THE next knowledge revolution in Pakistan will not be driven by a long overdue expansion of public libraries or a much-needed revamp of educational institutions across the public sector. Instead, following in the footsteps of a questionable distribution of laptops across Punjab spearheaded by the ruling PML-N, a mass distribution of internet devices popularly known as EVOs is now supposedly under way.

The government’s Higher Education Commission has been given charge by the authorities in Islamabad to oversee the distribution of up to 100,000 such devices in the first instance, ostensibly to create a knowledge revolution. And yet, imparting knowledge through this mechanism is far easier said than done.

How much have the laptops already dished out to students made a difference to the knowledge level across the populous province? Anecdotal evidence suggests very little has changed by way of lifting the knowledge level, notwithstanding the frequent pats on their backs by key members of the ruling structure. The next phase led by mobile internet devices may be similarly doomed to eventually become inconsequential.

Fundamentally, there are two equally vital gaps surrounding this initiative. First, Pakistan lives with the legacy of becoming a country which has repeatedly tried to run before it could even walk properly. The idea of arming young students with laptops and internet connectivity as they are churned out of educational institutions without gaining globally acceptable academic proficiency, is nothing short of mind-boggling and perhaps gimmickry.

Giving students laptops fails to mask the basic gaps.
There are multiple tales of mediocrity among job applicants which make the rounds among recruiters based on the performance of entry level fresh graduates. Clearly, there is a generation of young graduates armed with degrees but not necessarily the knowledge.

Second, arming students with laptops and mobile internet devices fails to mask the fundamental gaps surrounding Pakistan’s re**peated inability to get its priorities right. Resources allocated to education have historically been disappointing.

But if allocations for education remain tight, that’s all the more reason to vigorously and tightly scrutinise every paisa dedicated to the cause of lifting the knowledge level. The pathetic state of Pakistan’s commitment to education has been ably articulated recently by Faisal Bari, a respected academic, in this newspaper.

Among the ‘four big problems’ surrounding the education sector which are waiting to be resolved, Bari’s reference to the 20 to 25 million students between the ages of five to 16 who are presently out of school, is a powerful reminder of the gap between Pakistan’s pathetic realities and the pipe dreams so forcefully put across by the ruling elite. Should Pakistan’s tight budgetary resources not be primarily devoted to putting every child into school rather than shoving the matter under the carpet and dishing out laptops and mobile internet devices?

This case of misplaced priorities is another reminder of a wider and ongoing policy challenge in Islamabad. For too long, Pakistan has remained a country driven by whimsical choices that have ignored some of the country’s most telling realities.

In pursuing the vision of a more promising future for the country, the ruling structure led by the PML-N appears to have embarked on a spendthrift drive in the name of revamping the economy. The new financial year has begun with the controversial approval of a Rs300 billion-plus motorway that plans to link Lahore to Karachi by 2017, a year ahead of 2018 when the next national elections are due to take place.

A reality check can simply not ignore that more than one-third — and possibly exceeding 40pc — of Pakis*tan’s population lives below the poverty line. The relative relief from long duration electricity cuts which is felt in parts of Pakistan during Rama*zan goes little beyond a temporary phenomenon, perhaps loaded more with the political narrative meant to prevent public protests than an act of official generosity.

Other sectors, notably reliable and safe water supply, healthcare and public safety all remain the subject of neglect. Ultimately, Pakistan becoming a ‘hacienda’ type economy emulating the Latin American experience is well on the cards. Based on the present trajectory, the journey will indeed end up creating islands of wealth surrounded by ever growing parts of Pakistan locked in continuous turbulence of one kind or another.

Tragically though, this outcome may increasingly remain unchallenged by the relatively few young graduates whose ability to dissect the broad contours of Pakistan’s future will not be driven by knowledge gained from visits to libraries, as was the trend surrounding many of their forefathers. Instead, the coming generation will gain their ‘knowledge’ from ever proliferating and officially provided laptops and internet connections.

The writer is an Islamabad-based journalist.