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Old Monday, May 15, 2006
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Lightbulb Prioritizing Science and Technology

Prioritizing Science and Technology

By Omer Cheema

The importance of science and technology for the shaping of society and for providing realistic options for development policies is no longer arguable. While looking at the revolutionary changes introduced by scientific achievements during last century, one can simply say that scientific research plays the most significant role in the development of a country. A better economy provides more resources for science and technology research and a better scientific output opens new horizons to a better economy. Both economy and science, if working together with a healthy interaction can transform a society in a much better shape.

Pakistan, being a third world country, faces a crisis in the science and technology sector like almost all other poor nations. Although, we, as a nation have a lot of potential human resources and exploiting these resources wisely may result in a gradual change in our society but till now we have failed to exploit this enormous potential. On our way to progress, first we need to realize the importance of science and education for a country. Then, we need to make education a part of our culture and in parallel with this process we need effective policy making to exploit our human resources in a wise manner. By making education, knowledge and its technological impacts our first priority, we not only can make our nation financially strong but also we can get rid of the fundamentalism, intolerance and related social evils primarily caused by ignorance and lack of education.

Before proceeding, letís first look at some facts and figures to realize where we stand as a nation in the field of science and technology.

Pakistan`s international status can be determined from publications of the Institute for Scientific Information that regularly tabulates the scientific output of each country. According to its estimate of 2002, Pakistanís total research output was 655 papers published annually in journals with impact factors greater than zero (journals acknowledged by the scientific community). This figure is very low as compared to Japan, China and India who are rated first, second and third in Asia with 20824, 15066 and 14018 papers respectively. It is important to mention that Pakistan ranks 14th in the list. A more eye opening figure appears if we take into account the research output per unit population to view the real story. Pakistan ranks almost the last with only 4 papers per million habitants as compared Israel with 2153, Singapore with 808 and Japan with 164 papers per million people per year. ISIís (Institute for scientific information) list of hundreds of highly cited researchers in different fields contains only one Pakistani scientist of international repute. This fact again proves over the impact of research being done in the country has almost zero impact on global research arena.

Second criterion of scientific achievements is the standard of universities in a country. Although, our universities manage to produce a few professionals at lower education levels but at the research levels, they have failed miserably. A recent survey of Shanghai Jao Tong University ranks top 500 universities in the world and it doesnít contain even a single university from Pakistan.

The Third criterion for scientific achievement is the degree to which science plays a role in a nation`s economy. Again, the facts are stark. Pakistan`s exports are principally textiles, cotton, leather, footballs, fish, fruits, and so on. The value-added component of Pakistani manufacturing somewhat exceeds that of Bangladesh and Sudan, but is far below that of India, Turkey, and Indonesia. Apart from relatively minor exports of computer software and light armaments, science and technology are irrelevant in the process of production.

The above indicators are not encouraging. There is surely a need to revise our priorities and plan for the future. The change will certainly not occur in a single day. It will involve a long term planning. Important thing for today is that we plan something good and for the next several year, we make sure that our planning is taking us towards positive direction. In rest of the article, I will emphasize on few things which we can do to make the situation better.

In my opinion, we have two major players who can participate well in changing the plight of science and technology in Pakistan. First one is the government which can, play its role by policy making. And second potential players can be the overseas Pakistani professionals who have migrated to the west in search of greener pastures and due to their commitment to their professions have earned respectable positions in the western organizations.

During last few years, due to the commitment of Dr Atta ur Rehman, we have been seeing major efforts being made in S&T sector. Hopefully continuing in the same direction will bring better results in the future. However, here are few more suggestions which can help accelerate this process.

Our research centers and universities need to take the responsibility of playing their important role in his process. A university should be seen as a strong organization playing the role of a large scale research output facility. Currently, our universities are only producing the professionals who have the capability of running an existing system. They donít have enough capabilities and resources to go inside the research and bring something new and useful out of it. To make our universities stronger, we need to bring following changes.

1. Universities should be headed by researchers. Preferably, those researchers who have been working in internationally recognized research centers for several years and who know the models and methodology of research in developed countries. Right now, universities are being run by military generals who are good in basic management skills but it is impossible for them to understand the complex process of management for the research organizations.

2. Universities need to develop international links. Overseas Pakistanis serving in foreign universities can play a significant role in this regard in this relation enhancing process. These links can be established at different levels. University to university links will be more effective. However, overseas Pakistani professionals can start their own research initiatives by contacting interested faculty staffs and students to start a small scale research. In fact, I have seen some professors here in France, who are offering internships and short research proposals to the universities in their countries of origin.

3. There are a lot of research possibilities in many software based research fields where a lot of investment is not required. For example research on real time systems and study of their concurrency issues, scientific software development, use of softwares available free in research domains, Hardware soft IP (Intellectual Property) development, research on artificial intelligence, machine learning and many more fields like this donít require a lot of money in the beginning. Similarly, working on theoretical aspects of some fields donít require a lot of funds.

4. Individuals working in universities should realize the importance of their jobs. I know that many of them already realize their importance but I have seen some of them who join university to make their lives easier. They lack the initiative and seems that they are only interested in delivering a couple of lectures per week. They need to realize that working in a university means being a part of research team and responsible for participating in a national movement of development of research infrastructure.

It is a custom all over the world that state of the art research is being done in defense organizations. But unlike Pakistan, this research is made public after few years. Evolution of internet in a prime example of this type of research. While, in Pakistan, the only area where a little research is being done is defense sector. It is important that the application of the research output of those organizations is applied in non-defense organizations also. Technology used in missile guidance systems, nuclear arms and battlefield communication technologies can be used in peace time modern communication systems, signal processing applications and many more fields like these. Participation of private sector technology based organizations should also be introduced at least in those sectors which are not very sensitive.

Pakistan played a front line state role in war against terrorism. After 9/11, it was our need to be their partner in the war as we were involved in Talibanization of Afghanistan and world was looking at us as the main culprits of 9/11. But now, the situation has changed. We have played a good role in this war. While, our government seems interested in participating more in this war to get material benefits from US, we need to realize that this policy is resulting in the increase of incidents of terrorism inside our own country. Extremist elements in the country are unhappy with current government policies and are causing instability by their terrorist activities. This situation is the biggest hurdle for us in the way of bringing foreign investment to our country. While India and China have managed to attract a lot of technology based multinationals due to the cheap labor available there, instability in Pakistan is stopping Pakistan from getting its share from it. In my opinion, making ourselves indifferent from the situation of the world may result in a stable Pakistan attractive for the foreign investors.

Small and medium sized technology based industries should be strongly supported by government. For this purpose, government should hold statistical research to determine the importance of initialization of new type of local industries and rank them according to its requirements. Then, it should help the entrepreneurs and skilled businessmen with technical backgrounds to start their ventures. As an example, to my knowledge, there is no IC (Integrated Chip) fabrication facility in Pakistan. If government feels that Pakistan should start fabricating hardware equipment after 30 years, it should seriously define a road map. It should prepare case study of East Asian countries and define the major steps which resulted in the world class electronic equipment development centers. Government should find the investors who may be willing to invest in first small sized basic transistor making plants. Government should closely work with private sector and help them pointing out the market needs and further steps which take them towards building a big silicon foundry.

As private sector starts participating in hi-tech sector, it will become more important to implement laws on Intellectual Property Rights in near future. Private sector in a country will never be willing to go towards risky business based on invention and its benefits until the businessman is not sure that his original work is safe and he can get good monetary benefits from it.

And all of the above, government should start awareness campaign about education, science and technology issues. Our main concept of an ideal society should be based on an educated society where living with the books is the part of the culture and experimenting with the technology is the part of the hobbies. Searching new ways for development should be a part of our behaviors.

While above, I have mentioned a lot of things on the behalf of government, I find important to express that depending solely on the efforts of government and not realizing our own role in this regard doesnít seem a good idea. All of us should play our role in this aspect. The most significant community which comes into my mind at this moment is those overseas Pakistanis who left Pakistan in search of better living and now due to their dedication towards their profession, they have achieved good status in their respective fields. Here are some examples for such overseas Pakistanis who can help their country while living abroad.

Pakistanis who are serving in universities abroad can offer admissions and scholarships for brilliant Pakistani students in foreign universities. I know some Pakistanis are already doing so but their number seems to be very less than our potential. In my opinion, establishing a Pakistani community in a university should be a part of political game. Just like the Indians have done well and made strong lobbies in many good universities and multinationals, what about Pakistanis starting now and going towards attracting other Pakistanis for a strong community building process.

Pakistanis living abroad can initiate short term research projects with their counter parts in Pakistan. Offering the students some internship on hot topics and making them work on these projects while students are living in Pakistan can help improve their standard. The purpose of such collaboration is not only the research output but also the transfer of technology from west to Pakistan in a smooth manner.

At least, sending scientific magazines, research journals and latest books to the libraries back home is a simple way of helping people back home. Holding introductory seminars while visiting Pakistan is another simple way of spreading what they have learnt.

The above examples are just outlines to indicate that other than the duties of government, individuals can also play their role in spread of science and technology. I think that while government should adopt a serious attitude towards effective policy making for uplift of science and technology in Pakistani, individuals also need to devise some creative ways to make the situation a little better.
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