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.