DEMISE OF IT EDUCATION

By the end of 2003, due to the recession in the IT across the globe, the enthusiasm in IT had subsided drastically in Pakistan

By KHALIL AHMED
Dec 05 - 11, 2005

Patience and planning are key words for success. Patience brings good fruit but too much patience brings either no fruit or the rotten fruit. As regards planning, I have read in management books that vision without action is a daydream and action without vision is a nightmare.

Patience and planning again. Do our leaders plan for our future? Do we as citizens wait and let them do their job? We want to see overnight changes and our leaders like to glue to their powerful positions being oblivious to the plight of the nation. The European leaders at present are looking at the prospects of how to provide energy (i.e. electricity) to their citizens in the forthcoming decades. The Chinese persevered for three decades to reap the harvest of the economic boom. The Indians struggled relentlessly for consecutive five decades to bring about technological revolution. However, we have our own theories of life. We follow the path, directed by others, blindly and we tend to get fed up abruptly. At times we all want to become doctors, at times engineers, at times MBAs, at times CAs, at times information technology experts and at times we don't know what to become and need a shoulder to cry on. Proper planning and consistency are not our watchwords.

In the present era, nothing can be achieved without adopting information technology. It has become an essential element for economic growth, technological advancement, accuracy and conservation of energy. Pakistan has not been able to leave any impact globally in IT so far. It was not incorporated in the list of the World Economic Forum (WEF) report 2002-2003 on global competitiveness in IT whereas even Bangladesh made its place in the top 80 countries. In Global Information Technology Report 2003-2004, Pakistan made its entry and was ranked 76th. In 2004-2005 Pakistan was ranked 63rd.

Pakistan has currently been ranked 83rd in the world according to this year's Global Competitiveness Report and is behind Jamaica, Panama, Ghana, and Trinidad and Tobago. The Indians have led from the front and have become global leaders. SIPA, Silicon Valley Indian Professionals Association, is making remarkable contribution in technological revolution in the Silicon Valley of California. We are far behind and need to catch up on for the survival in the global village. The pace of our progress is terribly slow in this awfully rapid world. We cannot afford to manufacture the products once they become obsolete in the rest of the world.

The first serious step to boost IT in Pakistan was taken when Prof Atta-ur-Rahman took over as the Federal Minister for Science and Technology in March 2000. The level of apathy was this that till 2000 we did not have any IT policy or action plan. We owe to this stalwart who took keen interest in regulating IT sector and giving impetus to youngsters to excel. The advent of computer technology in our country occurred in 1960s during Second Generation (1954-1962) and Third Generation (1963-1972) of computers. For over four decades, we as a nation did not realize the significance of the technology and our governments did not ponder over making any policy. On the other corner, we have seen our neighbouring country endeavouring for the decade after decade to leave an indelible mark. In the wake of it, India has attained what it craved for, the status as computer technology giant. Today several American, West European, Japanese and South Korean firms have set up computer software centers in Bangalore, popularly known as a 'Software Mecca' and the 'Silicon Valley of India.'

A lot can be achieved with concerted efforts. Prof Atta-ur-Rahman once said, 'On an average, just one IT professional can generate at least $30,000 of exports per year. In order to have an export of over one billion dollars, we need to have about 40,000 IT professionals fruitfully employed in Pakistan. "It is our target to start producing 100,000 high quality IT graduates in Pakistan each year in order to have multibillion dollar exports". Prof Atta-ur-Rahman brought about IT blitz but that was short-lived. By 2000 there were just a few renowned names in IT education such as COMSATS, FAST and Petroman but by virtue of his relentless efforts productive steps were taken and tens of IT universities/degree-awarding institutes came into existence. Unfortunately, 9/11 incident jeopardized the realm of IT as a whole and it experienced recession. By the end of 2003, due to the recession in the IT across the globe, the enthusiasm in IT had subsided drastically in Pakistan.

Petromen which once had 11000 students and 22 campuses throughout Pakistan closed its doors to students and its faculty members. It has become a history for last couple of years. I happened to see a few faculty members who to date are jobless. There are many other instances. Head of one institute told me that till 2002, 80% students applied for computer education so they formed at least three to four new sections of BCS and about two sections of MCS. At present, there is hardly one section formed for the computer science students because of the apathy towards the technology coupled with unwelcoming job market. Even some institutes have stopped offering MCS since they don't find sufficient number of students. Scores of private institutes which offered diploma and short courses have wound up their businesses or are giving deserted look. The institutes which invested huge amount on infrastructure of IT campuses are offering Engineering, Finance & Accounting, Business and Media Management, etc, instead. This is an explicit demise of IT education in Pakistan.

I would feel sorry in case I don't discuss Operation Badar (for JAVA) and Operation Ohad (for ORACLE). The hype was rife from 1999 to 2002. Hundreds got carried away. They were the IT education projects for the masses by which hundreds of job aspirants were lured. Operation Badar project became focus of attention due to a few reasons which are: i-classes were conducted in established universities/institutes such as Sir Syed University etc. ii-candidates thought of getting better jobs abroad after certification, iii-JAVA was a novelty, iv-The classes were conducted initially on Sundays and then on Saturdays also for a few hours which was convenient for the working classes, v-There was on-line examination attraction since it was a new concept in our country, vi- Operation Badar had its own software house, an attraction at that time for the students and vii-students got carried away by the prospects of quick success with lucrative jobs.

To build credibility Operation Badar developed a prudent strategy and that was to get admission, one had to appear in the aptitude test a few months before and the candidates were asked to deposit fees long before they physically attended classes. Every class had over 150 students. After the coaching period, the individuals appeared in on-line exam for which between 7000 and 10,000 rupees were paid by the candidates. Well, it was an expensive programme for the majority, a sacrifice beyond endurance. Such projects are initiated to give education to the masses and to mint money simultaneously. After the mega success or failure of these two projects, we did not experience any other IT education movement project for the masses.

I don't think we have been able to produce 100,000 high quality IT graduates in Pakistan each year. Pakistan has worth US$50- US$100 million software industry with approximately 350 software houses so it needs home-grown force of professionals galore. India is expecting $10 billion by the year 2010 in foreign exchange through software exports. We cannot even imagine what India has achieved but at least we should take the first resolute step towards path of progress. We need to create credibility and avidity, dissipate uncertainty and bring the confidence back with bright job prospects so that after investing time, money and energy, a person should get befitting reward.

We need to create lucrative jobs in Textile, Banking, Financial and Pharmaceutical sectors for IT professionals. We should devise strategies to attract our young generation back to IT universities and start the production of high quality graduates. IT is not only about software, hardware and networking. It is about everything. It is about life.

For any query: (Khalilahmed72@hotmail.com)