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Instilling Critical Thinking Skills In Youth

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Pakistan’s youth should stop squandering their time on political arguments and focus on reading, research and critical thinking.

William J. Bernstein in one of his brilliant books, Birth of Plenty, outlines four key factors that begot modern prosperity as we know it. Private property, Critical Thinking, Capital Markets and Transport, relate to one overarching theme i.e. technological progress.

The significance of this theme becomes glaring especially in today’s context when the idea of Cybernetic Organism (Cyborgs) seems to have become a reality as Elon Musk wants to connect our minds with computerized chips and where our acquaintances and interactions in the virtual world easily outweigh the interactions we have in reality.

Technology and its extension such as Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning etc. are changing the world for good. We find its implementation and implication not only in the form of foldable screens and augmented reality, but autonomous weapons and super-soldiers.

The fact that most or many of such innovations come from the West is not surprising. However, it must provide some food for thought for those living in the Global South i.e. the third world countries. It is indispensable for us to think how are we, the youth of the third world in general and Pakistan in particular, going to contribute to this opportunity. We need to, if not anything, at least start thinking along these lines.

Part of this effort can begin by identifying the stakeholders/actors that are either responsible for or relate to identifying, supporting and providing incentives for the process of idea generation and innovation in the country.  But then this is not a push-start process. I have always maintained that there needs to be a self-sustaining system in place. A system that encourages critical thinking, is conducive for research, promotes reading and supports innovation.

One of the main reasons why there is a serious paucity of workable projects that contributes to the overall development of our society and country is the absence of any incentive for those who design it. It was this very incentive based system, made possible by the new frontiers and sprawling trading systems of 18th century that Industrial Revolution chose Western Europe (and there the UK) as its birth place.

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Consider Ali Gul, a computer engineer, who came up with the idea of Eye Smart Helmet for the coal mine workers designed to keep track of their health and save precious lives. He along with Jawad and Azeem  and Dr Waheed Noor (their mentor) was able to create a prototype of this helmet, as their university’s final year project. They now have a company set in Balochistan. Ali Gul, a resident of a small town Sanjawi Tehsil, Balochistan, realised that the coal mine workers, his brother being one of them, suffered from ghastly work conditions exposing them to lethal diseases.

He acted responsibly taking gumption and recognising himself as a stakeholder; using technology as a solution to a pressing problem.

Nida Usman Chauhdry and her organisation LEARN is working to raise awareness for the harmful impacts of plastics and campaigning its total ban. These are only a few from what is a huge portion of our population of youngsters that cherish such ambitions and want to be a responsible citizen.

The point here is that while intrinsic motivation to contribute positively to the society is important we cannot still rule out the significance of incentives! A system could only be made if and when both factors, motivation and incentives, form a virtuous circle reinforcing each other.

The government should dedicate a separate unit that hunts talent and create a pool while students, youngsters and researchers should direct their efforts at improving the socio-economic conditions around them.

I have had the pleasure to be associated with the committee that is responsible for the Outcome Document of 68th United Nations Civil Society Conference which will focus on Sustainable Development Goal 11: Building Inclusive Communities and Sustainable Cities. Below is the link of the first draft of the document. Interested readers would like to read it as it may provide some good guidelines on what to do. Your feedback would be highly appreciated.

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Naya Daur