Free laptops is not the answer. What is?

Published: April 29, 2012

The writer teaches physics and political science at LUMS. He holds a doctorate in physics from MIT

To loud applause at a special distribution ceremony on Pakistan Day, PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif declared: “We do not give weapons in the hands of youngsters, we give them laptops; we give them education.” The laptop scheme is the brainchild of kid brother Shahbaz Sharif, chief minister of Punjab. He says that the Punjab government plans to distribute a further 300,000 laptops — in addition to the 100,000 already distributed — as a “weapon against poverty and ignorance”.

The Sharifs are surely to be commended for preferring computers over Kalashnikovs (some of their political rivals would want it the other way around). But laptops are not silver bullets that can transform Pakistan’s education. Cost is not the main issue. Of course, we do know that Dell laptops, purchased at Rs 37,700 apiece, are more expensive than the Rs2,200 indigenous product developed by Tata for use in India’s schools. Possible cuts and commissions by middlemen, and allegations of unfair distribution, also cannot be ruled out. But this too is a peripheral matter.

Instead, the central question is: how exactly are these laptops to combat poverty and ignorance, or improve education? The answer is not clear in any developing country but is even muddier in Pakistan. The purchased computers did not come loaded with school books, supplementary educational materials, or programmes like “Comic Life” which make math learning fun. There are no locally-developed programmes, and none in Urdu or any local language. Nor have schoolteachers been trained to deal with computers as a teaching tool. Of course, there will be some Google searching and perhaps some educational material will be downloaded. But overwhelmingly they will be used for chatting, surfing, or video games.

The false notion of technology as a magic wand has made our rulers euphoric from time to time. Few Pakistanis will remember the bulk purchase of Apple-II C computers for schools at the end of the 1980s. General Ziaul Haq’s minister of education, Dr Muhammad Afzal, (now deceased), was a progressive man in a religiously-charged government. Somehow he was seized with the notion that computers would revolutionise everything. In one of my occasional meetings with him, I unsuccessfully sought to persuade him that his idea was fundamentally flawed. Sadly, the warning turned out to be correct: it is likely that many machines were not even turned on before they were junked en masse 10-15 years later.

Earlier on, a still bigger revolution had been promised. Pakistan Television was founded on the premise that its core purpose would be education. At the invitation of the Pakistan government, a Unesco team visited Pakistan and met with the ministers of law, broadcasting, and education. In a subsequent report the team leaders, HR Cassirer and TS Duckmanton, wrote:

“We arrived in Lahore on October 10, 1960, where we were the guests of the Regional Director of Radio Pakistan, as well as the Provincial Department of Education. We pursued our consultations with officials concerned with the following: university and college education, primary and secondary education, vocational education, village aid, broadcasting, the Arts Council”. The report document does not even mention entertainment or news broadcasts, but has paragraphs on how telecourses should be conducted.

But PTV never made a sizeable contribution to education. For 50 years its broadcast content has been almost exclusively entertainment and news. In this period PTV has produced only two documentary serials that sought to popularise science for the general public, one in 1994 and the other in 2002. I can testify that these had the lowest priority accorded to any programme series; for months I was given the midnight shift and would work through on the editing until morning arrived, at which point I would go bleary-eyed to teach my classes at Quaid-e-Azam University.

These negative examples do not mean that technology is valueless for education. Far from it! Distance education, conveyed via laptops and notebooks, is clearly the future. Open Course Software (OCS) from the world’s best universities brings a wealth of knowledge to those who can absorb it; the clever instructional techniques of the Khan Academy helps millions of students across the world; and increasing interactive learning programmes are becoming more effective learning tools.

But students who benefit from internet resources already know what they are looking for; they have already achieved a certain level. A digital utopia cannot be constructed on a shaky educational base such as ours. Most Pakistani schools do not have the bare minimum infrastructure like blackboards, toilets, library, or wall posters. More importantly, they do not have competent teachers. Expectedly, the recently released Annual Status of Education Report paints a dismal picture of basic reading and writing skills. Laptops can do nothing to improve things here.

What about well-off city schools that do have reasonable infrastructure? Unfortunately here too, the laptop can presently play only a marginal role because, with some honourable exceptions, students mostly study for grades. If grades were awarded on the basis of real learning, it would be a different matter. But where money buys marks and cheating is rampant, the incentive for self-improvement diminishes. Moreover, exams test little beyond that contained in guidebooks or prescribed textbooks. They stress memorisation rather than internalisation of concepts. I think revamping the examination system will do more good than buying a million laptops.

Of course some good does come from merely connecting children to the internet. Nicholas Negroponte of MIT, who fathered the idea of one-child one-laptop, argues that children are naturally inquisitive and access to an internet-enabled computing device is sufficient to release their creative faculties. He says somehow they will “figure it out” and “learn to learn”. But this view is excessively optimistic.

Connectivity and access, already provided by cellphones, alone does not create a thinking mind. For example, consider Darul Ulum Haqqania at Akora Khattak. This ‘Harvard of madrassas’ has produced Mullah Omar as well as other such luminaries. It is awash in computers but, even in a hundred years from now, shall not have added an iota to the stock of human knowledge.

The bottom line: good education requires planning, organisation, integrity, resources and, above all, a mindset that is oriented towards the future and not the past. Techy hi-fi stuff has glitz, but it’s really the sub-stratum of thought that matters.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 30th, 2012.

Reader Comments (68)

  • Nadir
    Apr 29, 2012 - 8:18PM

    Well said!! But sadly, politicians talking about education and devising educational policies is extremely short-sighted for they only back cosmetic short term interventions for which they can take credit. Any long term policy, that will take a decade or more to deliver results is shunned, after all who knows who is in power 10 years from now?

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  • Kashif Daniyal
    Apr 29, 2012 - 8:22PM

    Instead of free laptops,the punjab govt. should make efforts to eliminate religious fascism which has spread widely in our society. Free license given to the religious lobby to spread their hatefilled propaganda throughout punjab has poisoned the minds of young children. strict action needs to be taken to reduce the influence of the religious lobby in punjab. Millions of children are being indoctrinated in madrassas which churn out millions of homophobic,misogynistic,bigoted students into our society.

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  • hina
    Apr 29, 2012 - 8:25PM

    agree :)

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  • Azhar Khan
    Apr 29, 2012 - 8:26PM

    All this money spent on laptops could have been better spent on setting up new primary schools so children instead of going into the factories of hate,i.e. madrassas ,could have gone into normal schools and gotten normal education.Religious brainwashing is the biggest problem facing punjab.

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  • Uzair Anwar
    Apr 29, 2012 - 8:32PM

    Will these laptops stop the suicide bombers and morality brigades that are widespread in punjab? Why is the strongest support for religious bigotry present in KPK and Punjab? The university students getting laptops are already indoctrinated by the religious brigades,what good will giving them laptops achieve,they will only use the internet to spread rightwing religious propaganda.

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  • Apr 29, 2012 - 8:34PM

    We need people like you in politics.

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  • Sayyed Mehdi
    Apr 29, 2012 - 8:40PM

    Fully agreed. It is pretty sad that our ruling parties are not just corrupt, but also completely incompetent.

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  • faraz
    Apr 29, 2012 - 8:41PM

    Currently all Pakistanis want to resurrect the glorious past that never existed. Education and technology has fundamentally changed the world; but people are still stuck in medieval days when backward tribes unified under a charismatic leader and conquered more advanced empires.

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  • Ali S
    Apr 29, 2012 - 8:43PM

    Great article. But let’s not lose the focus here – the education system, however flawed it is as is, needs to be implemented the way it was meant to be, i.e. budgets not being siphoned off by unscrupulous officials, teachers coming to schools regularly. I know that it’s not an ideal solution, but it’s still the best way to get this very important issue off to a start immediately.

    In fact, most schools in rural areas must be required to offer the Jugnu Sabaq literacy program – what education can there be without literacy? Then we can gradually move onto revising the course material to make it more up-to-date and remove the hate-fueling historical biases. Conversion to digital media and computers is way out there – it seems like a quickie publicity campaign by PML-N to get votes more than an educational plan.

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  • Apr 29, 2012 - 9:26PM

    Very right. First the Child has to get the basics right. You need good teachers and a good system for that, not laptops.

    I wouldn’t have learned much if my father hadn’t sat beside everyday after school for 2 hours. No TV, only studying. Can’t thank him enough. In my case he was the teacher. But, not all South Asian kids have an intelligent, educated father/mother. So, good teachers are the basic requirements.

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  • Its (still) Econonmy Stupid
    Apr 29, 2012 - 9:54PM

    What a irony that students in Punjab are getting laptop and on the same day drone fired at insurgents occupying abonden girls school. Drone attack made the headline and condemnation but insurgent occupying a school and forcing girls to stay home never made the news.

    “it is likely that many machines were not even turned on before they were junked en masse 10-15 years later.” Does it means that at that time government will spend money on e-waste? I will be interested in authors comments on Right to Education debate andsd bill in India. Is such a policy will be helpful in Pakistan?

    Is it possible that these laptops are like allotment of subsidized plot of land to certain privilleged people who flip them at a market price and make a profit?

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  • Nawab
    Apr 29, 2012 - 9:57PM

    Its a shame when a non-profit organization such as The Citizens Foundation has better working schools and training for teachers than the Ministry of Education.

    Why aren’t we adopting The Citizens Foundation’s model en masse?

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  • Rehan Khan
    Apr 29, 2012 - 11:12PM

    Analysis Paralysis.
    You are suggesting, we need to stop any good work till every thing falls in place.
    The very system of education you are criticizing is creating Arfa Karim and likes.
    Though you have described as overly optimistic the views of Nicholas Negroponte, but I believe he is dead right in this age.

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  • musheir
    Apr 29, 2012 - 11:22PM

    free laptops may not be the siver bullet but every little helps i’m pretty sure there will be some students who wouldn’t have had the chance of owning a laptop and will surely make good use of it. no scheme is 100% effective anywhere in the world it isn’t bleak as some people paint. pakistan is listed in the top 10 countries for IT bpo.

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  • Falcon
    Apr 29, 2012 - 11:48PM

    As a whole, the exercise of laptop grants points to a much bigger issue, which is lack of understanding on the part of political elite to identify and prioritize social / economic solutions rather than giving in to the temptation of photo sessions. Isn’t it ridiculous that in a country where millions of kids are out of school because of lack of resources, limited govt. resources are being spent on giving laptops to students who can already afford reasonable education? Laptop is NOT a necessity, education for every kid of the nation is!

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  • Ali Wali
    Apr 29, 2012 - 11:59PM

    @Kashif Daniyal: It is wrong that Madrassas are churning out homophobes, because they are famous for men-on-men relationship. On serious note, I agree with the Dr Parvez that it is thinking that needs changing. Also Dr sahib was being a bit prudish by not saying that most of these laptops will be used to view pornography, as that would be valid suspicion given google research says Pakistanis browse porn sites more than anyone else in the World.

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  • Hasan Awan
    Apr 30, 2012 - 12:13AM

    @Rehan Khan: Well I dont think he outrightly rejected the idea of Distributing laptops but he rightly pointed out some discrepancies in this project and he stressed efficient usage of money on more priorities. In this article he never out rightly rejected the idea of laptops but he pointed out some that still our base of education in school and college level is not enough to exploit all opportunities from this project.

    @faraz: Lol You are absolutely right that our youth especially in Punjab and in KPK are tasked with the resurrection of golden past and i am pretty sure they will argue that How our ancestor brothers helped in developing the technology that leads us to the development of Laptops and in fact West is thankful to us for this development.

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  • Hedgefunder
    Apr 30, 2012 - 12:45AM

    Well written article, however Pakistan already has a generation of illiterates or educated with serious flaws as to their own history, so its time that they start spending funds on the next generation, instead of their Army, which is already doing rather well from its own commercial interests !!!
    But, this will not happen, as its Pakistan ! Another generation will turn out ill equipped to deal with modern world ! The winner here is the ambitious MULLAHS, who hope to occupy Islamabad one day soon !!!

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  • Aftab Kenneth Wilson
    Apr 30, 2012 - 12:52AM

    Sir, most of them are for sale in the market. Nothing will happen unless jehadi mindset is not taken care of. This is simply point scoring and wastage of government money. Cheap popularity.

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  • Khan
    Apr 30, 2012 - 1:02AM

    The right way is PLANNING, ORGANIZATION, REFORMATION, and INNOVATION; unfortunately, it is the HARD way too. Instead of reforming the existing schools and infrastructures, the Punjab govt is building DANISH schools and distributing laptops. These are nothing but political stunts and are directed to support the short-term political goals of the SHARIFS.

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  • a_writer
    Apr 30, 2012 - 1:11AM

    A well reasoned out article. This statement in the article caught my attention – “The purchased computers did not come loaded with school books, supplementary educational materials, or programmes like “Comic Life” which make math learning fun.”.
    Recently, there was a ’60minutes’ episode on CBS TV network in the US, about a website called khan academy (http://www.khanacademy.org ).This website has instructional materials in almost all subjects covered in schools in the US (and probably in most of the rest of the world). This was started by a gentleman, I believe of Pakistan origin. I have looked into it and what Mr.Khan has achieved is impressive and a great service to all school going kids. Best of all – the website is absolutely free. Mr.Bill Gates of Microsoft was so impressed with Mr.Khan’s work that he has even donated money to the efforts of Mr.Khan.

    I mentioned this website in case some parents or students or interested.

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  • saleem khan
    Apr 30, 2012 - 1:53AM

    Excellent Article. I admire the thought process and the direction,which this article assigns for Pakistan. I wish and hope that the “Harvard” of “Maddrassahs” and like wise institutions are shut down for good. The masses in Pakistan should realize that funding for these extremist religious production should be cut off. Common individual in Pakistan still thinks that any charitable donations to such institutions would erect so called “palace of gold and silver ” for them in Jannah . Education and only constructive education can achieve results .

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  • Hasan Awan
    Apr 30, 2012 - 6:10AM

    @a_writer: I know MR Khan. He is a Bengali Guy and he is a very nice guy. So no he is not of Pakistani Origin at all as he is a Bengali but his Project of Khan Academy is one of the best projects I have seen so far and it is better than Open Course ware projects.

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  • Asma Jamal
    Apr 30, 2012 - 7:51AM

    I read such comments from one gentleman before this programme was launched.Who will monitor use of this programme to circumvent abuse and waste of money.

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  • Sajida
    Apr 30, 2012 - 8:19AM

    They should be used for distance learning.
    Children should be encouraged to research their interests on the net. They should be given subjects to research on the net. The internet can supplement education and also help fill void of what is not provided.

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  • Abid Dasti
    Apr 30, 2012 - 8:36AM

    yes, This was the issue which i wanted to say you really port-raid the true picture of Lap top distribution, secondly PTV objective which now simply criticizing the Nawaz Sharif and Family using just as loud speaker against Sharifs, simple when the legends of the Mass Communications will be side lined and third class knowledge based people who just focused marketing , and classified cultural activities to make happy their masters would rule such organisations surely the decline is our fortune.

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  • Senman
    Apr 30, 2012 - 9:40AM

    This article is like cutting open the golden egg laying goose just for the sake of it. Shariff brothers have the right idea, may be they need to fine tune it but they have the right idea.
    Let us be honest no politician is going to help public without any leverage so we need to be appreciative of the ones that do. I hope people of Pakistan will support Shariff brothers in the coming election as that will indicate other (no good) politicians that the way to win is by helping the people and not killing them.

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  • Usmani
    Apr 30, 2012 - 10:19AM

    Actually the distribution of 1,00,000 laptop was started by the PML(N) to circumvent the popularity of PTI leader I khan in the young generation , particularly the seminars he was conducting in the universities to polularise the PTI.. I agree that it is the short sighted and wrong footed approach by our politician. The precious people money they floundered by such way,rather than contemplating a long term education solution.

    I suspect that they would have store the PMN-N man-shore or like the party propaganda in the laptop for the young people..

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  • Asad
    Apr 30, 2012 - 10:45AM

    What an insight……agree 100%

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  • Apr 30, 2012 - 10:58AM

    There is another loophole in this flawed scheme of the Punjab government- Out of the I00,000 people who received these laptops, I’m assuming more than half of these people won’t be able to afford “expensive” internet connections.
    Furthermore, most of the labs of our universities have deplorable labs and do not provide Ethernet cable excess for using internet on the laptops. Above that, only a selective universities in our country have computer labs to start with.

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  • Bilal
    Apr 30, 2012 - 11:33AM

    To be fair the PMLN initiative is more of a gimmick to address there falling stock with the youth of punjab nothing more. Also I dont think they understand the concept of distant learning. I am sure Mr. Hoodbhoy has been to most unis in pakistan … have u seen the libraries? There is nothing there I might have more books on IT than the library of some of so called unis in lahore. If this amount was spent on getting libraries with extra budget to allow students to access digital libraries it would have been great. Just going about giving laptops is a waste of resources and nothing else but thats what PMLN gives u :(

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  • Apr 30, 2012 - 12:05PM

    We need to focus on the basics of the education as mentioned by the Dr.Pervez Hoodbhoy in the article.

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  • omer
    Apr 30, 2012 - 12:11PM

    The problem with us is that we do not appreciate good things, our mentality is such that we always see the negative side. Why isn’t there any scheme introduced in Sindh, KPK and Balochistan although its easy for the provincial governments there as they are part of the ruling government and have no budget issues. Why laptop and taxi schemes are introduced by the Punjab government only? ONE SHOULD APPRECIATE such steps rather than criticizing. I guarantee that if the same scheme would have been implemented by other party such as PTI or PPP people would have gone crazy appreciating them..

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  • Ali Khan
    Apr 30, 2012 - 12:25PM

    I respect Mr. Hoodbhoy, but here he gets a bit short sighted..

    Laptops are distributed amongst students who are attending university. They are grown up, ready to be professional individuals. Unfortunately most of them cannot afford a laptop because a 30-40k laptop is an unaffordable item for many in the middle class!! For them, this is a blessing as they wont have to depend on shady internet cafes to gather knowledge from the web

    So, whatever the real intention behind the distribution for laptops, the Sharif brothers have done a commendable job by providing young university student a chance of owning their own laptop and a chance to further enhance their education skills via the internet ..

    Computer based education is the future. Atleast this is one step forward in the right direction.

    Period.

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  • roadkashehzada
    Apr 30, 2012 - 12:51PM

    yes laptop scheme is not the solution but at least 1000 out of these 100,000 laptops will change lives of students. money if not spent on laptops would have been spent on something else, probably more useless (if u think laptops scheme is useless). government (regardless of PMLN/PMLQ) has repeatedly tried to improve education sector but trust me, its our teachers who dont want to improve. i remember in my government school teachers were fumed at change of syllabus after dacades because they knew the books by heart. i know teachers in government schools who are shy to face a class. i have seen a teacher sleeping before the class in daylight because he was worshipping Allah the whole night. i know teacher blaming their district officer after an unfortunate road accident that killed 8-10 lady teachers as to why he asked them to attend trainings.

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  • DrKhan
    Apr 30, 2012 - 1:08PM

    I am a British-born Pakistani, when I come to visit Pakistan and see my village, how people think and behave all I see is total ignorance at the most basic levels. Literacy does not seem to really help. Even as a 10 year old I knew much more than most adult Pakistanis. At that age I knew about how electricity was generated, sophisticated concepts like conservation energy, and even basic algebra.

    When you look into the eyes of Pakistanis you see a blank uncomprehending expression. There is nothing going on between the ears. My uncle constantly complains how stupid the workers are.

    Pakistan needs to invest hugely in education. It is light-years behind the East Asians. It should be embarrassing, but Pakistanis are so brain washed with feelings of religious superiority to even feel this emotion.

    As they say, tt is not the fault of the Politicians. They just reflect the ignorant and corrupt nature of the Pakistani people.

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  • Apr 30, 2012 - 1:17PM

    righteousness is not the answer yet our intellectuals as usual far away from ground realities. why politicians compelled to launch programs like people’s work program, yellow cape, Benazier income support or laptops is a no secret. simple reason is sudden military interventions. in a country where u have not a single example of transfer of power through electorate, what u think? in a hurry they r compelled to launch perspective base programs as reality has less value than perception. some intellectuals r as usual playing with center Punjab conflict. this article is also an example of such scholarship.

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  • mrs ahmed
    Apr 30, 2012 - 2:08PM

    “Darul Ulum Haqqania at Akora Khattak. This ‘Harvard of madrassas’ has produced Mullah Omar as well as other such luminaries.”
    Wonderful , these laptop would produce these luminaries in hoards ofcourse in punjab

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  • Faiza_PK
    Apr 30, 2012 - 3:00PM

    Sir, you are missing 3 points

    These students have earned them based on their GRADES. A studious student knows how to utilize a laptop for Research & Projects.

    Free wifi for 2 years is also being provided

    Laptop Price package includes,15 months of Extended Warranty + S&H+Distribution. If you check the Specifications, you’d know the Market Cost is way higher.

    Criticism is great if its based on actual facts. Thanks

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  • faheema
    Apr 30, 2012 - 5:04PM

    Most confusing rather painful aspect of looptop scheme was their distribution in colleges like Kinaad. those who watch that ceremony wherein daughter of Ex. PM madam Marium Nawaz in he lucid English highlight the great change laptops could bring. Bravo Sharifs

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  • Abid
    Apr 30, 2012 - 5:05PM

    I am disagreeing with the writer because I feel he wrote this to make this good act doubtful and to make happy those people who are only busy in corruption.
    Also I feel PML(N) is little bit unlucky because their every good step is portrayed negatively on media by so called educated people – who are writing only to balance the PML (N) with corrupt parties enjoying power at center and get benefits.
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  • Paki
    Apr 30, 2012 - 5:24PM

    Nice article. I agree with you. Laptops, Yellow cabs, Income support programs all are political stunts to get public votes. We have spent 64 years due to these kind of foolish schemes and still focusing on that. Let me highlight few more points.

    Why laptops? are we among the richest countries in the world. why don’t we go for Desktop PCs. Why don’t we go for China tablets which we can get in a very low cost and we can also consult companies for customization.

    Hoodbhoy compared the laptop price i.e. 37,700 with an Indian brand which is only for 2,200. If you calculate, Punjab govt. has spent around 377 million Rs and and they are planning to spend 1131 million Rs more on this project. Pakistan, the richest country is paying 1.5 billion Rs to buy laptops.

    If we invest only half of this amount, we can develop it in our country like India.In that case we will also create jobs for our people.
    We can buy Desktop PCs which is easily available in 5,000 Rs. Total cost will be 200million
    If we invest only half of this amount, we can develop IT labs across country especially in educational centers and make it free for all the people. Good example is LEJ center in Karachi university.

    we can have number of other good options as well.

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  • Omar
    Apr 30, 2012 - 5:32PM

    Brilliant, as always, Dr Hoodbhoy’s analysis are precise. But unless I am missing something there is no harm in educating via entertainment (e.g., Sesame Street). Given a boring documentary on the life of Steve Jobs and a drama serial re-enacting his personal and professional affairs, you dont have to guess which one most people will follow. And the latter may just inspire more people.
    Coming back to laptops, those who got them were given an opportunity (albeit for political ambitions). But it was found that some sold them. In a country with so many challenges, education will spread largely through inspiration, opportunity alone will not be sufficient, people like yourself will need to be more accessible to the masses to inspire them to educate, learn and move forward. However, even if 10% of people given these laptops are using them to better themselves, we should still celebrate it.
    BTW OLPC (One Laptop Per Child), Negroponte’s commendable commitment to bridge the global digital divide is yesterday’s news. I am sure you must have heard of Raspberry PI (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-17857189), a PC CPU of the size of a cookie and costs only 25 GBP (Pak Rs 3,625). We are yet to see the disruption this technology causes in the developed as well as the developing world.

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  • Noor M
    Apr 30, 2012 - 5:49PM

    This distribution may encourage ‘muft khori’ and promote begging;
    Instead why not build industry & provide the children with technical training for earning their respectable livelihood & contributing in the national growth.

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  • Veqar Islam
    Apr 30, 2012 - 6:31PM

    This whole scheme was conceived, planned, executed in haste. Objective was to use something in order to address concerns of PTI’s increased popularity. It was never budgeted, never given due thought process to come up with a comprehensive plan on how they would fit into the system and would be put to better use. I started a University Program some years ago on Datawarehousing and was dead against distributing our machines to University, unless accompanied by full curriculum, train the trainer program, making it part of the curriculum with clearly defined objective. I have not followed up recently, but till about few years ago it was a huge success. We produced graduates who were trained and were used in Pakistan and abroad. Such programs and investments must be well thought out. The entire way of distribution in the name of reward is also very questionable. Awards do not remain awards, if they are distributed to 300,000 students.

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  • Farooq Bashir Butt M.Phil(Pharmacy),MBA,LLB
    Apr 30, 2012 - 7:17PM

    The ideas presented by author are well placed.There is need to devise long term strategies to lay solid foundation of our educational system instead of cosmetic steps like laptop distribution which is okay but lot more is required to be done.
    Felicitations for Dr.Pervez Hoodbhoy

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  • Lala Gee
    Apr 30, 2012 - 7:30PM

    In an other article in ET on the same subject, I commented:

    In my opinion this is a very badly conceived idea and worst in its implementation. Over 10 million Rupees have been plundered in just one distribution ceremony.

    I have following reservations on this scheme.

    1) No proper usage and cost/benefit analysis was done, rather just on the hunches this scheme has been launched (similar schemes in other countries have already failed without producing any significant improvements in any of the expected areas).

    However, if was done then:
    a) what are the areas of usage identified and how justified it is to finance it using tax payer’s money.
    b) what is the Economic Rate of Return and cost/benefit ratios.
    c) how better is this scheme compared to other alternatives.
    d) how the nation would benefit form publicly financing chatting and social networking.

    2) Personal Computers in general and Laptops in particular have a very limited life span of 2 to 3 years as the technology just becomes out dated and these laptops are already not the latest ones. What will happen after 3 or 4 years time. Will the recipients be given a newer laptop again so that their (and scheme’s) goals are fully achieved.

    3) There is no practical way to ensure if the recipient already have a laptop or can afford one by themselves.

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  • Faraz
    Apr 30, 2012 - 8:16PM

    Some thing is better than nothing at least better than Karachi where weapons are distributed in government universities and colleges to fight with other political parties in the city.

    I also don’t think that laptops were distributed in schools so why are you discussing school scenario.

    Thirdly the people who says to distribute china tablets should know that the maximum speed of china tablet is very less and they don’t offer more than 2ghz and also it provides limited hard disk space.

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  • Nazia
    Apr 30, 2012 - 8:47PM

    This Laptop Scheme is a classic example of use (rather plunder) of Public money for by a ruling party simply for political gains. What is more disturbing is the fact that the Laptops are being distributed, in lavish ceremonies (again on public expense), by politicians affiliated to a single ruling party (PML-N).If its not political stunt, then in what official capacity was Mr. Nawaz Sharif distributing laptops at PU? (Is he MNA, MPA, Senator, CM, PM, VC, what?). He is simply PML-N’s leader and that hints at the political motivation of the laptop scheme.

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  • hmmm
    Apr 30, 2012 - 9:10PM

    @Ali Khan:
    do you know thaese laptops come with ubuntu installed on them….??? if linux was the choice then it would have been better to install edubuntu which is educational ubuntu…
    secondly how many people know to use ubuntu or linux in the world let alone in Pakistan …
    all normal windows based softwares are not installable on ubuntu….even if you format the system then the spirit of giving these laptops gets killed….becuase people will immediately start movies, music, chat, facebook and all the rubbish on familiar windows system…..

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  • Jawad U Rahman
    Apr 30, 2012 - 9:25PM

    And besides – why handout $500+ a pop laptop when their are sub-$100 Android tablet PCs with ALL the functionality needed by a grade school student and then some. They could have saved $400+ on each of these and used that to build better infrastructure for the schools.

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  • Paul Wallace
    Apr 30, 2012 - 10:18PM

    “Garbage in, garbage out” is the many decades-old critique of paying more attention to hardware than software. Educational software such as recommended by Hoodbhoy for math should accompany whatever device is furnished.

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  • Aleem Ullah khan
    Apr 30, 2012 - 10:47PM

    notwithstanding your excellent write up, i am glad to praise even eulogise shahbaz sharif as i have read your article on the Laptop bestowed by him to me:))

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  • Schabboo
    Apr 30, 2012 - 11:32PM

    This is a great article but unfortunately Prof. Hoodbhoy ran out of space at the end. I was expecting an alternative suggestion on how the money that the Sharifs want to spend on this initiative, can be spent in “imaginative” ways to essentially get the same result but for a far larger audience. For instance, how about setting up computer labs in public schools.. or even in poor neighbourhoods .. then how about getting some of the unemployed but educated youth to be managers at these labs … and, and, … and. This is really not rocket science; we just need a few dedicated people.

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  • smj
    May 1, 2012 - 12:03AM

    A good but unplanned and unmanaged initiative by Punjab Government. They should have started open courses online, similar to what we used to have on TV by Allama Iqbal Open university.

    These laptop could go to public library and could only access these open courses which could be free to learn by all. Professor sahab is so right, these laptop would be use for non educational use.

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  • Veqar Islam
    May 1, 2012 - 12:43AM

    Key point is what objective rulers wanted to achieve with this distribution. Just distributing laptops cannot be an objective in itself. What you will do with them would define the objectives, which no one has been able to explain. The logic is completely flawed. Mr. Nawaz Sharif in his speech (which I listened with amusement) during distribution gave the following purpose to students — “Please watch good things on these laptops. Aisee waisee cheezain naa dekhain.” Another one – ” we are giving laptops and not weapons”. He could have achieved this by giving a Pen to everyone as well. Will tell everyone how ill conceived this whole scheme has been. They should come out of PTI phobia and improve performance.

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  • Shahzad
    May 1, 2012 - 10:53AM

    I asked a highly successful Pakistani gentlemen who is professionally qualified with a salary in excess of rs 600,000 and of a religious disposition when Saudi Arabia as kingdom came to existence, he said since the prophets time. We are producing very competent professionals with no feel for history even Islamic history.

    This is increasingly noticeable with Doctors in the medical profession, chartered accountants and Information technology professionals one look at the history syllabus and Pak studies explains it otherwise read murder of history by KK Aziz

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  • abhi
    May 1, 2012 - 11:23AM

    For example, consider Darul Ulum Haqqania at Akora Khattak. This ‘Harvard of madrassas’ has produced Mullah Omar as well as other such luminaries. It is awash in computers but, even in a hundred years from now, shall not have added an iota to the stock of human knowledge.

    it is not not correct, nothing is wasted. Even the madrsas are adding to human knowledge, they are telling us, how good intentions can go wrong and how religion can be converted as tool to violance, coming generations will learn from it. It took a Hitler to tell the world about uselessnes of racism. Similarly these madrsas will go in long way in telling the world about danger of religious indoctrination.

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  • Dr. A. Khan
    May 1, 2012 - 1:30PM

    “Nicholas Negroponte of MIT, who fathered the idea of one-child one-laptop, argues that children are naturally inquisitive and access to an internet-enabled computing device is sufficient to release their creative faculties. He says somehow they will “figure it out” and “learn to learn”.” – In these times of information boom, impressional minds should be facilitated. No one denies the importance of restructuring the basic educational infrastructure; these tools could share the burden.

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  • Hammad
    May 1, 2012 - 3:13PM

    I am a research student and desperately missing the real research factor during my studies as the material provided in our libraries and supervisors shefl is outdated and on daily bases there are thousands of new reaserchs hv bn provided on internet , as far as this laptop scheme ‘s concern I ‘d appreciate this scheme as Brilliant students know their goals and aims. An above average don’t spend their precious time in chatting and in such nasty material.student and ‘ll use it for betterment of the country. We need to improve infrastucture and syllabus as well but it ‘d take time. I think This intiative ‘d share the burden.

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  • Mansoor
    May 1, 2012 - 4:54PM

    Sir your article was very nice but you have ignored some basic facts. Computers are very necessary in this modern era. Specially in disciplines like Engineering, medical, Finance, IT etc.
    A University student is a grown up and mature Person. These Laptops can help in many ways specially in broaden their visions….

    @Hmmm……… So whats the big deal if it comes with Ubuntu installed on it? Ubuntu is free and it reduces the cost of a laptop…. ….. and Please Explain how will it Kill the spirit if the students switch to windows? Its the finger behind the trigger that matters Friend…..

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  • Waseem Khan
    May 2, 2012 - 4:08PM

    Great article but his lines about Mullah Omer shows his hatred towards religious figures. This was always expected from such Secular.

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  • faiq
    May 2, 2012 - 4:17PM

    A political investment it is ,Indeed

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  • mrs ahmed
    May 2, 2012 - 6:14PM

    @Waseem Khan:
    what religious mulla omer religious , he is the one who is away from islam , the religion of peace , harmony ,brotherhood!!!!!!!!!!!, mulla is the one who is drawing people to mayhem , anarchy ,chaos disorder , blood and gore he who introduced muslims to attack without warning khudkush hamla , which is abhored in islam, why cant he himself take the greatest blessing by doing khudkush. In my eyes Prof.Hoodbhoy is the real religious person , he opted to return to pakistan for the purpose of educating us , he did not go after money , he has been paying taxes since he started earning , he is first class muslim ,islam gives greatest emphysis on education developement order , compassion so it makes Hoodbhoy a great man .Mullah , was a just an unskilled , outlaw , a mercenary , sold to america , in 1979 , to fight against Russia , thats what people of this region are , their only occupation and skill is war , blood shed so thats what mulla is doing .
    Waite for a while , you will see how history describes mullah and Prof Hoodbhoy .

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  • Muhammad Faisal
    May 6, 2012 - 9:38AM

    *I think that Shahbaz Sharif took a bold and daring step. Look if we are able to produce another Arif Karim out of one-tenth of a million students then this step would get its due worth. Because not every bright student have sufficient facilities to excel in IT, this step would surely pave his or her path towards excellence. I don’t get the logic given by the columnist. See! the problems or flaws he pointed out are genuine and must be resolved but a good step should also be viewed positively. Lastly, don’t try to compare yourself with India. Indians are way ahead of Pakistan in terms of educational reforms and policies. We don’t even have a unanimous education policy and then we think that we should do the way, they’ve done it. *

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  • Wajid Rizvi
    May 7, 2012 - 5:42PM

    I agree to the basic premise of the argument, I read this article after reading rebuttal by Mr. Javed Laghari. I think he has completely missed the point. Instead of responding to basic premise of the argument, he has tried to compare apple with orange, thus his argument is flawed. Whereas, basic premise of the article is “we need underlying wisdom and integrative educational system to unleash effectiveness of the technology”. It seems he has totally misunderstood the core argument.

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  • Humayoon
    May 19, 2012 - 2:43AM

    First if all ban Islami Jamiat Talba from all public sector institutes. Laptops would not help if terrorists and fanatics continue to manage most affairs in our universities.

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  • Hasnain Shabbir
    May 22, 2012 - 3:16AM

    Great job!
    Common thing now a days “laptop Nawaz da vote Imran da “.The students of the pakistani universities believe more in Imran not in Nawaz.The idea of the distributing of laptop is less benifit.
    It have to see that the holders of laptop from the punjab government do not know who to run the laptop, even its advantages.The punjab government should spend more on improving the basic structure of the educational system.If the system become well then other things will automatically come in good shape.

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