History speaks volumes for the countries which excelled in science and technology and ruled the world politically and economically. However, in this regard very little attention has been paid to this vital sector in our country in the past. The dearth of scientific researchers and the dismal situation of science in the country are evident from the World Bank data. In view of the Development Indicators by the World Bank for 2011-15, the number of researchers per million in Denmark is 7,265, in Singapore 6,442, Japan 5,201, Malaysia 1,794, Turkey 1,169, Iran 706, China 1,089 and Pakistan 152. It shows that the developed or developing countries has focused on development of science and technology through quality education and producing researchers and scientists, as only strong foundation provides a strong building.
Pakistan Science Foundation conducted a survey of the schools during 2016 to know the overall status of science laboratories in the country. For this purpose, four districts of each province and two districts each in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and Gilgit-Baltistan were selected. The survey was conducted in Lahore, Faisalabad, Rajanpur and Layyah districts of the Punjab province; Hyderabad, Karachi, Khaipur and Ghotki districts of the Sindh province; Peshawar, Charsaddah, DI Khan and Karak districts of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province; Sibbi, Quetta, Pishin and Jaffarabad districts in the Balochistan province; Muzaffarabad and Bagh in AJK and Gilgit and Ganchi in Gilgit-Baltistan. The survey revealed that only 4% girls and 7% boys’ schools have fully equipped laboratories for scientific experiments, 24% girls and 29% boys’ schools do not have any equipment while 72% girls and 82% boys’ schools have partial equipment to perform science experiments.
“Knowledge-Based Economy” is the need of the hour and education in general and science education in particular is the driver of such economies, but scientific research is not being considered as career by choice in our society, resulting in dearth of researchers in Pakistan. It is my firm belief that excellence in science & technology cannot be achieved if the school science education is poor because tenderfoot young students cannot be transformed into prolific scientists.
The Science Talent Farming Scheme (STFS) recently launched by the government of Pakistan through the Pakistan Science Foundation (PSF) presents an answer to this problem. The scheme, a part of “Pakistan Vision 2025”, is first drop of rain that will result in producing eminent scientists to overcome dearth of researchers and revive the glory of Muslim scientists like Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi, Abu Walid Mohammad Ibn Rushd, Omar Khayyam, Abu Bakr Al-Razi, Jabir ibn Haiyan, Ibn Ishaq al-Kindi, Ibn Al-Haytham and Ibn Sina etc. who led the entire world in scientific developments.
Prof. Ahsan Iqbal, Minister for Planning, Development and Reforms, is the author of this scheme and the proposed “National Science School” is purely his brainchild. The government’s resolve and commitment towards S&T is apparent form its initiatives. In order to transform this scheme into a regular feature, a national school is going to be established very soon. This school will have all the facilities being provided by the cadet colleges. After establishment of this school selection of the students will be done from Class 8 which is presently being done from amongst Matric pass science students.
It is pertinent to mention that the STFS entails formal and informal science education to popularise science at school level. It offers enough financial support to the science students from public sector educational institutions to carry out their studies smoothly. Under this scheme, after a transparent merit-based selection the first batch of 300 students is in place. During the launching ceremony and orientation session of this batch in Islamabad many interesting and thought-provoking aspects came forth. The student who was on top in the merit list was from Layyah, a backward district of the Punjab province. Speaking during the Orientation Session, Pardeep Kumar, a student from Tharparkar, Sindh province, said that in his school they had no facilities even that of a blackboard and their teacher used to teach them by writing on sand in their open classroom. All these facts show that there is no scarcity of talented students in Pakistan and they can do miracles if provided with an environment conducive to their grooming. These selected students from the entire country were of the view that under this scheme their visits to renowned scientific institutions such as NUST, PINSTECH, NARC, NCP and NILORE etc. as well as their interaction with some eminent scientists gave them great exposure and motivation to adopt science as a career.
It is my firm conviction that this scheme will enable us to transform our young talent into highly prolific and eminent scientists.
The writer is Chairman of Pakistan Science Foundation and ex-VC of Nawaz Sharif Agriculture University, Multan