Key to progress

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By Atta Ur Rehman

PAKISTAN TODAY is submerged in loans and the GDP growth rate is far behind even those of our regional countries such as India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and others that are progressing rapidly. Because of rampant corruption associated with rental power projects and a series of other scams in various major national organisations, the country has come to its knees and now largely lives on borrowed aid from the IMF, World Bank and other agencies. We, therefore, now dance to the tune of foreign masters who can tighten the noose at any time that suits them. We are alas no longer a sovereign state but are bonded by economic slavery.

A large number of industries have shifted to Bangladesh where the manufacturing costs are much lower and there are no problems of lack of power for long intervals that has almost totally devastated our textile and other industries. With the ending of the war in Sri Lanka, there is much capital shifting there too from Pakistan, since the tax rate is a flat 12 per cent and there is no corruption in government agencies. The people are polite and well educated and an educated work force is readily available.

How do we emerge from the present quagmire of poverty, lack of industrial growth and burden of foreign debt? The answer lies in good governance. History has proved that feudal dominated cabinet and parliaments will never support the much needed transition from the low value added economy that Pakistan has to a knowledge economy. Higher education, the sector that had shown spectacular progress during 2003-2008, has been cut to size by sharp reductions in its development budget that should have been Rs40 billion by 2012, but is only about Rs15 billion presently.

Education remains the lowest priority of the present government as we are currently spending only about 1.7 per cent of our GDP on education. This ranks us among the lowest in the world. The education policy approved by the present government envisaged an expenditure of 7 per cent of the GDP on education with one-fifth of this (1.4 per cent of the GDP) being spent on higher education. That policy has been abandoned by the rulers.

I have in the previous articles written about the need of a different form of democracy – a presidential system of democracy overseen by a “judicial council of elders” that oversees and approves appointments at all key positions, including those of president, prime minister, federal and provincial ministers, heads of major public organisations, and key institutions such as the FIA, NAB etc. The repeated failure of the present system warrants an urgent change in constitution. Education will then, and only then, get an appropriate priority in the national development programmes.

The need for highly trained manpower is the key to transitioning to a knowledge economy. Chinas massive progress and domination in industrial production is driven by its emphasis in production of PhD level manpower. China today produces 50,000 PhDs annually, well ahead of USA that produces 20,000 PhDs annually. India is also a world leader with about 9,000 PhDs being produced each year and it is planning to increase these to about 20,000 PhDs by 2020. India has also decided to follow Pakistan in the higher education sector. In December 2011, the Indian Cabinet decided to abolish its UGC as Pakistan had done, and to create a more powerful federal organisation “the National Commission for Higher Education and Research” on the pattern of the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan.

In a neutral international appraisal of Pakistans higher education sector, the worlds leading science journal Nature (August 28, 2008) gave the following advice to the Pakistans Peoples Party – an advice that alas has not been heeded:

“Military strongmen have ruled Pakistan for longer than elected politicians – and, paradoxically, have treated that nations scientists far better than the much less stable civilian administrations. General Pervez Musharraf, whose nine-year rule ended with his resignation on August 18, was a prime example: his regime greatly strengthened the foundations for a Pakistani knowledge economy, instituting reforms that included bigger research budgets, an ambitious university-building programme, a nationwide digital library, a scheme to attract international faculty, and performance-related pay for professors. Many of the changes have been praised in external evaluations within the past year, including those of the World Bank, the US Agency for International Development and the British Council. But the Peoples Party has some learning to do. Its previous record on science is among the most misguided of all Pakistans elected governments – a return to the pre-Musharraf era would send Pakistan back to the scientific Stone Age. The new government needs to recognise that regardless of how much it disliked him, the general bequeathed it a foundation in science and technology on which it can build” unquote.

As I was responsible for only the higher education sector during 2002-2008 when I was federal minister/chairman Higher Education Commission, there was little that I could do to uplift primary, secondary and college level education. Under the law only universities and degree-awarding institutions fall under the umbrella of the HEC. However, I had made two suggestions in writing that need to be considered by the governments in power now or in the future.

The first of these suggestions is to establish a compulsory “National Education Service”. This would make it mandatory for every student to serve for two years as a teacher in schools in cities or villages (after he/she had appeared in the bachelors/masters exams) before a bachelors or masters degree could be granted to him or her. The boys can be sent out to the villages to teach, while the girls can be called to teach in their own towns and cities. This would, in one shot, address the major problem that we face in our schools, that of well qualified teachers. Retired army officers could be brought in for the proper implementation of such a programme in various districts of Pakistan.

My second suggestion was even more drastic. All government servants should be required by law to send their children to the nearest government schools as a condition of their appointment. This would apply to all government officials from the prime minister to the peon. That would again, in one shot, create strong vested-interest among all government officials to improve government schools and the funds and priority would therefore be assured.

If Pakistan is to emerge from its present economic mess and establish a strong knowledge economy, it has to be on the foundations of quality education. The way forward is one and only one – education, education and education.

The writer is former Federal Minister for Science and Technology, former Chairman of the Higher Education Commission. He can be reached at ibne_sina@hotmail.com


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