STEM — the way out of the rut

The education systems in Pakistan, have yet to incorporate even the most basic, widely available learning technologies

M Ziauddin April 03, 2021
The writer served as executive editor of The Express Tribune from 2009 to 2014

The PTI government has been trying, since it was elected in August 2018, to introduce a single national curriculum (SNC) so to eliminate the learning gap between the rich and poor, thereby producing presumably ‘an equal opportunity generation’ imbued with what it perhaps hopes to be a Muslim-Pakistani persona. Prime Minister Imran Khan appears to be aiming perhaps to prepare the nation, via education, for its journey back-to-the-future Riyasat-i-Medina. 

So far what Federal Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood has accomplised in this regard has only caused a contentious debate. Mahmood is educated enough to know that Islam does not need Pakistan to survive. It has not only survived these 1,400 years but has also spread far and wide much before the advent of Pakistan. He also knows that even in Pakistan Islam has never been in danger nor does it need his government’s help to ward off any threat to it. In fact, Pakistan came into being because Muslims of the Subcontinent wanted it, not because of the PTI and its leader.

What, however, is under threat is Pakistan itself. We went to the IMF 23 times including the current visit, over the last 50 years, but the existential threat to Pakistan has only increased.  Pakistan suffers from chronic shortages of energy and capital and its access to technology has always remained poor. For such a country to exist without any foreign crutches is like expecting the impossible.

However, the one valuable asset we possess but have kept neglecting all these years is our ever-expanding youth bulge. Had we focused on educating and training this youth bulge over, at least, the last two decades or so, Pakistan would have managed to acquire adequate modern technology using which we could have managed with the limited availability of energy, simultaneously overcoming capital shortages by resorting to technological innovations enhancing per capita productivity, squeezing in the process the most out of the limited availability of capital.

According to the WEF report “Future of Jobs”, the core skills needed to survive in the 21st century are: complex problem solving techniques, critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and digital literacy. These are ideally developed early, in basic education, and then refined at colleges and universities and during lifelong learning. Therefore, our SNC must deliver a strong base of foundational linguistic, scientific, technological, engineering and mathematical (STEM) know-how.

New literature on education says that technology is rapidly altering the ways we interact and work, linking communities and workers in increasingly sophisticated ways and opening up new opportunities. Young people therefore need to develop digital fluency and STEM skills from an early age if they are to be equipped to thrive in modern society. Learners need a deeper understanding of how to apply technology and innovation to achieve desired results.

Education systems, meanwhile, need to ensure technology curricula are kept updated, while teachers have the opportunity to refresh their own skills and knowledge in order to keep pace with external developments. The use of technology should be embedded across the educational experience, to mirror ways in which technology is now relevant to all sectors and careers. Most jobs of the future will require a basic understanding of math and science.

Given the importance of STEM in the growth of future workplaces, it is important to ensure access to related education for all socio-economic groups. Technological innovation is changing the way educational materials are generated, the manner in which educational content is distributed, the way learners engage with materials, and the processes used to evaluate educational outcomes.

The education systems, especially at the primary and secondary level in Pakistan, have yet to incorporate even the most basic, widely available learning technologies. Technology presents opportunities for countries like Pakistan to deliver learning in new and personalised ways, which could change the costly, time-consuming traditional role of teachers and facilitate a blended learning experience. Technology has been proposed as a solution for resolving issues related to unequal access to education, e.g. in rural or hard-to-reach communities that nonetheless have digital access.




Osman Rashid | 2 weeks ago | Reply

Wonderful article. Fully agree that STEM gets Pakistan out of the rut. We have been on this journey over the last two years and started SOAR STEM Schools in Lahore and also launching a Nationwide Franchise model called The STEM Schools. We believe that today s kids will be competing for jobs that are unknown so we need to give them the right skills. These skills are problem solving grit and empathy amongst the ones the article mentions. We are using an Inquiry based Model anf bringing IB style of learning to the masses. Also a common notion is to hurry and open a lab in a school. Just opening a lab doesn t make a school STEM oriented. The curriculum needs to embed this into the daily lesson plans. Labs are good but the entire environment is a better lab. Invest in how kids think.

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