‘We need to commit more resources to education, redesign our curriculum’

‘We need to commit more resources to education, redesign our curriculum’

Synopsis

IoBM president Talib S. Karim sheds light on new trends in education

‘We need to commit more resources to education, redesign our curriculum’
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KARACHI: Talib S. Karim currently serves as the president, Institute of Business Management (IoBM) and played a key role in setting up the educational institution. He also has experience in the field of development finance. Mr Karim discussed a variety of issues concerning education in Pakistan while talking to Bol News.

 

 

Why do you think the reading habit is so poor amongst young people nowadays?

 

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One of the major reasons for the decline in reading habit amongst the youth is the influx of a variety of social media enabling digital technologies. Numerous research publications confirm the influence of social media on people’s reading habits. Majority of the youth love to scroll down and watch the content available on their smartphones rather than read books. This is a global phenomenon, and policymakers around the globe are worried as to how the youth could be brought back to reading books.

 

We often hear from experts that the level of education in Pakistan has dropped. What is your experience; do you think the problem lies in poor schooling at the primary and secondary levels?

 

Pakistan is faced with a dual problem of poor access to education, as well as low level of education. That in turn results in low literacy as well as a host of economic problems associated with it. Pakistan’s literacy rate at just above 50 per cent is the lowest among all South Asian countries. Sri Lanka and the Maldives rank the highest in the region with literacy rates above 90pc, India following with above 70pc literacy and Bangladesh well above 60pc.

A major concern highlighted by UNICEF is that Pakistan has the world’s second-highest number of out-of-school children (OOSC) in the world with nearly 23 million of them, ie 44pc of the total population staying out of school. Other age groups are not much better.

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The second part of the problem relates to the quality of education. Unfortunately, despite substantial contribution of several leading educational institutions, from primary to the tertiary levels towards bolstering our education system, it continues to remain far below expectations. The key to strengthening the schooling systems lies very much within the domain of the primary and secondary level education, provided its objectives are clearly spelled out, adequate resources being provided, achievements are meticulously measured, and corrective action taken wherever needed.

Following from there, the private sector will need to take over the responsibility, given that they be held duly accountable for results. The current heterogeneous mix of the traditional schooling system, ranging from high-end private schools to madressah systems and “government” schools, is highly unlikely to produce any tangible result if allowed to push ahead.

Plagiarism amongst faculty members is a major problem in nearly all higher education institutions. What is your university doing to stamp out this menace?

 

We can see that as the number of scholarly works published in scientific journals, reports, and databases is increasing, the incidents of plagiarism are also growing. One of the primary reasons is the rat-race to publish more, especially in South Asian countries, including Pakistan. Every faculty member, especially PhD scholars or fresh PhD graduates, is expected to produce a certain number of research papers in a year as part of their performance evaluation. In the pursuit of publishing more, some researchers ignore the fundamental rules of conducting research and instead of producing an original research paper, they tend to plagiarise.

Another key reason for plagiarism is poor industry-academia linkage, and the willingness to collaborate and share information for the achievement of a mutually beneficial goal.

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At IoBM, we have a stringent, zero-tolerance plagiarism policy that more than meets the guidelines of the Higher Education Commission (HEC). We constantly disseminate information among our PhD scholars regarding what counts as plagiarism, and why they must never indulge in it. We also inspire them as well as our faculty members to produce original research work. Our research targets are also realistically set, and our research promotion policy clearly spells out our predilection for quality over the number of research works produced or published.

 

Following the Covid-19 lockdowns, online education was the only option to educate students. Do you think this is where the future of education lies?

 

Online education has emerged as an undeniable reality, impacting a vast majority of educational institutions, including institutions of higher learning. I am convinced that online education will supplement if not transform the conventional way of learning, and every university in Pakistan would strive to offer full-fledged degree programmes online.

Some of the universities have already started working on these lines and are offering hybrid courses, which any individual across the globe can sign up for. Interestingly, work on such programmes began long before in the US, when institutes like MIT started offering hybrid Masters and Bachelor programmes.

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We at IoBM also intend to offer online/hybrid degree programmes, including MBA, starting in 2022-2023, and work has already been commenced to meet the target date. Our online experience during Covid was phenomenal. Several online tools, including our LMS (Learning Management System), have now become an integral part of our system, even where physical teaching mode is followed. We realize that adopting such tools has dramatically augmented the efficiency and effectiveness of physical classes.

 

There has been a mushroom growth in private sector educational institutions in the country. However, the output has been poor or average quality human resources graduating from these institutions in most instances. What is the cause?

 

One of the major causes could be the lack of proper physical and intellectual infrastructure. The majority of the institutions are ill-equipped, understaffed and do not employ quality faculty members. Although Pakistan still needs institutions of higher learning, these institutions must be capable enough to produce quality human resource. Unfortunately, most new institutions, except for a few, are simply following a run-on-the-mill approach resulting in minimal value addition to its graduates or to society at large.

The real concern is not that the number of institutions is growing exponentially, it is that most of these institutions pay little attention towards maintaining the required level of infrastructure as well as faculty and administrative staff. This is the very reason why some of HEIs are facing severe headwinds now, and are unable to deliver. Even before Covid-19, several such institutions were struggling to prevent the declining enrolment and budget shortfalls, and Covid-19 has exacerbated these challenges manifold for them.

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With 64pc of the current population younger than 30, and 29pc between 15 and 29, the age group defined as “the youth” by UNDP, Pakistan needs to have its educational infrastructure strengthened right from the primary to tertiary level, and focus on educating and developing its youth. All relevant stakeholders including newer educational institutions must adhere to the requisite standards of quality, diversity, and practicality.

 

What are the new trends in higher education that you foresee in Pakistan?

 

The influx of digital technologies, rapidly changing global dynamics, and Covid-led transformation have radically transmuted the pace and the medium of education. Just two years ago, conducting classes online and teaching a full-fledged course without any physical interaction seemed like a nightmare. Hardly a few institutions in the developing world were using the online medium for imparting education. However, Covid-led lockdowns and social distancing measures pushed the population worldwide towards adopting the virtual medium, commonly known as remote learning, for communication and teaching.

This transformation has paved the way for progressively integrating technologies such as virtual reality and artificial intelligence in the educational learning system. These technologies have the potential to provide an immersive and unique experience to students while remotely attending classes.

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Do you think Pakistan is producing graduates that can compete in the international market?

 

At one end, we can see few Pakistani graduates climbing the management ladder and reaching the upper echelons of multinational firms, and on the other, we also see many graduates struggling in the international job markets. So it is tough to definitively comment on this question.

Nevertheless, only small minority of our graduates are holding top positions compared to our peer countries. One of the key reasons is the miniscule proportion of our low GDP being spent on education, and that too in a manner that is far short of the ideal. We need to commit more resources to education, redesign our curriculum and learning system at all levels from primary to tertiary, and ultimately produce more graduates who can compete internationally.

At the highest level, HEI standards need to get as close to the level expected by renowned international accreditation bodies like AACSB. The standards set by these bodies help improve the complete process of imparting education and developing internationally competitive human capital. IoBM has embarked on the mission to diligently work towards the attainment of AACSB standards.

 

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What are the key fields in your opinion that students will be opting for in the near future where higher education is concerned?

 

Keeping in view the current socio-eco-technological pace and trends, the following key areas would be in demand:-

  1. a) Business and Ecommerce Analytics: Data is termed as the 21st-century goldmine, and individuals possessing strong data analytical skills will be in great demand.
  2. b) Digital Marketing: Conventional marketing is shifting toward digital marketing. Companies increasingly rely on digital marketing strategies to create brand equity and sell the product. There would be a massive demand for digital marketing strategists and analysts.
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  4. c) Business psychologist: The influx of technology, especially social media technologies, which has offered much ease, has created big chaos and issues. People face various kinds of psychological problems due to the use of such technologies. To take care of people’s mental health, the demand for psychologists is increasing, and it will increase manifold in the future.
  5. d) Coders: Coding has appeared as one of the most demanding skills, especially in research groups and tech companies. Keeping in view its importance, many EU countries have started teaching coding at the primary level.
  6. e) Blockchain developers: Blockchain appears as one of the most influential technologies, having the ability to change conventional businesses completely. Companies increasingly adopt blockchain as the key process technology due to its foolproof security, traceability, decentralization, and immutability.
  7. f) Virtual Reality specialists: could be another excellent option. This technology is in growing stages, and once this technology gets matured, there will be immense opportunities in various streams of VR.
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