Recently I came across two news items that spurred me to write my thoughts about the state of the affairs captured in those two news. Whilst they don’t have any direct relation with each other as such, they represent the society in which I grew up. One is the most enlightening read : “Knowledge at par” by respected historiographer Dr. Mubarak Ali where he reports a case study of European universities that failed to rise to the challenges of time by following a fixed curriculum without taking into consideration the needs of the society and the environment. According to the author’s report, it was only in the 17th and 18th century with the setup of Royal Society of London where the researchers started writing journals and disseminating knowledge to the general public which paved the way for revolution. Comparing that to the present time Pakistani Universities will not be too unreasonable or harassment as knowledge in Pakistan is imparted without instilling in the youth the urge to contribute or change the society and the environment. So when I came across a business headline screaming for all the positive attention : “FY 2013, Telecom sector’s revenues reach all time high” I wanted to take caution to celebrate it. Let me tell you why.
Pakistan’s service industry including finance and banking, and telecom have a lot to celebrate – 72% Pakistanis now own mobile phones and almost 30 million have access to the internet. The banks are pocketing an increasing amounts of profits every year. When I was working in a bank about 6 years back, the banking sector had set on a spree of consumer financing throwing cars, household items, homes, credit cards to the customers at easy financing terms and interest rates. It was consumers’ dream come true. It was a testament to the unbounded rise of consumerism in the society. All this while Pakistan has had the worst period of economic stagnation with insufficient energy production to run the wheels of the economy. The situation has worsened since then; innovation led productivity in industrial, agriculture, energy efficiency and other areas has been almost negligible. Almost 50% of the textile industrial units have been shut down by the energy crisis. The services sector could have risen to the challenges by creating more awareness, investing in education and research in the public about energy crisis, promoting sustainable energy practices etc.To me, having high cellular connections does not define success. They could have taken this crisis as an opportunity to target the more than hundred millions young Pakistanis. Instead, they knew that the society is not aware of its responsibilities and it is easy to feed on their materialistic patterns. As a result,we have given rise to a breed of youth who are at best, “consumers of knowledge” as put by Dr. Mubarak Ali and only want to pursue materials interests. They while away their time on social media websites and internet, get enticed by the consumer banking deals and fail to actively involve themselves in the social problems.
I earnestly hope that the Pakistani Universities, the places that churn out the “so called educated” youth must get their act together to respond to this crisis. They have an immense responsibilities to discharge by gaining and disseminating state-of-the-art knowledge and skills to address the energy crisis, learning from other countries and undertaking research and development required to stimulate the economic and social crises. Let new ideas come in, involve the graduates, make them own the problems and seek their ideas. Let the coming graduates not just dream of a high salaried job, a high priced mobile phone, become a social network addict but someone who is motivated to respond to the challenges their country and society are facing. Let the curriculum be about what the students see around and experience instead of teaching them decades old concepts. I might have not been offended by physics as a subject in my high school if my alma mater had adopted a more personalized way of making me understand it. I shuddered and gave into the pressure of adopting a career which was in fashion during those times. When knoweldge is at par with the needs of the time, only then we can see the real change makers.