What’s the point of your National Laptop Scheme if I can’t read or write, Mr PM?

Published: July 21, 2016
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Has anything been done about the ghost schools that represent lost opportunities for millions? PHOTO: AFP

The Prime Minister’s National Laptop Scheme was introduced in 2014, an expansion of a previous version by the name of the Shahbaz Sharif Youth Initiative. Four billion rupees have been allocated for the scheme and more than 100,000 laptops have been distributed through the Higher Education Commission (HEC) in colleges and HEC recognised universities. As part of phase two of the Laptop Scheme, 25,867 students were meant to receive laptops by February, 2016.

But what concerns many of us is, what the return on this extraordinarily huge investment under the banner of Youth Initiatives has been so far – especially in a country where the state of education has only continued to worsen over the years?

Under the Laptop Scheme, eligible students are awarded a standard laptop, a wifi device with a six-month free service, access to an online research facility and membership to Microsoft training programs. The laptop assists the deserving students in their studies and internet access provides the added benefit of enabling them to conduct online research that makes round-the-clock project work possible. A synergy created through these benefits makes it a fine initiative for the higher education students.

But, do the costs outweigh the benefits?

The scheme’s merits (as cited by its proponents) all sound fine and dandy. But is it, really?

A cost benefit analysis is performed before jumpstarting a project/scheme but there is no such concept in Pakistan. It takes decades for the governments to realise an error in judgement that could have been avoided with simple research. Pakistan has the lowest ratio of people that actually further their studies; only 5.1% of people aged 17-23 years are actually pursuing higher education in Pakistan.

That is it.

Only 5.1% of the Pakistani youth pursues further studies.

Has the government thought about the rest?

More than 25 million students do not go to schools in Pakistan. The amount allocated for education in the federal budgets is nothing but peanuts and there are no signs of improvement as of yet. Considering the aforementioned facts – how is it wise to spend four billion rupees on something other than basic education and, that too, for only a small percentage of the youth?

Have we made sure that at least half of Pakistani children get to attend school? Are we spending enough to make primary education possible for students? Has our literacy rate improved over the past decades? Have we been able to turn the situation around for girls that are prohibited from receiving an education? Has anything been done about the ghost schools that represent lost opportunities for millions?

If the answer to all these questions is ‘no’, then why are billions of rupees being recklessly spent on a luxury that helps no more than a few thousand students?

This kind of spending is logical and fair in countries where the overall situation regarding education is satisfactory, not in Pakistan which ranks as one of the lowest in this particular department.

These figures seem to illustrate poorly upon the government’s priorities. Its ardent measures indicate that there is either a lack of vision on the government’s part, or a hidden agenda behind the scheme. Imran Khan has accused the Nawaz Sharif government numerous times of using the Laptop Scheme to capitalise on the youth vote bank and curtail the influence of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) on the young. It has definitely helped create a soft corner for the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) and has been successful in diverting the attention of unsuspecting youth from their corrupt ways.

Even though Nawaz Sharif’s government denies any political motivation behind the Laptop Scheme, the heavy advertisements and a smiling Nawaz Sharif photograph appearing every time a Scheme’s laptop is printed with the tag-line, “Aap ka apna Wazeer-e-Azam, Nawaz Sharif,” (Your very own Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif) tells a different story.

The worst part is that it has been reported that most students sell their laptops for half the price as soon as they receive them, which seems reasonable when keeping in mind the deteriorating situation of employment, poverty and the futility of laptops beyond a certain point. Therefore, apart from the political objectives achieved by the government through the scheme, along with the meagre benefits received by a small segment of students, the government’s endeavour has nothing to show for its funding.

In a country that ranks second for the most out-of-school children, funds allocated for the Laptop Scheme could have been used to provide better educational opportunities to children in rural areas. In my humble opinion, there should be some form of accountability for government projects, where funds and resources go down the drain for publicity and political gain instead of where they are more crucially needed, which is to correct the deplorable state of education.

Ahsan Zafeer

Ahsan Zafeer

The author is interested in politics, social issues and sports. He has a passion for writing and believes that issues can be resolved through discussion. He tweets @AhsanZafeer (twitter.com/AhsanZafeer)

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