Arecent report noted that while Pakistan has experienced rapid development since 2000 and now has over 89 million active cell phone users, the “pervasion and widespread consumption of advanced technology and resulting digital services have yet to fully materialize”. The report — compiled by the GSM Association which represents the interests of mobile network operators worldwide — notes that on certain telecoms metrics, Pakistan lags behind its regional peers despite facing similar challenges. Pakistan needs to do more to exploit its demographic advantages, specifically the “increasingly tech-savvy youth population”. The report also suggests that if Pakistan wants to reach the mobile economy’s potential, it must increase access to affordable and high-quality mobile broadband networks and smartphones. It was also critical of the existing tax and regulatory regimes in Pakistan.
The report also has some gaps. When read in the context of the included opening message from Telecom Minister Aminul Haque and a foreword by Chief Digital Officer Tania Aidrus, it appears the handling of critique was done with kid gloves. An overarching suggestion for economic development in the report also appears to be to shift more control into the private sector. But we must note that shifting focus to e-learning rather than public schools is just a way to distract from Pakistan’s historical failure to deliver quality education to the masses. Even Aidrus noted socioeconomic factors holding Pakistan back from developing. The biggest ones are poverty and illiteracy. Cheaper handsets or incentives for cell service providers won’t solve them. While the internet is a fundamental right, in Pakistan, it is one that is mostly abused. Easier access to TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook will not make Pakistan an economic success. They will actually push us backward.
But maybe if we were to fund our schools properly and deliver quality education, people would actually begin to explore the online world beyond looped videos and selfies, and into educating themselves.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 11th, 2020.
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