Dear Prime Minister, please make the right decision on the YouTube ban

Published: August 22, 2013

There are 120 channels currently on YouTube education divided into four categories: primary and secondary, educational, university and life-long learning. We're missing out. PHOTO: ANUSHAY FURQAN

Dear Mr Prime Minister,

Congratulations on taking the office for a coveted third time. The country has once again reposed its trust on you for steering it through these unquestionably trying times.

Your government faces a plethora of challenges. Still, I would like to apprise you of another one that also requires your imminent attention.

Now this might come as news to you, Mr Prime Minister, but in the last couple of years, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have taken the world by storm. Wikipedia defines a MOOC as:

“A massive open online course is an online course aimed at large scale interactive participation and open access via the web.”

Simply put, Sir, this means free education to everyone who is anyone. The only prerequisite is a good internet connection and unrestricted access to the web.

The New York Times dubbed 2012 as the “The Year of the MOOC”. MOOCs have also been projected as ‘Ivy League’ education for all. The quality of content on offer can therefore be judged thereof. Udacity, Coursera, edX and Khan Academy are popular resorts to such content with enrolments in the thousands.

The higher numbers of students are from the United States (27.7%), India (8.8%), Brazil (5.1%) followed by the United Kingdom (4.4%). Needless to say, Pakistan does not feature in this list.

Broadly speaking, this can be attributed primarily to two reasons: Lack of awareness and inaccessibility to the content. Regardless of the category in which one falls, both stand to gain nothing from these ventures.

On ground, Pakistan’s education structure is in doldrums. Over 25 million children are out of school. We lack both in quantity and quality when it comes to our education. The reasons are aplenty. Lack of institutes, trained teachers, uniformity in syllabus, funding, outdated curriculum and extremism are just some of the reasons for the present state.

According to an Education for All Global Monitoring Report two-thirds out of school children in Pakistan are girls. All these problems when compounded reflect in a literacy rate of 55%. Pakistan ranks 113 among 120 nations in global literacy rate.

Mr Prime Minister, Sir, countries like Pakistan who straddle in the lower echelons of education empowerment of its citizens have everything to gain from massive free online education. The present moribund state of education can be partly alleviated if online education is utilised effectively and intelligently. But at present, we cannot do so because of a state sponsored ban on sites like YouTube which are at the helm of distributing this material online.

Laptop distributions indeed carry a populist message, but do they really serve the purpose if the means to its most effective utilisation is made unavailable to the masses?

The contemporary ban on YouTube has been in effect since September 27, 2012 in response to blasphemous content hosted by the website. Admittedly, Muslims world over have been enraged by the content and justifiably so. But do the acts of an ignorant few warrant banning a source that is worth petabytes of information?

Surely, there can be a more measured and rational response than the one presently exercised. I would also like to share some facts about YouTube with you Mr Prime Minister. Every day 200,000 videos are uploaded to YouTube. Most of them are by ordinary citizens. Over four billion videos are viewed a day. Out of the total 120,000,000 estimated videos on YouTube 72,000,000 are educational in nature.

Furthermore, there are 120 channels currently on YouTube education divided into four categories: primary and secondary, educational, university and life-long learning. YouTube also hosts the major chunk of MOOC videos.

YouTube’s main revenue generation is through advertisements on its videos. The larger the number of views per video, greater is the revenue generated for YouTube. However, Pakistan does not list in the top countries with most videos watched per user. The top slots are occupied by Saudi Arabia, USA, UK, Turkey, Hong Kong and Singapore where the videos watched per viewer is in the range of 150-300 per month. It can be safely concluded that YouTube’s revenue generation across Pakistan’s niche market is significantly less than the countries previously mentioned. Therefore, if the reason ascribed to YouTube’s ban is inflicting revenue losses on the tech giant then that is naivety. Also, if the purpose was to lodge a protest, then that too has been done so adequately. The matter appears in a stalemate and should be resolved at the earliest.

YouTube offers a localised version of its global version in 49 countries. The localised version adheres to the laws of the particular country it is operating in. Additionally, it offers content tailored to the people of that demographic. In countries like Pakistan where there is no existing arrangement with the website to offer a localised version, the people access the global version of YouTube. Therein lies the solution to our problem.

Sir, you are fully cognisant of the fact that traditionally education has never been among the top priorities of our country and this trend continues relatively unabated. In fact, we are seeing an extension of this attitude in the digital world as well. The key question here is that, why as citizens of Pakistan should a major chunk of the internet using population be deprived of access to something that is quintessentially free and whose quality is far better than that on offer to the majority of the students in Pakistan?

Pakistan needs a new generation of entrepreneurs and technopreneurs to revive a flat economy. Knowledge gained through platforms like the various MOOCs and YouTube can play a substantial role in laying down the foundation for such a future. All sorts of knowledge is appreciated but it is the practical knowledge that is rewarded, and that is what people seek from these resources.

Mr Prime Minister, we the students, teachers, researchers and budding entrepreneurs look towards you in the hope that you may make the right decision.

Respectfully,

– A citizen of Pakistan

Raja Omer

Raja Omer

A programming aficionado who had the distinction of getting rejected by Microsoft, Raja has a bachelors degree in Computer Engineering from EME college of NUST. He tweets at @raj_omer (twitter.com/raj_omer)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Nb

    EME college… Electrical and mechanical engineers ?Recommend

  • Muhammad Ishfaq

    You did a great job here Raja Omer… sadly, our p.m. is evidently not a great reader so I suggest you should forward this blog to I.T. Minister and P.M. Secretariat as well.Recommend

  • Mj

    Very well reasoned and written. Youtube should be unbanned without any further delay.

    Another issue preventing access to educational resources is slow internet connectivity in our country. It is almost impossible to stream an audio lecture, let alone a low bitrate video presentation, even on a 2-4 mbps connection.Recommend

  • Silent Observer

    Very good Omer, very nicely written Recommend

  • shabbir

    well done Raja, an excellent effort. hope u r able to draw attention of those who matter.Recommend

  • shabbir

    well done Raja. An excellent effort, hope it would reach to the people who matter.Recommend

  • Saad Zulfiqar

    Excellent article Mr Raja Omer Shabbir. I think unbanning youtube can be a very good tactical move by govt as it will draw all attention of people towards itself instead of core issues like increased power and fuel prices,loadshedding etc. It can provide a relief window of 2 3 weeks for this govt.Recommend

  • Sikandar Seemab

    Good effort Raja Omer. An important issue to draw the attention upon. Informative and excellant coherence between the ideas.Recommend

  • Umair

    I appreciate your effort, but i guess PM has more sensitive issues to address like National Security, Economy or Power shortage.
    As blocked Youtube may restricts opportunities like you mentioned one above, on the other hand it also provides an opportunity to launch our own projects like Youtube. But we are just lovers of ready food and never seek for such opportunities. As other countries like China or Iran they got their own Projects.Recommend

  • Hareem

    The only reason I am disappointed in this article is because I was halfway through an article on this very topic. However, I was going to be a little less respectful and add that apparently the only logical conclusion to the government’s disinterest in un-banning YouTube seems to be that it found a good excuse to curb access to videos that revealed the corruption amongst politicians and govt. officials.Recommend

  • Pappu

    OK even if PM unblock You Tube, do you have any plan how to stop jihadis from vandalizing and destroying properties.Recommend

  • Aloo parantha

    Unbanning youtube will lead to many people in power,politicians,army,isi etc. caught with their pants down.Recommend

  • reasonlight

    Yes please my Dear Prime Minister.Recommend

  • Nishant

    Yes youtube ban should be lifted. Those who say there is bad and offensive content on it, are like that fly that leaves the flowers of the garden and chooses to sit on garbage.
    you do not cut off your ears because someone is cursing you Recommend

  • Parvez

    @Nishant: Excellent comment.
    Recommend

  • Too Smart

    @Nishant: Can you prove the offensive content is mere garbage. I challenge you!! And what would you do if someone is continuously cursing you? I am sure you would keep listening like an impotent and do nothing. Lets do it by putting offensive content on you tube about you and your family and see how you would react.Recommend

  • Umar

    Youtube works. But only the https version, for now I guessRecommend

  • unbelievable

    Nice blog – one gets tired of reading the nonsense published by the govt saying that the solution to this issue is a treaty with the USA. Negotiate with Google and purchase your localized version – end of story.Recommend

  • believer

    youtube should say SORRY to Pakistan Recommend

  • Baig

    @ Too Smart

    Too aggressive and rude.Recommend

  • hamza

    i dont think youtube shold be un banned .what has happened to all of us . if a person makes fun of our religion,we should protest against it. but some people want it open…. why ??/ we cant even protest againsts someone who is making fun of our religion… after all the things happened on youtube you people still think that we should use it anymore isnt it strange ??? THOSE WHO THINK THAT YOUTUBE SHOULD BE UNBANNED , I THINK YOU ARE STILL A SLAVE OF YOUTUBE after independence of Pakistan . Do you think a sorry wold resolve all the problem muslims faced due to the stuff on youtube ????? youtube should be banned with all the proxies. HATE YOUTUBE !!!!!! :-(Recommend

  • hamza

    an entertainment website cant increase the literacy rate of any country by only 0.0000001 % . what is the link between YouTube and literacy rate ? where was your mind when you were writting this blog ?Recommend

  • reasonlight

    @hamza: It is not youtube making fun of any religion. They did not upload the video.

    Thousands rather millions of lecture on Islam, Quran and Apostles are found on Youtube. Our so called ulema upload them. Shaikhul Qadri upload them.

    There were videos against Allah. None objected to it. The controversial video ‘Innocent Muslims’, like all other videos, had option of commenting or refuting. No so called ulema commented and refuted that. The producers of Innocent Muslims claimed that the film was based on Tabri. Did any body deny that. Did any said Tabri is a lie? None,

    Our so called ulema continue to upload their videos on Youtube for the sake of popularity. Are you more loyal than the king?Recommend

  • Talat Haque

    OPEN IT – FOR GOD”S SAKE! [ha the irony of calling in God in the equation] !!! Recommend

  • were

    youtube ban should definitely be lifted. Nice article, keep writingRecommend