The PML-N’s Punjab government initiated its first round of laptop distributions in 2012. A year later, the PML-N government, now also in power at the federal level, has announced another such scheme for students all over the country.
The assumption behind this announcement seems to be that the scheme served its purpose at the provincial level. The purpose, as declared by the government, has been to expose the youth to the Information Technology and help them handle the latest technologies, exploring alternate avenues of acquiring education and knowledge. The recent announcement by the government is part of a larger scheme to create self-employment opportunities for the youth.
The prime minister announced that the distribution of laptops will begin in January 2014. No schedule has yet been planned out. According to an HEC official who did not want to be named, initial meetings with the finance ministry have begun to plan the distribution and the outreach of the scheme has already been limited. “In initial meetings, the number of laptops has been reduced to five lakh from one million, while three billion rupees from the federal budget have been allocated to this scheme.”
There is no concrete data or research available to prove the need for laptops. The debate over the effectiveness of this scheme continues. Sohail Naqvi, former Executive Director of HEC and currently Vice Chancellor of LUMS, thinks laptop scheme addressed the need of the students. “A lot of students in campus carry a backpack, so they are clearly using the laptops,” he says.
Naqvi agrees with the belief that laptops have helped students explore different means of acquiring education simply by making it more convenient for them. “Computer labs are becoming obsolete,” he argues, “Now people just connect to the Wifi because it gives them more mobility. Laptops are also more effective in the Pakistani environment since we have electricity problems.”
Students seem to agree with this notion. A student of the University of Engineering and Technology (UET) and a laptop recipient, Syed Ali Sultan, seconds this view, “It has immensely helped many of our students in making assignments and presentations individually.
Now work can be divided among students and they can work individually at home or in their rooms.” The general belief among students is that a laptop is handy and has helped them in all aspects of their education. “It works with most of our softwares for the engineering education,” adds Haider Shehzad Malik, also a graduate of UET.
Anum Lasharie, a graduate of National College of Arts, who also received the laptop, says, “While the specifications of these laptops aren’t such where you can do graphic-oriented work on them, it still has helped a large number of students in written assignments. I know friends who could not have afforded a laptop otherwise and now use it at work, so it has been helpful that way.”
It is obvious that laptops distributed by the chief minister have made things more convenient for the students. The question, however, remains that in a country with limited financial resources and a multitude of chronic problems, is this the only way to encourage the youth and introduce them to IT?
Rasul Bakhsh Rais, a political analyst, criticises government spending, saying, “Such schemes should aim towards public ownership rather than private ownership, an idea missed entirely by the government.” He also adds, “Having a laptop doesn’t guarantee that the youth will automatically be more prone towards IT. Today’s generation is already computer-literate since it has so many avenues like private internet café’s to access to technology if they want to do so.”
The proponents of this scheme argue in its favour, declaring it a success while those who believe it a waste of resources continue to argue so. Amid this debate, the government has announced another scheme of laptop distribution without any concrete research or data, showing the need of such a scheme or the effectiveness of the one carried out at the provincial level.
Educationist and economist, Asad Sayeed, disagrees with the entire idea of the Punjab government, declaring the scheme “a political ploy to counter the youth slogan of PTI.” This view has been put forward by many who believe the scheme to be a strategy to win over the political alliances of the youth. “It cannot create self-employment because the market here is not such and opportunities on the internet are fairly limited.”
“The purpose of the scheme,” he says, “is focused on a small but powerful segment of the society which not only has an opinion but can easily voice that opinion through the social media.”
Even on this front, there is no concrete evidence of the scheme succeeding. Most students could recognise the gimmick and, while they accepted the gift from the chief minister, they still refused to change their opinion of the PML-N or the chief minister.
“You cannot say how effective it has been as a political tool, since there are various political realities that have an impact on the voting behaviour,” Asad says.