On one level, the report about students in Punjab selling the laptops they were given for free by Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif is good news since it shows that the spirit of entrepreneurship is alive and well among the youth of Pakistan. But it also reveals how totally flawed this laptop scheme was to begin with. According to a report, two billion rupees from the higher education budget has been diverted to this scheme which has now cost the taxpayer a total of four billion rupees. The first problem with the plan was that it did not target which students to hand out the laptops to and nor was income level taken into account. The result was that pricey colleges were now receiving a gift — thanks to taxpayers’ money — that they could already afford. It should come as no surprise, then, that some enterprising recipients are taking advantage of this largesse to make a bit of spare cash.
From the beginning it seemed as though the laptop scheme was more of a publicity stunt for the PML-N in the run-up to the elections. It did nothing to take into account the needs of the students. In a province where there are power outages for more than half-the-day, where a lot of students lack basic literacy skills and where there exists a shortage of qualified instructors, gifting students a laptop was not going to solve their need for a sound education. The chief minister would have been far wiser to spend these funds on improving facilities at schools and training more teachers.
Gifting laptops to students is like providing them with a high-speed sports car before they have learned how to drive. The point is not that they can’t find any use for the laptops; simply that there are more crucial tools they need to add to their educational arsenal first. The failure of this scheme provides insight into how government funded plans need to be well thought out and should be implemented keeping in mind the long-term interest of all those concerned instead of short-term glorification.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 6th, 2012.