June 30, 2013 7 Comments
We 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.