of their daily life. A few years ago IT was used to run business and research, now our young people accept multimedia, internet and wireless mobile communication as easily as telephones. This technology is making today's youngsters the most demanding and challenging students in history.
The IT-enabled learning tools of the 4 technology-enabled generations were:
1st generation: Low tech media with no interaction e.g. tape or text books.
2nd generation: A synchronous interactive course e.g. TV, phone and email.
3rd generation: Web learning with chat sessions for real time interaction.
4th generation: Real time interaction with video-conferencing and virtual classrooms.
Research and reports highlight that lecturing may still produce quality professionals but it cannot produce researchers, technologists, revolutionists and ideologists anymore. Computer-based learning can. Research and results show that students learn more, quicker and with interest by computer-based instruction. Computers have changed everything about education. Computer Technology can provide immediate feedback. It presents knowledge in a visual, more real, graphic way, using multimedia. It uses two of the most highlighted and strong senses of visualising and listening in lectures, and goes on towards 'learning by doing' exercises. Information Technology also provides learning alternatives like online discussions between students of different universities from different countries studying the same courses/subjects or taking the same degree.
Information Technology is necessary for reinvention of education. Today's primary school students can learn about the arteries and veins through a 3D animation clip; an art student can virtually walk through the old caves having prehistoric paintings and architecture students can witness the Gothic structures from inside out - all while sitting in their classrooms, through digital learning tools. IT enables students to be treated as individuals, to have highly customized learning experiences based on their background, individual talents, age level, and interpersonal preferences. It would be more active, with students discussing, debating, researching and collaborating on projects. Various digital forums enable brainstorming, debate, influencing of each other - in other words, social learning.
The IT equipped generation is learning precisely the social skills that will be required for effective interaction in the digital economy. They are learning about peer relationships, teamwork, being critical, about friendships across geographies, about standing up for what they think, and how to effectively communicate their ideas. The new media, particularly the Internet, enables centering of the learning experience on the individual (learner) rather than on the transmitter (teacher).
It is widely accepted that China is fast becoming a leading software and service industry because of its better IT professionals. On other note, India is also said to have been flourishing in technology not only because it has cheaper labour - but because it has smart, intelligent people with good academics and strong mathematical & analytical skills. In one year, India produces more IT specialists than all of Europe combined. Pakistan can also boast about thousands graduating in IT in a year. Except that most of our IT graduates go to an institution with an obsolete curriculum or sub-standard education. Therefore, evaluating the quality of IT education in the country, we cannot count the number of institutions offering IT education (as only few are up-to-the mark) or the number of technical graduates (as mostly are unemployed or working in irrelevant fields).
While the outer world institutions offer degrees and courses in Data Mining, Entertainment Technology, E-Commerce, Biospectrum (research in new drugs), Biometrics (infra-red, hand or retina scanning), Infrascan (brain bleeding scan), Telecommunications, Geo-Technology and Software Engineering, the Pakistani institutions (collectively) only offer the last three of these. While the outer-world students are provided with degrees around real world projects, tele-teaching and problem solving, we at our Pakistani institutions are still practicing the lecture and written exams curricula even with the most practical subjects. This is one of the main reasons why Pakistan is unable to produce the kind of quality, skilled manpower that can be generated in other parts of the world. Consequently, graduates from foreign universities are valued as superior to those graduating locally. There is a complete lack of co-ordination among the universities and institutes, which often gives way to discrepancies in the standard of education being imparted by each of the institutes. They teach obsolete languages and software. Thus we are not able to produce good IT professionals even though we have the best technical and intellectual minds, as compatible to the Indians, Chinese or any other nation.
IT institutions at any level, however, can play a very significant role in improving things. They should be actively involved with designing and implementing a curriculum that meets the needs of this century and the next. The curriculum always has to be latest, revised and progressive, according to the economical demands and up to the international standards as well, so that our professionals are also compatible to the job market abroad.
Internet is an enabling technology, a communication tool which allows teachers, students and professionals to communicate with other students, colleagues and specialists abroad. It is the greatest equalizer the world has ever seen. Even an IT professional in a rural area of Pakistan with a computer and an internet connection has access to the same knowledge as a person sitting in Silicon Valley. One can get trained through e-learning, share ideas with professionals and colleagues and most of all find out about everything that is going-on inside and outside the country especially wherever growth is being achieved.
Pakistan is a very promising market. We have a population of more than 140 million, with most of the young ones speaking the language of technology. We have a government who has never been more open to the prospects of progress and has made significant investments. With that population, we have thousands of students with an IQ level in the genius category but we don't give all of them a challenging educational environment which unleashes their creativity.
The realisation, however, only would come by creating a favourable climate for foreign companies/investors and venture capitalists by developing both trust and professionals (as did China). The government can also help this process by opening up its accreditations and records of the best educational institutions to the public and making them available through net. It could encourage the development of exact, useful educational content (curricula) for institutes all over the country. Effort must also be made towards Scholarships at the local institutions, Internship Openings, and creating job market.