Syed Shams Uddin
BRAD KEYWELL, co-founder and CEO Uptake Technologies, is referred to as having aptly put: ‘The world will always need human ingenuity, human brilliance, and human skills’. It is something the axiomatic validity of which holds good for all times and as such, requires to be born in mind by those tasked with policy-making if at all tangible results in terms of socio-economic progress of any society are to be made achievable. This becomes all the more valid an argument in the case of such societies that lag far, far behind the rest in terms of socio-economic development in the present day scenarios. Generally speaking, Gilgit-Baltistan is endowed with an extraordinarily hardworking people possessing innate ability to fit perfectly to any trade or vocation so punctiliously if the required skills are imparted to harness their immense potential fully a la the lofty mountains that make their wonderful habitat. It is little wonder then that they can excel in every walk of life provided they are enabled to have access to the direly needed opportunities in the field of vocational and technical education untrammeled.
Ironically, over the last 71 years, there has been exhibition of a lackadaisical approach in this particular as a consequence of which vocational and technical education here in the public sector has all along been nonexistent. A thorough analysis would bring it to the fore that certain projects or schemes in the region which could have been shelved or delayed to put in place vocational and technical institute as a first priority but a socially unjust approach instead, contributed to unemployment here and hence a re-examination of regional priorities is overdue especially at this point in time in a wholly changed scenario where CPEC – the giant and the truly grandest project of this century, would propitiously offer tremendous prospects to the country at large whilst throwing open opportunities to Gilgit-Baltistan, the gateway to it. There will therefore, be the need of raising a skilled workforce in that CPEC is said to usher in about 200 billion investments spanning the upcoming three decades. Rethinking the regional educational policy underscoring the fore-going crucial aspects and revisiting what remains on the anvil in the circumstances, is therefore called for to raise a skilled workforce attuned to the dictates of the hour. Even otherwise, it becomes imperative to focus on it to produce highly skilled manpower catering to the requirements of international job market. It is nonetheless, a matter of great satisfaction that the VC, KIU who has earlier, enabled the varsity to offer mining engineering classes this year has reportedly expressed the resolve to broaden it to include B.S engineering (civil) perhaps the following year which is all to the good . Equally laudable are the recent reports in the regional media disseminating an assurance from the Force Commander G-B, to help establish medical college in the region which remains an un-redeemed promise by governments for years on. It is to be recalled that a project for the setting up of first ever medical college in this region was seemingly contemplated sometime ago and preliminary, a site still containing an elaborate sign-board erected on the KKH near Sultanabad, Gilgit, purportedly being the site selected for the implementation of the proposed project. But nevertheless, it was learnt subsequently that it was to be shifted to another prospective site in order to situate it somewhere in Jutial in Gilgit city. Thus the case gets procrastinated.
Quite flabbergasting it is that no significant efforts whatsoever, were made to establish technical institutions in G-B let alone an engineering and medical college, over the preceding 71 years – thanks flawed policy-making and faulty prioritizing. It is only a couple years ago that a programme was launched for imparting skills to the unemployed youth of this region against what was called the ‘prime minister’s programme’ aimed at turning the youth skillful and employable. One such center in each district of G-B was set up where preliminarily, various skills like those of plumbers, electricians, etc. were imparted and those completed these short-duration courses were also given kits in the relevant trade. But quite surprisingly, this stands discontinued without any plausible reason while it is said that the centers which were fully equipped have stopped the courses. Obviously, the equipment if allowed to be lying dumped, would be rusting with a great loss to the exchequer unless its continued utilization is ensured. One such center was located in close contiguity to this scribe’s residence in a hired building which functioned hectically a couple of years ago but its signboard stands removed long ago obviously for its going dysfunctional. This is at a time when there is dire need of giving a boost to such skill-development in this region. Not simply this, at least one polytechnic institute each in Baltistan, Diamir and Gilgit region need be established immediately to offer DAE course alongside setting up G-B technical education board whereas only one polytechnic institute was contemplated about a decade above for establishment in Gilgit which too, has not yet started functioning let alone an engineering college in the whole of G-B. Thus it would appear that technical education was backburnered during the course of policy-making which as a matter fact did not bode well for the socio-economic progress of this region.
True, most important to the understanding of education, to put in a nutshell, is shifting manner in which people relate to others and to the environment, the flexible and continuously emerging orientation of the individual to the fast changing world. Since most comprehension seems to drive from the way people subjectively connect various strands of their attitude – the image they have of themselves against and in relationship to the conditions, pressures, and possibilities of external surroundings – the resulting vacillation and lack of permanence create basic problems of identification and meaning. It is not sufficient to express verbally and accept casually the inevitability and absence of change; an attempt has to be made to incorporate the concept of change as an intrinsic part of mental and emotional makeup; the society is compelled to live with it and to fashion its attitudes in accordance with the realities of ongoing process. At the same time, it cannot ignore the concrete products of the environment and the traditions they engender .Nevertheless, the very security that is sought is more likely to be found in the kaleidoscopic variety and force of change than in the so-called stable and frozen aspects of an unchanging surrounding’. Going by the fore-going all, it becomes construable that the country has to harmonize the developmental needs of her people with a new outlook on education with a special emphasis on technical education in economically less developed areas. It is not surprising that the great Quaid, like Allama Iqbal, looked upon Japan as a model nation for any advancement in education. He thought that it was basically the Japanese revolution in education so powerful as to defeat the mighty Russian empire in 1905. No wonder then that the Quaid, in his very first speech in the Council of Governor General of India March 23, 1910, supported the establishment of a polytechnic college to provide instructions in the higher branches of engineering in the following words:
“My lord, I don’t wish to take the time of the Council with the various virtues of technical education of the excellent effect it has had on different countries. I don’t need to dilate on that point – members in this council take it for granted that it is the business of the state to help the education of the country – general or technical.” Marshalling facts and figures to prove the progress and growth of education in Japan, he thought that it was a pity that the government was not doing enough to the cause of education in this region with the result that the education in the region was more an apology than a system seeking to banish ignorance and poverty from the whole of this remote region. The Quaid, in the course of his public life, spread over and spanning more than fifty years, referred to the preeminence of education more than a hundred times. It was as late as 1911 that he made a strong plea in the Council of Governor General of India to make elementary education universal, compulsory and free.
Given the current landscape all across the country, the ideal has not been realized till now though the nation keeps on commemorating the momentous occasion like Pakistan Day etc. Actually, the goal remains illusory yet. The prime objective otherwise to be made achievable during the previous century stands deferred to this century which means that the country entered into this century with an appalling literacy rate. Perhaps we do not deserve to be the legatees to the vision of the Quaid for not paying due attention to it. The Quaid in his numerous speeches and statements had pinpointed progress in education as the sine qua non for the economic development itself. He was quite clear in his mind that the system introduced by Macaulay was based on the needs of the British Raj. It sought to create battalions of clerks and junior officers from amongst the Indians to rule over the vast country as it was not easy to employ the British for the kind of work which the Raj wanted the Indians to do. The Quaid, time and again, distinguished the British system of education which was far, far away. In his address to the All Bengal Student Federation on August 18, 1936, he said: “We want to produce – independent, progressive and fearless men who will sincerely work for the country and when have done that, we mean to make as great a contribution to the freedom of our motherland as any other community.”
And a day after this address on August 19, 1936, he exhorted them not to take part in active and aggressive politics of the country but to keep abreast of what was going on in the country and the world around them. The Quaid looked upon education as a means of blocking backwardness. He regarded education as the most important step towards progress and development.
It was at the 1943 session of the Muslim League in Karachi that a standing committee known as economic planning committee was set up. The committee comprised 39 members drawn from all parts of India on November 15, 1944. Dr Zakir Hussain and Dr Col Rahura were also coopted. This committee was presided over by Nawab Ali Nawaz Jang Bahadur, himself an eminent engineer and it had four more engineers namely Khan Bahadur Abdul Aziz, Syed Arifuddin, Ahsan Yar Jang and Mohsin Ali to serve the committee. The committee met four times and on July 2, 1945, and decided to mpresent its chairman’s memorandum to the Quaid. The memorandum came to the conclusion that there was need for improving general welfare of the people by planned effort to make full use of the human, physical and technological resources. It was thought by the committee that while scientific progress and technical achievements have advanced in rapid strides, the efficiency of government is far short of the requirement. The committee also came to the conclusion that it was not possible for Muslims to progress without developing their human resources to the full. This is even true today and it indicates that our failure to live up to the vision of the Quaid has indicated that the Muslims should ‘take advantage of the opportunities which modern science offers, there should be machinery for insisting on efficient production at minimum cost, and also for a smoothly carrying the producers to the consumers’ door. Chaos prevails at the present time though an incessant conflict by which men are devoting their energies, not toward increasing the collective resources, not toward competing with each other for the command of them. Concerted effort is needed, it we are not to remain backward and dependent.”
It is said that the memorandum could not be examined by the AIML in view of the other pressing issues of the time and all we could know was what the planning committee envisaged the primacy of science and technology. The Quaid was conveyed that the system devised by the colonial masters didn’t lead the Indians to the economic development. Hence he wanted Indian students to see through the colonial designs and exert themselves to make up for the lack of government attention. A system of education which does not enlarge and brighten the outlook of the people and foster progressive desire is detrimental to the economic wealth of the community. Speaking to the staff and students of Islamia College, Lahore on April 1, 1944, in the Habibya Hall he said: “ Change your mentality and pay more attention to industrial and technical education instead of aiming to become lawyers and clerks”.
Emphasizing this point all over again, at the annual convocation of the same college on March 24, 1946, said: “Commerce and industry are the very foundation of a nation. In that department, I regret to say we are left far behind.”
Besides the Qauid, speaking to a gathering of Alligarh Students on March 9, 1944, said: “The Arabs suffered from two serious defects. First, they lacked the ‘consciousness’ of national unity. They were conscious of tribes and families. Secondly, they lacked structures applied to the Musalmans in India also. In yet another speech, he made the annual convocation of Islamia College on Marc 24, 1946: “Commerce and industry” said Quaid, “are the very foundation of a nation”. Things are moving and we cannot afford to lose time. You should now train yourselves in this direction. If there are difficulties in our way, I assure you will overcome all difficulties and you will build your nation economically as we have largely built it politically”. It is known to all that the main purpose of the first Pakistan Educational Conference was held in Karachi on November – December 1st, 1947 was to frame a new educational policy for the development needs of an independent and sovereign country.
The writer is a Gilgit-based freelance contributor. He tweets at: @SayyidShams