An Education Revolution in the making in Pakistan

14949482-finger-click-learn-title-symbolWe are ostensibly in a mess. In a country where we cannot count our people numbers – from 180 to 200 mn- we apparently know our livestock numbers. Or so says the Ministry of Livestock. Exact numbers!!! They can actually identify buffaloes and cows without RFID tags, and count them. Conclusion, we have a great ability to fool ourselves.

In over a year of working with the education people in Pakistan, I reached a similar conclusion that we are messed up and fooling ourselves. But, more significantly, it does not matter, because there is a thick silver lining on the horizon.

The numbers I quote are to be treated with a pinch of salt, as we are not sure. Neither will Google reveal all, as many reports and many numbers exist. We have to simply decide which one to work with and then settle for it. You can do no better. After all, I started with the words that we are in a mess. I have used a mish-mash of data. On the face of it, we have some 55% of the population which is literate. The gender ratio is worse. Women 40%; Men 68%.

That means we have +40% illiterates, 75 mn people! Even in the so-called literates, our average years of schooling are optimistically estimated as 7 years, rather than the typical 14. Not so good. The demographic breakdown of illiterate people suggests that approximately +60% is above 25 years age and unlikely to become literate now. That leaves some 28 mn who could become literate even at this stage.

When you look at the young, the numbers become even more alarming. Approximately 3.8 mn children are added each year to our population. Our present school infrastructure has a capacity of teaching between. 1.5 – 2mn annually. So, there is a literacy delta of about 2 mn kids per annum and in 20 years we would have added 40 million more illiterates to our population. We are looking down the barrel of illiteracy and are un-merrily dancing our way down to our version of hell. The illiteracy trap!!!

In all this doom and gloom, “our thick silver lining” is stirring. Technology! Moore’s Law suggests. If today technology indexed capability is 100 and indexed cost is 100. Then it will halve in costs and double in capability every 18 months. So, 20 years from now technology costs will be 0.012 and capability will be 819,000. A hardware device (as will exist then) will be cheaper than a sheaf of paper. That is going to be our saving grace.

A revolution is in progress in education worldwide. Led by a gentleman called Salman Khan and sponsored by Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation. Astounding numbers are being taught via online structured education program. Recently, Salman Khan made it to Forbes Magazine cover, as the father of modern day education. The education revolution is on.

Another wonderful example of the force of technology is “The hole in the Wall” concept of Sugata Mitra. You can view his fascinating talk on TED which puts the concept forward. http://www.ted.com/talks/sugata_mitra_build_a_school_in_the_cloud.html?source=facebook#.UTRIFkdMWfh.facebook. Simply put, younger minds left with technology access, free to exercise their mind unguided, learn literacy, math and all sorts of other things at express speed. This has huge implications, as technology cost reduces and we are able to provide access world over. And it need not be through a one laptop per child policy, which is expensive and prohibitive to a mass scale venture.

There are several other successful projects out there. Khan Academy and now several others are blazing a path to the collective glory of high literacy. The signs are clear. Even the large institutions like Harvard and MIT are also putting their curriculum online. The world is about to change. No infact it has changed.

Translate the above to our situation in Pakistan. Scores of NGO’s are now diving into this technology/education game*. Not only that, some social entrepreneurship organizations see profits in this sector, so they are entering also. My life experience tells me, when the nirvana of profits is visible, stuff happens. Human psyche! Worried people of Pakistan, I promise you we have opened the door to literacy and in 20 years literacy at least should not be an issue Inshallah. Added to that is the fact that no government can now disregard this education-technology deep dive. Votes depend on it. PML-N took the first steps last year and PTI of course has it as their main plank.

While we will hit and miss, I envision a process whereby, education sans teacher, but facilitated, will reach into the villages and the urban slums. It will be cheap, mostly standardized delivery, but the output due to less teaching will be varied, free thinking and out of the box. The consequences on the ballot box, on society structures, social behavior, economics are unimaginable. We should brace ourselves. A great mind and leader will be needed to lead us out of this mind boggling leap of the collective mind.

*Dawood Foundation, Engro Foods and Citizen Foundation are running 15 pilots on E-learning in rural areas, to assess our ability to expand these pilots to a large scale mass education program.

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Slickness….in praise of it?

Dark Glasses, dark birdSometime ago, I happened to end up at a group event, which regularly takes place at a hotel in Karachi and at various times occurs in (maybe) 200 other cities of the world. These people worship the art of slickness and they come together to train and improve their method of delivery of words. They belong to a club spread worldwide, which I shall not name here, dedicated to improving and standardizing our speaking skills.
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Their objectives were fairly easy to grasp. One of our biggest fears, is being able to speak up in public. Faced with an audience most of us descend into jelly feet. So, this club coaches a standard method of delivery and trains participants, so that they can express themselves, especially in a pressure environment. This management of speech will by its very practice transcend into daily lives, work and otherwise, and the subjects shall be able to command respect by being confident, articulate, delivering great presentations and talks. The more confident and articulate you become, the better the imagery. Soon you will progress in life. In praise of slickness!!!
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To be fair, I was welcomed with open arms at this august gathering. There were some veterans who had been attending for years.  However, as the evening progressed, I found myself more and more uncomfortable and out of sorts with these ladies and gentlemen, even though they were very courteous and treated me with utmost care and respect – they probably saw a new corporate member, who could perhaps further their club objectives.
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The problem was that I belong to a totally different ilk and therefore should have been the last person to enter that room. My filters are way on the other side of the room. True, in my personal experience, I have come across many managers who articulate arguments brilliantly and are able to influence people. But now, I stick my neck out to go further…. the fact is, I have discovered through most of my career, that the people who articulate well, are generally the best showmen/women and therefore they tend to speak with a forked tongue. Also they tend to take the least responsibility and mostly are articulate individuals and not team players. Therein lies the problem.
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Now you would say, what a horrible generalization…but within the confines of the Bell Curve, this is true. That 70% under normal distribution are just such people. Spare a thought, for the thousands of hours I (and people like me) have sat and listened to beautiful articulation, great presentations and known that the whole presentation is a put on job. Worse still, most people will nod and smile and go out of the room, forgetting the substance of the presentation. So all that will remain is the imagery and the delivery of promises made will be forgotten, not to ever occur at all. In a few years this individual will have progressed to great positions, thanks to his/her articulation skills. Such a travesty!
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So, once I reached a position of reasonable influence, I promised myself never will I let such people influence me. Therefore, when a candidate walks in for an interview, what to look for? Look for the reality within the person. Is he/she artificial, the false smiles and the lack of pauses (the ‘umms’ and the ‘ahhhs’). They tell the reality! Beware,  anyone who answers smoothly and without thought pauses. Next you look for truth, passion and backbone. These are all the things, that slickness does not inculcate, but actually make a human a great manager – someone who will say less, deliver more and when the chips are down, will stand up and be counted.
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In case you all think this is too judgmental…
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Sahih Bukhari and Muslim report that Anas said ‘The Prophet’s (saw) talk was precise clear, and succinct without undue elaboration’
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Sahih Bukhari Volume 003, Book 041, Hadith Number 591 and

Sahih Bukhari Volume 002, Book 024, Hadith Number 555
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Narrated By Al-Mughira bin Shu’ba : The Prophet (saw) said, ” …. and Allah has hated for you (1) vain, useless talk, or that you talk too much about others, (2) to ask too many questions….
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I rest my case!!
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* The picture is taken from Wylio.com a free picture site. The owner is “Psyberartist”.

The ICC Champions Trophy – a tournament too far

ICC Champions TrophyMemories, happy and sad moments, all flavour our lives and make us what we are in the present. My own long affair with cricket comprises just such memories, cherished possessively for decades. And it matters little if the original event was bad, because nostalgia acquires a character of its own, beyond good and bad. In the case of the ICC Champions Trophy, fifteen years is a long time to build memories. Yet, if we be honest, do we really remember any games in the Champions Trophy?  

Well some of those memories have morphed into images of Jamshed Dasti* spitting fire and fury on TV, denouncing Pakistani cricketers. That he was talking about a most brilliant game between Pakistan and Australia in 2009, was a travesty. In all these fifteen years of the Champions Trophy, this game stands out. A typical, out of the blue performance, when all seemed lost for Pakistan. And we almost made it too! It was odder still that it is the only game in almost six decades, where Indian spectators were whole-heartedly cheering Pakistan on. Had Pakistan won, India would have got through to the semis. That was not to be in the end.

 

This was our jewel of the ICC Champions Trophy. Others stand out, but maybe for the wrong reasons. A daft semi-final in 2005 in the Rose Bowl, with the day grey, the clouds low and the ball jagging around everywhich way. That our erstwhile captain Inzimam chose to bat first is a cricketing mystery to this day. Our batsmen duly obliged and were bowled out for 130 odd and the match was handed over to the West Indies. Not that this was so bad! One saw a most fascinating run chase by lower order batsmen in the subsequent final, in bad light, as the West Indies carried the day against England, with a 71 run unbeaten 9th wicket stand.

 

The fates seem to have conspired against this tournament in the past. So, incessant rain led to one tournament in 2003 being shared by the finalists India and Sri Lanka, with both designated days rained out. Could you do that in a normal tournament? No final at all and yet two winners.

 

Memory then harks back to the 2000-1 final. I can remember sitting back in the Pepsi conference room, watching the demolition of India by Chris Cairns. Watching cricket on a workday? But that’s fine, remember Pepsi was the official sponsor of cricket in Pakistan and this was just part of work. That innings of Cairns remains the best individual innings played in Champions Trophy history. New Zealand was dead and buried, five wickets gone and Cairns just upped the ante and took the trophy out of the grasp of India. An incisive century, which you wish some Pakistani would make in a run chase. Something like, Inzi’s 60 in the semis of World Cup 92. 

 

The Champions Trophy was born out of ICC’s need to bolster its coffers. It would allow the coins to jingle in a non World Cup year. Unfortunately, like the old personal computer being superseded by the present tablet or the beef burger making the bun kebab obsolete, so the T20 took the heart out of the Champions Trophy. The crowds, sponsors and excitement migrated to the later format. A rationalization ensued and so 2013 is the year of one final farewell tournament.

 

So what of our beloved Pakistan? We have won everything in our cricket history. Test matches (home and away); World Cups (One day and T20); Sharjah; Australasia Cup; Nehru Cup; and Sahara Cup. Alas no Champions Trophy! We have made it to 3 semis out of six tournaments- an appearance every alternate tournament. Each time we have entered the semis as clear favourites and yet circumstances have intervened.  Maybe that is why I think this tournament is jinxed. Maybe that is why the memories are short. My inner self cannot but look at the world of cricket through a Pakistani kaleidoscope.  A tournament too far! Besides, this next tournament is the 7th and out of sequence for an alternate semi-final appearance. But then, Jamshed Dasti dominates the imagination…I can see him waving the Pakistan flag at Lords…after all we might break the jinx, this one last time.

 

*Jamshed Dasti is a parliamentarian, who showed a lack of understanding of cricket and in the aftermath of the PakvAus game, made some outlandish accusations.

 ** The photograph is taken from the official ICC, FB page.