Digital Divide: A Daunting Challenge for Pakistani Society

Today’s increasingly technology driven, complex, globalized, and information-saturated society has redefined the employment standards for young graduates who are looking for jobs. It is commonly observed that these young graduates face serious difficulties in finding appropriate jobs as they lack required knowledge, skills, competencies and attitude. As a result, organizations are facing a serious scarcity of rightly trained manpower and society is saturating with an increasing number of unemployed graduates. Therefore, it is imperative for policy makers to analysis the existing situation and takes appropriated measure to upgrade our education system – including curricula, instruction strategies and teaching-learning provisions – to meet the challenges of 21st century.

To understand the momentous of the existing challenges, first of all we need to comprehend the high pace of the technological advancement because a student entering in school at the age of five in 2011 will be joining his/her professional career, after his/her graduation, in  2027.  Emerging technologies and resulting globalization are unfolding unlimited possibilities for exciting new discoveries and developments such as new forms of energy, advancements in medical, communication, biotechnologies, nanotechnologies and space exploration, etc. Such a high pace of technological advancements has made it difficult to predicate what the world will look in five years, much less than 16 years. In parallel, emerging issues such as global warming, famine, poverty, health issues, a global population explosion and other environmental and social issues put extract responsibility on educated citizens to contribute their share to convert this world into a better place for living. Therefore the young graduates must have the ability to understand these emerging challenges and communicate, function and bring change personally, socially, economically and politically at local, national and global levels. Preparing young students for such a challenging role is a daunting challenge. 

Much literature is available addressing these issues, but a thought provoking lesson could be learnt from Kevin Conlon’s new book “The Global Achievement Gap”. In this book he examines the U.S. education system in the context of 21st century and tries to explore why American students are falling behind their international peers. He identifies an important area called “The global achievement gap” which is the gap between what schools are teaching and testing versus the skills all students will need for careers, college, and citizenship in the 21st century. Explaining the reasons why American students are lagging behind international students, he argues that the curricula or teaching methods in American schools are not developed for teaching all students how to reason, analyze, write well, and so on. Current curriculum is based mainly on memorization which causes students’ boredom; and boredom is the number one cause of high school dropouts. For a positive change, he suggests to transform teaching from an “assembly line” job into a high status “knowledge worker” job.  He further argues that teachers have to teach all students how to think and communicate effectively, and they need to assess these skills and benchmark expectations to what the world will require from high school graduates. If this is done in all of schools, while also stimulating curiosity and imagination, then all students will have the skills they need to get and keep a good job and be a contributing citizen, while America will have a workforce that can continually produce innovations. An economy based on innovation will be more competitive and successful than any other in the 21st century.

Kevin Conlon also pointed out seven important survival skills which could help students to become successful in their professional life. These seven skills include:

  1. Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  2. Collaboration across Networks and Leading by Influence
  3. Agility and Adaptability
  4. Initiative and Entrepreneurialism
  5. Effective Oral and Written Communication
  6. Accessing and Analyzing Information
  7. Curiosity and Imagination

Although these skills are very important but, as mentioned above, the challenges of 21st Century demands from us not to restrict our curriculum design to workplace readiness rather we adopt a “whole child” approach which, on the one hand, allows students to learn 21st century skills for highly technology driven complex work places; on the other hand becomes “cyber space enabled citizen” of today’s globalized society ready to contribute their share to bring a positive change personally, socially, economically and politically at local, national and global levels.

Before putting any suggestion to harness these challenges, it is important to understand the strange reality of Pakistani education system which is facing a serious form of digital divide. On the one hand, which may be in a small friction,  teachers are working with ‘digital literate’ students whose entire lives are anchored into the Internet connected multimedia devices like cellular phones, handheld gaming devices, PDAs,  laptops, TVs, game consoles, etc. They are using such devices to perform various tasks ranging from simple to very complex. They are also able to access and utilize these technologies for activities like problem-solving, decision making and educational learning. In parallel, Web 2.0 technologies have given birth to new social communities.  These ‘digital literate’ kids are using these communities for activities ranging from entertainment to educational. In contrast, a majority of students and teachers have no access to these tools and technologies even at home or at school. Therefore, a majority of schools are failed to produce ‘digitally literate’ students. Consequently, a large number of such students are failed to avail the opportunities available in today’s knowledge economies. Therefore, the most important challenge for Pakistani education system is to produce ‘digitally literate’ students who can  use the available tools and technologies in an online collaborative, research-based environment  for researching, analyzing, synthesizing, critiquing, evaluating and creating new knowledge.

The problem of digital divide is not limited to our schools rather whole society is facing this problem.The main reasons of exiting digital divide can be categorized as below:   

  1. Awareness: People do not know about ICT and the Internet facility
  2. Economic: People cannot buy ICT tools & the Internet facility.
  3. Usability: People have access to ICT tools & the Internet but do not have the skill to use it.
  4. Empowerment: People have the access to ICT tools & the Internet and have the skill to use it, but cannot use it for their socio-economic improvements.

Being a member of this society, majority of the teachers also fall in one of these categories. In parallel, the latest studies have demonstrated that students learning in not only based on “School”, “Teacher”, “Learner” and “Curriculum” rather the role of local, regional and global communities are equally important. Therefore, before devising a strategy to produce ‘digitally literate’  and to convert our schools into 21st century schools we need to adopt a wholistic approach to address issues related to digital divide. A wholistic approach will not only help Pakistan to produce “digitally literate” students but also reduce the gap of digital divide among various segments of our society.  

Here, I would like to point out that a segmented approach, many be adopted in a good faith, will further widen up this digital divide which will further aggravate the deteriorating situation of our society. For example, as claimed by the government, the Danish School System will produce ‘digitally literate’ students from poor families. I am afraid this will create a digital divide within families of these children. I am not against the Danish School system, but much batter result could be produced adopting a wholistic approach which can ensure a social change within every segment of Pakistani society.

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