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.

Democracy..I do wonder about niggles

DemocracyIn the days post the elections in Pakistan, I wondered (like many) about the whole electoral process. This naturally raised question on the system of democracy itself and the pain one goes through to see it perform even at the present sub-optimal level.  Its not to say that we should get rid of democracy and experiment again; sixty plus years of that is enough. No! At the moment there is nothing which can viably replace a mass selection system – democracy. But, I honestly wish there was something better for mankind, which would take us to a higher level of humanity. Atleast, away from all this killing and infliction of pain on innocents.

So to my gripe. Allow me that indulgence. Below are some of the thoughts which make me wonder. 

 

My first niggle. We can vote for evil people – Hitler!- and it is my right to vote for this type in a democracy..where is the play of conscience? For those not aware, Hitler actually came to rule via the ballot box. There was much evidence that the man was evil or mad, but the Germany of 1933 wanted a strongman and got one. Much to the detriment of themselves and the world. They learnt 65 million deaths later.

 

People who are standing for elections, generally desire to be elected. This has huge psychological implications. Now they have a vested interest and are on the slippery slope of corruption. There is substantial research which backs this theory; desire for power itself is a form of corruption. So at least we should be allowed to view a psychosomatic profile of the candidates.

 

A criminal has the same authority as an upstanding member of society. Where is the justice in that?  So a criminal (convicted) can vote and displace people, as much as you an upstanding person can. It is possible that such a person will vote for one of their own ilk. Our natural sense of right agonizes at such an eventuality.

 

The inefficiency of the system…if I make tall promises and people vote for me, it will take years before I will be called to account. Years of corruption and inefficiency…damage may be huge, voters learning from previous mistakes can take generations. Education, common sense and wisdom become an imperative among voters. Hence education in democracies is so important, which alas we do not have.

 

Elections are an advertising game. As consumer companies use advertising to sell goods we do not need, so the candidate persuades you to vote for him/her, maybe on platforms which do not affect you at all. The science exists. Its all been refined and a good marketeer will get inside your brain and convince you, without you even realizing it.

 

Big money is a necessary game in democracies. Advertising requires lots of money, as does electoral visibility. This includes ground activation to be in touch with your electorate. A huge amount has to be spent on research to understand the electorate itself. And then the logistic costs of moving people on the day of the election is massive. Top it all, to manage all the above, a large organization is required, which requires funds. A good democratic choice cannot be put on the ballot paper, without large funding. Obama spent over $1bn to run his campaign in 2012. So then is this open to all and sundry?!

 

Then the awful nexus with capitalism. Democracy tends to be at its workable best, if it is a capitalistic society. This allows the rich to get richer and its not necessary that the poor prosper – however the middle class tends to improve marginally. In the US the divide has sharply increased and the top 1% wealthy have increased dramatically since 1980, while the poor and homeless numbers have skyrocketed.

 

Lastly close to us, the rigging..but a lot happens in many places. Whether it is by force, threats, systemic or fragmented, it happens. Last elections in Kenya resulted in genocide. In 2000, the US Presidential elections were hijacked. Against the actual voting numbers, which went to Al Gore…the other candidate Bush won. Talk to Karachites, Lahorites, or Abrar in PTI. The evil taste left after these events, makes one wonder. My own sense is that something which is achieved by subterfuge, will not be of benefit to anyone.

 ” Our little systems have their day;

They have their day and cease to be:

They are but broken lights of thee,

And thou, O Lord, art more than they.”

Tennyson 

My fervent wish is that we are able to refine this choice and selection process to the level, where we can say with pleasure, that democracy is really democracy. Inshallah. We need some form of harmony in this country.

* The democracy picture is taken from Wylio.com, a free picture site, and is owned by Dominic Alves.

A Quantum Leap of change in Pakistan

imagePost elections many younger people have felt dissatisfaction at the process applied during elections and (I fear) we face disenfranchising these people, who are part of the future of Pakistan. So, I have tried below to show them the philosophy of change and how what has happened in the last few days is a positive step.

A society is a web, connected, intermingled and when you move a small wheel, it will move a larger wheel and so move a still larger one and thus the societal machine will work like any other machine. Small movement, cause and effect translates into large changes over time. A small change now, leads to large change 30 years from now. An example; the creation of madrassas in the late 70’s is today a massive part of Pakistan’s social fabric.
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Thus  I watched with interest the changes which could allude to larger change, during these elections. Simple little changes.
  • young people participating
  • technology being used
  • innovative campaigning involving ground activation
  • people standing up for their legal rights
  • a self aware people
Some perturbing ones.
  • people voting more for local rights, federal consequences being less visible
  • a divide beginning to happen …so called educated v less educated
Where this change will lead to, I am not sure. As with any change and an unsure future, one is apprehensive. But change can occur in only three forms:-
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Miracle/disaster
This would be the most unplanned and therefore most change inducing. Miracles seem to have disappeared nowadays, but when they do happen they have far reaching effects. Thousands of years ago Hazrat Musa crossed the Red Sea and Pharaoh was destroyed, but we live the effects of that moment till today. I don’t think we should be awaiting a miracle, as we have been these decades in Pakistan. As far as disaster is concerned, a disaster has occurred several times in our history, like 2010 floods etc. Disasters can be a set back for years, or worse a culmination, thus causing great change. There is an impending feeling of doom in this country and a fear that disaster is approaching.  Disregard it!
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Revolution
Typically revolutions aim for utopia, they wipe out status quo and the new structures are set at utopian levels. Over time learning ensues and the revolution is institutionalized and disappears. Society starts reversing the effects of the revolution and it comes back to a more mid lane process..I don’t think we are ripe for revolution, as our belief platforms are too diverse.
China is a great example of the progressive effects of a revolution. Mao killed freely in the 40s-50s-60s. Later after his departure, in late 70s China opened up and the disciplines and hardships of Mao, led to a surge in the last 30 years.
Iran is a bad example of a revolution. A reversal of revolutionary zeal has led to a totalitarian state and the benefits of revolution have not transpired. Instead a bureaucracy has now replaced the zeal and it controls Iran. Similar events happened in the Soviet Union.
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Evolutionary Change
This has worked best over millenia of human development. Seemingly slow progress, but half a century on, a later generation looks back and says wonderingly, “look how that and that event has caused an evolution which has changed our lives.”
Evolutionary change can trend towards good, but as nations decline it can trend towards bad also. So in Yarmuk, Muslims won a hard fought battle and for the next 500 years dominated, as the way north and west was opened up. But Nero fiddled while Rome burned and while the Roman empire lasted almost 400 further years, but the decline was inexorable after that.
This evolutionary change is what I am talking about above. To all those who are upset at the elections, because there was a great deal of unfairness. “Wheels on wheels have been set in motion. Patience, this will deliver dividends and progression will happen. You watch. Be patient. Inshallah the wheels are in motion, your Pakistan will change.”
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