The learning gap is the root cause of deficits


Economists, public intellectuals and the media often discuss how Pakistan’s budget and balance of payments deficits have led to poor economic performance. However, there is no discussion of the root cause of the twin deficits: the learning deficit.

Educational institutions in Pakistan are simply concerned with administering examinations, ensuring class attendance and awarding degrees. As a result, thousands of young people graduate and continue to search for decent jobs for years.

Educational institutions are certainly responsible for not inspiring students to learn and seek knowledge.

In the age of digital connectivity, even young people are not making personal efforts to learn. Many may spend hours on social media and adore political leaders, but would never spend time reading books and taking free online courses.

Businessmen will also make little effort to improve their business skills. They believe that they have passed the age of all learning and that years of experience should suffice, which is not true.

As the times change, businesses need to evolve to be competitive in the marketplace and this requires learning new skills. If they want to develop their exports, they have to train themselves and their senior managers in export strategy.

Political leaders do not seem interested in learning about public policy or the latest trends in science and technology. Most politicians attend university conferences only to give speeches because they don’t think they need to learn from these seminars and conferences.

Civil servants have an involuntary training mechanism, which has been regulated over time. Personal initiatives towards learning are lacking even in this community of policy practitioners. Many believe that so much research has been done and that Pakistan only lacks implementation. However, it is difficult to find quality research on a topic that affects citizens.

Most research funded by donors or funded internationally by professors and consultants focuses on the macro perspective of issues. There is virtually no emphasis on micro and contextual aspects and collective agency in our research studies. Therefore, there is a lack of appetite for research that matters.

District administrations and municipal governments have stopped spending money on public libraries. Existing libraries are in desperate need of revitalization, funding, and most importantly, a renewal of the reading and learning ecosystem.

Instead, administrations and municipalities seem to prioritize the construction of roads, overpasses, etc.

With a plethora of other public services neglected by the state due to funding for road construction, public libraries and a literary culture are on the verge of extinction, if not already dead.

With a rapidly growing population, Pakistan has a median age of 23. Government policies do not focus on reviving library culture and providing digital access to books and knowledge.

Also, there is no system that looks at the changing demand for books, topics, encyclopedias, etc. with the fast pace of today’s world. They mainly focused on underground passages and flyovers.

As a result, libraries have not been able to keep pace with population growth and changing demand for books and digital access. There is no performance target for district level officials to invest in public libraries.

Children’s schoolbags in Pakistan are heavier than those in advanced economies. However, our students lack creativity, problem-solving skills and teamwork.

At the undergraduate level, almost all students in advanced economies work part-time. Why very few students do it in Pakistan? Why are they unable to make their mark on the academic front?

After graduating, people do not keep pace with changing technologies and changing knowledge. Many of us do not continue our education and skill development through online education and knowledge platforms.

Turn on any TV channel and you’ll hear the same story from the political pundits. There will be hardly any programs about this year’s Nobel laureates in different disciplines.

The mainstream media will have no interest in showing the lives and journeys of these scholars, as they only have to give the latest news of a new statement from a politician. Suppose a TV channel starts presenting such stories and creative content for learning. There will simply be no hearing. Because people don’t need such content.

If we review the history of nations that have grown in power and prosperity, it is through knowledge and learning. How should Pakistan solve its budget deficit and balance of payments problems? The solution is to make our private sector globally competitive. How to make it more competitive? This can only be achieved through better learning of entrepreneurs, graduates, skilled workers, business professionals and policy makers.

Pakistan is not poor because we don’t have enough resources. It is poor because we don’t have enough appetite for knowledge, reading and learning. This prevails in different segments of society. Learning is not a priority. We spend our energies and time on political gossip and conspiracy theories instead of learning a new skill or concept.

The writer is co-founder of atomcamp

Published in The Express Tribune, November 14e2022.

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