Our Education System
Dr. A.Q. Khan
Our educational system is in bad shape, or rather, in very bad shape. In world rankings, none of our universities or institutions are even within the first 500! As a matter of fact, Comsats, with the highest ranking, is listed as 601. For this miserable state of affairs we can’t put all the blame on successive governments. Vice Chancellors, Principals, Rectors, Professors, etc. are all equally responsible. They hardly show any interest in improving this situation, while public sector officials are happy where they are and least worried about the situation. They usually don’t come on time and don’t give the students the guidance they are supposed to give and which students require and deserve. They are safe in their positions – nobody can touch them or terminate their services. The overall result is that our students are neither competent, nor do they have adequate knowledge to handle and solve problems. They have simply been learning by rote and lack all ability to apply what they know to practical situations. This problem is not so conspicuous here as “sub kam chalta hai” is the norm. The real discrepancy becomes apparent when our students go abroad for higher education and find themselves totally clueless in their new environment. They have not been trained to handle/use scientific apparatus/instruments and they lack self-confidence. Thanks to sympathetic professors, assistants and technicians here, they have managed to get their degrees. Unfortunately, the real situation is that Professors who have gone through these post-graduate problems while abroad themselves, still totally ignore this in their own students and don’t prepare them at all for higher studies.
When our M.S. or M.Phil students go abroad, their disadvantage in training or expertise in handling equipment as compared to local students is immediately apparent. Local students handle equipment etc. very early on in their undergraduate studies and have great confidence by the time they reach post graduate levels. I saw this myself in Germany, Holland and Belgium. Since I started my studies there at undergraduate level, I went through the whole exercise and never felt inadequate at handling various instruments. After getting a good grinding at the famous Technical University in Berlin for about 2 years, I moved to the Technological University of Delf, Holland, considered to be the M.I.T. of Europe at the time. After obtaining an M.S. from there, I worked as Research Assistant to the world famous Prof. W.G. Burgers (my supervisor) before being offered a scholarship from the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium, now ranked as number one in Europe. Because of my solid undergraduate background, I never had to ask local students for assistance and was able to publish many scientific papers in American, British, German and Japanese professional journals. While in Leuven, I wrote an extensive article in a British Journal on Metallurgical Engineering Education at Delft, Holland. I was pleasantly surprised to receive a letter of appreciation from Prof.Dr. Walter Owen, Head of the Metallurgy Department of M.I.T. who stated that he found it very interesting and informative. He also appreciated my Ph.D. work and asked for copies of my scientific papers.
This lack of training at undergraduate level reminds me of something Prof.Dr. Otto Frisch, a nephew of Prof.Dr. Lise Meitner (the two discovered nuclear fission), wrote in his book What Little I Remember. He said that once, just after the first World War, while travelling from Berlin to Moscow by train to attend a conference, there was a well-dressed Indian gentleman sitting in the compartment. After some time the Indian gentleman (Homé Bhaba, first Chairman of the Indian Atomic Energy Commission) took out a Geiger counter (a neutron counting device) from his briefcase and asked Otto Frisch to teach him how to use it. Frisch showed him but was surprised at Mr. Bhaba’s lack of knowledge (he had done a Ph.D. from Cambridge). Contrast that to my very first experiment at Berlin at undergraduate level being about the characteristics of a Geiger counter. Nowadays, Indian students are well equipped to handle Ph.D. studies abroad. Their Institutes of Technology have a good reputation.
The daughter of a friend of mine from Lahore received a very good offer from the Erasmus-Mundas Program for a Ph.D. in Sustainable Industrial Chemistry to study in Italy and France. Upto her M.S. she had not had the opportunity to handle any equipment independently. Since I knew that she would have to work with various instruments for her Ph.D. degree, I made a special request to the DG of PCSIR, Lahore, Dr. Shahzan Alam, to allow her to work there for 2 months in order to learn how to operate the various pieces of equipment. He very kindly agreed to my request. Dr. Alam is now Chairman, PCSIR and has his office in the Head Office in Islamabad. He has a Ph.D. from Japan and is a very competent and knowledgeable scientist. Those two months of training proved extremely useful to my friend’s daughter and she is now half way through her Ph.D. studies in France without any insurmountable problems.
I would strongly recommend that students planning to go abroad, should make every effort to learn to handle the equipment they expect to use there. Having selected those universities teaching the subject of their choice, they should then get in touch with the relevant professors. Nowadays, all information on courses, professors, scholarships, etc. are available on internet. They will also need to get their certificates attested by School Boards, HEC and Foreign Office, a lengthy process. Not to forget passports and visas. Never ever give any false information. If they know anyone already studying abroad, get tips from them. Remember, Ph.D. degrees are not handed on a platter, they require hard work and perseverance. My own studies and work experience in Europe forged many long-lasting relationships with colleagues and industrialists, not to speak of the invaluable experiences gained, professionally as well as culturally and socially – a mind broadening experience every student going abroad should make the most of.