With the upcoming elections just around the corner, each party is busy coming up with catchy phrases and tempting slogans, adding alluring schemes to their manifestos; some of which are ambiguous, incoherent and aloof to the ground realities. One such example is the “bullet train” promise made by PML-N leader Mian Nawaz Sharif. If we look at Pakistan’s economic hurdles, this program can best be described as an alluring dream … an alluring dream for the voters of a country where the railways system constructed by the British has completely fallen apart and PIA is sinking under continuous deficits. In my opinion, where domestic terrorism and illiteracy needs to be top priority, this seductive proposal is just an attempt to pull the wool over the people’s eyes.
The USA which happens to be the world’s current economic leader and a super power, has been devising a program to connect Washington DC, Philadelphia, New York and Boston with a bullet train for many decades as this area is the spine of the US economy. This 450 miles bullet train has an estimated cost of $151 billion and the American government, despite many years of debate, is not willing to undersign the spending of billions of tax payer dollars on this project. But perhaps in the delusional minds of those who support this idea, the economy of Pakistan is doing so well that undertaking this project is both possible and wise and is the final step in Pakistan’s economic triumph over the US! Most likely in the next elections, these people will also promise you about finding a way to use water as fuel for this train, which will be a much needed breakthrough in our energy crisis!
It was on the suggestion of these delusional advisers that a few months back Mian Shabaz Sharif undertook the “laptop” scheme and spent the entire education fund on distributing laptops! In a province where 9 million kids do not have access to primary education, 125, 000 laptops were distributed from the provincial education fund. I personally requested the PMLN leadership, to award these laptops to colleges and universities, instead of individuals and create digital libraries with access to syllabus books and supplementary educational resources. This would be a national asset, beneficial not only to our current students but also the future generations. However, it seemed that the project’s prime focus wasn’t to finish the digital divide but to gain political mileage through the laptop distribution ceremony.
The previous provincial government under Shahbaz Sharif has accomplished a lot in the field of education. One milestone achieved during his term was the creation of IT labs in 4, 286 schools and under this program 15 computers were provided to each school, amounting to 64, 290 computers in total. However, upon visiting these IT Labs, I discovered that while the schools did have 15 computers each, these computers are not equipped with any educational software besides Microsoft Office. I requested the chief minister to acquire educational software for these laptops as without them, the entire purpose of providing these computers fails! A prestigious university in Lahore agreed to create a software in accordance with the Pakistani syllabi so that the student could learn through audio/video animations. This software would not only help students understand complex scientific and mathematical concepts but would also help in making up for the deficiency of trained teachers in Punjab. However, my suggestion was lost somewhere in the bureaucracy and red-tape procedures and today 64, 290 computers mock our educational efforts!
Pakistan is facing the biggest challenge since its creation. Both domestic and international terrorist organisations have found a safe haven in the rigid topography of KPK and Balochistan. The young and illiterate masses of Pakistan are an easy breeding ground for these evil forces; immature minds have been transformed into extremists, ready to explode themselves on command. Over 40, 000 innocent lives have been claimed by these terrorists and they have succeeded in doing so because of illiteracy.
Today we need bullet brains instead of bullet trains, and must educate the masses in order to overcome the growing extremism. Every Pakistani should at least have access up to middle school and technical education should be promoted to pave the way for economic progress. In 20 years Pakistan’s population would be 250 million; Investing in education will not only utilise the available manpower but these educated bullet brains will devise ways for optimal utilisation of available resources and pave the way for development! God willing, one day a bullet train might be vital to support the growing economy, but right now we need to focus on the issues at hand, and produce bullet brains that will overcome our challenges and create the economic activity that may lead us in that direction.
Agha Adeel is a business intelligence consultant based in Washington DC. He has been advocating the reformation of Pakistani politics through his writings and political activism. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.