Monday, June 11, 2012

HEC Scholarships and grants are not for the Poor

Higher Education Commission of Pakistan (HEC)  is renowned for providing lots of PhD and MS scholarships to the eligible scholars of Pakistan.  Since last year, there is lot of criticism in the media against the HEC especially that HEC scholarships are for rich people only. After the criticism of people HEC had also responded that their scholarships are for eligible people irrespective of poor or rich.  Who is the correct one, people complaining or HEC ? Unfortunately my experience and findings have proved that HEC have flaws which restrict many poor scholars even from applying for the scholarships.

Contrary to the claims of the HEC chairman, there is a big clause in HEC legal bond which proves that scholarships are not for poor people. “Declaration of Assets of at least 6 million rupees” ( point e in the terms and conditions of HEC legal Bond  ).  It is really strange, that how a student from a poor family can show the assets (property) of 60 Lac rupees. Similarly at the same time, if someone have so much money, why he/she needs the scholarship. HEC normally claims that guarantor could be anyone but again scholar has to beg in front of many rich people as mostly people do not put their property on guarantee. So honestly this clearly indicates that HEC scholarships are not for the poor Pakistanies.

HEC use the property of the scholar as guarantee that scholar will not break the bond or will not run away. Those who cheat and want to leave Pakistan, this guarantee is not able to stop them. This is the reason that HEC have a long list of defaulters although every one of them had shown this guarantee.  Administration at HEC doesn’t realize that they are unable to stop people from breaking bond with this clause but they are surely stopping many eligible candidates because they are poor and not able to show property equivalent to 60 Lac rupees.

Another problem with HEC scholarships is that HEC never openly display the list of the candidates who won the scholarships. They just show the CUT-OFF merit on their website.  Just look at the merit list of overseas scholarship phase 2 batch 4, merit cut-0ff for engineering is 89 marks where as computer science (that comes in Physical Sciences) is 91marks out 100 in NTS GAT test. From the merit list no one can detect who got the scholarship. This creates so many doubts in mind that might be awardees are related to someone in the HEC or NTS. If HEC claims that their scholarships are for everyone who is eligible than at least they should display the names of the awardees so that poor Pakistani scholar should not accept the conspiracies that HEC only award scholarships to the persons of their own choice and not the poor.

NTS GAT test is a local test based on the pattern of International GRE test. When someone can score so high (91 out of 100) in a local GRE and only took the HEC scholarship, which in comparison to other international scholarships, is very low in amount, creates so many doubts. Why he does not take international GRE, score as high as in local GRE and get admission and best scholarships  in world best universities in USA and around the Glob. If he complains about the cost of International GRE test ( around 17k PKR), than my question is how you can show the property of 60 LAC rupees but unable to pay 17 thousand rupees for  International GRE fee.   This seriously creates doubt on the credibility of NTS tests as well.

Similar to the scholarships, the system of providing travel grants to the scholar for the presenting their research papers in international conference, is also flawed and restrict the poor scholars from applying. According to HEC  scholar has to apply 6 weeks before the conference as HEC decides  to whom they have to award the grant,  4 to 5 weeks before the conference. Conferences normally require to register 6 to 7 weeks earlier than the conference otherwise paper doesn’t get published. So scholar has to pay the registration fee much earlier than HEC decision to grant him the amount or not. Poor scholar is unable to risk 400 to 600 US dollars (average conference registration fee around these days) as it is unpredictable that HEC will give the grants or not.

I put my example for this case. One of my papers was accepted in international conference and I applied for it around 13 weeks earlier than the conference. Conference registration date was 11 week earlier than the conference date.  So I registered for the conference and had to wait for the HEC decision. 5 Weeks before the conference, HEC send the rejection in the email without any reason.

Firstly they didn’t gave me any reason secondly if there was any reason, they should have informed me before the registration date.  Their system doesn’t take care of registration date, as a result, I lost huge amount (saving of my 4 years), neither I was able to get my money back nor was able to attend the conference.  And for the next time, I might never have the confidence to apply for travel grants from HEC.

Summarizing all of the above, I can clearly state that HEC scholarships and travel grants are not for the poor Pakistanies.  You can blame my opinion to be biased as I had lost huge amount due to HEC but no one can deny the faults in the scholarships and travel grants awarding systems of HEC. HEC should rectify these things so that every Pakistani should get benefits from the HEC.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Reply to Dr HoodBouy Article on Laptops

This is a response to Dr HoodBouy article that was published in the express tribune on April 29th, 2012.

I am not trying to defend the scheme of laptop distribution scheme of Shahbaz Shareef, but trying to point out some of the misconceptions that were there in the Hoodbouy article.
Point 1: According to Hoodbouy, laptops are not silver bullets that can transform Pakistan Education. In my view, this concept is based on the assumption that laptops alone are just like books and mostly you  require the teachers to learn it. I would like to remind Dr Hoodbouy, the project named “Hole in the wall” of Dr Sugata Mitra. Through his project, he has proved number of times that children have the capacity to learn by themselves.  Project results have also shown that children living in the remote areas not only can learn simple subjects but also complex topics as well.  So India is actively working on this project and trying to transform their education than why not it can transform Pakistani Education.
Point 2: Hoodbouy considered the distribution of laptops, useless because they are not loaded with educational softwares and school teachers are not trained to teach via computers.  Again I will move on the next experiment of Dr Sugata Mitra  where he involved number of british grandmothers and children over the internet viaskype  and the result of the project shows that teaching via computer doesn’t require teachers even grandmothers can help. Answer to the educational software is that many softwares can be downloaded from the internet and even he himself had mentioned this in his article as well.
Point 3: He shows unlikeness towards the laptops on his opinion that most of the laptops will be used for gaming, chatting and surfing.  I fail to understand that what the problem with this. Researchers also communicate and chat. Everyone play games for relaxation.  But why you underestimate the power of online libraries. Even social media sites are proving to me more educational than normal way of teaching. Collaborative learning can never happen without the collision of the random ideas and for that matter these things are necessary. Old ways of teaching and learning (everything by heart) are not proving to be useful in the current era.
Point 4: Everything in Pakistan, start with the name of education but later that never serve the education. Honestly sir, if we think only the degree and degree programs as education than I agree that TV hasn’t served the education but learning doesn’t restricted to degrees only.  With every news, drama and entertainment we use to learn so I think they are serving for education.
Point 5: According to Hoodbouy, the Annual Status of Education report shows that Pakistani students are very poor in reading and writing so how they can get the benefit from the laptops. Sir, this is the problem of education system where we want from each student to learn everything by heart, i.e. memorize every subject and as a result student doesn’t feel interest in the subjects.  Change the system to more interactive and interesting these problems will be removed.  According to Sir Ken Robinson our schools and education system is killing the creativities of the students. Creativity can never happen by rotting the subjects. Yes laptops give them the opportunity to scroll the world in their own way and find their own creative ways of learning.  Here I agree with you that money should be spend on improving the educational system instead of spending public money on laptops.

To summarize everything, I would say that laptops and computers can be useful in learning and getting education so criticizing them is wrong. Yes why the public money is being spend by the Punjab govt, is worthy questionable? Which I think should be spend on building school infrastructures. 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Allow Internet Access in Pakistani Examination System

Published on blogs on April 30, 2012

Use of anything like keynotes, books or calculators is considered as cheating during examination. Denmark, up to most surprise, has tried to break up this stereotype thinking and conducted the experiment by allowing the students to have access to the internet during ‘A level’ examination.  In a debate on BBC almost 70% of the participants declared it as cheating. Is it really cheating? What is the purpose of our stereotype exams? What hurdles could we face to conduct this type of experiment in Pakistan?

For more than a century, purpose of the examination has remained to test the student’s ability how he can perform in practical life. What he knows and how he can use them? As the education and examination system was build in the era when there was less availability of facts and figures and one has to rely more and more on his memory to solve the problems? So the examination systems were developed with the purpose to test the memory of the student. With the passage of time, technology has entered in daily life usage and people rely very less on memory and use the artificial memory of computer and internet to store facts and figures and use them with better effect for practical life but the examination systems are still carrying the old age idea.  So with each passing day, abilities require for practical life are going away from what are tested in current examinations. So it is highly required to remove the gap..

In professional life only hurdle that a person face during any task, is of time. No one declare him cheater if he consults some book or internet and perform the task in time. Idea to memorize all the facts and figure was also come from saving the time. Getting all the facts and figures from the internet also do not take time if properly searched. So only task remained is to properly use those facts and figures to perform the real task. In this way allowing internet access in examinations can check the student in the better way for the professional life.

Most of the Pakistani students just like students all over the world, use internet for learning and improving their skills. According to e-Learning Foundation pupils who use computer at home perform better. If in routine life students and professionals use internet for better results so testing the students without the use of internet doesn’t carry enough weight. Pakistan just like Denmark should experiment in its examination systems by allowing the internet access. 

Allowing the resources in the exams is not a new concept. Allowing the internet access is just a new form of open book tests.  According to Mark GE, Witney, UK in BBC report, “Use of the internet is the same as any open book exam; the pupil can check formulae or dates, but how they use and interpret that data is (should be) what is being tested”. Although not standard but open book tests are quite common in some Pakistani universities. So there is a room for this type of tests to be experimented in Pakistan. But to experiment them in secondary and secondary exams require total change of mindset as main stream educationist have even never liked open book tests in Pakistan.

Problem in current Pakistan education system is the cramming of subjects to get more and more marks. This is encouraged when student is asked to reproduce the content of the text book. According to the view of US educational psychologist Joseph Renzulli , current examination system all over the world is based on three Rs “ram, remember, regurgitate”. As a result student focuses less on understanding and more on cramming. Most of the psychologists also agree that the one who uses the facts to make something new are far better than who just remember them. Bringing internet in examination can change the dimension overall because exams will not require to reproduce as everyone will expect the exact copy of textbook by the student. So it gives the hint that it can end cramming of the subjects from Pakistani education system if properly implemented.

One of the arguments mostly presented against this idea on BBC debate was that it will make the tests very easy. This is not true and in reality makes the tests harder. First of all finding the exact location from the ocean of internet data takes time and test will remain time dependant. After getting the facts students will have to use them within the remaining time. So by no mean these tests can be called easy.

Fear of plagiarism also stops from carrying out this experiment. Already in Pakistan, cheating during examinations is touching the sky.  Technology provides the solution here as well. HEC Pakistan is already using anti-plagiarism software to detect plagiarism in research papers. Anti- plagiarism softwares are enough to detect if the cheating. Second if the examination papers are made according to the need of open internet exams, no one will be able to cheat as nothing will be required to reproduce.  

There are many problems that can come in experimenting open internet papers especially within Pakistan.  Unavailability of electricity and computers can stop from conducting this experiment.  No one in Pakistan can give the solution to these problems.  Another problem that is also hard to solve is the help of someone to the student via emails or social networking sites. There is no solution for that other than the strict monitoring of students during papers.

Don’t forget that biggest voice that can come against the open-internet examination will be from teachers who make the examination papers. Preparing the question paper for the memory test is far easier.  Second each time, they will not be able to regenerate the paper again as copies of last time test will be available over internet. So the stereotype teachers will never like this idea as they will have to do a lot more work than currently what they are doing.

To summarize all of the above I would say, current era requires modification in the examination system. Open internet papers provide the solution but implementing them all over Pakistan is currently not possible due to number of problems. Still wherever possible, this should be experimented as lots of better results are expected from this idea and students will be more prepared for the professional life of modern time.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Please define the purpose of Secondary and Higher Secondary Education in Pakistan

Updated version of my earlier blog, and is published in blogs on 30th April, 2012

Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in School”, said by the world renowned genius, Albert Einstein. What he understands a century ago, unfortunately we as a Pakistani nation are still unable to understand it. Education at secondary and higher secondary level provides a back bone to one’s higher education, literary or professional life. Why lower educational system in Pakistan, is not providing necessary tools to the students? Why more and more students are going toward madrassa education system and leaving secondary education of Pakistan? Why drop out ratio from school is highest these days? These are the questions of today. These could be due to the lack of any purpose of SSC and HSSC defined by the government and the policy makers.

In order to cope with the ever increasing threat of number of madrassas in Pakistan, secondary education system has to be carefully revived in-order to make it useful. Efforts of modernizing the madrasa system have failed so it is time to raise the standard of secondary education. Most of the madrassa tutors attract the young generation by showing the uselessness of Pakistani secondary education and later these boys with full of anger against normal education turn violent and recruited by the talibans.

Education at secondary and higher secondary level is purposeless. Have a look at this recent example that has been popped up over the social media “facebook”. 

In this story a boy even with 90% marks in SSC still not able to find a decent job for his livelihood. He done what has been told so far “work hard, get good marks and get a decent job”. He did work hard, get good marks but due to lack of funds, he is not able to study further and this certificate alone is not letting him to get a decent job to fund his own education. He is finding the job of “helper” after getting 90+% marks. How our system stop students like him to become angry against so called worldly education. Why they will not be attracted by the madrassa where they get money to carry on with their lifes. How you will stop the madrassa people who will portray him as example of uselessness of secondary education to attract more students toward them?

Attraction of foreign certificates is also prompting the uselessness of our certifications. Examples of Arfa Kareem, Sakandar Mahmood Baloch and Mauhib Iqbal are enough to show. With these certifications not only they can work for themselves, they are also getting the job even as teachers in universities. Why? Because they can make some softwares and can sell them to earn money. Purpose of those certifications is clear cut. Whereas a child who got the secondary or higher secondary education doesn’t know what he can do and with this certification alone, he is unable to do anything and as a result most probably he will leave for education in madrassa where he can learn whatever they will teach as well as get the basic bread of his daily life.

Only purpose that comes to mind of our secondary education is to score more and more marks to get admission at University.  This is encouraging people to cram, worship what they are learning and reproduce what is written in their books. Pluto once told that "Knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind”. Now if someone unfortunately not able to get education at higher level, his 10 to 12 years of education will not be able to feed him with this certification only. At the same time universities are not believing on the secondary education certificates and requiring NTS GAT or SAT test as the entrance requirement of the university. These are also making secondary school certificates even more useless as after getting marks in SSC students will have to score good marks in entry tests as well otherwise they will have no hope.

Subject books at the school and college level of Pakistan are stuffed with too many disconnected topics. Similarly the number of compulsory subjects at this level is too large. The idea behind this is that student should know each and every topic in the universe at this level. Policy makers fail to realize that “A mind is a fire to be kindled, not a vessel to be filled--By Plutarch”. As a result, student, leaves the critical thinking which should be the prime focus at this point and began to cram as he always remain overloaded with too many subjects and too many topics within each subject. Although very few of these, help them in their higher education but at that time students are unable to remember what they had studied in schools. Considering that secondary education can bring the love for books or reading habit in the student is wrong as well. Too many subjects and race for getting more marks keep them so much busy that mostly 99% student do not study books other than textbook. In the end neither the too many subjects nor the more marks in the secondary education help them in their career and life.

If we assume that secondary education is making student to be a critical thinker than it is not true. Students are taught to learn in the similar way as the mullah teaches the Quran. Student has no right to question the correctness of the answer provided by the textbook writers. The answer at the end of textbook are correct as per the policy of secondary education but in real world nothing is in white and black only vocational skill can be taught in this manner but vocational skills are not the part of our secondary education system. If someone doesn’t like the answers of the book he has no choice other than to cram them. This becomes more obvious when a student after scoring high marks or grades enter into the university. Whenever he is required to write a paragraph on some argument that you agree or disagree with it, mostly he fails but if you give him a chapter to reproduce he can reproduce it very easily.

Secondary education is disconnected not only with the higher education as well as with vocational education.  Even if a Pakistani student scores highest mark in Matric or FSC, alone with these certificates he is not able to work or get a decent job. Vocational education should be the part of secondary education. If due to some reason, student fails to study further, he should be able to earn decent money through his vocational skill. Second these vocational skills will also help them in higher education as well. He can become a better engineer if he will have the sub-engineering skills right from the secondary education. A medical doctor can help his patients in a better way if he has the skill and experience as a nurse in his secondary education.  But these should be introduced in the manner that helps the student rather than just increasing the number of subjects.

Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has launched the program for International Student Assessment (PISA). They check the student at secondary education level worldwide on mostly three basis points, mathematical skill, reading skills and some basic science skill. We should also look at their work why according to them only these skills are more than enough than many subjects we use to teach our students. The obvious answer is, these are the only skills which help the student in his higher studies. 

In conclusion, I would say it is high time to look at the usefulness of our secondary education. Our secondary education is not fulfilling the need of the educational and labor market. It should bring some vocational skills at least with it so that the one, who is unable to get the higher education, should be able to get some work through his secondary or higher secondary school certifications. So purpose must be defined properly. It will not only stop the wastage of prime time of our children but also stop the majority of people from going to madrassas as they will find some benefit in the worldly education.

Friday, February 24, 2012

HEC University Ranking Criteria. Is that Correct?

HEC Pakistan has recently published the list of universities based on their ranking. The criteria and weights through which universities have been compared are highly debatable.  Let us try to dig deeper to investigate that does this criteria really reflect the true outcome of university through which they can be compared.

The highest criteria mentioned is the teaching quality, that is 42%. This is good but the question is how the teaching quality will be judged.  The most common method that HEC has provided to universities is the student satisfaction with the teachers. During and after the semesters, students are required to fulfil their satisfaction about the teacher and his/her quality. This criteria seems good as the students can be the real judge about the teacher but here we have also seen some irregularities which affects these results.  These lengthy surveys come as a burden on student usually as start-up screens on university portal logins and they try to fill with speed to get rid of them. As a result these surveys do not reflect student real judgement about the teacher.  Apart from this, it has also been seen that the teacher who try to cover most of the syllabus become bad in the eyes of the students whereas the teacher who teaches less and give more marks to student  get good outcome in these surveys. As a university teacher make and check his own paper, so he can also lower the quality of the paper to give more marks and become good in the eyes of the student. So in conclusion this method does not reflect the real quality of teaching.

Another criteria for judging the teaching quality is the teacher student ratio. This is a very positive point. If their will be more number of teachers in the university, result would be that each teacher will have to be associated with less number of students and he/she can give more quality time to his/her students. Judging universities on  this basis is highly appreciable.

Implementation status of quality assurance is given 18% according to HEC. One may wonder what it is.  It is actually the paper dumping work in the physical folder that the teacher carries daily in his class. Paper dump includes daily lecture slides printout, previous quizzes, assignments and question papers. This is good but most of the universities have their online portals as well for sharing of these materials with the students but HEC only counts the paper work which affect negatively as the teachers have to do the dual work. Apart from dumping work, this implementation status also includes the in timely display of results which is good enforcement. These criteria can be used to judge and compare different universities but the percentage given to this is too low.

Assets possessed by the university that could be the laboratories, number of classrooms and playing facilities  also come under "status of quality assurance". As all of these assets plays an important role in the learning environment of a student. Still its value counts along with the daily paper work, only about 18%. This should be increased.

Worldwide and by HEC paper publication was given too much importance although they have nothing to do with the teaching within the universities. HEC has given 40% weight to paper publication.  IT has been seen numerous times within different universities of Pakistan that teachers who focus on paper publication do not give their whole hearted effort in teaching in the class and student of that teacher suffer more. This is due to the fact that the teacher who focuses on his research work normally has less time to prepare the lectures and quality tests for the students. His attention mostly remains toward his own benefit and number of papers. This should be given less weight but worldwide this is normally considered as the most import factor for university ranking. In foreign countries, researcher only focus on research and not teaching whereas in Pakistan teacher have to do both the work, have to do the research and teach at the same time.

In conclusion, I would say that HEC criteria do not reflect 100% true outcome of universities. At least this is good that they have published it openly and so it can be made a topic of debate. Hopefully with passage of time and constructive debate, criteria will evolve and inshallah will represent the true outcome in the near future.

All above is based on my assumption, i don't have contact with any person at HEC or with higher end personal who really plays important role in judging quality assurance in the University. Being at the lower end only as a teacher, all my analysis is based on assumption so that could be totally wrong. But still i believe that  criteira should be debated so that the real assets ( students of Pakistan) improve overall.

As soon as HEC has update his site for the criteria and provided as more detail criteria.  I have decided it to have a look  it again.
For quality teaching they have provided the criteria mentioned below
Teaching Quality                             weight                  =42

  • Student Teacher ratio (12)
  • Ratio of PhD faculty to total faculty (9)
  • Total PhD output for 2010 (5)
  • Selectivity (5)
  • Computers(4)
  • Library books (4)
  • Full time PhD faculty (3)

Looking at the above criteria, selectivity, computers and library books are considered as criteria for quality teaching. It is really hard to understand how these things become part of quality teaching. These should come in the “Status of quality assurance”. Secondly how having PhD faculty improves the teaching quality.  These are also the assets of the university not criteria. It is wrong to assume that PhD teacher can teach better than a teacher with a master degree.

The criteria given by HEC for implementation of status of Quality assurance is given as

  • Plagiarism Policy Implementation (6)
  • Eligibility Criteria for appointments of faculty members (4)
  • Criteria for M.Phil./Ms & PhD programs(4)
  • Quality Enhancement Cell (04)

All except criteria for M.Phil/Ms & PhD programs are clear and straight forward. Criteria for M.Phil/MS & PhD programs are set by HEC and not by individual university so what is the purpose of putting this in the list.

Again in conclusion, almost all the criteria is debatable.

Monday, February 20, 2012

How to install collaborative learning in Pakistani Educational System?

Edited version of this blog is published on Express Tribune on 29th June, 2012
According to the Charles Darwin collaboration is the key for progress.  In his famous quote he said "It is the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed."  Getting inspired by the talks of Dr Ashraf Iqbal, Sugata Mitra and Ken Robinson, I had tried to implant collaborative learning in my classes to check, can it work in our educational system or not? And what could be the methodologies to bring it into our educational system.

Presentation by Ken Robinson

Presentation by Sugata Mitra

For an individual person who tries to implant collaborative learning in the class, seems as the one working against his own job. Being at the lower end of education system i.e. only as a teacher, I am unable to change the whole system, what most I can do is to make a space for collaborative learning within my class keeping the whole original system intact.

During my 18 years of education, one and half year of working as a developer, I have seen various methods of collaborative learning and have tried them during my  three and half years of working as a university teacher but most of them fail at some stage due to the system overall. So I am trying to list them out and want suggestions for newer methods.

Group Presentations or group assignments: Group presentation or group assignments are the most commonly used methods to bring collaboration among the students. Idea behind group presentation is that students sit together, prepare one topic, discuss on that and present what they have learned in their gathering. But in semester system (our education system at university level) this idea does not flourish or work properly. The biggest reason, as described by most of my students, is the lack of time. On an average, daily they have to take a test. During whole semester, they have to take six subjects and in each subject they have to give four quizzes, 4 assignment and 2 lab assignments so they always remain overloaded. So as soon something come in a form of a group, most of the member of the group put the entire burden on one or two members and start preparing for other tests.

Open book group tests: The other method which I have seen in various pedagogical presentations and lectures is the open book group test. But to my surprise, most of the teachers and even student do not like them and always remain afraid of it. Teachers hate this method because making the question paper for these tests are not straight forward and student fear this because they think they might get some question which is unsolvable.

Group based semester projects: The method that had mostly worked to some extent among my students was the group based semester projects. They also suffer with the same problems as that of group presentations and assignments but still by working together with class fellows on a project for at-least 4 months they learn comparatively more.

In order to summarize, I would say almost all methods of collaborative learning need time and relax environment where student can discuss and come to one conclusion. In semester system we bombard student with too many tests in a short span of time which gives little time for them to learn and collaborate.  Only choice left to them, is to get isolated and go for cramming which the test obsessed system demand from them. As far for a teacher is concerned, an easy way to do a job is to not alter the predefined system or to do experiments :).

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Race is on after Arfa kareem, Now comes Sikandar Mehmood Baloch

In my previous blog, I put emphases on parents to not make their child Arfa Kareem that appears to fell on deaf ears. The race for becoming young certified child is on; everyone is bringing their children to highlight them in the media.  This become more and more clearer to me after I met with the young boy named Sikandar Mehmood Baloch on February 6, 2012, a 14 year boy who did a lot of work and after two days he is on media.

I met this boy with his father and school teachers at COMSATS Institute of Information Technology, Abbottabad. He had done lot of work; ahead of his age no doubt, he is hardworking student, but with too much ego and less concepts.

According to him, he had developed seven different operating systems. On checking, it becomes clear that his operating systems are the live CDs like OPEN SUSE. Although they cannot be called as standalone operating systems but for a fourteen year child compiling these live CDs is a big achievement. Apart from this, he still insists that these are his operating system, so when he was asked to describe, what does mean by scheduling and paging in operating systems and how his operating systems handle that he had no answer. Boot process was scheduling for him and operating system's paging was the documents like text files.

According to him, he knows more than 107 programming languages and don't like them and writing a compiler for his own language. If that is true, that should come in the gunniess book of world record. But when he was asked to write a simple program to check the number is prime or not, he refused to do so. His answer was I don’t work for background or algorithms, I only develop GUI. Apart from softwares, he also has expertise in hardware and he can develop any kind of motherboard and microprocessor and even can build the world best processor. Whenever he was asked about how he can do that, his answer was, give him machines he will and can do everything :)

In his CV, 21 certifications are mentioned and he did them from 2009 onward mostly from Microsoft, Novell, Expert rating, Autodesk Revit, w3schools and Google. From his certifications, first time I come to know that Microsoft also certifies people in the installation of Microsoft Windows XP (Exam 70-270). His father had claimed at that time that he did that in only two or three months and on his own, I didn’t understand how he paid the fee of certifications as even expert rating ( is also charging 100 to 130 USD for each certification.

One of the most strange thing, that come to me during the meeting that he don’t even have his own email address and he uses his guardian email address. What could be the reason, I didn’t understand. The bad part of the episode that I see during the meeting was his father and teachers are pushing him for the race. It had created ego in him that was visible when we had talked to him. He had so much pride in him that he was not even ready to listen to others advice.

To summarize, I would say, his work was too much distributed, we the computer science faculty members told him to focus on one thing, he is no doubt very talented and hard worker, but jumping and trying to do everything and not going deep before starting another is not going to work even for him or anyone else. I wish him best of luck, we told his father to not bring him in media but no one listen :). I wish him to succeed in life and become good asset for Pakistan.

 I end this blog with one of his father’s quote that I liked a lot about him and prove him to be the hard worker. "In order to separate him and his computer I have to switch off the main power of house".

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Please don’t make your Child Arfa Kareem

Yesterday, another bright star of Pakistan, Arfa Kareem, lost her life due to the extra ordinary pressure of sustaining her achievement of young age at the secondary education level at Pakistan. Inna lliah e waina elayeh rajeeon. Most of the Pakistani parents are leading their children on her track to get the media hype. Is this good for children or not?

Arfa a young girl form Faisalabad, achieved the lot of media hype, praise and awards on becoming the youngest Microsoft Certified Professional (MCPs) in the world at very young age.  She got the attention not only in Pakistan but all over the world. Her parents became proud of her  but they fail to realize that she still have to go through the secondary school examination and she will come under huge pressure to sustain her success.

Certification exams are the test of analytical abilities where passing marks are enough to become certified. As compare to certification, our secondary schools examinations are the test of memory where there is always an extra pressure on student to get more and more marks and grades. As a result students are pressurized to cram more and more.

Arfa got 13 A grades in O level and was doing A level when she got stroke and now died. In her various interviews she talks more about imagination importance than knowledge, clear indication that she was not liking the examination system where knowledge (memory) is being tested. In one of her interview to PTV anchor Tauseeq Haider, she told that she do not study too much but she wants to give 100% in exams, but that is causing headache and pain. Those were the clear indication that she was studying under extreme pressure to perform at par with her earlier success.

You cannot achieve top level every time, but immature mind doesn’t allow a little less success than the top level. Everything should come with the age. Idea of parents to jump their child in early age, puts too much pressure on the child to keep performing at adulthood. Looking at the early age success and media attention of Arfa Kareem, many parents also have led their child to jump, Sitara Akbar is  the key example of early jump. Similar to her, Ali Nowazish got huge media attention on his success at secondary school examinations but now higher education is in-front of him. Both of them are under huge pressure as world is looking at them that how will they perform after their success.

It’s a request to the parents that do not make your child, Arfa kareem. Your genius child, will get certification easily but that will put a lot of pressure on them to carry on with their success. Otherwise be ready for the result similar as of Arfa kareem. We are unable to change our examination system of craming to get more gardes (marks) but can save our children from extra pressure. Your child will achieve great success in future inshallah.

Arfa may you rest in peace. Ameen

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Imran Khan's view and Finland Example for Pakistani Educational System

Finland topped the world in secondary education according to the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Although no one is Pakistan have noticed it or considered it worth reading as it was not about Imran Khan’s politics or war on terror. Mean while many educators from around the world have visited to see how Finland is leading in education and how they can implement it in their country. These days, Imran Khan buzz too much about education so why not compare Finland’s education system, Imran Khan’s idea and the current Pakistani education system.

Current Educational system in Pakistan at secondary schools system is not unique, it varies from national testing system ( Matric and FSC), imported testing system ( O level and A level). After that comes the Madrassah System which is running perpendicularly to the regular system, so no need to talk about that here. Now when Imran Khan presents his thesis about the educational system, he talks mostly on language barrier, that syllabus will be in same language all over the country and assumingly he considered for the national testing system. It seems good but when we look at Finland, there is no national testing system at all. Idea they  present is that they teach students to learn and not prepare them for the test. As a result of no testing system, they have put no barrier at the entrance of the University. Tradionalist will never like this idea to be implemented in Pakistan and yes we cannot bear such a sudden big change in our educational system, yes we can impart the idea of free entry at the University that can remove lot of burden of cramming from the secondary educational system.

 Our educational system and  Imran Khan have the same idea that syllabus should be same all over Pakistan and should be prepared by central authority. Teachers should only teach what should be given to them and according to the rules provided to them. Idea behind this could be based on the thinking that teachers are not trustworthy. Finland did opposite, they didn’t make any national curriculum and they only provide objectives of the class and let the teacher decide how and what he will teach to achieve those objectives. In order to check, only few percent of random pupils are used to be questioned randomly. Can we implement this idea in true spirit? Answer to this is difficult. What we can do at most in the current situation, is to remove the fear of not getting to the University along with reducing the number of topics in so called science subjects where we do not learn to ask question but to cram. As a result teacher will have more time to teach and experiment. By giving the respect to the teachers, Finland has made the teacher the most respectable profession in their country and we should also follow that.

Vocational education is not considered as part of our regular education and I havn’t heard Imran Khan talking about that. The thing I liked most is that Finland have made the vocational education as part of secondary and higher secondary education. So if the student do not wishes to continue the education, he is still equipped with the required skilled to work. Pakistani student face the most problematic situation, if they don’t get admission at University, their education till FSC become useless as they are unable to do any vocational work. This must be implemented if we really want to see change.

Education is free in Finland. Even the private schools get money from government not from the students. There, a school is not compared with the other school as there is no testing system. Here the school whose student perform better in testing system, charge more money. The standard of a school is based on the concept that the school who charge more money as school fee, will be good. Education in Pakistan should also be free and education should not be treated as business. Most of the Imran Khan speeches also revolve around free education so here he matches with the Finland’s educational system.

The list can go on and on but to summarize we can say most of the thing that Imran Khan talk about change in educational system are not the key to success and bigger change except free education. Pakistan should look at Finland’s education system, bring a debate on it and only in that way we can think of a positive change.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Purposeless Lower Education System in Pakistan

“Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in School”, said by the world renowned genius, Albert Einstein. What he understand a century ago, unfortunately we as a Pakistani nation are still unable to understand it. Education at secondary and higher secondary level provides a back bone to one’s higher education or literary life. Why lower educational system in Pakistan, is not providing necessary tools to the students?

Education at secondary and higher secondary level is purposeless. Only purpose that comes to mind is to score more and more marks to get admission at University. At the same time, Pakistani universities are increasing merit with each passing year. This can lead us to think that individually Pakistani secondary educational system is useless.  This is encouraging people to cram, worship what they are learning and reproduce what is written in their books. The one unable to do so become so called unintelligent student in the eyes of teacher as well as of themselves. Higher drop-out rate from the educational system in Pakistan is due to this fact. Pluto once told that "Knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind”. So universities should not increase the number of requirements at the entry level as they are bound to be forgotten and as a result with less compulsion, student will get enough time to analyse the subjects he is learning in school critically. 

Subject books at the school and college level of Pakistan are stuffed with too many disconnected topics. Similarly the number of compulsory subjects at this level is too large. The idea behind this is that student should know each and every topic in the universe at this level. Policy makers fail to realize that “A mind is a fire to be kindled, not a vessel to be filled--By Plutarch”. As a result, student at this level, leaves the critical thinking which should be the prime focus at this point and began to cram as he always remain overloaded with too many subjects and too many topics within each subject. Although very few of these, help them in their higher education but at that time students are unable to remember what they had studied in schools.

Secondary education is disconnected not only with the higher education as well as with vocational education. Pakistan can take the example of Finland. Finland is the country which has topped the world in education by combining the vocational and theoretical education at the secondary school level. Pakistan should also do that keeping the burden of  subjects as low as possible. Similarly all subjects should help student in problem solving or getting vocationally trained. In this way, if the student fail to qualify for the higher education, still he will be able to work and earn as he will have vocational skills in his secondary education.

In conclusion, we can say that Pakistani lower education is purposeless, disconnected and is stuffed with too many useless subjects. Therefore it should be improved by connecting it with vocational education, by reducing the number of useless courses so that a student can get enough time for critical thinking and problem solving. University authorities should also not apply too many conditions at their entry level as it encourage to cram the subjects at secondary schools. Sooner the policy maker will realize this, better it will be for Pakistan and Pakistani students.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Need of a same Grading System in all Pakistani Universities

The college graduate is presented with a sheepskin to cover his intellectual nakedness. -- Robert M. Hutchins. Every Pakistani university has adopted his own version of grading system in the last 10 years. As a result, it is not easy to judge the student's performance during his course, by some outsider, only on the basis of his transcript report. In a single grading system (good or bad) atleast a student from any university can be compared with another one. Why it cannot happen with different grading systems?
As soon as the system was shifted from the annual system to semester system, absolute grading system of the annual system was shifted to the new one with some modification. Question papers started to be prepared, checked and graded by the teacher who teaches the subject. The idea behind this shift was on the opinion that teacher who teaches the subject, can judge the student more than anyone else. But no one has ever bothered to make a standard of papers. The teachers started to develop low quality sub-standard papers to get good grades of the class to show that they are teaching excellent. Those who tried to judge the students with the quality paper soon become bad in the eyes of the authorities due to low grades.  Students coming from this absolute system, mostly fail to perform equivalent to their grades in their result cards.
Some of the public and private sector Pakistani universities have started to shift from the absolute system to their own relative grading system. The mostly adopted relative system is the one in which marks of the whole class is averaged and given 'C+' in bachelors and 'B' in master degrees. Argue presented for this system is that teacher will not have to make a sub-standard paper. A good student will be able to get 'A' grade even if the quality of the paper is very high as he will have more marks than any of his class fellows. While implementing this system universities fail to understand that this system was developed for the classes where strength of the students should be above 100 whereas in our engineering colleges or universities, on an average, a class mostly has 25 to 50 students. The smaller the class, the problem of higher average becomes more prominent and as a consequence even the good student becomes victim of low grades if most of his fellow students are also good in study. This problem leads to another problem as well, as the fear of high average comes to the mind of the students; they stop helping each other in the studies. Apart from this, most of the students coming from this system perform better in the industry even with low grades but when they try to apply for higher studies within or outside Pakistan, normally these students, not able to get admission as they use to have low grades as compare to the students coming from the universities having absolute system. Here again, student’s grades do not represent their quality.
In conclusion we can say either a student coming from absolute system or relative grading system; his grades do not represent him. There is a need that there should be one standard all over the country either it is absolute or relative. At least then, one can be compared with some other on the basis of result card and everyone should get his fare chance of higher education as well as jobs.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Semester System in Pakistani Universities

"It is possible to store the mind with a million facts and still be entirely uneducated." -- Alec Bourne, A Doctor's Creed. Today almost every university of Pakistan have adopted the semester system as its core educational system. Is it really serving the need of the student?

In most of Pakistani universities, semester last for 16 to 18 weeks. Most of the students like the semester system because it ends quickly as compare to annual system. They don’t have to wait for the whole year. This seems good but what I have seen that due to lack of time, students do not absorb the subject properly. As the semester goes, they forgot everything they have learned during the semester system.

Students are evaluated number of times during semester with 3 exams (First, mid and final session), minimum 4 quizzes and 4 assignments for each subjects (normally six subjects during one semester) and if the subject is with labs then add minimum two lab assignments and 3 lab sessionals. So the biggest argument for semester system is that as compare to annual system, semester system is supposed to be better as it keeps the students busy during whole tenure. But the students lose interest with the subjects in the semester system as they are always overloaded. So instead of doing things honestly they mostly try to cheat specially in assignments. J. Bronowski said "It is important that students bring a certain ragamuffin, barefoot, irreverence to their studies; they are not here to worship what is known, but to question it". But in our current system we overload them with what is known rather than helping them to think and question them. So sad!

We have seen number of times that students who perform good or excellent in the annual system during Matric or FSC exams, only perform on an average in the semester system and vice versa. Why it is happening again and again? Most of the people argue that it is due to cramming (rata system) which students adopt in annual system while it does not work here. In my view the actual reason behind this problem is that, semester system is much easier for the student who studies teacher rather than the subject being taught by the teacher. Funny isn’t it? But it is true. In semester system, teacher who teaches, prepare the question paper. Secondly, for the last 10 years, I have seen that mostly all the teachers repeat their paper with little or no modification. So most student who just study subjects sometime feel trouble while who have studied teacher can guess what could come in the exam.

A university is what a college becomes when the faculty loses interest in students”.- John Ciardi. During last four years as a lecturer, I have seen that fellow teachers and authorities love the semester system and both have their own reasons. Teachers like because they have less pressure on them as compare to the teacher in annual system. Just imagine a teacher teaching a tenth class in a school for matric exam. He doesn’t know that paper will be tough for class or not. Whereas in semester system teacher adjust his paper according to what he thinks is the level of the class. Similarly the authorities of the universities never bother how the teacher is teaching; they are more concerned with the research activity of the teachers for their ranking. So both teachers and university authorities like the semester system because semester system helps the teacher by giving him relax environment and to authorities improved ranking in terms of research papers. But does anyone care about the student intellectual level?

If we talk about extracurricular activities, a student studying in the semester system have no time for these things. If he/she will try for it, he/she will suffer in his/her CGPA. We use to teach the proverb “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”, but never understand it and never try to implement it as well. Semester system of Pakistani Universities is clearly making dull boys and girls. We are neither excelling in sports and nor in education.

In my personal view, semester system is good for the students but the way it is implemented in our universities have killed its main purpose. Universities claims that their students are free to choose any subject from the whole curriculum but mostly do the opposite and bond the students with fixed subjects that the student have to study during a semester. This should be changed. Second the over burden of quizzes, assignment and number of exams should be removed. If we see the example of “University of Melbourne, Australia”, semester system there, is implemented in a very different way. No quiz, some assignments, only one exam after the semester and a two weeks holiday before the exams, gives lot of time for the students to revise, absorb and prepare. As a result less burden during semester and lot of time after semester give them the opportunity to absorb the subject properly. I wish this kind of semester system should be implemented in Pakistan. The more the student gets time, more he absorbs the subject, more he can learn and more he can get benefit.