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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Taleem Portal -such a nice educational portal for laptop institute

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