Monday, September 9, 2019

Myth of Science and Technology as Panacea for our Backwardness

The mythology that has been sold to the entire Muslim world and especially in Pakistan is that our backwardness is because of our backwardness in Science and Technology. Hence, S n T became the holy grail for progress and development. Everyone is willing to invest in Science and Technology, whether it has been Zia's government and Dr. Mahboob ul Haq's drive for S n T scholarships, or whether it is the political governments of the 90s or the Musharaff era (1999-2008) when Dr Ata ur Rahman was at the helm of S n T and HEC. Funds were lavished on S n T. The underlying assumption behind this myth was that the society would magically transform itself when we have x-thousand S n T PhDs; y-thousand professors with high impact factor; n-thousand Thompson Reuters IFJ publications and z-thousand state of the arts labs spread all over the country. After spending of hundreds of billions of tax payers money we find ourselves back to the starting point.

Covered Drains of Moenjodoro

Myth of Bigger Infrastructure Means Better Education

Myth: Bigger Infrastructure Means Better Education:
We were told that only high quality universities should be allowed to come up. Primary criteria for high quality was the size of the campus, covered area and other brick and mortar facilities. HEC, SHEC, PHEC, CIEC and their institutional proformas are replete with questions about the size of the campus, size of the offices for Deans, Faculty and other officials. They ask about playgrounds, auditorium, hostels etc. The conventional wisdom started suggesting the private sector universities starting in rented bungalows somehow will not be able to provide quality education. This argument was sold in spite of knowing about the history of many of our big universities now.

We all know how Aligarh University came up as MAO College in 1875. Sir Syed Ahmed Khan collected donations through the dancing girls that was much criticized at that time. Later in 1920s, the college became Aligarh Muslim University and eventually led the establishment of Pakistan.

We are told how Karachi University started its operations after the partition from the house of its first VC. A "taat" rag (from a sack) was used as a divider to separate the household from the office of the university. The university started with departments having no more than a couple of teachers.

More recently LUMS started in 1980s in a couple of rented bunglows and now boasts one of the more impressive campuses in the private sector spanning over hundred acres. There are so many examples in the private sector going through such transformations who had started their existence from humble beginnings.

FAST NU, UMT, MAJU, CUST and so many other universities all started from rented banglows.

A university is determined not by its buildings and infrastructure but by the commitment of its teachers and efficient and equitable processes.

This myth equates better quality with a ranking criteria that is biased towards the funding priorities of the donor commission. Actually the donor agencies would like to feel good about the funding that they are making and would like to justify their existence. There is a conflict of interest somewhere in such rankings.

They are purported to be quality ranking, but are actually "quantity" rankings because they are just counting the following:

– Bigger buildings (brick and mortar)
– More equipment
– More budget
– More faculty
– More numbers

The myth is perpetuated by measuring the input and not the output. Because the figures of the output are quite disturbing.

Hence, we see that neither the output nor the process being emphasized by the HEC Criteria for ranking. We would not find any of the following elements in the published ranking criteria:
– Processes
– Systems
– Culture
– Quality of graduates

For example, we still see many big universities inserting news items in the newspapers that they have announced the results! The fact that it becomes a news that the university has announced its results indicates that their processes are still in their infancy. For them announcing of admissions is also a news. Admissions and results announcements are not news, they are part of a process that should be automatic, predictable and scheduled events.

Our policy makers in Islamabad scramble for a foreign yatra whenever they get funds. Coming back from such trips they bring presents like GATT, WTO, Washington Accord or QS rankings to justify these visits. There may be some good ideas in there but the whole package should have been processed and thoroughly internalized through courage, time, effort and research to develop our own nationally relevant versions of such criteria. We talk about ISI research publications, but follow no such methodology in implementing such imported ideas. None of these systems before their promotion, implementation and adoption are passed through an impact factor ISI research that establishes their relevance to our context. We do not conduct any pilot studies, or study of the reliability and validity of the standards and criteria. We have seen how through WTO we were forced to let go of all the subsidies to our local market but when the time came for European nations and USA to let go of their subsidies, they dragged their feet and never did away with their own local subsidies. The result was that our whole economy got rocked in the process. However, when eventually those countries realized that they may have to do away with their nationally relevant subsidies they actually stifled the whole initiative and moved towards bilateral and multilateral agreements, jumping out of the WTO bandwagon that was designed to stifle the economies of the blind followers of the third world countries.

I suspect there is a clique of our intelligentsia in Islamabad that sits down, brainstorm and come up with a copy of some international system that will involve lots of money being spent, contracts being given, hardware being acquired and boxes being bought with only a cursory mention of the output generated through these investments.




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This write-up is an extended rehash of the ideas presented in a talk on "Five Major Myths of Higher Education" made at the CIO Conference, March 2009 at Sheraton, Karachi. See another link



This is the 4th of the Five Major Myths of Higher Education in Pakistan:
  1. Our backwardness is because of science and technology 
  2. There is mushrooming of educational institutions in Pakistan 
  3. Public universities cost lower than private universities 
  4. Bigger infrastructure (land, building, equipment) means better education 
  5. Impact Factor research measures real impact



Traditions of Eid: Reflections of Past Eids and Future

This is a time to reflect on our traditions and culture of Eid. I am wondering how many of Pakistanis are still experiencing these. There are some disturbing posts on facebook and through some of my interactions that tell me that it is not only time to reflect but also to rekindle them through a sustained effort. Here I reflect on my life and learning over the last 55 years with many of these traditions

Eidi

  1. Visit to graves of loved ones
  2. Visit to relatives esp elders
  3. Visits from younger relatives
  4. Ziafat for guests
  5. Giving of eidi to children
  6.  Use of perfume
  7. Wearing of good dresses
  8. Distribution of sweet dishes
  9. Preparation for EID prayers
  10. Going to an open ground for EID prayers
  11. Eid embrace with guests, relatives, neighbors
  12. Celebrating EID. Not just sleeping through the EID days
  13. Exchange of EID Mubarak cards/messages

My war hero of 1965 War: Major (R) Shah M Ismail at Chawinda Tank Battle.

My hero of 1965 War: Major (R) Shah M Ismail at Chawinda Tank Battle.
Rauf Mamoo (as known in the family) related to us of his experience at Chawinda battlefield in the 1965 India-Pakistan war.
Major Shah M Ismail

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Dr Salim Mehmud and my Brush with SUPARCO during the 1980s

I spent 6 months in SUPARCO in 1987 before resigning and leaving for US for PhD. They were trying to design for several years a signal-filter chip that was available for a few hundred rupees in Saddar. We had nothing to do in the Computer Department where I was working. The commute time from City to Factory in Somiani was about 1.5hrs. Vans will come and pick us up early in the morning before 6. We were pretty tired and sleepy as we reach the factory at around 7am. Often the department employees would spread the packing material and sleep in the corners behind computers in the chilled computer center. The enterprising among us would sit on Autocad and design fun machine diagrams such as Space Shuttle (only its drawing, not the technical construction). The higher management was busy in making indents for purchasing materials and equipment. Their interest appeared more to be in commissions than in the usage of equipment. One could see expensive equipment lying around rotting.  Ran typically as a bureaucratic organization, the objective of the top management was not to allow people to work. So everyone was doing nothing but looking busy. Chairman was Dr Salim Mehmud, who was at the helm of affairs for around a decade. I think his mandate was neither to do any thing nor allow any one to do anything. Once in early 1980s, much before joining SUPARCO, while I was still a student of engineering and was a regular member and visitor of American Center, Dr Salim Mehmud was invited as a guest speaker at American Center Science Club. After his presentation there, I asked him a question. The question was based on science articles by Mr Azeem Quidwai in Dawn that I used to read regularly. Around that time, I had read some articles about the satellite slots allotted to Pakistan, which if not utilized, would be lost. The question that I asked was given that there is only limited space available for geostationary satellites,  why Pakistan had not occupied the 3 spaces allotted to it. Pakistan had at that time already lost some allotted space or was about to lose some. He got angry at my question, and instead of replying effectively shut me down. At that time I was too young (around 21) to understand what was in the question that irritated him so much! It was much later that I realized the question was actually pointing out his key weakness. I recall we were left with only one last space in 1999-2000. I remember Mr  Salman Ansari, Advisor to Dr Ata Ur Rahman, managed to get a dying satellite moved to this space just to fill and occupy the space up till such time a worthy satellite could be acquired and moved into that slot.
Dr Salim Mehmud

DoN Quixote PCO CJP Saqib Nisar who godfathered Sancho Panza Imran Khan

DoN Quixote and his Sancho Panzas tilting at the windmills.
1: DoN Quixote tilting at the windmills, through the Sancho Panza 2018-2023. Fighting the enemy of states: poor street vendors, irregular shops, all sectors of economy, auto sector, energy sector, real state sector, and the tax chor 99% of Pakistan population, lower class, middle class, rich class, politicians... .

What Should New Students of a University Must Consider: Essentials of a University Education

Why Education and Why Higher Education

  • What is the Purpose of Education
  • What does it mean to be well educated and what is our mission
  • What is Higher Education
  • What is Impact can you create
  • What Impact on Society
  • What Impact on Industry and Economy
  • What should be your personal Impact 

Saturday, September 7, 2019

5 Challenges for Designing your Professional Lives

Faculty, Parents and my dear students:
As I look at your beaming faces full of hope and aspirations and great expectations of your future after four years of university life, I first invite you to try to soak in this environment of this marvelous infrastructure at IoBM. You are sitting in the building which is name after the founder president of this institute Mr Shahjehan S Karim who left for the hereafter two years ago. This campus, which is spread over 10 acres and consists of several buildings like this one, is a concrete realization of the dream of Mr Shahjehan S Karim, who envisioned IoBM to be one of the the leading institutions, nationally and internationally, renowned for its contribution to education and society. Please note that he envisioned this around 25 years ago in 1994, after he had retired from a long illustrious service with the government! Mind you, the age of 60 is the time when most think of retiring and folding up their lives with reading or writing. SSK starting a new professional endeavor and working vigorously into his 80s should be an inspiration for all of us. If he can envision such a grand project at 60 and bring it to realization over the next 20+ years, you can also dream big and work for its realization. You have much more time and energy, you are in your youthful late teens and early 20s. You are about to embark on your professional life. You too can create a similar vision and work for its realization over the rest of your life. As I say this, I am reminded of my start, some 40 years ago at NED in early 1980. For me those last 40 years have passed within a blink of an eye. I wish my professional education would have started with a concrete inspiration like this vision. But, as Mr Shehjehan S Karim's life tells us, it is never too late. [Sep 7, 2019 Orientation for Fall 2019 Intake at IoBM]