Pakistan is a country with over 130 million youth (below the age of 30), out of its total 220 million population. This provides an excellent window of opportunity for the country’s socio-economic and scientific progress. Pakistan’s education system really needs to adopt a dynamic and inclusive innovative strategy to effectively utilize the creative potential of its youth. Within the next two decades, it must become a nation with the largest number of internationally recognized commercial patents. To achieve this goal, we need to build a comprehensive national-level innovation strategy and it must be mainstreamed among our educational institutions. The innovation strategy must be inclusive in nature, it must ensure gender equality and provide equal opportunities for each class of society. However, its practical implementation will demand basic reforms in several aspects of our entire education system. For instance, rather than rote learning, we must promote and encourage problem-solving, professional skills, and conceptual learning in our education system and for that, we must build such a mindset among our students.
The fundamental requirement of building an innovation culture is the presence of visionary leadership at an institutional level, one which understands the significance of strong knowledge and innovation-based education system and its contribution to the national socio-economic development. A top-quality education system produces the innovators and entrepreneurs who later build a society where entrepreneurship and innovation flourishes. For instance, the industrial revolution in Korea was mainly based on education sector reforms, which included the foundation of the Seoul National University (SNU) and the Korean Institute of Science and Technology (KIST).
Another example is that the Chinese government initiated in 1978 to send its top students to the best universities in the world. Currently, over 700,000 Chinese students study abroad per year with a 10 to 15% annual increase. In 2018, over 519,000 Chinese students returned to their country and were given jobs in universities and research centers of excellence, who are making a significant contribution to the Chinese economy. Whereas the Government of Pakistan sends less than 1000 students to study abroad each year and most of them go for 6- month duration on Higher Education Commission (HEC) funded International Research Support Initiative Programme (IRSIP) for Ph.D. students. Thus, to fill this gap, the Government of Pakistan must send abroad at least 5,000 top students for Ph.D. study each year in the world’s top 100 universities and a 5-8 year bond of mandatory national service must be signed with the students and as a result within the next 20-30 years, we will have the country’s best talent equipped with advanced skills and latest knowledge working in our top institutions.
Government funding for research and innovation plays a key role in establishing a culture of innovation at national and institutional levels. Unfortunately, we have been spending much more on transportation projects such as the Orange train and Metro bus service in Lahore, Islamabad, and Multan as well as Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in Peshawar. In the 2019-2020 budget, the government allocated the highest ever budget PKR 7 billion, for the development of science and technology which has declined to around PKR 4 billion (less than 1% of the national GDP) allocated in the recently presented budget for the year 2020-2021. These trends illustrate that we need to change our strategies and vision for the development of science, technology, and innovation in Pakistan. We must allocate at least five percent of the national GDP for education and at least three percent for science, technology, and innovation.
An important aspect of our innovative approach must be inclusiveness in our development process so that wealth must circulate in society and even the poorest of the poor must be able to take advantage of the opportunities this creates. The primary target of our higher education must be that our graduates, instead of seeking jobs, should have sufficient skills, knowledge, and opportunities to develop their own companies and create jobs for others. This needs a dynamic environment where entrepreneurship and innovation must be able to flourish. To create such an environment, access to quality education, professional mentorship, legal financial services, venture capital, and tech-parks is mandatory to assist the young people to come up with their own ideas and business plans. Such an integrated strategy with remarkable outcomes has already been adopted by Malaysia, Korea, Turkey, Singapore, and China since the 1980s.
Muhammad Umar; The writer is a Commonwealth Scholar and Postgraduate Researcher at the University of Kent, Canterbury, UK. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org