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How can Pakistan leapfrog and compete in the education & knowledge economy on the global stage; An American scholar’s perspective

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Pakistan leapfrog and compete in the education. Pakistan’s education system is as unstable as the overall political and economical situation of the country. It is not necessarily underdeveloped or bad, it is just unstable and inconsistent, this is what Adam Weinstein, an American scholar at Quincy Institute working on Afghanistan and Pakistan, thinks.

‘Pakistan has some of the best educational institutions in the world or the region at least. But it has these wide gaps in education that need to be improved,’ he said while talking about his perspective on the education system of Pakistan. In his point of view, private universities like LUMS and public universities like Quaid-e-Azam, are as good as any university in the world.

Talking about them, he said he is impressed with the faculty and students of QAU. But then he shows his disappointment by saying that access to education depends upon what class and area you belong to. ‘Particularly, the pre-university education is inconsistent depending upon class and geography and this is where Pakistan is lagging behind the most,’ he said.
Weinstein has also been a member of the American-Pakistan Foundation’s leadership which he thinks is working effectively bridging the gap between both countries’ youth by providing opportunities like fellowships and scholarship programs to Pakistani students.

The research scholar has a great interest in the foreign policy of Afghanistan and Pakistan. When asked what makes Pakistan his area of interest he replied interestingly, ‘Pak-US relations are dysfunctional and they have enough potential to make it interesting.’ Both of these nations without a doubt have a great potential for relations considering the history of co-dependency in security programs and multiple development programs.

These relations, along with a strong foreign policy, can be affected greatly through the student exchanges that are currently happening and can be increased. Thousands of Pakistani students are currently studying in the US. Some are studying on scholarships and exchange programs and others are studying while working there. When asked about this scenario, Weinstein said, ‘there is immense potential in the exchange programs. Pakistani students go to the US and study at elite institutions and the American population is exposed to them in a way it has never been before.’ Adding to it, he laughed saying, ‘you see the vlogging videos, those do nothing.

These exchanges do something.’ Moreover, he thinks that Pakistan needs to develop to increase these exchanges to Pakistan too. He is of the point that the US and Europe should also send students to Pakistan. This is quite new and we have never thought like this.

Do we have enough resources or a good infrastructure to offer international students from countries like the US some exchange programs? Weinstein proposed that this is not only possible but also Pakistan has a lot to offer to these students. ‘It can be a six months exchange. The students can study language, climate research, research related to irrigation, water tables, and other agriculture programs,’ he said adding that Pakistan has a lot of issues like climate change, drought issues, irrigation, air quality, etc. It should be selling itself for these issues, he thinks.

Now that the country has enough to attract students from abroad but do we have enough resources? Well, the funding can be generated through smart ways like asking private investors or international bodies. It is not that it is not already happening that a third-world country asks first-world students to study exchanges there. India is an example.

The scholar said, ‘why people are studying Urdu in Lucknow? Why not Karachi or Lahore.’ He added, ‘Pakistan needs to create conditions for academic exchanges and has to take the lead. A lot of this doesn’t have to do anything with the security but just with feeling organized.’

Pakistan leapfrog and compete in the education.

If we start analyzing the education system and its drawbacks in it, we will find a lot. In a lot of places, we are suffering not because we do not have talent or proper institutes but because the opportunities are not distributed equally to all the classes. I had this in my mind when I asked Adam Weinstein and was surprised by how closely he has observed Pakistani society and its different layers. Pakistan leapfrog and compete in the education.

‘Pakistan needs to have consistent high-quality education at the lower level for the younger ages that isn’t class dependent and isn’t geography dependent,’ he said while calling it one of the major issues in the system.

That’s not it. There is more that the system lacks and Weinstein has a very good analysis of it. Quoting his words, ‘the biggest issue facing education in Pakistan is not in the education system itself, it is in the job market.

Pakistan is developing these educated youth who have master’s degrees, bachelor’s degrees, and PhDs, and what is waiting for them when they graduate?’ These remarks were followed by some obvious but eye-opening statements, ‘no society can remain healthy if they have an educated young population that has no prospects. That is a recipe for disaster, it is a recipe for political unrest, and it is a recipe for unsatisfaction.’

What happens to the talented population who graduate with a high skill-set is not welcomed by the market because there are not enough avenues where they can use their skill-set and earn? The result is brain drain which Pakistan is faced with currently. The brightest people want to get out of this country.

They go to get master’s degrees and never come back. Do they not like living in Pakistan? That’s most probably not it. It is because there are no opportunities in their own country. Adam puts this condition in these words, ‘this should be considered almost a national security crisis for Pakistan to have this kind of brain drain.’ In his point of view, the state should create incentives for youth emergently because there needs to be a payoff for education.

Another important concern to Pakistan is to have a part in the knowledge economy. But what is making Pakistan lag behind in the knowledge-based economy? Maybe the Pakistani education system is not indigenized. Although we were decolonized decades ago, we still have some of that influence on our minds. Pakistani students either want to be bureaucrats or leave for another country where there are better prospects.

‘This situation is not good for business,’ says Weinstein. He further says, ‘without indigenizing its education, it makes Pakistanis go abroad and never come back. It should allow them to flourish in Pakistan. The Pakistani education system needs to have value in and of itself inside the country. It should not be seen as a pathway out of Pakistan.’ Moreover, there is a huge British influence on the curriculum or the overall education of Pakistan.

That is not necessarily bad but is affecting the knowledge economy to a considerable extent. Adam Weinstein had a very clear argument which I consider very important to quote. He says, ‘Students are studying for British tests and you have to think if that is what the education system should be focused on. All of this money and all of this focus is going to a UK-based test, how does it even make sense.’

Currently, after the Taliban took over Afghanistan, the region also faced a great deal of instability. Pakistan had a huge influx of immigrants and many students from Afghanistan started taking admissions to Pakistani institutes. This is definitely a great step to accommodate these students but does Pakistan have enough resources for that? Adam Weinstein brought an angle to this that our government has not cared about enough.

He explained that Pakistan, though educating Afghan students, particularly girls, who for no good reason the Taliban have excluded from high school, can take a lead from a human rights perspective. ‘That’s a good opportunity for Pakistan to assert itself as a leader.’ When asked about the resources he further said, ‘it does not have to be detrimental if you do it in a more intelligent way by seeking funding from the UK, US, UN, and the private philanthropists.’

The interview with Adam Weinstein was ended with a question about the women of Pakistan. When asked where does he see the women in the education system of Pakistan, he was more hopeful, excited, and satisfied than anyone in the country itself. He said that Pakistani women are everywhere in the government.

They have and are serving as the Prime Minister, ambassadors to the UN, in foreign services, leaders in political parties, and the military. According to Adam, he sees Pakistani women as quite educated and part of public life. He says, ‘This is what Pakistan should be proud of but it doesn’t brag about it enough. Pakistan should be talking about it all the time and they don’t, enough.’

Concluding the interview with an important problem and a positive statement, Weinstein asserted, ‘freedom in Pakistan depends upon where you are and who your relatives are. That could be improved but Pakistan should be proud of what it has achieved thus far.

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