Laptops are the answer

Published: May 5, 2012

ISLAMABAD: This is with reference to Pervez Hoodbhoy’s article of April 30 “Free laptops is not the answer. What is?” A digital revolution is indeed the “silver bullet that will transform Pakistan’s education”, and the government of Punjab is to be complemented for their initiative and vision.

With over two billion internet users around the globe, including over 20 million in Pakistan, higher education coupled with technology access is the accelerator to rapid economic growth. Free laptops were provided by the US state of Maine to every seventh grade student in 2001, and by 2010, there was an increase from 50 per cent to 91 per cent in the proportion of students who passed their exams. All major publishers have made available their books online, and it is estimated that by 2014, the number of ebooks sold will outnumber sales of traditional books.

In the 1960s, Stanford University used computers to teach maths to children, and today all major universities including Yale, Stanford, Princeton, University of California at Berkeley etc., are offering open courseware (OCW). Only this week, Harvard and MIT teamed up in a non-profit partnership to offer free online courses, and those who complete the course will get a certificate. A Stanford professor made headlines last fall when 160,000 students signed up for his artificial intelligence online course.

The Khan Academy (“Bill Gates’ favourite teacher”) has over 3,000 free tutorial videos (each of 10 to 15 minutes duration) and their website gets over 100,000 hits a day. TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is yet another free online learning tool with over 1,000 18-minute lectures accessible to anyone with an internet connection (the website also has my lecture “I Dream of a Pakistan”.

India is pursuing its own internet revolution through the low-cost hand held ‘Akash’ devices which will allow hundreds of millions of Indians in remote areas to connect to the internet. They expect everyone to have the device within 10 years. Even the Virtual University of Pakistan is not far behind, with offerings of over 170 free online courses through YouTube and its website. The HEC itself has introduced a fine laptop policy for all its PhD scholarship holders, and we hope that in the not-too-distant future, every university student in Pakistan will have access to one.

Javaid R Laghari, PhD

Chairperson, Higher Education Commission

Published in The Express Tribune, May 6th, 2012.

Reader Comments (22)

  • FR
    May 5, 2012 - 11:36PM

    The problem is less the provision of laptops but more to do with a lack of credible commitment. The author appears to draw connections to countries which have invested in eduction heavily. Pakistan would need to do the same. To provide laptops to individuals who lack the education to understand the generally available content (mostly in English), is akin to providing cricket equipment to children who have never played the game before and hold no interest in it. Lets be real, how many of the student are likely to end up on the website of the Khan Academy or TED?

    A digital revolution follows an education revolution. Otherwise we will probably end up only consolidating our ranking as ‘Pornistan’.

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  • NA
    May 5, 2012 - 11:50PM

    Yes well in Maine every child learns to read and write first. In Pakistan 50% of the population is illiterate. Why don’t we spend money first to increase literacy then distribute cheap laptops like in India instead of throwing around expensive ones for political purposes.

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  • Zoaib
    May 6, 2012 - 1:09AM

    That’s all well and good, but the problem is that is it justified to spend such lavishly on laptops including diverting money from the funds to be used for primary schools when you have such dismal state of government schools in Punjab? Would that money not have been better spent on improving the quality of the existing government schools which would help the majority of the population?

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  • ashar
    May 6, 2012 - 1:15AM

    Something that can be very useful at some stage can be fatal at another. I particularly experienced in my life that the boys whose father provided them motorbykes during thier higher school level failed to compete for good universities.
    Computer can be good for a young man but laptop can be lethal for his career as well his health. You khow what i mean.
    So we have to be very specific.. and being a professional myself for MS level the grant of laptop is worthwhile however for an undergraduate it will serve a good purpose….when you get tired of your studies tune yourself to Rockstar.

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  • Nasir Iqbal
    May 6, 2012 - 1:51AM

    Excellent Reply Sir,

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  • BAloch
    May 6, 2012 - 7:10AM

    As the writer has explained the article well and what i think the issue of Pakistan can ‘increase’ not decrease. more and more problems are developing all over the Pakistan. And ”our leaders just talk, they do not act.So that act is needed……..

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  • Maria
    May 6, 2012 - 9:58AM

    @Zoaib: Unfortunately your type of mind set will never be satisfied. The world is marching to a new drum beat – that of computer literacy. As long as Pakistan has a good chunk of computer literate youth, the nation will not reach its potential. Yes all schools everywhere in the country need support but complaining about a computer literacy program makes no sense when it will benefit the nation in the long run.

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  • A H Nayyar
    May 6, 2012 - 2:07PM

    Dr. Laghari says, “In the 1960s, Stanford University used computers to teach maths to children.”

    Very interesting, because computers in the 60s (even in the 70s) were only mainframes, and only number crunchers. No one could use them without knowing programming. They were far from being user friendly. How they were used for teaching maths to children would be fascinating to know. Dr. Laghari may like to share his source of information with the readers.

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  • stenson
    May 6, 2012 - 9:08PM

    Computers are the way forward and I support the provincial government in this matter.

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  • May 6, 2012 - 9:59PM

    At universities in the west less than 10 years ago about 90% of students made do very well with the computer labs at university, and they still managed to churn out great engineers, scientists and mathematicians.
    I doubt very much that equipping every student with a lap top would have made a significant difference.
    What was most useful was the great teaching, textbooks, and tutors.

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  • leader
    May 6, 2012 - 10:13PM

    something is better than nothing, bhagtay chor ki langoti hi sahi…. anyway laptops may not be the answer, but part of the requirements !!

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  • May 7, 2012 - 2:23PM

    I thing laptop is right answer because it helps students in learning on their own pace. Through your laptops you can connect with world and learn by online content available for eucation.

    For more visit:
    http://alirazadotcom.blogspot.com/

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  • Shah
    May 7, 2012 - 2:23PM

    I just hope this govt goes for a better one.
    The ICT Federal dept has advertised for a CEO for its self.. with certain minimal requirement.
    this dept has a mnister who we all know as mr. rental power plants corruption head.. raja pervez ashraf..

    with all this argumentation going on and the discussion here.. has anyone of you thought about what the govt is planning on doing next?
    it gives me shivers..

    sic to the core!

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  • May 7, 2012 - 2:27PM

    Agree with writer….

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  • Shahbaz
    May 7, 2012 - 3:25PM

    Mr Javeed, keep up all the good work! I am 100% with you on your initiative of laptops I hope Pakistan can catch up soon and we can be the leader in information technology. I would request your cooperation to influence our government to improve education standards in Pakistan at all levels.

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  • M.Raza
    May 7, 2012 - 3:29PM

    though the initiative is commendable but I personally think we should do something on war footing to uplift the primary sector education in Pakistan, failing to do so means a societal dichotomy and catastrophe in the long run. I think its time to act, so lets work to narrow the gap between classes by giving equal opportunities to each member of soiecity.

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  • Wajid Rizvi
    May 7, 2012 - 4:30PM

    Not impressive response, instead of responding to basic premise of the argument, Mr. Javed Laghari is trying to compare apple with orange, thus your argument is flawed. Pervez Hoodbhoy’s basic premise is we need underlying wisdom and integrative educational system to unleash effectiveness of the technology. It seems you have totally misunderstood the core argument.

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  • roadkashehzada
    May 7, 2012 - 6:26PM

    i ve an idea of education department in punjab, list of government initiatives (no matter PMLQ, N, Army) is really long. employing NCOs of army to monitor schools, refresher courses for teachers, hiring senior army officers as district coordinators, nai roshni schools, masjid maktab schools, comprehensive schools, iqra schools, number of world bank funded reform projects have all been tried and ended up in smoke.
    now if CM is giving laptops to higher studies, i think he should be encouraged and a direct action should not be compared with subjective term as “improving primary schools”

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  • Burhan
    May 7, 2012 - 9:47PM

    NO doubts the benefits are tremendous but in a developing country we need to strengthen the base first rather building more blocks on weak base. First should focus on poor physical and intellectual condition of government schools and then distribute laptops. This would create a feeling of inferiority for the majority of the population who does not have access to suitable schools rather they have to sit in schools with the worst kind of facilities.

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  • Wajid Rizvi
    May 8, 2012 - 2:22AM

    After posting following comment on Mr.Javaid Laghari’s facebook account link he deleted me from his friends list. That is how our cream academia functions, and that is level of our tolerance to the criticism and respect for difference of opinion. I am waiting for his another article on these topics. I am sure he has been lecturing for “admiration of difference of opinion….”

    “Flawed Argument, instead of responding to basic premise of the argument, Mr. Javed Laghari is trying to compare apple with orange, thus his argument is flawed. Pervez Hoodbhoy’s basic premise 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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  • Abid P Khan
    May 10, 2012 - 12:20AM

    @A H Nayyar:
    “Dr. Laghari says, “In the 1960s, Stanford University used computers to teach maths to children.”
    Very interesting, because computers in the 60s (even in the 70s) were only mainframes, and only number crunchers. No one could use them without knowing programming. They were far from being user friendly. How they were used for teaching maths to children would be fascinating to know. Dr. Laghari may like to share his source of information with the readers.”
    .
    Laghari probably knows as much about computers as Hakim Luqman, the famous TV anchor.
    He won’t answer, because he can’t. Recommend

  • Indian IT guy
    May 11, 2012 - 10:18PM

    @Abid P Khan: Good One. Also why does a student need a high end laptop? All that student genuinely need can be done on a low end machine or even a cheap tab like the one India has developed. the amount they spend on 10 laptops could have been used to create a Linux lab with 50 dumb terminals and more than 300 computer engineering students could have time shared them. In my college we learned programming in similar Linux lab.

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