Why are Pakistani students science-phobic?

Published: February 19, 2012
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The writer currently teaches physics and political science at LUMS (Lahore). He taught at Quaid-i-Azam University for 36 years and was head of the physics department. He received a doctorate in nuclear physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The writer currently teaches physics and political science at LUMS (Lahore). He taught at Quaid-i-Azam University for 36 years and was head of the physics department. He received a doctorate in nuclear physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

School syllabi demand it, but even then few young Pakistanis want to study science subjects and still fewer want to become scientists. Many generations have found science so odiously dull that they are now indifferent — even hostile — to a subject that stands at the very pinnacle of human understanding and progress. While some of our better students will be reasonably successful in science-related professions such as engineering, medicine, and information technology, their poor science backgrounds will leave them ill-equipped for pushing the frontiers of these rapidly evolving fields.

Contrast this with India. Surveys show that school students see science as the most prestigious and glamorous career to pursue. For them Einstein, Stephen Hawking, black holes, genes, etc. is the way to go. Although most students eventually opt for more ‘normal’ professions, yet sufficient numbers persist and some eventually rank among the world’s better scientists. This has been key to India’s emergence as a world power.

Why the difference? A good part of the answer comes from looking at our locally-authored science textbooks. Although a dysfunctional examination system and bad science teachers are also blameworthy, poor textbooks are especially debilitating in a culture where the written word is considered virtually unchallengeable.

Over the years, I have collected many titles, both Urdu and English. The Urdu ones are even more unattractive than their English counterparts. All were produced by the Punjab and Sindh textbook boards. The number of printed books must now run into many hundreds of millions.

The books reflect an attitude that science is to be taught no differently from geography or history. A stern looking Quaid-i-Azam on the inside of every front cover admonishes students to study else ‘we may be wiped out altogether’. But threats — or exhortations that learning is a holy duty for improving our chances in the Hereafter — are useless. They cannot create interest in a subject that springs from human curiosity.

Local books seem designed to kill curiosity rather than nurture it. Mathematics is reduced to a set of drills shorn of relevance and meaning while physics, chemistry and biology are just about remembering formulae and diagrams. Whether written from scratch, or with bits cut and pasted from here or there, these books give no hint that knowledge is being continuously created by human endeavor and intelligence.

Bad pedagogy is all over. For example, a terrible way of teaching about surface tension is to begin with “surface tension comes because a skin is created on the surface of a liquid by attraction of molecules”. Now, no one has ever seen a molecule with a naked eye, much less seen one attracting the other. A student who learns it this way has not learnt anything at all.

On the other hand, a good approach would be to ask the student to gently place a razor blade on the still surface of water. Why does it float? The student is then allowed to deduce that there is some kind of invisible skin; a drop of liquid soap thins it further and the blade sinks. In this manner the student could be led towards meaningful comprehension of phenomena through a logical process.

The weakest parts of the books I have browsed through are the chapter-end questions and exercises. This is useless memory-recall drill. The authors do not know that the essence of science is problem-solving, and that good scientific training builds a student’s capacity to internalise newly-learnt principles by applying them to problems whose answers are yet unknown. In contrast, foreign-authored O-level books — used only by a tiny sliver of upscale Pakistani schools — usually do have good questions.

There is only a little good news. Compared to earlier textbooks, newer ones have fewer conceptual and spelling mistakes. Also, with time, better printing and use of colour illustrations are more common. But, as before, a jumble of facts bundled together cannot spark the imagination of young minds.

Some say that money lies at the root of the problem. Indeed, authoring textbooks is a lucrative business because of the sheer volume of books sold. The pressure to include incompetent authors — and to share profits — is enormous. This is probably why the current Class X mathematics book of the Punjab Textbook Board, has six authors and the slim 187-page Class X chemistry book has eight authors! So, while every individual gets a cut from the sales, the blame can be easily passed on to others.

I doubt that stricter regulations can help. Local textbooks are such poor pedagogical instruments for a very good reason: science is not part of Pakistan’s national culture. There is endless political entertainment on TV but no locally-produced science programmes. I know of no science museums except for one in Lahore. So great is the public’s ignorance of science that the path-breaking work of Abdus Salam is considered inferior to the copycat reverse engineering that led Pakistan to the bomb.

There is a solution: good science books exist. So use them! Elite O-level schools use books chosen from the most successful ones published internationally. Surely matric-level schools can be made to do the same after the books are properly adapted/translated. Should a Pakistani be the author (or among the authors), so much the better! But quality alone should matter, not where the author comes from.

Unfortunately, nationalist bravado kicks in whenever this is proposed. The rhetoric is that Pakistanis can author science textbooks just as well as anyone else. The conclusion is that we should not rely upon foreign educational materials. But an inflated national ego, together with small scientific accomplishment, is hardly helpful.

Firm resolve is needed to turn the situation around. Pakistanis must admit locally written textbooks are nowhere as good as foreign ones, and decide to use the very best ones available anywhere. The argument against importation is senseless because we use medicines and computers invented by outsiders, fly in their planes, and use their mobile phones. False pride and misplaced beliefs must be set aside. Eating humble pie is never easy, but surely this is a small price to pay for having scientifically smart Pakistanis in the future.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 20th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (112)

  • Feb 19, 2012 - 10:22PM

    Very well-written. How do you expect doctors to love their profession when you promise them 25000 a month for a year after making them lick books (without any application of the knowledge acquired) for 6 years?

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  • Feb 19, 2012 - 10:28PM

    What a healthy weekly dose of rationality!!!…. :)

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  • jahanzeb
    Feb 19, 2012 - 10:32PM

    missed a major thing that we cannot learn science in others language…… I hate english language though i,m an engineer. history bear witness that no nation has progressed in others language… Recommend

  • Pakistani First
    Feb 19, 2012 - 10:35PM

    Nicely written Mr. Hoodbhoy, but how do you expect students from middle to lower class to buy textbooks worth Rs. 2000(the cost of an average textbook used by students in O Levels)

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  • pakistani
    Feb 19, 2012 - 10:42PM

    who says?
    kindly visit some schools….mostly now rely on foreign writer’s books, published locally.
    no doubt there is a lack of facilities but students still go for science…you should have said all that regarding business subjects if u wanted to..but sci subjects…hmmm no. :)Recommend

  • Jalal
    Feb 19, 2012 - 10:44PM

    Thanks Doc. But you’ve got to get up and smell the coffee!Do we have teachers in govt schools competent enough to understand, let alone teach, foreign authored books!?And. not every student from the slums of DI Khan gets a free ride to LUMS SSE to study ‘pure sciences’. They have their whole families banking on them to get a reasonable job and get the choolha running!
    Therefore, the easy way out is to get an ‘in demand’ degree and get working: not float away in dreams of self-discovery and desire of making the next NASA space shuttle…
    Your disapprobation of the education system, thus, lacks ground!

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  • Sweet Dee
    Feb 19, 2012 - 10:49PM

    Local books seem designed to kill
    curiosity rather than nurture it.

    And i’ll show you hundreds of foreign books that do the same lol

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  • workforce
    Feb 19, 2012 - 10:54PM

    Pakistan has not been very generous to its scientists and engineers. In fact must senior engineers often refer to the present plight of Pakistan as the ENGINEER’S REVENGE

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  • guest2
    Feb 19, 2012 - 10:55PM

    Awesome article. The fact is that many Foreign Universities in Europe aren’t ashamed to state that they as a policy strive for a multi-cultural environment and attract bright students on scholarships from everywhere even poor 3rd world countries including south-asia ,as they reckon the value everyone can add to the learning environment. Their lack of ego is what has lead them to become what they are.

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  • White Russian
    Feb 19, 2012 - 11:06PM

    Spot on! I want to add an observation. The learning of a typical European graduate student is visibly more profound compared to that of her Pak counterpart. Reason is that an intution about how science works, what it is, and what it is not — is developed in western pupils at very early age. Textbooks are no doubt important for formal learning. But formal learning is not the only preparation to which student should be restricted. A student who was exposed to popular documentaries, museums, books, model, ideas throughout her life is much better prepared to absorb rigorous things when time comes, compared to our poor students whom whole universe are few memorised facts from drab textbooks at school level. A typical American or German schoolboy learns better chemistry in the garage of his parents with the aid of commercially available toy models and experiments, on his own intiative, than our poorly instructed, poorly motivated university student in poorly equipped labs.

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  • Rx
    Feb 19, 2012 - 11:08PM

    We need out-of-box-thinking… create a Pakistani version of “Big Bang Theory” sitcom drama.. Guardian article talks about influence of BBT on recent students.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/nov/06/big-bang-theory-physics-boom.

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  • iconoclast
    Feb 19, 2012 - 11:12PM

    good one doctor sab… ur weekly doses are refreshing in this land of suffocation!!

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  • Atheist, India
    Feb 19, 2012 - 11:30PM

    Show these science documentaries to your children:

    http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/through-the-wormhole/

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  • YeaRight
    Feb 20, 2012 - 12:33AM

    Why is the author’s favourite past time Pakistan bashing? I live abroad and I have seen from experience that Pakistan produces some of the best engineers and doctors. Some of the best cardiologists and cardio surgeons in Dubai and US are Pakistani. Pakistanis are also competing and being recognised in the IT fields especially in Middle East. If anything I have realise the elitist burger bachas in pakistan tend to be more into liberal arts programs, while most of the middle class students still throng to science fields. As someone who studied from the O level system from an elite british school, at university I often found kids from the FSC educational background way smarter then me in areas of math and science. If anything I found that their Pakistani syllabi was alot harder than mine.
    I think the problem is not so much the govt school syllabi it is the fact that many students dont have access to requisite finances to make it to good universities. The best universities in Pakistan are privately owned and not many govt school kids can afford it. The fault here then lies with the corruption and blatant ineptitude of govt and HEC in facilitating the less well off kids into good programs and universities at university level.

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  • Anuj
    Feb 20, 2012 - 1:07AM

    @ janahzeb…..so you wont study unless you get pakistani versions of Bruce Alberts and Darnell-lodish to write for you…..

    @ Sweet Dee…….dont you even have competence to choose the right and not-so-boring books of foreign authors………

    Looking at the comments above, I think Pakistanis can write the world’s best book on ” 1000 excuses not to do anything “……..

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  • kaalchakra
    Feb 20, 2012 - 1:24AM

    Dr Hoodbhoy

    Rejecting foreign science books is essential to escaping unwanted foreign imperialist deisgns. By introducing students to science in an appropriate cultural context, Pakistan retains its cultural identity, teaches its young the values that make Pakistan what it is, and creates the rightly educated population that looks at the world with sufficient pride.

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  • Waqas Zahis
    Feb 20, 2012 - 1:28AM

    very well written, gets the point across. I am an engineer and during my intermediate studies (in 2004) I suffered with the same problem, The physics text book quality is so bad in terms of matter and concept building, I always looked for better options, sadly during my search i found a physics text book written for the sindh board some time back in the late 80’s and to my surprise I found it to be far superior than the ones we were using, it introduced concepts like gravitons and krichhoff’s laws at that stage, it had so much detail. Its sad how instead of getting better our books are degrading by all means.

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  • Mirza
    Feb 20, 2012 - 1:39AM

    How can deeply religious people have scientific thinking or education? They do not go hand in hand. Unless science, religion and govt are separeted nothing good could come out.

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  • Feb 20, 2012 - 1:50AM

    Hoodbouy argument about bad books is correct to some extent. But the biggest problem is not the bad books, it is the lack of collaborative learning in our educational system. We isolate students and judge them individually. This things hinder in their progress later on in their educational life. Good learning only comes in the form of groups

    http://pakistani-edu.blogspot.com/2012/02/how-to-install-collaborative-learning.html

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  • owais
    Feb 20, 2012 - 2:01AM

    @jahanzeb: “missed a major thing that we cannot learn science in others language…… I hate english language though i,m an engineer”.

    do you mean that english is the ‘language of the others’? are you aware that its the official language of pakistan since 1947? are you aware that english is now an international language and the language of business? how exactly do you expect to succeed as an engineer if you can’t even learn english? in USA, people are busy learning chinese even though its the ‘language of the others’ so they can succeed in today’s globalised world while you are busy making excuses…

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  • Moz
    Feb 20, 2012 - 2:09AM

    @Jehanzeb

    Many countries, where English is spoken have made tremendous progress. And speaking a certain language has very less to do with the country’s progress. Many people don’t know that English is Pakistan’s second official lanuage. Our founding founder “Jinnah” gave speeches in english and had a very poor Urdu. On top of that, if you translate simple scientific words of english into urdu, you would spend more time trying to remember the term itself rather than understanding the concept. So I think we should teach both English and Urdu, but math and science should be taught in english.

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  • Feb 20, 2012 - 2:14AM

    Muslims were the one who knew science… the west stole it… we should get it back from them…

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  • mian mitho
    Feb 20, 2012 - 2:16AM

    Because in Pakistan, there is very little money if you go into academic science, most students who study science go into the professional fields like medical and engineering. That is the only and primary reason.

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  • MilesToGo
    Feb 20, 2012 - 2:55AM

    Science is ok as long as it does not conflict with Islam.

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  • Ali
    Feb 20, 2012 - 3:02AM

    In the UK and to an extent the US, I have found that many of the mathematicians and scientists in general come from a middle/lower class backgrounds. The upper classes seem to be in love with the arts.

    Pakistan is also following this path. The middle classes and lower classes are where we should look for future engineers and scientists. Spending more on education is what we must do.
    If the student is bright enough then they will make it no matter which text book you use.
    To prove my point look what most private fee paying Pakistani student studying in the US study: international relations, business studies..

    Now see what sort of subjects poor/middle class students on HEC scholarships study: Science, engineering, maths.

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  • Homa
    Feb 20, 2012 - 3:52AM

    From my interactions with pakistanis, many of them seem to be very worried about engaging long term in any behavior that might be “unislamic.” That may be the reason for the general apathy towards science or rational thinking.

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  • Ali Tanoli
    Feb 20, 2012 - 4:47AM

    Abdu salam led the nation to get bom?????
    India and super power with out mejority of peoples have no food and cloths and biggest state
    in the country called U.P elect there leaders based on caste what can i say world so called largest dimocrasy ONLY IN INDIA…. viva la casta indiano shuders.Recommend

  • Mumbai kid
    Feb 20, 2012 - 5:02AM

    Right said sir. I wish your articles are read by Pakistanis not as bashing but frank and positive criticism which they need the most at the moment. Not just them any country, government or society in the world needs such a doze of constructive criticism. And society will progress if they listen, discuss and assimilate what is good out of such criticism. Anyways I always love your article and I do wish we have some expert critic like you who constantly bash my government on their duty towards their citizens. Regards!!

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  • Cynical
    Feb 20, 2012 - 5:03AM

    @Zaid Hamid

    As the cliche goes, ‘You can love him or hate him, but you can’t ignore him.’

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  • Munir Ahmad Saeed
    Feb 20, 2012 - 5:37AM

    Dr Pervez, what you said is all right, let’s walk the talk. you write a book on physics, which is your discipline, then see who does not love it. If you really want to make a difference for science studies in Pakistan, do a favour to our students and bring out a book.

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  • Arindom
    Feb 20, 2012 - 6:28AM

    wasn’t it some time ago that in the name of ‘Islamic’ science, in Pakistan PHD thesises were written on topics like “Generating Electricity from Djinns’ and such other topics?

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  • Bata
    Feb 20, 2012 - 6:35AM

    @Jalal

    Please don’t suspect initiatives as LUMS NOP. There is no doubt that every student (I mean the able ones) in Pakistan can get financial assistance when it comes to higher education. Let’s not forget National ICT Scholarship, PEEF Scholarship, LUMS NOP, USAID and many more…

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  • American
    Feb 20, 2012 - 7:26AM

    Good points but I must add… Assessment drives learning. If students feel that rote memorization of local books will give them the answers to score well on standardized tests- that’s what they will study.

    You will have the revamp the testing system in order to make students read “better” books. You’ll also need teachers to make hi quality questions/MCQ’s that force students to think through questions, and practice questions at home for preparation rather than what they are doing now, which is rote memorization of review books.

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  • Sajida
    Feb 20, 2012 - 7:52AM

    The good professor was in US;but fails to see how it is also science phobic now.
    http://www.theatlanticcities.com/technology/2012/02/american-cities-are-failing-miserably-science-education/1138/
    American Schools Are Failing Miserably at Science Education

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  • Jim
    Feb 20, 2012 - 8:20AM

    Why bother to learn or make anything original when you can steal it. Your country’s biggest hero is A.Q.Khan who stole enrichment technology from Europe. The man who is a true hero, the great Abdus Salam is buried in an unmarked grave because he was a “Qadiani.” This has got nothing to do with quality of textbooks etc. Your country is doomed because of the kind of people who have their foot on your neck.

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  • ayesha khan
    Feb 20, 2012 - 8:30AM

    @kaalchakra: “By introducing students to science in an appropriate cultural context, Pakistan retains its cultural identity, teaches its young the values that make Pakistan what it is, and creates the rightly educated population that looks at the world with sufficient pride.”

    If this statement pertained to literature of history textbooks, I could understand . But I am not sure how national pride and cultural context are pertinent when discussing science textbooks?

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  • ayesha khan
    Feb 20, 2012 - 8:38AM

    @YeaRight:

    Why do you take Mr. Hoodbhoy’s articles as Pakistan bashing? It is his opinion based on years of being a science professor. IT is possible for you to have a different opinion but not a good idea to attribute motives to someone just because of that. You can diasgree without being disagreeable.

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  • Zalim singh
    Feb 20, 2012 - 8:43AM

    good article.

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  • Doosam
    Feb 20, 2012 - 8:51AM

    i’m loving these weekly articles full of rational thinking by Dr. Hoodbhoy.
    @jahanzeb, if you are passionate about science then you can learn it in any language. Language has never been a barrier to science. The Muslim Arabs between 700 and 1400 AD knew that the ancient Greeks and Egyptians had advanced knowledge of science, so they learned their languages so that they could learn science.

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  • Feb 20, 2012 - 9:00AM

    Nice written By Pervez Hoodbhoy,no doubt our science books is not Encourage curiosity in students,Science, mathematics, and technology do not create curiosity. They accept it, foster it, incorporate it, reward it, and discipline it and so does good science teaching. Thus, science teachers should encourage students to raise questions about the material being studied, help them learn to frame their questions clearly enough to begin to search for answers, suggest to them productive ways for finding answers, and reward those who raise and then pursue unusual but relevant questions. In the science classroom, wondering should be as highly valued as knowing.
    Teaching should be Inquiry-based learning Unfortunately, our traditional educational system has worked in a way that discourages the natural process of inquiry. Students become less prone to ask questions as they move through the grade levels. In traditional schools, students learn not to ask too many questions, instead to listen and repeat the expected answers.Recommend

  • mind control
    Feb 20, 2012 - 9:28AM

    @Ali Tanoli

    Abdu salam led the nation to get bom?????
    India and super power with out mejority of peoples have no food and cloths and biggest state
    in the country called U.P elect there leaders based on caste what can i say world so called largest dimocrasy ONLY IN INDIA…. viva la casta indiano shuders.

    And all this has some bearing on teaching of science to Pakistani students? What have you been smoking Dear?

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  • Nagpuri
    Feb 20, 2012 - 9:40AM

    @jahanzeb,by your logic Urdu should be banned as it is not a native language. Any takers?

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  • Indian
    Feb 20, 2012 - 9:54AM

    Mr Hoodboy is “Raja Ram Mohan Roy” of muslim world.. He would be remembered for 1000 years… I am not surprised by the kind of bashing he gets in pakistan. But what would happen to a society where liberals like him are called scum.. nevertheless he will win ..

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  • vasan
    Feb 20, 2012 - 9:56AM

    Ali Tanoli ;
    “India and super power with out mejority of peoples have no food and cloths and biggest state
    in the country called U.P elect there leaders based on caste what can i say world so called largest dimocrasy ONLY IN INDIA…. viva la casta indiano shuders.”

    this is the typical mind set of Pakistanis. Their mind are full of India hating and distorted version of Islam. How do u expect them to study science, Dr Hoodbhoy: Textbooks or no textbooks, it does not matter to the masses who are under the addiction of India hating.

    Your opinion about Indian students opinion about Science is also not in touch with reality. Though the Indian govt has promoted Science education in an enormous way through the Indian Institutes of Science education and research, India still has a long way to go. The flavour the season are engg and medicine only

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  • Maulana tharra
    Feb 20, 2012 - 10:09AM

    Want to create scientists and thinkers?
    Then educate children in their Mother Tounges.
    Scientific concepts are abstractions; you can only comprehend abstraction in your mother tounge.
    Neurologically speaking language, math i.e numbers, abstraction and logic are located in same area of brain; that is nature. Strengthening primary language of the child enhances the other components.
    Follow the nature; don’t go against it.
    Also to comprehend second language like English, you need to have a very strong foundation in your mother tounge.
    If languages had any innate magical powers then every English speaking person would be a Shakespear and every German speaker should be an Einstein, right!
    “Hota nasha shrab mein to nachti botal.”

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  • S A
    Feb 20, 2012 - 10:16AM

    There is a solution: good science books exist. So use them!

    But who will be making children learn translated version of science books in government schools? Govt. school teachers? Are they capable enough to teaching contents of o-level based curriculum? No way. Should they be fired before Elite curriculum is enforced in the class?

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  • Feb 20, 2012 - 10:24AM

    To start with the lack of interest that Dr. hoodbhoy talks about is unfounded and thus his claims un-informed to say the least. I myself am an engineer and have come across many students, in my short lifetime, who live on science. Although I think he is right in pointing out lack of locally published and authored books and this step would further improve the situation. Having said that Dr. would be better advised to visit arts departments of any university and then the science departments. He would come to the difference with arts departments literally closing down and science/engineering related departments thriving with students and funds.

    As far as lack of science books in Urdu are concerned I agree with Dr Hoodbhoy but this leads me to ask his as well what has he done to improve the situation? Of course, apart from sitting in an air conditioned room and criticizing everything round the corner. I mean he is a physicist, he could have authored a book two in Urdu.

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  • Zohra S. Khan
    Feb 20, 2012 - 10:31AM

    ‘So great is the public’s ignorance of science that the path-breaking work of Abdus Salam is considered inferior to the copycat reverse engineering that led Pakistan to the bomb.’

    The sentence nails it. Very Well written and excellent topic to takeup. I think the ignorance also includes the excellent programmes you started some years back on PTV and the wonderful ways of describing the dynamic science topics int he said programme. No wonder we are hooked to ‘wo kaun tha’ kind of rubbish programmes hihglighting ‘budrooh’ than the ones that inclucate reasoning.

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  • Munir A Saeed
    Feb 20, 2012 - 10:35AM

    @Doosam: The Greek scientific knowledge was translated into Arabic at Darul Hikmah established by Mamoon Rashid, which worked as Translation house. Thus the argument that the Arabs learnt science in others language is wrong. Teach science either in regional or provincial languages, if it has to be done in any other foreign language such as Urdu, then why not use Englsih in which most of the knowledge is found these day. No emotional speeches for the support of Urdu as a national language, that is only in the constitution.

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  • Maulana tharra
    Feb 20, 2012 - 10:54AM

    @vasan:
    Impressed that you were able to decipher Mr. Tanoli’s cryptic posting!

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  • sars
    Feb 20, 2012 - 10:59AM

    As a science student i agree a hundred percent. Our system teaches us what to learn, not how to learn it. I see trainee doctors coming in every year knowing a zillion facts about medicine , but completely stumped when you ask the simple “why”. Its because we havent been taught to ask the question. We have been taught to ask “whats coming in the exam?” and then ramming it down our throats so we can regurgitate it.

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  • Kafka
    Feb 20, 2012 - 11:34AM

    Science-phobic or “English-phobic”? I have seen a number of good students in Government schools giving up education because they flunk in English again and again.

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  • Rabail
    Feb 20, 2012 - 11:40AM

    Despite the fact that students hardly get to use their imagination in our schools, here’s what I think instructors can at least do to help students overcome science/mathematics anxiety, whether its primary/secondary level or above.

    Encourage them to SHARE and SPEAK.
    Tell the students not to confine themselves to exact answers or processes.
    Do constructive talks with them.
    Tell them to not run away from their intuition.
    Last but not the least, Tell them that NO questions are dumb or stupid when something is unclear or questionable.

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  • Maulana tharra
    Feb 20, 2012 - 11:46AM

    @Arindom:
    “wasn’t it some time ago that in the name of ‘Islamic’ science, in Pakistan PHD thesises were written on topics like “Generating Electricity from Djinns’ and such other topics?”

    It was just a little mix up between “Islamic ” Science versus Science Fiction; Science was at the core nonetheless; similar to History and “Islamic Historical” fiction by Naseem Hijazi.
    The director of “Karwan e Hayat,” a charitable mental health organization has similar hypothesis about the “Djinn” being the aetiology of mental illness.
    No wonder the higher education institutions are haunted and look like ghost towns (intellectually speaking), inhabitated by Voodoo practicing Shamans!

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  • HAMMAD ALI HASSAN
    Feb 20, 2012 - 11:54AM

    very well written…
    a very sharp analysis on science nightmare …:P

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  • Ali Wali
    Feb 20, 2012 - 12:08PM

    Science is solving real life problem, it should be learned by doing,bookish knowledge is of little use.Recommend

  • Rapid
    Feb 20, 2012 - 1:31PM

    In a culture where the written word is considered virtually unchallengeable.!

    In a country where on “Prime time TV” it is discussed that a University for the “understanding of Magic” should be opened. Where Tarot card/Parrot/fortune readers, readers are invited on “Prime time TV” as celebrities. A country where everyone is brainwashed from “Cradle to Grave” that it is the written word (holy text) which is unchallengable and infallible, its a miracle that a few persons like you still exist.
    While studying overseas most of us boycott Science classes (especially Biology classes) because the things taught and the evidence shown is not in line with our “written words” (holy texts).
    Yes, we are doomed. The whole Islamic world is doomed. For every properly educated, free thinking person like you, we have a atleast 100000 completey brainwashed persons who will vehemently oppose every word of yours, or every word of Science which is not in line with their “holy texts”.

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  • naive
    Feb 20, 2012 - 1:46PM

    @Maulana tharra
    @vasan:
    Impressed that you were able to decipher Mr. Tanoli’s cryptic posting!

    Not all that surprising. The regular readers know that these two are made for each other! :)

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  • Sadia
    Feb 20, 2012 - 1:47PM

    @Zaid Hamid:
    you really do not understand what science is. it is not something that can be ‘stolen’ or ‘taken back’. it is something created by intelligent, inquisitive minds, and is a heritage of mankind as a whole. there is no such thing is muslim science or western science. what about the chinese then? er … is that western science or eastern science? finally, the west did not steal science from the muslims, they created it based on the knowledge generated partillay by muslim scientists, just as muslim scientists based their scientific endeavors upon previous knowledge created by the greeks. every generation stands on the shoulders of its predeccesors.

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  • Sadia
    Feb 20, 2012 - 2:01PM

    @Sajida:
    and just how is that relevant to the pakistani problem?

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  • Pradeep
    Feb 20, 2012 - 2:23PM

    Indian situation is just as bad. Pure sciences are loosing their students to engineering where people want jobs right out of the University door. It is sad.

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  • Feb 20, 2012 - 2:27PM

    Good points. Food for thought.

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  • Tony Singh
    Feb 20, 2012 - 2:42PM

    The problem is English is the language of science since most of the inventions/discoveries were made by Western world. The language problem can be sorted out in two ways
    1. Either the books are translated and equivalent scientific terms coined in vernacular language to explain a given phenomena or
    2. Start teaching English to all students (this, in my opinion is easier). Most european countries are also teaching English from KG onwards.

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  • Ishtiaq Ahmed
    Feb 20, 2012 - 2:43PM

    @jahanzeb:
    Dear Friend: Why hate a language which gives you the words to communicate your thoughts, even as you do now in the English language..

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  • Tony Singh
    Feb 20, 2012 - 2:52PM

    @Maulana tharra:
    Look at the language problem this way :
    If people are driving left hand drive cars on right hand driven roads (Like we have in India/ Pakistan) then there is bound to be fear in minds of drivers. If most of the cars are manufactured as left hand drive, wouldn’t it be better to just change roadsigns and make driveways too that way? Similarly if most of science/egg/medical/mathematics books are in English, wouldn’t it be better to teach this language to children right from day one.
    Atleast the cocepts will not be lost in translation.

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  • Indian
    Feb 20, 2012 - 3:29PM

    “it is bcoz of that inspiration children loose curiosity in other stuff like science”.Recommend

  • Feb 20, 2012 - 3:40PM

    Pakistan is an Islamic Country and theories such as Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and the Big Bang theory go against Islamic teachings. In that case how can you expect science to take root in the Paksitani Psyche?

    Poverty, bad books, bad teachers also exist in India. Islam also does but the popular perception is science is right. As it is no concept of Hinduism is unchangeable and considered above science and this has helped create an atmosphere where Science is encouraged.

    A.P.J.Abdul Kalam is a Muslim, a fisher man’s son, studied in Govt schools, under bad teachers and not so good syllabus, yet he is one of the most successful Indians. I know you will call him an exception but you only have to read the bit about India in the article to know its a trend.

    I believe Darwin is true, not Islam, when it comes to Evolution, do you?

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  • Khan
    Feb 20, 2012 - 4:40PM

    @Tony Singh:
    English is taught in Pakistan from KG onward .. Its compulsory subject and not just as a subject but Physics, Chemistry & Bio etc are all in English as well in Govt Institutes. In private run institutes all but language related subjects are in English.
    Its just an excuse to say that the problem lies in language .. the problem is we emphasize on learning by heart in most schools and colleges .. especially in government run schools .. they have yearly exams where students just memorize text books instead of learning them.

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  • Khan
    Feb 20, 2012 - 5:11PM

    @Ali Tanoli:
    The question isn’t of what India lacks and what it doesn’t but what amazes me is the fact that you never accept that they are better than us and are progressing and will be in a position to overcome their shortcomings in next decade or so while at the same time we are going backwards only.
    Their population is 6 times bigger than ours but their foreign ex reserves are 19 times larger than ours (around $293 Billion vs $17.5 Billion), Their GDP is $4.4 trillion and ours is $482 billion.
    You can only learn from others if you look at their good things .. If you keep on looking at someones mistakes only you to have a laugh at then you will become a laughingstock yourself.

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  • Sanjay
    Feb 20, 2012 - 5:25PM

    Children are often very curious about their environment they meddle around with things with no apparent reason, however as they grow easiest explanation towards the riddles of the natures as proposed by parents and society is “God does it all”, hence the very human natural instinct of curiosity diminishes with time and there emerges a non curios personality to ape the same explanation to his siblings. Science and Technology flourished in west only after downfall of church and religion same is the trend catching up in India. Religion stands on the foundation of mere empty beliefs, whereas there is no place for belief system in Science. Religion and science are the opposite banks of the same river (human psyche) that shall never meet how much ever you try. In nutshell man was a born scientist we turn him into mullahs and pundits.

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  • Feb 20, 2012 - 5:31PM

    @ BruteForce

    To start with the Big Bang Theory, it neither does go against any of the Islamic teachings nor is it construed by anybody to be going going as such. So I guess you are mis-informed on this issue.

    Secondly, Darwin’s theory is thought to be going against Islamic Teachings but that it is not necessary that what is construed to be going against certain principles would in reality be also going against it. Because if I juxtapose Quran and Theory of Evolution, I do not find them to be contradictory at all. Although as I said many people would like to think that it does, from among both religious and non-religious people. Actually the theory of evolution pre-dates Darwin and can even be found in philosophical texts of medieval Muslim philosophers.

    Thirdly, I think to link darwin’s theory to above argument is a little far fetched. Considering the fact that the theory is taught in all biology classes all over the country and I have never heard anybody argue against it being taught. The incidents of students leaving classroom when this theory is taught occurred in western countries and not Pakistan So linking is with Pakistan is being mis-informed to say the least. Recommend

  • Feb 20, 2012 - 5:45PM

    What I would like to know is why you have to learn physics and chemistry to study computer science in Pakistan? No where else in the world is there such a requirement. Computers are mostly used in business and computer science is not a science. So why can’t business stream students learn comp sci?

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  • Mr. Righty rightist
    Feb 20, 2012 - 6:10PM

    This maybe the first time that some eminent Pakistani has accepted that Pakistan’s A-bomb technology is not indigenous!!!

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  • Reeba
    Feb 20, 2012 - 6:14PM

    Scientific education in Pakistan will not improve unless religion is seperated from science and politics. Science encourages open thinking, thinking out of the box, encourages curiosity in students and also encourages them to explore concepts and seek truth. One cannot learn science through rote learning.
    On the other hand, religion discourages open thinking, and thinking out of the box is strictly forbidden, Students have to rote learn the entire religious texts without questioning any of the concepts. Any one who questions written verses are called blasphemers.
    How can a young mind follow both of these philosophies at the same time? Religion should not be integrated with school system. Religion has to undergo a transformation and religious content should be understood in terms of context and not just by content. Then only religion and science will become compatible at least to a certain extent.
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  • omg!
    Feb 20, 2012 - 6:24PM

    Sir! Articles are like those science books, that do not change people of Pakistan. If, how many articles are needed to change Pakistan. Lets have a deal. We do not have time in life even to read articles. Because they do not change Pakistan.

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  • Jasmer Singh
    Feb 20, 2012 - 6:29PM

    What I always find remarkable about Professor Hoodhboy’s articles is thier modesty. But in this case I am afraid he is carrying it too far when, for instance, he places science teaching in India much above that in Pakistan.It is only in the so-called public schools in India, inherited from India’s British past, that teaching is almost at international level. In all others I doubt if it is any different to that in Pakistan. Indians too use Indian text books.Neither India nor Pakistan need buy foreign books. We could arrange for their being reprinted in our countries. But the topics taught are not quite the same. Indian university syllabuses, and even that of the prestegious Indian Administrative Service (IAS) competitive examination, hardly dare to venture beyond London University syllabuses of the pre World War II era.

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  • some one
    Feb 20, 2012 - 7:23PM

    @Bruteforce

    For your knowledge, There is a concept in the Glorious Quran that some humans were punished for their sins and turned into apes. So if Darwin says that humans have evolved from apes, that is not against Islam or the Quran.

    Quran Says- First Human Being was Adam. Adams progeny sinned and some of them were turned into apes. God is ever merciful and forgives if the sinners repent.

    So there is a strong chance that the human turned apes, again became humans as darwin’s theory suggests.

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  • saadya saeed
    Feb 20, 2012 - 7:39PM

    Our False pride and misplaced beliefs are harming us at a very large scale.Recommend

  • Farhan Gilgit
    Feb 20, 2012 - 7:39PM

    Spot on Professor sb.

    For students in Gilgit – Baltistan, there is also no interest in “non-science” subjects because we were made to learn names of all the districts of the four provinces, names of their heroes and ethnic stories, completely detached from our own setting.

    Due to lack of capacity, enabling infrastructure and interest at the highest level, we have successfully been able to confine education to learning of some text. This has, in turn, led to a massive mental stagnation in our societies, where everyone is proud of the great Muslim scientists of the past (if any) but lack the capacity to do anything similar to whatever they had done.

    I agree with a commentator above who said that you should write text books on Physics, if not other faculties of science, to start with.

    Thank you being a voice of reason in our country.

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  • Feb 20, 2012 - 7:47PM
  • Mawali
    Feb 20, 2012 - 7:56PM

    While, I agree the study of science is crucially important if Pakistani’s ever hope to remain active in the evolving scientific revolution. I however, would argue that Pakistan if anything needs more liberal arts education. But, then I have a problem with shoving down the mantra’s of either discipline’s on perpective students regardless, of their individual interests or proclivities. That is and has always been the problem. Pakistan may have produced a share of scientists and engineers but with a few exceptions these are students who crammed their way to completing a discipline without any real sense of understanding, love and drive for that discipline. So the have’s of Pakistan decide on educational choices depending on which way the fashion or popular opinion wind blows. Producing boatloads of MBA’s who have a tough time drafting an e-mail. Those condemned to the dungeons of the public schools enter a world of darkness to enlighten themselves. No one know whatever, happens to them. It seems they enter a system that has escape hatches built in them and most drop out without notice or bother then the few that bribe their way to graduaton are only more eager to latch on the popular yet now dimished MBA waves.

    Now all this happens in an environment that simply cannot support many of these graduating yahoos. Absence of business and industry leads to dreams of ventures abroad and the 7-11 stores then then find their educated workforce of MBA graduates to man the counters.

    Now smart people like yourself then sit back and wonder; how do I lead this horse to the water? or that by now you are so caught up in the mystery of the chicken or the egg that you get away from physics and write opinion pages on current mis-affairs. But somebody’s got to do it? Its a crazy world!

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  • Akhtar
    Feb 20, 2012 - 7:59PM

    Had we understood our Religion better, we would not need science & technology! All we need is a good Islamic research institute which provides the answers for everything!

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  • Feroz
    Feb 20, 2012 - 8:02PM

    As an Indian and an Engineer by training I must add that the quality of Science education in schools here is equally pathetic. Learning by rote while it may enable greater number of students in passing exams, is no good in developing a scientific temperament. Who wants to become a poorly paid teacher. Generally not even 10% of the Engineers graduating is employable. The consolation is that the number of students is so large that those who are talented and self motivated can run into many thousands. These are the guys who migrate for higher studies abroad on scholarships and are driving the R & D efforts in Multi National Technology companies.
    An enlightened Professor of mine when I was a student in the seventy’s used to tell us “I want my students to cultivate a relentless spirit for rational inquiry”. A real pipe dream in today’s World.

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  • Raj - USA
    Feb 20, 2012 - 8:09PM

    @Sadia:
    It is a fake ID. Don’t get worked up. It is just a joke that you misunderstood.

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  • Feb 20, 2012 - 8:49PM

    @BruteForce:

    In The article he quotes from a fellow physicist does not fall in the realm of science at all. It falls strictly in the realm of philosophy and more precisely religious philosophy. In case you do not know such philosophies are never assumed to be the last word. They have been changing over the ages and they still do.

    Not only the religious philosophies rather all sorts of philosophies change with new scientific discoveries. try looking into the debate on ‘Freewill’ and you would notice that how each scientific discovery changes the philosophical ideas and arguments.Recommend

  • Feroz
    Feb 20, 2012 - 9:12PM

    @Khan:
    Dear Mr Khan, being an Indian I appreciate your open mindedness. No country or people are superior to another, neither should the people of any country consider themselves inferior to others in any aspect. Once the right framework and processes are in place human talent can flourish. We must learn from the good examples of other nations without aping their faults. Nobody is perfect, there is always scope for improvement. Humans are capable of amazing feats if they are encouraged, motivated and suitably rewarded. It is only when we lose our Humanism that dangers will lurk around us. Every life is precious and we must learn to value it.

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  • Indian
    Feb 20, 2012 - 9:32PM

    Yes, I had a panacea to reform Pakistan. And I tried it many times” … So guys pls go home…

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  • kaalchakra
    Feb 20, 2012 - 9:33PM

    Indian – Hoodbhoy is like raja rammohan roy….

    Man, are you completely nuts? Do you even know who Raja Rammohan Roy was?

    Ayesha Khan

    Science gets a lot of play these days becaus the world is led by mostly materialistic civilizations. But science is not final knowedge. As such, it is not much different from literature or fiction of a time. It’s ideas come and go. They can’t be Pakistan’s national focus.

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  • Ak
    Feb 20, 2012 - 9:33PM

    @some one:
    I hope you are not serious!!
    @Author: I think some of this has to be based on whether society gives importance to science and scientific temper. This gets reflected in the number of youngsters interested in science and the kind of institutions it creates for itself.
    Another aspect is related to economics. The more the country spends on setting up institutions of learning the better it gets in producing scientists. It requires huge funding to get cutting edge research to be done.
    Though I am not sure but people who are conservative in terms of religion will unlikely to have children who are very interested in science. Religion and science are two absolute poles – one based on faith and belief and latter on rational thinking which can be questioned, challenged and modified based on evidence.

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  • imran
    Feb 20, 2012 - 9:55PM

    Also this is not true that S&T is the key to india’s emergence as world power. It all because of advancement of technology that allowed businesses’ back office processing done cheaply at remote places like India – if you take BOPs out of the equation then where would India be today?Recommend

  • Indian muslim
    Feb 20, 2012 - 10:14PM

    It seems that great person like Mr hoodbhoy is wasting his time in pakistan. He should come to India.. We need more people like him. You are at wrong place… pakistanis understand the language of mullahs who has “logic” for everything and he can prove by “2+2=3” that “his way is the best way”…haha.. science has no place in such society … :P

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gfzUJHMlf7U&feature=fvwrel
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xHRaNE2XXVk&feature=context&context=G2095513RVAAAAAAAAAw

    These “laaagics” suits conservative islamic society. Thankfully many of us in India have moved ahead from such weired “logical” thinking.. :) ..Recommend

  • majid
    Feb 20, 2012 - 11:20PM

    with weak finances, i should better worry about making money to keep the boat afloat instead of day-dreaming about research and stuff.
    Yes, Einstein did A LOT, BUT he never slept hungry. An empty belly cant nourish a mind which is doing a thinking job.Recommend

  • Reddy
    Feb 21, 2012 - 1:02AM

    No doubt,by looking at the comments,it’s pretty much evident and enforces the views of the author that pakistan needs better text books.
    poor fellow wasting his time on creating awareness and trying to instigate unknown entity like objectivity into the cult worshiping population which loathe ,anything that is objective or questions their ability or challenges their thinking process makes them really freak out, my suggestion to the author is,it’s the time you find a place where your words find people,if not appreciation.

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  • Reddy
    Feb 21, 2012 - 1:18AM

    @Munir A Saeed:Subscriber identity module(SIM),Blue tooth are well known to the most of the Pakistanis, even if they never been to the school,now try to explain them in your own language and make them understand it’s usage and don’t forget to keep us posted on your recovery process after the thrashing that you received from them

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  • Ali Tanoli
    Feb 21, 2012 - 3:37AM

    @Vasan,
    World largist democratic thieves exist in india mahan and there stolen money is in swiss bank
    s amounts over trillion dollars and more than half indian population dont eat two time meals a day amid all this our few librals pakistanis still dreaming india is better than us i dont know how may be in one thing only and its a KAWA challa Huns ki Chaal and apny bi gaye…

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  • Ali Tanoli
    Feb 21, 2012 - 4:20AM

    One of my german friend visit it india little while ago and according to him india is nothing more than a media talks.

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  • numbersnumbers
    Feb 21, 2012 - 8:23AM

    @Zaid Hamid:
    THE WEST STOLE IT!!!, Wow, what did “the West” do, pry it out of peoples minds and leave with it! Another “blame the west” conspiracy theory is born!

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  • Truthbetold
    Feb 21, 2012 - 9:45AM

    @Akhtar:

    “Had we understood our Religion better, we would not need science & technology! All we need is a good Islamic research institute which provides the answers for everything!”

    Are you willing to get treated by a mullah when you need a heart surgery? Or, will you put your faith in allah and don’t take any medications? My guess is you will not come back with an answer.

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  • Raj - USA
    Feb 21, 2012 - 10:41AM

    @numbersnumbers:
    It is just a joke. Zaid Hamid is a Fake ID. He is just making fun.

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  • Sadia
    Feb 21, 2012 - 11:20AM

    @Feroz:
    so the religious institute will provide tcure for dengue, cancer and every other ill. maybe all diseases just cure themselves automatically, if one prays long and hard enough. you must be joking!!!

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  • Akhtar
    Feb 21, 2012 - 11:22AM

    @Truthbetold: you don’t need to be treated at all since you’ll never fall ill, if you put complete trust in khudaa. Ask any of our Muslim scientists if they believe in ALLAH (the merciful) (PBUH) or they believe in science. Do they believe in Darwin theory or in Atom smasher or the religion that they believe. This science & technology is all temporary & only religion is permanent! Have you visited any Madrassa? If not, please visit Binori Town Madrassa in Karachi if you are a Deobandi & within 3 days your outlook changes!

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  • Dr.aman
    Feb 21, 2012 - 11:45AM

    It is an eye opening article. I agreed with Dr. Sahab, the current textbooks written by authors published by text book boards are extremely poor and should not be used any more to fool the poor. It will be a great step forward if we can somehow manage to introduce the the O and A level books to all schools and kindly also note that Urdu being medium of instruction is one of the root cause of downfall of our education. So stop fooling poor while elites are studying in English.

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  • Wajahat
    Feb 21, 2012 - 1:16PM

    @kaalchakra: What is the cultural context to understanding the periodic table, or the laws of physics? When it comes to science, there is not much cultural context.

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  • Feb 21, 2012 - 7:38PM

    Almost all devleoped nations in europe, even china and korea are using english language to teach their university students, almost all research is carrried in english all over the world. Singapore has changed to english as their national language, its time we change to english and start progressing

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  • shak
    Feb 22, 2012 - 4:16AM

    I am product of the Pakistan public school and I can tell you from first hand experience…….it is not the students that are at fault, it is the teachers and the administration……..in the 9th and 10th grade i was told to buy the book but we never used them in class. all of the science teachers had private academies and you were required to pay them a lot of money just to take notes and usually a two line explanation in the book was expanded to three paragraphs

    I got around 45 to 50 in all of my science classes in pakistan because i couldn’t memorize those long definitions. I came to the US and studied almost exact topic with small easy to use language and i got 90s which developed my interest in science. In pakistan you are told to memorize and not question what is being taught. science can only be taught to a curious mind, otherwise it seems like a dull topic that has no impact on your life.

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  • Humaira Siddiqui
    Feb 22, 2012 - 7:23AM

    @Akhtar This is precisely the problem with the liberals (who are just undercover apostates) they love Darwin use him to attack Islam. Darwin is just a theory but Allah (pbuh) is the true reality for all places and times. For liberals Science is the religion.

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  • Fighter
    Feb 22, 2012 - 9:22AM

    I have been to places in usa and UK and everywhere i find a pakistani mind contributing at important positions. We have pakistani students at every famous universities. And why compare ourselves with india, while indians are mainly in to call center business, pakistanis are at the top of every top it firm contributing new ideas everyday. Am really optimistic about pakistans future.

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  • Shahzad Aslam
    Feb 22, 2012 - 11:15AM

    Very well written analysis of our text books. We are not just pioneers of reverse swing but Reverse engineering too. Bull’s eye !

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  • Tony Singh
    Feb 22, 2012 - 11:51AM

    @Fighter:
    Sir we are discussing science, not countries! Isn’t it better we stick to it rather than defame countries, BTW kindly visit Silicon Valley California and Banglore/Chennai here in India and you would know Indian contribution to cutting edge technologies, But that does not take away the fact that by and large students are not attracted to science any more. Your contribution to this fact and how it can be curtailed would help us have a healthy discussion.
    To start with one can always argue that science no longer pays as much as other streams as a career option.
    Now your turn.

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  • smj
    Feb 22, 2012 - 8:10PM

    Use internet to understand any scientific concept from millions of sources.

    Learning from a textbook be it written by a Pakistani or a Non Pakistani is so outdated and costly. If every kid these days has access to cell phone and net cafe, focus should be to how to use these devices positively in the society.

    Instead of textbooks, teachers should be able to pick topics and create their own syllabus for the year. Yearly exams should be ended instead small term exam system should be tested to check student’s knowledge and abilities.

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  • Paki-Away
    Feb 22, 2012 - 9:00PM

    Science has nothing to do with culture or religion, so why even bring that up. Pakistan must change the way science is taught which means using the right tools and training the right teachers, science is not just for the elite, infact as a percentage fewer students from elite families seem to be interested in pursuing science based careers. I think its time we make science an intersting subject in Pakistan and figure out a way to make it more aprroachable for the masses.

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  • MRK
    Feb 28, 2012 - 6:20AM

    Well in Pakistan there is a general problem of education and saying that it is science specific is really not correct. Now, mr. Hoodbhoy appears to suffer from a superiority complex whereby the subjects of pure Science etc are somehow superior to so called practical sciences. This is the mindset that if something is of monetary value then it necessarily is inferior. Mr Hoodbhoy, if we don’t have many great scientists, we also don’t have many leaders in practical fields. At least we had Abdus salam; We never had a Steve Jobs, a person who revolutionized entire industries and created enourmous economic wealth along the way for many.

    The so called generalalizations on surveys in India are also exagerated. Those who are familiar know that most inndian kids dream about bollywood, business and medicine. And there’s nothing wrong with that as they both help themselves and their nation in doing so.

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