We often hear that there is unemployment among IT graduates in Pakistan. Interestingly, industry experts such as Dr Umar Saif, VC of IT University, claim that Pakistan just does not produce enough IT graduates.
The real problem is that our IT graduates lack certain skill: critical thinking. Critical thinking is sadly absent among the majority of university graduates and school students in Pakistan. Our system of rote learning in most schools prevents the creation of a well informed and critical workforce.
We should learn lessons from pluralistic Muslim countries such as Malaysia. The late prime minister of Singapore Lee Kaun Yew called Mahathir Mohamad the best ‘Malaysian leader’ in his book ‘From Third World to the First World’. Lee states that Mahathir successfully modernised Malaysia. Mahatir’s emphasis on science, especially computer science, helped Malaysia move away from obscurantism and towards becoming a tolerant, peaceful country. We must do the same.
The good news is that this is already happening in Pakistan, especially in Punjab. As a consequence of the efforts of Punjab Information Technology Board, headed by the dynamic and industrious Dr Umar Saif, Plan 9, Pakistan’s version of Silicon Valley, has become highly active. It is the brainchild of Dr Umar Saif.
There are two main challenges that Pakistan faces in this regard. While universities, academia and industry collaborate on Plan 9, venture capitalism is missing. The other challenge is the investment mindset — most businessmen want to invest either in textiles or real estates. There is a need to change this mentality.
For the short term, Pakistani expatriates can help plug this gap. Most expatriates live and work in more technologically advanced countries; they can become drivers of an economic transformation in Pakistan. They have a much better understanding of technology than that of local businessmen. They must be provided with a secure investment framework so that they can invest in technology.
For the long run, our investment mentality must change. Celebrities can play a huge role in this regard. Shahid Afridi is a household name. Most people know about his restaurant Splice. Imagine if Shahid Afridi invested in technology in Pakistan: It would have a seismic impact on our investment culture. Certain sportsmen such as Misbah-ul-Haq have a very high business acumen. If Misbah were to back Plan 9’s technology startups, there could be a big change in the way Pakistani tech startups are viewed.
As these tech startups attract more investment, they will create a demand for better training facilities and courses in universities. Eventually, the whole chain will become much more productive and useful for the country. With proper funding, Pakistan could best international technology competitions.
DAUD BIN MAZHAR, HANNAN BIN TAHIR
COMSATS Institute of Information Technology, Lahore