Thursday, 4 October 2012

Taleem Portal - Making Schools Cool

M. Mobeen 

The dawn of new age brings to the classroom new techniques, technology and resources. However, those stuck in medieval times continue to make use of the age old ways of rote (Rata) learning and theoretical knowledge instead of practical. In Pakistan, there is a pertinent question that all educationists and those in the education “industry” should ask themselves – what plans do we have for the children of 21st century? 

The answer is probably the tried and tested ‘Mr. Chips’ approach, which basically means that we keep teaching what we learned and the way we learned, as it is, to our children. So there’s no room for something like “generation gap” in our classrooms. No doubt, teachers find it easier to simply teach what they were taught instead of learning new things and then teaching them to students. After all, we’re all defendants of the status-quo. As I was once told by my teacher in a reproachful tone, “Remember the Chinese proverb, ‘the nail that strikes out – gets hammered!’”. I sure did never forget that but in hand with it I also learnt a proverb from the less conservative Americans that says, ‘the squeaky wheel gets the grease’. So well our team at Taleem Portal is more than just squeaking for change! 

We’re talking about making schools COOL for kids. We say do away with the boring classroom where to ask a question is to invite hell on yourself or more appropriately ‘the hammer’ on you. We say make the classroom interactive, bring in tools that help interaction between students and teachers – Interactive Whiteboards and Classroom Response System. So that the lesson INVOLVES students. Make use of the internet for promoting e-learning at schools as well as at homes. Get world renowned Britannica’s Online tools – Britannica Online Encyclop√¶dia, SmartMath, Pathways: Science & Image Quest! Do away with those science diagrams that students have to copy in to their journals just to show they are "learning" and bring in to your labs 3D science animations from Genome!

The goal is to enhance student’s learning and not only their performance in final exams. Teach what is relevant in a manner that the student would WANT to learn and you have a school that is COOL

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Pakistan - Budget 2012 and Education

Budget 2012 & Education

So each year, we come across our Finance Minister delivering his budget speech amidst loud protest, only this time there were punches being thrown instead of bangles. The Prime Minister had said it loud and clear way back before the announcement of budget that his priorities for this year are going to be: 
      i.            Electricity (finally he realizes its significance) 
     ii.            Employment 
    iii.            Agriculture 
    iv.            No new taxes (is this even classified as a priority?)

Sadly, as done by previous governments, there was no mention of Education. The PM has been conveniently hiding education under the mat by putting its responsibility under provinces after PPP’s glorious 18th amendment. This goes without saying that there are provinces in Pakistan that barely manage to spend their budgeted allocation (Education Emergency Report 2011). With our government spending 1-2% of GDP on education on average, what good can be said about the state of education in Pakistan?

In any case, this time our government has earmarked Rs. 47.874 billion, against the recommended sum of Rs. 100 billion (by EER 2011) to meet the Millenniums Development Goal 2015 of Universal Primary Education. This is a meager 1.03% of our budget (Dawn) and goes to show the world how serious we are in playing our part in eradicating illiteracy. Compared to last year’s budget, Education has witnessed a 21.16% increase which is 18% less than the increase seen in PM House’s garden maintenance expenditure.

Just across the border, India has taken a revolutionary step by passing ‘Right to Education’ (RTO) bill and its Supreme Court has directed private schools to maintain a 25% quota for giving free education to deserving children. Indian government in its budget 2012 has set aside Rs. 255.55 billion for such projects (Times of India). It has since long realized the need for educating its posterity in order for it to set its mark around the world and currently has a 74% literacy rate.

Our government lacks the leadership needed to think long term and has always gone for short term solutions. Budgets have come and gone without any marked improvement being seen by the eyes of an average Pakistani. Even the provinces cannot be excused for completely politicizing education with schemes such as the ‘Youth Laptop’ in Punjab. Emphasis needs to be given to proper planning and policy making so that a long term strategy can be put to place that gives everyone a clear direction and goal. Whereas, more spending is the need of the hour, one can not ignore effective utilization of public money at the same time. 

In order for the remnants of this nation to survive and build this country, it is necessary that we all raise a voice in support of education! Our government will not realize its significance until we amplify it. In the words of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan:

“It is the categorical verdict of all the nations and great seers of the world that national progress depends on education and training (of the people).”.

Education Emergency Report 2011:
Image: Britannica Image Quest (,, (Designed in-house)

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Of Laptops & Education!

Much has been said, argued and politicized about the initiative of the Punjab government for the distribution of laptops. There has been controversy regarding the whole procedure from procurement to distribution. The question about such a huge amount being spent on something like laptops has been a favorite discussion topic of concerned citizens and unconcerned politicians alike. However, Taleem Portal has felt that the fundamental link of laptops and education, though has been argued, has not quite been debated fairly. Therefore, this piece aims to do just that.

M. Mobeen
The positive case of the whole laptop scheme is definitely something worth considering. Our government has given away laptops free of cost to students based upon their merit and level of education. Students have gotten hold of a resource which is the key to a whole new realm of knowledge, discovery and learning, i.e. the internet. Through these laptops they have been shown a way which does not require learning by rote or studying for the sake of scoring numbers. Furthermore, in today’s job market there is absolutely no chance of survival for the computer illiterate and therefore, these students can now enter the job market far more confident and skilled. Last but not the least, in a system that rarely gives recognition to people who work hard, we have come across students who have been instilled with a sense of achievement through the whole scheme and its distribution ceremony.

The Punjab Govt. has distributed these laptops based upon the following criteria:

Now the criteria clearly focuses on the higher level students and makes sure that merit is given its due share. It is a fact that students in universities need this resource the most, since their work is research oriented and they have to prepare assignments and reports on computers time to time.

Furthermore, globally, IT is bringing a complete revolution in education. One can simply not ignore how important it is to bring our students on board as well. Research has suggested that the use of laptops in education promotes active learning, class interaction and encourages a better student-teacher relationship (Fitch, 2004). Also, in Britain, the Gordon Brown government executed an almost similar initiative in 2010, where they provided poor students free laptops along with an internet connection in order to bridge the rich and poor divide, and ensure that the poor students too can make the most of this useful resource (BBC). The Punjab Govt. have set up an IT department that is working quite hard in providing schools with the required infrastructure and the laptop initiative is simply a part of a bigger picture.

Coming to our job market point, we are all aware what a dismal picture it presents. Our youth is unemployed, without skills and ill equipped to take on the challenges of the future.
“Computer literacy is highly important when any good company is hiring. If given a rating, a computer illiterate stands between 30-60% and a literate starts at 80%!” says Mr. A. Rehman, our HR manager. Therefore, these laptops can truly empower employment seekers. Think of a home without a computer and all those opportunities it is missing on. Now that home has a computer and the young individual who has gotten it can surely learn a lot from it; if nothing else, he or she would at least learn how to use it.

Can you imagine that there are students who have written ‘winner of Youth Laptop’ on their CV’s ‘achievement’ section? It is indeed true. In our government colleges and universities there are not many opportunities for students to shine and achieve something worth talking about. The emphasis on merit and the distribution ceremony that included parents and the Chief Minister himself handing over the laptops to students has certainly instilled a sense of achievement in many of the students.

Lastly, the negative perception of the whole scheme is to be blamed entirely on the way the media has portrayed it. One look at the following videos is enough to judge how sensational and irresponsible our media is:
And then came the Punjab Govt. response: 

Such videos clearly show how biased reporting is in our news channels and how much they themselves are politically motivated. 
Moving on, let's look at the other side of the laptop scheme. The cry of spending so much of tax payer’s money on laptops, when your overall education spending is a menial 2.3% of GDP (World Bank), can be heard loud and clear out on the streets. Not to mention the politicization of the whole scheme, where beneath the veneer of selfless service to masses and label of education, lay a calculated move to tackle the increasing opposition and win the hearts of the ever vulnerable youth. The question of whether laptops truly promote education lies right in the middle of all this. The cost of the distribution ceremonies and the related wastage of resources also leave the common man wondering if indeed it was worth it all. Then of course the final blow of finding those same laptops and achievement certificates on sale in Hafeez Centre, reduces the whole exercise to a complete joke.

What good are laptops when in Pakistan 9% of primary schools do not have a blackboard, 24% do not have textbooks available for the children and 46% do not have desks for the students (UNESCO). Furthermore, only 30% of Pakistani children manage to receive secondary education and 22% of female complete primary education against 47% male (World Bank). Coming to educational reforms in Punjab specifically, 30% schools in Rawalpindi district are without science/IT teachers for more than a year now (Dawn). When there are so many areas in education that have been neglected by our government, why spend so much on a fancy laptop? All this puts a big question mark on the sincerity of our government towards the Millennium development goal of achieving universal primary education.

This whole activity is the result of adding politics to something as pure as education. We all know how the opposition has been using social media to create a substantial standing among the youth and Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif could no longer ignore the comments of Facebook users ever in favor of the opposition and against his government. The whole laptop scheme was a strategically planned move in order to strike the opposition on its tech base and build some standing among the computer literate (which by the way were previously an ignored segment in election campaigns). The huge marketing campaign and the glorious distribution ceremonies are all a proof of our CM making some noise for the public to notice.
True, research has supported the use of laptops in class rooms however only in those classrooms and lectures that are designed to utilize such a technology. Otherwise, there is recent research that calls them a source of distraction for students and nuisance for the teacher (Fried, 2006). Furthermore, international schools such as Harvard have actually made efforts to control their use in classrooms (Boston Globe).

Lastly, the procurement and distribution was managed so poorly that these laptops have flooded Hafeez Centre and the ‘achievement’ of the students, like their degrees, now carries a price tag. The whole purpose of the exercise is reduced to a sham and the educative aspect is nothing but a political gimmick that now stands exposed.

In conclusion, having debated both sides of the arguments one has to answer the question of whether indeed laptops have promoted education’s cause in Pakistan. We conducted a small survey on our Facebook page and the following are the results:

It is obvious what the masses have to say about this. But one has to keep in mind that the news media has played a huge role in shaping the opinion of the masses. Still, when we asked our audience if media was unbiased in reporting this scheme, the result came out to be:

These laptops do have certain positives and are indeed a resource that every student desires. It would not be justice to call it all political and simply ignore what the students have gained through this whole exercise. Mr. Zulfiqar, an administrator in the IT department of a leading school put it quite well,
“The laptop scheme is a good step in the right direction but unfortunately highly politicized. In the end, the result of this move depends solely on how the students make use of these laptops.”

There is tremendous amount of work to be done in the education sector and it all starts from the political leadership having a vision. They need to realize the importance of education and in the end not only ensure each Pakistani gets an education but in fact quality education. Once they have developed the infrastructure, increased the quality and capacity of institutions and ensured that the education is relevant and useful, today’s students will tomorrow themselves manage to earn enough to purchase a laptop!

Fitch, J. L. (2004). Student feedback in the college classroom: a technology solution. Educational Technology Research and Development,52, 171–181.
Fried, B. Carrie (2006). Computers and Education. In Class Use & its Effects On Student Learning
World Bank:
Boston Globe: 


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