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.

Advertisements

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.
+++

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:-
+++
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!
+++

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.
+++

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.”

Letter to Pakistan

pak flag

Printed in Newsline Magazine – August 2012

Dear Pakistan,

I dreamt last night of a young boy who was cowering behind a trunk in a railway bogey. In the background, there were screams, gunfire and one could smell blood. Not to forget the broken bodies. They were everywhere! Then, the dream cut to another scene and suddenly this train arrived at a railway station, the young boy was lifted out of the bogey and there were shouts of relief, as others were also carried to safety. There it is, the signboard says Lahore Railway Station and is that not my father there lying on the platform in shock? He has survived but he has seen hell, my dear Pakistan. At the ripe young age of 14 he has seen hell. Awful dream and I woke with a start, in a sweat remembering those millions in 1947, who suffered just to be with you. Just to belong.

Years later when that boy had become my father, he told me the story. Of the great aspirations and love which went with the commitment to abandon all in India and migrate to Pakistan. For him the horrible events along the way, defined his love for you. It was worth it to give all that for a land where he would be free. Where he could live, marry, earn and not be considered lower than others. Not for skin, nor for sect or religion, nor for his language. He thought it was worth it, for the home this country gave to him for almost six decades. Right up to his last months, then a wasting disease took him to a more permanent abode.

I am so sorry Pakistan, because somewhere in the middle, while still loving and pining for you, I went away, I went abroad for long stints. Did not show the same dedication my father did. As justification I thought I shall earn and give back to my land. My commercial training and reasoning kicking in! Only, money never equates to action and sharing pain. When I came back, you had been robbed. I had left you undefended and they had come, raped and pillaged you and left you distressed. My fault. I did not consider that my home was worth raising my voice for.

Well I have been back many years now and have seen some light at the end of the tunnel. These young ones they are more like my father. They are ready to live for a cause. Oh I know you would say that the vast masses are insensitive and uncaring. But do not lose hope, my dear Pakistan. These young ones have a vision and a story they believe in and are beginning to awaken. The big, long slumber is over. They have a finger on your pulse, they know you are alive. My dear Pakistan, I feel you will finally get the leaders and people you deserve.

Inshallah.

Oh yes, I meant to write and say to you Happy Independence Day. A very Happy 65th Birthday!

Your hopeful citizen

Sarfaraz

THE PRINCE, THE JOKER & THE THIEF

The Prince, The Joker & The Thief

The Joker reminisced to the Thief.

“Back in the eighties when my master, the King, swung his masterful whip over this place, I had a great time. Everyone came to me. They recognized that I could approach the throne. Things went well. I was able to set up connections and have you seen the factories and businesses that exist today. It was hard work and my net worth today is well over a billion dollars. Then it all changed”.

There’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief;
Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth;
None of them along the line know what any of it is worth…

“Today businessmen they drink at my table, partake of my paye’ and yet none of them know what any of it is worth. Things are not the same.

I have taken such hits”, complained the Joker to the Thief.

They say that I have hardly paid any taxes. How can I pay taxes, when I do not make enough to sustain myself? There is no King to work with, and to be truthful, I am not good at playing the King. Things go awry. Witness my attempt 15 years ago. They kicked me out and even distributed sweets in my hometown on my departure. Taken years for me to turn it around”.

No reason to get excited, the thief he kindly spoke
There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke
But you and I, we’ve been through that, and this is not our fate
So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late.

The Thief, he smiled a broad smile, adjusted his spectacle  and spoke kindly to the Joker.

“Now, now! Nothing to be sad about. No reason to get excited. Let’s not talk falsely now. We have done well over 25 years, you and I. You in your own way, I in mine. We have been brought up to grab opportunities and that is our way. And we can live together. My art has been thievery and I do it well. Infact, if I say so myself I am quite a master at it.”

He continued…

“My move was to steal the heart of a Princess. That was a really profitable venture. Ended up yielding billions. Lots of factories, business and palaces. Yes not to forget the palaces and chateau! Things went well and then the Princess started objecting. She had grandiose notions about herself and how she would change things. But then luck played its part once more. I notice it does in my case. The Princess was killed and they were looking for someone to take the role of the Princess, Lady luck smiled and here I am.

Now you and I know this game of opportunities. We can work this together, advised the Thief. We just need to cooperate and be patient. We have enough money and if we take turns, we could be in the driving seat for at least another decade. By then we will have collected our dues and can go off in old age to live somewhere else and retire. You to your paye, me to my indulgences.”

“But what to do about the Prince and barefoot servants?” cried the Joker. “The Prince is dangerous and the barefoot servants are not behaving like their usual self. The Prince has been doing things all his life. He has made us known worldwide. Leading us, he won that great competition, then has set up a hospital and universities and then he was trusted with the floods rehabilitation, while no one trusted us. Even I have to agree that he is honest and sincere. Suppose he gets hold of real power?”

“There are many here among us, who think life is but a joke”, laughed the Thief. “Otherwise who would trust us? But see the barefoot servants are odd. They have some well read people who oppose the Prince. They have a foreign liberal point of view. All their lives they have been educated in a different school and have forgotten what they really are. The rest are uneducated. So we use the liberal ones to break the rest and what ever resistance is left, we use our money to buy it out. Will work like magic. Ten years later when nothing is left, they will wake up too late. We will be gone by then”.

Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl
Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl.

Unbeknownst to all the characters in the place, outside in the distance, two riders were approaching and the wind began to howl. The riders were at war with status quo, battle dancing on their faces. One was Extreme Religion and the other was Anarchy. They were coming nearer and none of the incumbents were even aware of this approaching calamity.

Inspired by Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” written in 1966. Any resemblance to present day situation or characters is absolutely coincidental. There is no such thing as barefoot servants- no one can be that foolish in real life.

I am an average Pakistani; would you like to hear more?

When I get home, it is nice to be in a hot house with the wife lovingly beating me on the head. No electricity, you know. One hour on and off! The baby keeps crying all night. PHOTO: REUTERS

I am a typical Pakistani and am dying to tell the world who I really am, but no one is ready to listen. In the scheme of things, I could have been born anytime late 1930s onwards, and am gainfully (or rather painfully) employed.

Whereas the world is moving towards nano technology, my single greatest skill is that I manage to ‘exist amidst the chaos’. This chaos is not of my making, but the wise say that I deserve it, since I have given my vote to the wrong people.

They must be right! Mind you, I have not seen the inside of a polling booth for the last 20 years. Every time I have queued up to vote, after a few hours of waiting, when I got to the polling officer, he/she said that my vote has been cast and ask why I’ve come again.

The polling booth is always inside a government (peela) school and the polling officer is a teacher there. I hear that they get four times the salary of a private teacher. Since they turn up to teach only one day a month, they must be paid for the election day every five years. Mashallah, it’s good to be paid high amounts, for working one day every five years.

I digress. I was telling you about myself! I am educated as I can write my own signature, but not because I went through proper schooling. Since, I am part of the privileged 44% who can sign, I have carried the burden of this country ─ not so for those clever ones, who left these past six decades. They moved off to greener pastures and red/blue passports. Now they can write about Pakistan and say what a ‘mess’. This was natural, since they left poor old me to carry the burden and they themselves are living in foreign lands in such hardship as alien people.

Anyway, so there I am, hanging on to the handle of a bus, or if lucky, sitting on the roof. It takes me about two hours to get to work and by the time I am at work, I feel like going back, even though it will take another two hours; but what can I do? One has to earn a living. You know one has to pay taxes. I am lucky to have the privilege of paying more than most leaders of the country, opposition and treasury. So proud of carrying the burden of running this country!

Sometimes, I look down from the roof of the bus and I see VIP movement. We have the privilege of waiting 20 minutes to see our leaders.

This one time, the prime minister passed by. There were 84 cars with him ─ Land Cruisers and Mercedes which my taxes pay for.  I enjoyed the show! We must see what we are paying for. Also, I must go and vote for him again, since it is dangerous to vote for PTI. Imran Khan is honest, and we cannot have that, you know. If you are honest, you are stupid.

I look over the shoulder of this young fellow at office and he is on Twitter. He loves to use the ‘F’ word all the time. It’s extremely intellectual. These intellectuals sit at home with generators spouting continuous electricity, so they can stay online, forever talking about how people are being killed. I get so worried about the killings in Gilgit and Quetta, because I am not sure who does these.

In Wana, we know that miscreants are killed by the drones, they have this system whereby they can tell who is a bad guy and they just kill them. I wish we had this system here, because the other day, I saw a few people being killed while I was hanging on to the bus handle. Almost lost my grip on the handle. Phew! However, apparently these guys were innocent, since they were standing on the pavement eating chaat with their children.

When I get home, it is nice to be in a hot house with the wife lovingly beating me on the head. No electricity, you know. One hour on and then off! The baby keeps crying all night. We can’t afford the protection, so babies keep on coming. Number four is on the way now and I think might end up with seven. Schooling will be an issue. We are also without water and so can’t go to the loo. Sometimes when the electricity is there, I see these great people arguing and fighting on “Hamid Mir Live”, or see Najam Sethi wisely telling us what will happen.

After a while, I feel like throwing something at the TV, but then it’s the only TV I have. I have to watch the cricket match. One is really not sure, if these cricketers are throwing the matches. I hate it when Pakistan loses, but that happens regularly, since they appointed this foreign coach. Mohsin Khan would not do, he won the series against England 3-0, but was just not good enough.

Now the guy on Twitter is getting angry. Why am I being such a wimp and I should sign a petition against all the disappearing people? So if I signed, would the concerned people be scared and stop kidnapping and killing? Last Sunday there was a protest and two thousand promised they will turn up. Then I saw tweets that fifteen did; good numbers. That is the route to change.

My neighbours are always talking about having had enough. Apparently the glass is full and brimming over….just saying. They are forever talking of going and sorting out the Defence people. Oh, not the army! It’s the ones who live in Defence. Must forewarn my boss! He lives there.

Oh, I forgot to tell you that we can afford one meal a day. We are lucky, some neighbours have one in two days. Of course, do remind me to cast my vote, if I survive till then…

%d bloggers like this: