If we are to make progress in real terms, the importance of Science cannot be overemphasised. We have to produce not only technologists in the shape of electrical engineers, chemical engineers, software engineers but also quality doctorate researchers in core sciences of Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Mathematics and other fields. They will serve as drivers towards further research in sciences, engineering, home-grown technologies, and in boosting our knowledge economy. If this is not materialised on a war footing, then we will continue to remain just technology implementers and consumers rather than also become creators of new science and technology.
Young students spend greater chunk of their time on social media. Such behaviour is stagnating. To alleviate this appalling condition, schools must maintain proper labs and expose students to wonders of Science effectively. To invigorate interest, parents can allocate some space at home, if available, for their children to make a laboratory of their own where they can build small projects and develop their vision. After all, Hewlett and Packard of HP fame also have their success story out of their home garage in Silicon Valley. With such experimentation our students will soon realise that perhaps Science provides the best entertainment of all. They will get productively addicted to these healthy activities rather than killing time in other ways, or becoming preoccupied with religious dogmatism, or more detrimentally, getting into the clutches of militant minded people in schools, colleges or neighbourhood.
We also need to popularise Science on many platforms. How many TV channels are showing programmes that stimulate and attract children’s interest towards this field? Probably, not even one. But every channel has a plethora of programmes on cooking, music, fashion, morning shows, etc. Because of this, students are only inspired by such content for want of glamour, quick fame and money. There seems to be a total abdication with respect to televising of science programmes. No doubt, there is a lot of material available on YouTube but there needs to be concerted and directed efforts in this regard by media under the guidance of academia. This will most definitely bring about a constructive and positive mindset in our youth. It would be a great public service, if reputed newspapers can publish a weekly science magazine. The magazine can also provide interesting and relevant links of YouTube and other sources.
There is a good probability that school-going or even college-going science students would not know about people like Dr Raziuddin Siddiqui who was a notable student of Einstein and who also worked under famous physicist Werner Heisenberg. It is also unlikely that they would be aware of other personalities of his stature. And these students are definitely not to be blamed at all. In the interest of students, our TV channels should show documentaries on famous figures of past and present, regardless of their religious beliefs or nationality, like al Khwarzimi, Bill Gates, Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, Dr Abdus Salam, Srinivasa Ramanujan, Stephen Hawking, etc. No doubt the list is long. They should also run documentaries of places like NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), CERN Laboratory and its Large Hadron Collider where mysteries of the Universe are being unravelled and where Pakistani scientists have also been contributing significantly. Our students are in dire need of that kind of inspiration. Media personnel know best about making or procuring such documentaries that would catch attention of our young generation. There has to be a sustained effort over time in this regard.
Currently, there is a tremendous thrust towards software development among university students. However, this alone will not put our country on a sound footing unless we also have a strong base in science and engineering. Not surprisingly, even computers and software sit on the pillars of Physics and Mathematics. Taking the example of India, they are far ahead in Information Technology but at the same time they have a strong base in Basic Science itself that in turn has propelled their IT and other avenues like computer chip designing, genetic engineering, etc. They also have quite a few high class research institutes. Many multinational tech giants like IBM, Intel, Microsoft have established their research centres in India because they can avail the talent of their qualified scientists.
I was fortunate to meet Dr Abdus Salam in the US some 40 years ago when as a Nobel Laureate he was chairing a conference on High Energy Physics. He mentioned that the standard of Physics teaching and research in some top universities in India could be compared to some of the best universities in the UK. And he said this while he himself was associated with prestigious places like Imperial College London and also being the founder of International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy. Setting political rivalries aside, if India could achieve that standard why could we not secure a respectable place in the facets of Sciences. Perhaps we all know the answer.
It is hoped that the present government will put our educational system into proper perspective, including all things that can truly promote a scientific culture. Towards that end, it must also build world-class laboratories for our scientists. This investment has to be made to elevate our exquisite human capital. As a nation we must cut down on other luxuries. We definitely need a mindset change. Huge private donations have been given in the past for the cause of Science and can be given again if the government keeps moving in the right direction. While many reforms are on the anvil, the government has to create a sound road map to be able to accommodate our future scientists. They have to get involved in cutting-edge research in fields like Artificial Intelligence, Biotechnology, Nanotechnology, Quantum Computers, to name a few. There is no denying the fact that if Pakistanis are given the right training and opportunities, they can prove their mettle and can become second to none.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 24th, 2019.