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Punjab: Banking on IT & Education Sector Reforms for Development

Punjab: Banking on IT & Education Sector Reforms for Development

Abdul Rashid Shakir

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The 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) of the 21st century, characterized by rapid advances in the cutting edge technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Robotics, Augmented and Virtual Realities has resulted in a paradigm shift in the ways we produce, consume, think and even interact with others. The very fascinating memories of the Digital Revolution of the 1990s have lost steam. Things like ChatGPT, Self-driving cars, Face and Speech Recognition softwares, Virtual Personal Assistants and Internet of Things (IoT) were unheard-of not a very long time ago. Freelancing, remote work, flexi office hours and the ‘fatal’ intrusion of social media in our lives are corollaries of these changing tech trends that have shook our work ethics and social interaction values to the core.

Working knowledge of high-tech devices like smartphones, tablets, PCs, smart watches and digital cameras have become central to digital literacy in modern times. World Economic Forum’s ‘Future of Jobs Report 2023’ explores how tech trends will shape our workplace in future. It finds that analytical and creative thinking, AI and big data will be the top in-demand skills by 2027. 06 in 10 workers will require training before 2027, signifying the importance of life-long learning by the modern workforce in order to keep them relevant in the ever-changing job market.

In a right desire to keep pace with these changing job market trends, Punjab Government under the progressive leadership of its Chief Minister Maryam Nawaz Sharif is all set to exploit wonders of the modern technology by laying focus on market-driven technical skills and education sector reforms.

The start of Pakistan’s first IT City: Nawaz Sharif IT City is a right step in the right direction. Nawaz Sharif IT City features in IT & Tech District, an Education City and a Film City. The Government of Punjab has declared the project tax-free for 10 years in order to lure in huge investments both local and foreign. Major tech giants of the world including 16 Chinese tech companies have not only given their consent to work with Pakistan’s first IT City, but 08 of them are immediately ready to establish their business offices here. Well-reputed international educational institutions are being convinced to set up their campuses in Nawaz Sharif IT City, so that our youth could get rewarding international degrees in their own beloved homeland, Pakistan.

To fulfill the need of quality human resource, ably-trained in the modern highly-tech skills and vocational trades, the Government has also started restructuring of Technical Education and Vocational Training Authority (TEVTA) in order to enable it run market-driven advanced training courses in the fields like artificial intelligence, robotics, machine learning, augmented and virtual realities etc instead of the old conventional trades like plumbing, refrigeration and motor winding. It has also started imparting advanced training to 4000 young boys and girls under Chief Minister’s Skill Development Programme.

In order to promote a culture of research and higher education in youth, Government of Punjab has announced multiple programs including foreign undergrad scholarship program for the talented but deserving students across Punjab, besides augmenting the existing undergrad scholarship Programs in the local universities under Punjab Education Endowment Fund (PEEF). It has also announced the grant of iPads and laptops to the talented students, besides providing them 20,000 bikes (E-bikes and petrol bikes) on interest free easy monthly installments.

The Government of Chief Minister Maryam Nawaz Sharif fully understands the need of a quality school education system to better reap the fruits of higher education outcomes, because ‘GIGO (Garbage in Garbage Out)’ is a proven maxim. Therefore, it has started a comprehensive program of school education reforms. It includes outsourcing of some 13000 non-performing or under-performing schools out of the total 49000 public sector schools in Punjab. The Government is focused on complete overhaul of the education system in the province, for which it is not only categorizing schools on the basis of their performance but is also devising workable model to engage private sector in the quality uplift of overall teaching-learning exercise in public sector schools of the Province. Moreover, it has also launched teachers’ training program in the province. Another sore point of the school education sector in Punjab is reflected in a recent report of Pakistan Institute of Education, prepared in collaboration with UNESCO, that Punjab has 10.11 million Out-of-School children (OSC). In order to fix this issue, Punjab has started a school enrolment Programme.

Another major speed trap in the development of kids’ cognitive abilities is the prevalence of stunting and malnutrition in a greater number of kids across the province. Therefore, the Government has planned to start giving nutritious milk packs to the students of primary classes in public sector schools. This valuable intervention of Punjab Government would not only spur creative thinking and analytical abilities of the students but would also equip them with the courage and stamina needed to undertake challenging assignments in life.

To wrap up the discourse, we can rightly claim that these quality interventions in the education sector, besides shifting focus of skill training from conventional to high-end technical trades, would no doubt go a long way in raising a productive human resource that would be instrumental in the socio-economic development of the province, acting as its real asset instead of being a precarious liability.

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