Riaz Haq writes this data-driven blog to provide information, express his opinions and make comments on many topics. Subjects include personal activities, education, South Asia, South Asian community, regional and international affairs and US politics to financial markets. For investors interested in South Asia, Riaz has another blog called South Asia Investor at http://www.southasiainvestor.com and a YouTube video channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCkrIDyFbC9N9evXYb9cA_gQ
Saturday, January 24, 2009
Improving Higher Education in Pakistan
By Pervez Hoodbhoy
Rumor has it that the World Bank is on its way back to Pakistan with a bagful of loans, together with plans for how we must spend the money. A major focus of the Bank’s efforts will be higher education reform. No one doubts the desperate need for reform of Pakistan’s education sector, or the need for assistance, especially since we have shown little capacity to fund or plan our education ourselves. But recent experience suggests the Bank’s help may be a poisoned chalice. If it is to be otherwise, the Bank will have to avoid local snake charmers and be more skeptical of what bureaucrats and ministers claim.
Said to be the world’s biggest research institution working on developmental issues, the Bank employs thousands of technical people at its Washington headquarters and abroad. Typically, a highly paid World Bank team of experts, trained in the use of sophisticated mathematical and statistical tools and report writing, is parachuted into a Third World country. They could be charged with fixing broken down systems of education, healthcare, agriculture, or electricity. But although its researchers and team leaders are often accomplished individuals, experience suggests they are not adequately equipped to understand the complexity of local issues. As important, the Bank depends on government agencies and cannot easily bite the hand that invites it in and provides access.
The Bank’s limitations are exposed by how it allowed itself to be systematically deceived in its mission to promote and support reform of higher education in Pakistan. For six years, Pakistanis heard endless stories of success about the revamping of their universities under the leadership of the Higher Education Commission and its celebrated chief, Dr. Atta-ur-Rahman. With a record-smashing 12-fold increase in the HEC’s funding ordered by Gen. Musharraf’s government, new universities popped into existence almost every other month. Production of PhD’s and research papers shot up. It seemed obvious that things were improving. At least that’s what HEC and the World Bank said.
A 2006 World Bank report on the HEC’s performance, issued by a team led by Benoît Millot, reads like a paean to the HEC. Written in impeccable English, and embellished with impressive charts and diagrams, this 109-page report finds no fault, nor questions any assumption of the-then prevailing authorities, and proclaims that “HEC has placed quality improvement of the higher education sub-sector at the centre of its agenda”. No surprise then that the report was widely quoted by the HEC as evidence of its achievements and used to demand yet more money for HEC schemes. Everything dovetailed perfectly: the Bank wanted to lend and the HEC to spend.
But now as the bitter truth gradually seeps out, the HEC’s alleged accomplishments are fading away. Today, in spite of sporadic newspaper items planted by the HEC’s former chairman, the consequences of arbitrary one-man decision making, deliberately exaggerated or invented numbers, and plain sloppy thinking are becoming apparent.
The construction of university buildings has been frozen leaving them half-completed. Fantastically expensive research equipment litters the country, much of which is unused. It has been abandoned by even those who insisted on their import. Vice-chancellors are panicking over unpaid salaries for faculty and staff. Thousands of desperate Pakistani students sent overseas have received no scholarship money for months. Until they were cancelled a few weeks ago, many of HEC’s hugely expensive but shoddily planned projects – such as building nine new Pak-European universities – had been furiously sucking resources away from real needs.
Academic quality may be an even bigger casualty. Driven by huge cash incentives to mass-produce PhD degrees, university teachers have banded together across campuses to fight tooth and nail against every attempt to enforce genuine academic standards on Ph.D. graduates. Fearful of losing their bonuses, they oppose setting a reasonable pass mark for the Ph.D. exam, the internationally recognised GRE subject test. They know many of their students would fail, even though these students are now allowed to take the test even at the end of their studies. In China, India, and Iran, students take this exam as part of getting admission to a PhD programme overseas – and do immensely better.
Then there is research. The HEC claimed that, prior to the launch of its programs, annual research publication rates in universities were very low. It says, for example, that Quaid-e-Azam University published only 631 research papers between 1998-2003. But, after the HEC’s chairman started his cash reward-per-paper program, the number of research papers shot up to 1482 in the 2003-2008 period, a 235% improvement.
But, all serious academics know that what matters is not how many papers are written but how good these papers are. A standard measure of a paper is how many times other academics refer to it in their own papers. According to the International Science Citation Index, the total number of times the research papers published in the 1998-2003 period were cited by other researchers (excluding worthless self-citations) was 2817. But, in the 2003-2008 period the citation count was a mere 1258. The message this sends is loud and clear – producing more papers does not mean more useful knowledge is being produced.
The fact is that for years numbers were twisted around and no one noticed, including the World Bank. What’s worse is that the Bank did not even bother to check. Its trained and intelligent observers could have easily investigated several of the HEC’s claims without even stirring from their desks. All they would have needed is a good internet connection, and access to standard science citation indexes.
Rather than simply sign off on HEC claims that it had worked miracles, the World Bank could have undertaken its own study. It could, for instance, have looked for evidence of improvement in university teaching quality (rather than a mere increase in enrollment). To do this scientifically it would have needed to work out the parameters that define teaching quality and then gathered the relevant data. This might have involved establishing some reasonable metrics for gauging the quality of the faculty and student body, assessing the state of library and laboratory facilities, the content of university courses, the standard of examination papers, the presence (or lack thereof) of academic colloquia and seminars on campuses, the suitability of those appointed as vice-chancellors, the number of days in a year that the universities actually function, satisfaction of employers with university graduates, etc. But there is no sign that the World Bank bothered to do this groundwork. At least, having searched available databases, I could find none.
If the Bank is again going to try support higher education reform in Pakistan, it needs to be more serious. It must focus on quality and demand greater accountability.
What Pakistan needs from the Bank is help for improving the dilapidated infrastructure (buildings, libraries, laboratories) of ordinary colleges where the bulk of Pakistani students in higher education study, not more half-baked universities. Mega-sized projects for producing qualified junior faculty for universities and colleges are badly needed. The importance of quality teaching in colleges and universities must be emphasized, not meaningless publications and more junk Ph.D. degrees. Better institutional governance and ethics is the key. Encourage this and the rest will follow.
This article was first published in Dawn, 18 January 2009.
Riaz Haq's Note: While I respect Dr. Hoodbhoy immensely and value his opinions greatly, I do think that his criticism of Dr. Ata-ur-Rahman is overdone in Pakistan's context. In my humble opinion, it's not all doom and gloom in Pakistan. For the first time in the nation's history, Dr. Rahman succeeded in getting tremendous focus and major funding increases for higher education in Pakistan. According to Sciencewatch, which tracks trends and performance in basic research, citations of Pakistani publications are rising sharply in multiple fields, including computer science, engineering, mathematics, material science and plant and animal sciences. Over two dozen Pakistani scientists are actively working on the Large Hadron Collider; the grandest experiment in the history of Physics. Pakistan now ranks among the top outsourcing destinations, based on its growing talent pool of college graduates. As evident from the overall results, there has been a significant increase in the numbers of universities and highly-educated faculty and university graduates in Pakistan. There have also been some instances of abuse of incentives, opportunities and resources provided to the academics in good faith. The quality of some of the institutions of higher learning can also be enhanced significantly, with some revisions in the incentive systems. But overall, I would have an Ata-ur-Rehman in charge of education rather than Mir Hazar Khan Bijrani, the current education minister.
Higher Education in Pakistan
World Bank on HEC Pakistan
World's Top 600 Universities' Ranking
Jinnah's Pakistan Booms Amidst Doom and Gloom
NED Alumni Convention 2007
HEC Initiatives Lauded
Pakistani Universities: Problems and Solutions
Reforming Pakistani Universities
Plagiarism at Punjab University
More Speed Than Traction
Global University Rankings Video
HEC Postpones Ranking Universities
Labels: HEC, Higher Education, Hoodbhoy, Pakistan, World Bank
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Take a look at WiMax infrastructure in Pakistan -
"Jo ho gar jazba-e-taameer zinda,
To phir kis cheez ke ham mein kami hai"
There are a number of success stories but let us be clear that people succeeded in their academic pursuits not because of the institutions they graduated from in Pakistan but in spite of it.
I would agree that the real exceptional geniuses succeed anywhere in the world, spite of the systems. It's often argued that such bright people are in fact held back by the systems.
However, the changes in Pakistan are broad and deep to be individual or accidental. As reflected in the numbers, many more Pakistani research papers are being cited by foreigners (Sciencewatch) and Pakistan has the distinction of the being #1 in the world for developer outsourcing (oDesk)or dozens of Scientists working at CERN on LHC, etc.
Comment received via email:
It was indeed a pleasure to read your letter in today's DAWN.It contains many thought provoking issues and rare opposition to your mentor and key note speaker.Unfortunately Pervez Hoodbhoy has made it his mission to oppose each and every act of HEC for many years.
I was in Islamabad last week to attend an International conference on Science and Technology.It was held at Quiade Azam University ,and apart from attending the conference I had a chance to visit some of the departments and got immensely satisfied with the work being done there.
When we were on Industrial tour,in 1972 ,there was only one University in Islamabad.Just for fun, one day last week I went around different areas of Islamabad and noticed the number of Universities.Have a look
2.COMSATS Institute of Information Technology
4.Allama Iqbal Open University
5.Al Huda University
7.Centre for Advanced Studies in Engineering
8.Federal Urdu University
9.National University of Computer and Emerging Sciences
10.National Defence University
11.Muhammad Ali Jinnah University
13.International Islamic University
14.Institute of Cost and Management Accounts of Pakistan
15.National University of Modern Languages
16.Shifa College of Medicines
18.Pakistan Institute of Engineering and Applied Sciences
19.Ripah International University
20.National University of Science and Technology
May be there are more than those listed above.
Dear All: AA
It seems that higher education a long way under Dr. Atta-Ur-Rahman's leadership, the first well learned minister of education and HEC chairperson. Most of his students are well placed all over the scientific community worldwide, that speaks for itself for his research capabilities. As a student of his department, HEJ I am really impressed with what he did to take the higher education from zero to a respectable height in a relatively short period of time. I remember my days as Ph.D student when lack luster officials of university grants commission were sitting to draw salaries and wasting time-basically doing nothing. His critiques on the other hand have done nothing to promote science and education in Pakistan, except of course critisizing and downplaying his acheivements-I think I can mention one name in this blog. Unfortunately he was or will be replaced by a political appointee who more likely will be a thumb-impressionist like several previous minister of education in Pakistan. To cut story short there needs to be a better system of education in Pakistan, which must be described by competitive and rationale criterion. In order to do that system needs to be run by educated people.
May I ask Dr. Atta-Ur-Rahmans critiques about their acheivements for Pakistan science... I will wait and response later...IA
Here is a NY Times story on how China is luring top Chinese-American scientists from US:
BEIJING — Scientists in the United States were not overly surprised in 2008 when the prestigious Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Maryland awarded a $10 million research grant to a Princeton University molecular biologist, Shi Yigong.
Dr. Shi’s cell studies had already opened a new line of research into cancer treatment. At Princeton, his laboratory occupied an entire floor and had a $2 million annual budget.
----------------------------“He was one of our stars,” Robert H. Austin, a Princeton physics professor, said by telephone. “I thought it was completely crazy.”
China’s leaders do not. Determined to reverse the drain of top talent that accompanied its opening to the outside world over the past three decades, they are using their now ample financial resources — and a dollop of national pride — to entice scientists and scholars home.
The West, and the United States in particular, remain more attractive places for many Chinese scholars to study and do research. But the return of Dr. Shi and some other high-profile scientists is a sign that China is succeeding more quickly than many experts expected at narrowing the gap that separates it from technologically advanced nations.
China’s spending on research and development has steadily increased for a decade and now amounts to 1.5 percent of gross domestic product. The United States devotes 2.7 percent of its G.D.P. to research and development, but China’s share is far higher than that of most other developing countries.
Quantity is not quality, and despite its huge investment, China still struggles in many areas of science and technology. No Chinese-born scientist has ever been awarded a Nobel Prize for research conducted in mainland China, although several have received one for work done in the West. While climbing, China ranked only 10th in the number of patents granted in the United States in 2008.
Chinese students continue to leave in droves. Nearly 180,000 left in 2008, almost 25 percent more than in 2007, as more families were able to pay overseas tuition. For every four students who left in the past decade, only one returned, Chinese government statistics show. Those who obtained science or engineering doctorates from American universities were among the least likely to return.
Recently, though, China has begun to exert a reverse pull. In the past three years, renowned scientists like Dr. Shi have begun to trickle back. And they are returning with a mission: to shake up China’s scientific culture of cronyism and mediocrity, often cited as its biggest impediment to scientific achievement.
They are lured by their patriotism, their desire to serve as catalysts for change and their belief that the Chinese government will back them.
“I felt I owed China something,” said Dr. Shi, 42, who is described by Tsinghua students as caring and intensely driven. “In the United States, everything is more or less set up. Whatever I do here, the impact is probably tenfold, or a hundredfold.”
He and others like him left the United States with fewer regrets than some Americans might assume. While he was courted by a clutch of top American universities and rose swiftly through Princeton’s academic ranks, Dr. Shi said he believed many Asians confronted a glass ceiling in the United States.
Here's a story about the security situation affecting foreign universities plans in Pakistan:
New Delhi — Nine foreign universities that had agreed to set up engineering schools in Pakistan — with their own faculties and administrators — have now decided not to do so because they are leery of the worsening security situation and political uncertainty in the country, a daily newspaper in Pakistan reported, citing an unnamed spokesman of President Pervez Musharraf.
The foreign universities’ professors and other officials are unwilling to move to Pakistan despite very attractive remunerations offered by the Pakistan government, which plans to spend $4-billion on the nine projects with universities in Austria, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Sweden, and South Korea. The foreign universities may also have changed their minds, another newspaper said, because they are finding it difficult to arrange for the many professors needed to staff the new institutions, some of which Pakistan has already begun to build.
In March Pakistan’s Higher Education Commission refuted rumors that plans to open the universities had been deferred or canceled, and said that they would start classes this year, as scheduled. “Foreign faculty has also concerns regarding the security situation in the country, but we are constantly in contact with them, they did not refuse to land in the country, and the project is on the track,” Sohail Naqvi, the commission’s executive director, was quoted as saying.
In 2002 Pakistan began an ambitious program to reform its higher-education system by setting up the commission, which has since created programs to enroll more students in Ph.D. programs in Pakistan and abroad, to hire foreign faculty members, to establish new universities throughout the country, and to collaborate with foreign partners to open engineering schools. The reforms have been controversial.
A local newspaper this month quoted an unnamed Ministry of Education official as saying that control of the commission would be handed over to the education ministry, rather than report directly to the president. —Shailaja Neelakantan
Here's a BBC report about downgrading of 44 universities in India:
Students in India are protesting against the government's decision to strip 44 places of learning of their official university status.
The move follows a review which found the institutions were unable to provide proper educational facilities.
Nearly 200,000 students are enrolled in such establishments across India.
The government has said it will take steps to ensure the decision does not jeopardise the future of students currently studying at the universities.
The move sparked angry protests.
Students at the Savita School of Engineering in the southern city of Madras (Chennai) smashed furniture after hearing of the government decision.
Students say they are worried the order will affect their future prospects, but the authorities sought to reassure them.
"We will take care of all students who are in those 44 universities. The government's intention is to make sure not a single child will be affected," said federal Human Resources Development Minister Kapil Sibal.
His ministry, which looks after education, says the decision is based on recommendations made by a special task force.
"The review committee came across several aberrations in the functioning of some of the institutions deemed to be universities," the government said in a report to the Supreme Court on Monday.
Most of the 44 universities concerned offer post-graduate and undergraduate courses.
They include three government-sponsored institutes, including the Nava Nalanda in Bihar, the National Museum Institute of the History of Art, Conservation and Museology in Delhi, and the Rajiv Gandhi National Institute of Youth Development in Sriperumbudur in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.
Here's a BBC report about an Indian bill to open Indian education market to foreign universities:
India's government has approved a plan to allow foreign universities to set up campuses and offer degrees in India.
The proposal, which needs to be ratified by parliament, is expected to benefit thousands of Indian students who head abroad to study.
India is reforming its higher education system after concerns that it faces a shortfall of qualified graduates.
Every year thousands of English-speaking Indians head to countries such as the US and Australia to study.
Despite having top quality educational institutions, India is unable to meet the demand for a quality education, the BBC's Sanjoy Majumder in Delhi says.
Some analysts project that India's growing economy will face a shortfall of half a million qualified graduates over the next five years.
Federal Education Minister Kapil Sibal described the bill as "a milestone which will enhance choices, and increase competition and benchmark quality".
If parliament approves the law it could see universities such as Harvard and Oxford set up institutions in India.
It is thought leading foreign universities could be attracted by India's large number of English speakers and its burgeoning middle class.
India has allowed foreign investment in education for a number of years, but foreign institutes have not been permitted to grant degrees.
The bill had been opposed by some political parties, particularly those from the left, on the grounds that it will benefit only elite Indians with poorer students unable to afford to pay high fees.
In Silicon valley recently, the US federal government has pumped in about $500 million each into two green tech startups..Solyndra pv solar and Tesla all-electric cars. Obama was here this week to promote green tech and spoke to Solyndra employees.
In addition, there is $1 billion in federal grants before offered to biotech firms under the new healthcare bill.
The reason for US supremacy is partly explained by how much of its public funds it spends on higher education. A 2006 report from the London-based Center for European Reform, "The Future of European Universities" points out that the United States invests 2.6 percent of its GDP in higher education, compared with 1.2 percent in Europe and 1.1 percent in Japan.
Dr. Hoodbhoy has been harshly critical of fraud in Pakistan's academia in terms of fake research and plagiarism in paper publication. Here is an excerpt from a NY Times report about fakery in China:
China devotes significant resources to building a world-class education system and pioneering research in competitive industries and sciences, and has had notable successes in network computing, clean energy, and military technology. But a lack of integrity among researchers is hindering China’s potential and harming collaboration between Chinese scholars and their international counterparts, scholars in China and abroad say.
“If we don’t change our ways, we will be excluded from the global academic community,” said Zhang Ming, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing. “We need to focus on seeking truth, not serving the agenda of some bureaucrat or satisfying the desire for personal profit.”
Pressure on scholars by administrators of state-run universities to earn journal citations — a measure of innovation — has produced a deluge of plagiarized or fabricated research. In December, a British journal that specializes in crystal formations announced that it was withdrawing more than 70 papers by Chinese authors whose research was of questionable originality or rigor.
In an editorial published earlier this year, The Lancet, the British medical journal, warned that faked or plagiarized research posed a threat to President Hu Jintao’s vow to make China a “research superpower” by 2020.
“Clearly, China’s government needs to take this episode as a cue to reinvigorate standards for teaching research ethics and for the conduct of the research itself,” the editorial said. Last month a collection of scientific journals published by Zhejiang University in Hangzhou reignited the firestorm by publicizing results from a 20-month experiment with software that detects plagiarism. The software, called CrossCheck, rejected nearly a third of all submissions on suspicion that the content was pirated from previously published research. In some cases, more than 80 percent of a paper’s content was deemed unoriginal.
The journals’ editor, Zhang Yuehong, emphasized that not all the flawed papers originated in China, although she declined to reveal the breakdown of submissions. “Some were from South Korea, India and Iran,” she said.
The journals, which specialize in medicine, physics, engineering and computer science, were the first in China to use the software. For the moment they are the only ones to do so, Ms. Zhang said.
Plagiarism and Fakery
Her findings are not surprising if one considers the results of a recent government study in which a third of the 6,000 scientists at six of the nation’s top institutions admitted they had engaged in plagiarism or the outright fabrication of research data. In another study of 32,000 scientists last summer by the China Association for Science and Technology, more than 55 percent said they knew someone guilty of academic fraud.
Dr. Hoodbhoy has been harshly critical of fraud in Pakistan's academia in terms of fake research and plagiarism in paper publication. Here is an excerpt from Calcutta's Telegraph newspaper report about science fraud in India:
Some of India’s most respected scientists are accused of covering up wrongdoing by others. Not surprisingly, not everybody is happy with the SSV’s efforts. One scientist derisively calls it a “self-appointed watchdog” while another likens it to Don Quixote, charging at imaginary windmills.
Yet the evidence is out in the open. Physicist K.R. Rao, associate editor of Current Science, a peer-reviewed research journal published by the Indian Academy of Sciences, Bangalore, says he has detected 80 cases of plagiarism — major and minor — in articles submitted to the journal in recent years.
Earlier this year, chemistry professor P. Chiranjeevi at the Sri Venkateswara University, Tirupati, was punished for copying from others’ research. Repeated attempts to reach him failed, but a member of the investigating committee says Chiranjeevi denied any wrongdoing when he appeared before it. The committee indicted him, and Chiranjeevi was barred from holding administrative posts or taking new research students.
In October last year, a team of materials scientists from Anna University, Chennai, and the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research, Kalpakkam, was found to have published a paper on ionic conductivity that was a copy of a previous paper by a Swedish team. But the one who hit the headlines was Raghunath Mashelkar, former director general of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research.
In March 2007, Mashelkar admitted in a letter to the SSV that sections of a book he had co-authored on intellectual property rights had reproduced verbatim material from a paper by a British scholar without crediting him. “…I am highly embarrassed by this and I have decided to take some hard actions,” he wrote. He said he would stop further editions of the book and not take any personal gains from it.
A few months earlier, the US Journal of Biological Chemistry (JBC) retracted a research paper by Gopal Kundu and his colleagues at Pune’s National Centre for Cell Science (NCCS). Kundu was accused of using the same data or images relating to proteins in two unconnected articles submitted to the journal. Kundu holds there was “absolutely no wrongdoing” by his team. He says another international journal has accepted the data.
But the authorities are still wary of confronting such accusations. Three committees, for instance, looked into the Kundu affair. A seven-member panel of top scientists exonerated him despite JBC’s withdrawal of the paper. Panel chairman G. Padmanaban says the journal’s decision was not “wrong”, but “harsh”.
The inconsistency between the Padmanaban committee’s views and JBC’s decision to withdraw Kundu’s paper has prompted some scientists to take the issue up. Rahul Siddharthan, a physicist and computational biologist at the Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai, says he stepped into the controversy with “a sense of deep indignation” at the way the committee decided to dispose of the case. He says the duplication — intentional or unintentional — of images is so “blatantly obvious” that he cannot understand how a top scientists’ committee can dismiss the charges.
Some scientists at Lucknow’s Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants have complained to the SSV that their director, Suman Preet Singh Khanuja, has been claiming credit for too many research papers. Since he took over as director in 2001, Khanuja has published more than 140 papers and staked his claim to at least 40 patents. Some question how a director can find time to produce on an average 20 research papers a year. A large number of the papers appeared in a journal produced by his institution and of which he is the chief editor.
Here are some excerpts from a Friday Times Op Ed by University of Wisconsin's Dr Howard Schweber who
taught students at a private university in Lahore, Pakistan and found them bright, resourceful and highly confused. He particularly singles out lack of general education and consequent lack of critical thinking skills as problems:
.... the students I met and taught reveals more mysteries. Some had serious problems with English, particularly in their writing, but most were extremely well prepared as far as language skills were concerned. It is when we look beyond language skills that puzzles begin to appear. What was most startling was the realization that these students were palpably uncomfortable with abstract concepts and what people in Education Schools call ‘critical thinking skills.’ When I raised this point to faculty and alumni, every one without exception acknowledged the problem, and pointed to the system of secondary education as the culprit. Undoubtedly the point is correct, but I think there is a deeper observation to be made here. In addition to being uncomfortable with abstract concepts, these students and their families seem to be uncomfortable with the idea of knowledge that is not justified by an immediate practical application. That discomfort extends to a reluctance to embrace basic scientific research as well as the humanities. I heard from students who wanted to study theoretical physics whose parents insisted that they become engineers; students who wanted to become historians whose parents did not see the point. The same attitudes exist in other places to be sure, but among my Pakistani students it seemed almost universal.
Part of the reason for this discomfort with abstraction may have to do with a curiously limited range of background knowledge. My students – many of whom, again, had graduated from the finest schools – knew almost literally nothing of non-Pakistani history and culture. The reason is not that Pakistan is culturally isolated – far from it. At one point I found myself confronted by a room full of students who had an exhaustive knowledge of the movies that were Oscar candidates last year, but among whom the vast majority had never heard of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. In general, students had no idea – not even a wrong idea! – about the significance of the French Revolution or World War I, the history of nationalism and empires, the contents of the Book of Genesis, the Scientific Revolution or the Renaissance. Again, when I pressed students, faculty members and alumni, the answer was always the same: the fault lies with the secondary school curriculum, and particularly the fact that during General Zia ul Haq’s rule secondary school curricula were shifted to emphasize Pakistan Studies and Islam at the expense of everything else. Again, that can only be a very partial explanation. But it is worth noting that this lack of cultural literacy helps feed the culture of conspiracy theories for which Pakistan is justly famous.
But what happens once these students get to college? I saw and heard about fine courses in Shakespeare and Islamic Jurisprudence, but when it comes to the social sciences it appears that the students who learn anything about these subjects at all (that is, those who choose to take courses outside of Accounting and Finance) are fed a steady diet of snippets of readings and excerpts from trendy current theories. Many students could and were eager to could talk fluently about Edward Said, Noam Chomsky, and (rather weirdly) Nazi Germany, but Locke and Rousseau, Machiavelli and Madison, Cromwell and Marx were all equally unknown territory. Undoubtedly, at this point I will be accused of Western ethnocentricism; how many American college students know the names of the first four Moghul Emperors?
Here's a story about the promise of Danish Schools, a series of boarding schools being set up in Pakistani Punjab by the provincial govt of chief minister Sahbaz Sharif for the poor as an alteranative to the madrassa system:
Outside the window, a Pakistani flag flutters, inside, a teacher asks a group of 6th-grader girls and boys, “Who can make a food chain?” A girl comes up to the board and uses a pen as a mouse to click and drag an animated plant to the first box, a worm to the second and a bird to the third. “Excellent,” Says the teacher. She goes and sits down with a smile on her face.
This is not an ordinary board, it’s a smart board, the first of its kind in Pakistan, and this is no ordinary school. Inaugurated January 18th, The Danish School System at Rahim Yar Khan stands in stark contrast to the rural terrain of this Southern Punjab city. Children enrolled in this school have to fit a certain criteria, not just that they have to pass an entry test, but they have to either have a missing parent, or both parents, they have to have an illiterate parent and they must have a monthly income of less than USD 100 - they must belong in short to the forgotten class of Pakistan’s poor and minorities.
This is affirmative action, giving the underprivileged a chance to have a level playing field. But how real is it? For one, it has the clear support of the government of Punjab which has faced severe criticism from all quarters about the surge of 25 billion rupees invested in a series of these purpose-built campuses for both girls and boys all over Punjab. These critics claim that money could have been better spent elsewhere on better alternatives like building roads or canals.
The Danish Schools stands as an alternative to madrassa education because the school provides free lodging and boarding to all its students. It not only gives students a rounded education in the sciences and the arts but also provides social and extracurricular exposure. An on call psychologist also monitors each of the student’s behavior and has counseling sessions with the children and their parent or gurdian for a smooth transition into boarding life.
Despite the challenges, there is a certain spark and energy in the entire Danish school core committee headed by LUMS Provost, Dr Zafar Iqbal Qureshi, and the teachers and students. At the inaugural ceremony, one child danced on Shakira’s Waka Waka, another child, Aasia Allah-Wasiah told a 500 odd gathering the story of her life, how she became an orphan and how Danish school was her only hope for a future.
Not all parents were this easily convinced of Danish School’s objectives. One asked the girls’ school principle, “Why would you give me back my child after giving her clothes and shoes and spending so much on her? I know this is a conspiracy to buy our children from us.”
Other parents objected to there being non-Muslim students eating in the same utensils. The management responded by saying “we all eat in the same plates as any Hindu or Christian boy because this school is for everyone equally.” Needless to say that Rahim Yar Khan, despite scattered industrial units is largely agrarian and the people are deeply influenced by the exclusivist brand of Wahabism.
With a meager amount of the GDP being spent on education, it is a positive sign to have politicians finally focus on this sector to secure their vote bank. With time the criticism towards these initiatives, such as the importance of Danish schools adopting the O-Levels system, may fine tune the programs into being more effective for the people. And especially those people who don’t have a voice.
The fundamental problems in South Asia are very different from problems in the West.
Solution to South Asian problems can not be found by aping the West...and original thinking is required to find such solutions.
Take individual liberties and rights for example.
The biggest beneficiaries of such rights are those few who have the power to enforce such rights for themselves through the use of the courts and the state apparatus, usually at the expense of the society at large. This situation leads to growing inequalities, and greater poverty for the majority.
Similarly, the western style capitalist economy encourages unrestrained growth in consumption...something that Asian nations with their massive populations and rapidly depleting natural resources can simply not afford.
No amount of cheap widget manufacturing, computer code writing and low-cost BPO services can solve these problems.
There is an estimate that it would take five times the resources of the planet earth for the rest the world to live as Americans do today.
What we need is to acknowledge that the developing world can not achieve the same standards of living as the OECD nations have without catastrophic destruction of the planet.
So what is the alternative? How do the Asians and the Africans achieve reasonable standards of living without destroying the planet? What political and economic system is needed to ensure equitable sharing of rapidly depleting resources of the earth?
These are the kinds of questions that need to be explored and answered by Asian intellectuals now.
Here is a sobering assessment of the education crisis in Pakistan, as reported by the BBC:
The Pakistani government says the country is in the midst of an educational emergency with disastrous human and economic consequences.
A report by a government commission found that half of all Pakistani school children cannot read a sentence.
The commission found funding for schools has been cut from 2.5% of GDP in 2005 to just 1.5% - less than the national airline gets in subsidies.
It describes the education crisis as a self-inflicted disaster.
The report says 25 million children in Pakistan do not get primary education, a right guaranteed in the country's constitution.
Three million children will never in their lives attend a lesson.
The report says that while rich parents send their children to private schools and later abroad to college or university, a third of all Pakistanis have spent less than two years at school.
"Millions of children are out of school, there is a crumbling infrastructure and education budgets are constantly shrinking but... the situation can be improved in a matter of years if there is a political will for change," the report says.
It says that at the current rate of progress Punjab province will provide all children with their constitutional right to education by 2041 while Balochistan province - the worst affected area - will not reach this goal until 2100.
The report says that only 6% of children in the country get their education in religious schools or madrassas.
The commission found that:
* 30,000 school buildings are so neglected that they are dangerous
* 21,000 schools do not have a school building at all
* Only half of all women in Pakistan can read, in rural areas the figure drops to one third
* There are 26 countries poorer than Pakistan who still manage to send more of their children to school
* Only 65% of schools have drinking water, 62% have latrines, 61% a boundary wall and 39% have electricity
The report said that Pakistan - in contrast to India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh - has no chance of reaching the UN's Millennium Development Goals for education by 2015.
The findings also affect population growth - because educated women have smaller families with children who are healthier and more inclined to use their own education to nurture the next generation.
The report concludes that if the government doubled its present spending on education, significant progress could be made in just two years.
The quality of primary and secondary education is clearly important in preparing students for higher education, and there has lately been a lot of hand wringing on about declining test scores in the US, particularly with respect to minority kids in schools.
Here are some of my thoughts on it:
1. With a PISA reading score of 500, US kids outperformed those in Germany( 497), France (496) and UK (494).
2. Based on PISA reading scores as analyzed by Steve Sailer, US Asians (score 541) are just below Shanghai students (556), US whites (525) outperform all of their peers in Europe except the Finns, and US Hispanics (466) and US Blacks (441) significantly outperform kids in dozens of countries spread across Asia, Latin America and Middle East.
For example, US Hispanics did better than Turks, Russians, Serbians, and all of Latin America.
In fact US Hispanics outperformed all BRIC nations with the exception of China.
And US Blacks did better than Bulgaria, Mexico, Thailand, Brazil, Jordan, Indonesia, Argentina, etc.
3. The only data available for India is 2003 TIMMS on which they ranked 46 on a list of 51 countries. Their score was 392 versus avg of 467. They performed very poorly. It was contained in a report titled "India Shining and Bharat Drowning".
I think Pakistani kids would probably also perform poorly on PISA and TIMMS if these tests administered there.
Whys is India not a scientific power, asks an Op Ed in The Hindu:
.....It is the robustness of scientific research and innovation that sets apart great powers from the mediocre ones.
We have good scientists, but why has India not produced outstanding scientists who make path-breaking discoveries that will make the world sit up and take notice? Should we continue to be satisfied with tweaking borrowed technologies? Is reverse engineering an innovative phenomenon?
All debates about scientific research inevitably end up zeroing in on the deficiencies of our educational system as the root cause of the abysmal record in scientific research. This is only part of the story.
A nation's culture — belief systems, values, attitudes — plays a significant role in determining the quality of scientific research. The Oriental attitudes differ from the Occidental values in many respects. Asian societies are basically collectivist, that is, the collective good of society ranks higher than individual happiness and achievements. People do not ask what they can do for their country; they are always asking what the country will do for them. They look up to the state for guidance, leadership and direction. There is no burning individual ambition to excel and achieve something new.
In the West, individuals try to achieve their potential through their own efforts, aided and facilitated by enabling laws and institutions. Self-reliance is the key objective of life. An independent life requires a free and questioning mindset that takes nothing for granted and constantly challenges conventional wisdom. Children are encouraged to push the frontiers of knowledge by self-examination and open-minded enquiry. It is only a sceptical and dissenting mind that often thinks out of the box to explore new vistas of knowledge.
Collectivism promotes conformism and deference to authority whether it is parents, elders, teachers or the government. It is heresy to question established values and customs.
We pass on our passivity and uncritical attitudes to our children. No wonder, the educational system encourages rote learning and unquestioning acceptance of what is taught in the classrooms and stated in the textbooks. How can we expect our children to suddenly develop an enquiring and inquisitive attitude when they have been brought up in a milieu that discourages ‘disruptive' thoughts?
India and China were once advanced nations before foreign rule drained their resources and sapped their willpower and scientific traditions. Cultures tend to become conservative and defensive when subjected to long spells of colonial exploitation.
Indians are great believers in destiny. But our tradition does not frown upon free will and individual excellence. We must realise that our ability for free action remains unhampered despite what destiny may hold in store for us.
Fear of failure
Another flaw in our culture that prevents individual excellence is the fear of failure. The stigma associated with failure makes our children risk-averse while choosing their courses and careers.
Scientific research is a long-drawn war on received wisdom that requires many battles before it can be won. Science was not built in a day. Some of the battles can end in defeat. In the West, they celebrate failure as a stepping stone to success.
Educational reforms must be preceded by mental deconditioning of parents, teachers, educationists and policymakers — throwing away the cobwebs of uncritical submissiveness to conventional knowledge. Let us bring up a generation that will not hesitate to ask inconvenient questions. This generation will be the torch-bearer of a scientific revolution that will unleash cutting-edge research to make the Nobel Prize committee sit up and take notice....
Here are excerpts of an article by Dr. Ata-ur-Rehman published in Pakistan Herald:
On July 23, 2006, an article was published in the leading daily Indian newspaper Hindustan Times, titled “Pak threat to Indian science.” It was reported that Prof C N R Rao (chairman of the Indian prime minister’s Scientific Advisory Council), had made a detailed presentation to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh about the rapid strides that Pakistan was making in the higher education sector after the establishment of the Higher Education Commission in October 2002 and my appointment as its first chairman. The article began with the sentence “Pakistan may soon join China in giving India serious competition in science.”
Serious apprehensions were expressed before the Indian prime minister at the rapid progress being made by Pakistan in the higher education and science sectors, first under the ministry of science and technology after my appointment as the federal minister of science and technology of Pakistan in 2000, and later under the Higher Education Commission. It was stressed during the presentation to the Indian prime minister that if India did not take urgent measures to upgrade its own higher education sector, Pakistan would soon take the lead in key areas of higher education, science and technology.
Something remarkable happened in Pakistan during the short period from 2000 to 2008 that rang alarm bells in India. It also drew unmitigated praise from neutral international experts. Three independent and authoritative reports, praising the outstanding performance of the HEC, were published by the World Bank, Usaid and the British Council. Pakistan won several international awards for the revolutionary changes in the higher education sector brought about under the leadership of the writer. The Austrian government conferred its high civil award “Grosse Goldene Ehrenzeischen am Bande” (2007) on the writer for transforming the Higher Education sector in Pakistan. The TWAS (Academy of Sciences for the Developing World, Italy) Award for Institutional Development was conferred on the writer at the academy’s 11th general conference in October 2009.
Prof Michael Rode, the chairman of the United Nations Commission on Science, Technology and Development and presently heading a Network of European and Asian Universities (ASIA-UNINET), wrote: “The progress made was breathtaking and has put Pakistan ahead of comparable countries in numerous aspects. The United Nations Commission on Science and Technology has closely monitored the development in Pakistan in the past years, coming to the unanimous conclusion that (the) policy and programme is a ‘best-practice’ example for developing countries aiming at building their human resources and establishing an innovative, technology-based economy.”
Pakistan was poised to make a major breakthrough in transitioning from a low value-added agricultural economy to a knowledge economy. Alas, corrupt politicians with forged degrees plotted to destroy this wonderful institution where all decisions were merit-based, a trait unacceptable to many in power. A government notification was issued on Nov 30, 2010, to fragment the HEC and distribute the pieces. At this point I intervened. It was on my appeal to it that the Supreme Court declared the fragmentation of the HEC to be unconstitutional. The development budget of the HEC has, however, been slashed by 50 percent and most development programmes in universities have come to a grinding halt.
The Indian government need not have worried. We Pakistanis, alas, know how to destroy our own institutions.
Pak threat to Indian science
Pakistan may soon join China in giving India serious competition in science. “Science is a lucrative profession in Pakistan. It has tripled the salaries of its scientists in the last few years.” says Prof C.N.R. Rao, Chairman of the Prime Minister’s Scientific Advisory Council.
In a presentation to the Prime Minister, Rao has asked for a separate salary mechanism for scientists. The present pay structure, he says, is such that “no young technical person worth his salt would want to work for the Government or public sector”.
He adds, “You needn’t give scientists private sector salaries, but you could make their lives better, by say, giving them a free house.”
Giving his own example, he says, “I have been getting a secretary’s salary for the last 35 years. But I have earned enough through various awards.
But I can raise a voice for those who aren’t getting their due.” Last year, Rao won the prestigious Dan David Award, from which he created a scholarship fund. So far, he has donated Rs 50 lakh for scholarship purposes.
The crisis gripping Indian science seems to be hydra-headed. “None of our institutes of higher learning are comparable with Harvard or Berkeley,” points out Rao. The IITs, he says, need to improve their performance: a faculty of 350 produces only about 50 PhD scholars a year. “That’s one PhD per 5-6 faculty members,” says the anguished Professor.
Rao fears that India’s contribution to world science would plummet to 1-1.5 per cent if we don’t act fast. At present, India’s contribution is less than three per cent. China’s is 12 per cent.
“We should not be at the bottom of the pile. When I started off in the field of scientific research at 17-and-a-half, I had thought that India would go on to become a top science country. But now, 55 years later, only a few individuals have made it to the top grade,” he laments.
Details of latest supercomputer at NUST in Pakistan by HPC Wire:
Following India’s announcement of installing that country’s fastest supercomputer, news out of Islamabad reports that Pakistan has just unveiled its speediest super as well.
The system will reside at the Research Center for Modeling and Simulation (RCMS), which was acquired by Pakistan’s National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST) through a grant provided by the country’s Ministry of Science and technology. An inauguration event was held where RCMS Principal, Sikandar Hayat noted that the new system is the fastest GPU-based parallel computer in the country.
The system, known as ScREC, is named after the university’s supercomputing research and education center. The cluster consists of 66 nodes equipped with a total of 30,992 cores. The NUST site breaks down the components as follows: 32 dual-socket quad-core nodes, 32 NVIDIA GPUs, a QDR InfiniBand interconnect, and 26.1 TB of storage. Specifics on the CPU or GPU parts were not provided.
While Linpack performance has not been posted, the system runs at a peak of 132 teraflops. Given that most GPU-accelerated TOP500 systems only achieve about a 50 percent Linpack yield of peak performance (depending upon the CPU-GPU ratio and interconnect), the system should deliver at least 60 Linpack teraflops. That would place the system in the current list, giving Pakistan a slot in the TOP500. Unfortunately the rankings are a moving target, and the June update may well exclude sub-60-teraflop machines. The slowest supercomputer on the current TOP500 is at 51 teraflops.
ScREC will be used to assist NUST with research in the areas of computational biology, computational fluid dynamics, image processing, cryptography, medical imaging, geosciences, computational finance, and climate modeling. Specifically, RCMS is currently developing a direct simulation Monte Carlo (DSMC) method for subsonic nanoscale gas flows. Other projects include external flow analysis of heavy vehicles to reduce fuel consumption, and numerical investigation on performance and stability of axial compressors used in aircraft engines and gas turbines.
In a welcome address, Rector Nust Engr Muhammad Asghar said, “This will give an impetus for collaborative research between universities and other research organizations within the country and abroad.” and explained that the new facility will inspire scholars studying abroad to return to Pakistan.
Pakistan’s investment in terascale computing exhibits a willingness to promote scientific research – a forward-leaning strategy for a developing nation on the cusp of becoming industrialized. Unlike India’s HPC plans, Pakistan is not attempting to join the ‘supercomputing elite’ here, but rather to promote science collaborations, while creating an incentive for Pakistani researchers and engineers who work abroad to return to the country.
Here's a News story about HEC's performance:
To get an understanding of the working of Higher Education Commission (HEC) and developments occurred in the last few years in the sector of higher education in Pakistan, an official delegation of representatives from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan visited HEC head office here in Islamabad.
HEC’s Executive Director, Professor Dr S. Sohail H. Naqvi welcomed the delegation and apprised them about the functions and role of HEC for strengthening the higher education sector in Pakistan. He informed that the establishment of the HEC in 2002 has heralded a revolution in higher education in Pakistan. “The HEC has accomplished more in nine years since its establishment than was achieved in the first 55 years of Pakistan’s existence.”
He said that research output has grown eight-folds since 2002 (from 815 in 2002 to 6,200 in 2011) whereas 80 per cent of these research publications from Pakistan are coming from higher education institutions (HEIs). Naqvi further mentioned that output has more than doubled just in the last three years and is expected to double again in the next 3 years.
He claimed that Pakistan today is a regional leader in ICTs, which other countries are following. The digital library provides access to 75% of the world’s literature (23,000 e-journals and 45,000 e-books). He also informed that due to revolutionary reforms in the sector, Pakistani universities have been included among the top world and Asian universities and Pakistani higher education model is being followed by other Asian countries.
He also highlighted the development strategy of HEC and various steps undertaken to improve quality of teaching and research, equitable access to higher education, university-industry and community linkages and human resource development in Pakistan. The delegation appreciated the role of HEC in brining vibrant and effective changes in the higher education sector of Pakistan and showed keen interest for collaboration with HEC and Pakistani higher education institutions.
The delegation also visited Quaid-i-Azam University and National University of Science and Technology and attended the presentations about these two leading universities. The delegation was led by Sardarbekov, Deputy Governor of Naryn Oblast, Kyrgyzistan and Farkhod Rakhimov, First Deputy Minister Ministry of Education, Tajikistan. Shamsh Kassim Lakha, former federal minister of science and technology and Asadullah Sumbal, senior economist Asian Development Bank along with senior officials of the university of the Central Asia accompanied the delegation.
Soft-spoken education revolutionary Sal Khan has a few ideas for how to radically overhaul higher education. First, create a universal degree that’s comparable to a Stanford degree, and second, transform the college transcript into a portfolio of things that students have actually created.
Khan is the founder, executive director, and faculty member at the Khan Academy, an online education provider.
Speaking at the Atlantic’s Navigate tech conference, Khan said that the online education providers and independent technology “boot camp” schools will end up playing an important role in pressuring legacy universities to change their outdated ways.
“I feel like society is ripe for challenging the model of school” he told The Atlantic’s editor, James Bennett, earlier this week.
“The credentialing piece is somewhat broken now,” Khan said. “A very small fraction of the population has the opportunity to attend a university that is broadly known.”
To that end, Khan said that he is working on a universal credentialing system that could compare a graduate of “Stanford or Harvard” by their raw abilities. Presumably, this credential would have to be some type of evaluation that would test and measure the abilities of all students, thereby making the granting institution irrelevant.
Last year, Sebastian Thrun, the CEO of online education provider Udacity, and California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom announced a tech industry credentialing system, the Open Education Alliance, with Khan Academy as partner.
Since then, Udacity has developed its own credential for the tech industry, the nanodegree. Similarly, Coursera, another online education provider, started awarding a “signature track” certificate to the graduates of some its tech courses.
Khan has not developed its own credential yet. Most important, neither Udacity nor Coursera has developed a degree or certificate that is comparable to a Stanford Degree. Both rely on the reputation of the granting organization — as opposed to some kind of test score. So, until Khan develops something more objective, a Stanford degree is still going to be a lot more valuable than anything else on the market.
Portfolios instead of transcript
At one point in the talk, a mother with children attending the University of California Berkeley expressed her frustration that her kids were having to turn to Khan Academy online videos to learn real world skills. She wondered how a $60,000 ultra-selective tier I degree could somehow not teach those skills.
Khan, who holds a Master’s in engineering from MIT, said that schools have dropped the ball on preparing graduates for the real world. Instead of graduating with a list of courses and a GPA, each student should have a portfolio of products.
“The transcript coming out of engineering school should essentially be the things that you’ve created,” he said.
Exams and grades are much (much) easier to administer to thousands of students. Having each student create some type of product (like a gadget or program) for graduation would require far more faculty time. There’s a lot of institutional inertia against doing anything that complicated.
Despite the fact that top tech companies like Google have publicly admitted that they don’t care very much about college degrees, colleges have not been moved to equip graduates with a portfolio of products for graduation. Khan suspects that online providers, like his Academy and others in the education space, will ultimately pressure colleges to change.
Here’s to hoping they do it soon.
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