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Invest In Bachelors Or Research: PTI’s Response To This Question Will Determine Pakistan’s Future

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Dr Nadir in this article is advising the government to find the right balance between the two opposing approaches to improving higher education in Pakistan – one proposed by former HEC Chairman Dr Atta ur-Rehman, the other pursued by the current head Dr Tariq Banuri.

Based on recent media reports, it appears saber rattling is occurring between the former and the current heads of HEC, Dr Atta ur-Rehman and Dr Tariq Banuri. Both these individuals are highly qualified, but have different approaches to educate Pakistani students. Rehman emphasises research and would like to churn more PhDs, Banuri likes to invest in building stronger educational base for bachelor students. This is a great opportunity for the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government to take stock of the situation and come up with a policy that will indeed increase scholarly activity in Pakistan. It is possible, though it will not happen overnight.

I completed medical studies in Pakistan from Dow Medical College and proceeded to US to further my education. I was a bit cocky when I came to US, but within a couple of weeks of starting my training her, I started realising how far behind I was compared to an American medical school graduate. Over the years, when I interacted with medical students, faculty and medical practitioners in the US, I realised why I was so far behind.

While my education was based on rote learning, passively listening to boring and straight-out-of-the-book type of lectures from our teachers in Pakistan, besides getting non-structured hands-on training in medical wards, an average US medical student received not only good practical medical education compared to me, but was well prepared to enter medical school after obtaining a bachelor’s degree in science. In comparison, I had done my intermediate from Karachi and in retrospect, I wish I had received better pre-medical education and would have avoided all the insecurities I faced when I entered American medical residency training system.

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Research and teaching go hand-in-hand in academia; however, publication of original research in high quality journals is perceived as the most prestigious achievement for any academic. Nonetheless, it is disturbing to note that meaningful research in Pakistan, which impacts the society, brings international funding, results in new discoveries or at least pays for itself remains scarce, despite the availability of ample funds in the past.

Worse still, it has also been frequently reported in the media that students are fast tracking their research by going plagiarism path, which Dr Hoodboy describes as the widely prevalent copy and paste phenomenon throughout Pakistan.

Students come up with good ideas only when they have solid educational foundations. Unfortunately, Pakistani schools and colleges do not give basic tools of reading, writing and thinking to their students. When these students enrol for higher education and are confronted with the monumental task of coming up with a research idea and then to put it on the paper, they are stumped and have little choice but to find a website from where they can verbatim copy an idea, or go to a con artist who will give them cooked up data, all nicely formatted in tables and ready to go for publication within a few days.

I myself struggled for a very long time to even understand what really academic medicine means. Finally, I realised that academia is not necessarily rocket science, simple things like attention to fine details, exploring background information about common clinical problems, and most importantly the ability of an academic/educated person to continue their education for the rest of their life constitutes academia.

Every academic person may not land a Nobel Prize, but the rewards of real education are countless. Academic career can be extremely fulfilling particularly the process of continuous learning and teaching is so much fun. Ultimately, academic atmosphere brings innovation and creativity, which benefits the society at large.

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The government will need to invest in strengthening bachelor programs and at the same time should promote research as well. Both arms of education, teaching and research need to be objectively assessed, whether they are indeed making the desired impact of imparting true education to the students or not. Teachers or researchers should be funded on an ongoing basis only if they achieve the goals which are set for them. Any idea that is based on the concept that free money will continue to pour will not be sustainable.

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