Challenges of IT Sector in Pakistan; Comparing National and Punjab IT Policy Drafts 2016

IT Policy Drafts

Once the Abraham Lincoln said, “If I had 60 minutes to cut down a tree, I would spend 40 sharpening the ax and 20 cutting it down”. Same is true for policy formulation, which the experts call “sharpening the ax.”

In Pakistan’s IT sector, sharpening the ax has taken 50 minutes, and it is feared that the remaining 10 would elapse soon. This is because the government and the ministries have just tried to take credit for the natural IT sales by adding Telecom sector to it.

After that, to justify it, the policy saga is played in every 3-4 years. That is a good practice to amuse the world outside, but the facts have not changed a bit.

Keeping aside the beautifully drafted policy which presents Pakistan as a country where IT boom is at its maximum and the opportunities for doing business and earning profit from the sector are unlimited, globally, in IT, we rank no better than poverty and education statistics. 7 out of 7.4 billion people in the world today are living within the mobile coverage.

Out of these people with mobile coverage, 5.2 billion are using the mobile service. This means that although the mobile coverage is there, 1.8 billion people of this world are not able to buy a mobile phone and use the available service. But those who use have other services at their disposal; Mobile Internet. But total internet users in the world are 3.2 billion. That means that 2 billion people of the world who have a mobile phone are not using the internet.

Out of these 3.2 billion Internet users, only 1.1 billion are luckier enough and have access to high-speed internet. Others are using a slow speed 2G internet incapable of adding any value to their lives.

With 4th largest offline population in the world, its labor market is extremely polarized which is no different than Namibia, Ghana, Magnolia and Peru in international charts. And according to World Development Report-15, 75% of the mobile money market is monopolized by the 2 largest operators.

Like defamation, the IPR cases in Pakistan are either not registered or never decided. The punishment written in the book of constitution and CPC for such crimes is sufficient but never a culprit faced it.

In the previous few years, we have tried a lot to use IT as a sole tool for better management and curbing maladministration, but it has not born any fruits because it was not backed by concrete plan which could use that data for public welfare purposes.

For example, mere data collection of absent teachers on a certain day is useless unless there is a parallel policy to dismiss and punish them. In practical, since 2000, our IT policies have lived a long loneliness.

Data has been collected but misused or not used

We can call it a misuse as in BISE, the telephone numbers of the students, parents, and their teachers were sold to different colleges and universities for spam advertisement. However, the term “not used” can be explained that nothing came out of the absenteeism reports of teachers and the test results of grade-3 students who went through the tab testing of PITB.

Although, in last couple of years broadband penetration has risen from 3% to 17% in Pakistan but this cannot be termed as anything closer to satisfaction.

However, these days 2 important IT policies are being formulated, one, by the Federal Ministry of Information Technology and second, by the Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB). The National IT policy draft acknowledges that there are numerous barriers and challenges to the progress of IT sector in Pakistan. Some of them are as follows.

Broadband Penetration:

Although, in last couple of years broadband penetration has risen from 3% to 17% in Pakistan, but this cannot be termed as anything closer to satisfaction. The country is already suffering from religious, political, ethnic, provincial, educational, monetary and social divide. The digital divide which exists today between 17% and 83% of the population will be fatal for our knowledge economy.

For upward progress in economy and innovation, the gap needs to be filled in through policies that focus on making broadband “every person’s basic need” than the luxury. National and Punjab IT policy drafts have discussed the issue in detail and suggestions are there to remove all type of taxes from the broadband. It is pertinent to mention that the province of KPK is still charging a heavy tax of 17% on broadband services.

Punjab’s policy draft commits to categorize Internet/Broadband as an essential utility, similar to Electricity, Water, etc. On the basis of this commitment, in the years to come, we can hope to see a much cheaper and faster broadband in Punjab at least.

ICT in Education

Telecom, Technology, and revenues generated from it may have been on the rise, but not their inclusion and integration in our Education Ecosystem. The Virtual University experience was successful but to a limited extent.

The majority of our public and a lot of private schools have no computer labs, and ICT integrated classrooms are available in less than 8% of the total schools in Pakistan. Distance learning through AIOU is going on in a century-old method where a lot of public money is being spent on postage and manual checking of papers and assignments, which is a huge barrier in a proper boom of distance learning in Pakistan.

Both National and Punjab policy drafts have taken the issue seriously. The National IT policy promises to “Facilitate and extend Primary & Secondary School student’s natural capability, to construct, hypothesize, explore, experiment, evaluate and foster logical thinking. Enhance problem-solving, persistence and collaboration by encouraging next generation computing and analytical courses by playing an enabler role to initiate projects for providing network accessibility at educational institutes across Pakistan.”

Another serious commitment in this regard is to start blending computing courses particularly coding into the curriculum at all levels starting from prep to high school and beyond.

Pakistan is behind most countries of the world in the absorption of Information Technology and its Enabled Services in education and everyday life, The Global Competitiveness Index 2015 suggests. It was placed at 112 in a total index of 143 countries in Global IT Report 2015 which shows how much improvement in this sector is required.

With 4th largest offline population in the world, its labor market is extremely polarized which is no different than Namibia, Ghana, Magnolia and Peru in international charts.

In Punjab’s IT Policy Draft, 6E’s have been selected to become the core principles of the policy. Education is first of them; others are Economy, Empowerment, Employment, Entrepreneurship and Engagement.

The gap between ICT Graduate Skills and Industry Needs

The previous decade has seen a mushroom growth of private and public IT educational institutions across Pakistan. The growth was so intense that it left the quality part behind.

In Pakistan, it is an easy task to get a BCS and MCS degree from the franchise and substandard educational institutions without attending a class. To our demise, these degrees are HEC recognized as well, but their graduates are adding to the pool of educated but unskilled and unemployed human “resource” of Pakistan.

Both national and Punjab ICT policy drafts promise to bridge the gap, but both are silent on how it will be done. Punjab suggest that it will reduce the academia-industry divide through curriculum reforms, internships and training opportunities. 

But how will our governments standardize the ICT education in Pakistan in a way that graduates from all colleges and universities after taking a certain course are at the same skills level? That is a serious flaw left in both the policy drafts and before the final versions it should be pondered upon.

Weak Judicial System and Intellectual Property Rights

Copying someone else’s work in Pakistan is a child’s play. Like defamation, the IPR cases in Pakistan are either not registered or never decided. The punishment written in the book of constitution and CPC for such crimes is sufficient but never a culprit faced it. So, because of weaker law enforcement and shaky judicial system, innovation has no future in our country.

Patents are registered but then make the owner patient when his/her work is copied, marketed and distributed by someone else. These intangible assets which are a product of human wisdom and intelligence are of no value in our society. In such a situation one can never expect that someone would ever invest in ICT-R&D here.

Without research and development, we can never become anything more than ICT vendors. Our international stature and ICT progress will be stagnant, and export opportunities will remain limited. The National and Punjab IT policy drafts are silent on the issue

While Punjab thinks that IPR falls in federal domain, the National IT Policy Draft hopes that to protect inventions, software code/solutions, trademarks, designs, literary works, and trade secrets, someone else will design a legal framework for the enforcement measures for the protection of IPR, consumer rights and arbitration procedures for both foreign and domestic business/trade.

The national policy draft states, “Enforcement measures are needed to control the software piracy and to assure the protection of intellectual property rights of both foreign and local software developers.”

Many other issues have been identified to become an integral part of the Federal and Provincial IT policies but keeping in view the length of this analysis, a split would be imperative.

MORE will publish the next part of this in-depth analysis in February 2017 magazine edition with a hope that the policy formulation process will take all opinions into account so that a comprehensive and future-centric document can be prepared as our IT future will heavily depend on this for the next few years.

The article is originally published by Qandeel Khan  in January edition of MORE Magazine.

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