Fostering innovation through education

The tandoor is an ideologic relic; a technological fossil that has survived through ages. While the world embraces 5G communication technology and adopts intelligent machines; the subcontinent’s most utilized cooking appliance remains indifferent to all the technological insurgency. To redesign and refine is one of human’s greatest endeavors. It is what propels our species towards our collective utopic vision. Progression is natural. It stems from human emotions. Curiosity is the trigger and written language helps us store ideas and concepts which can later be used to create improvements. Incremental changes over many years lead to profound innovation. And yet, against the backdrop of this change, the tandoor has not seen any innovation in its design, form, and functionality for hundreds of years. It however continues to remain the chief source of staple diet for nearly the entire populace of India and Pakistan.

All the greatest inventions require constant innovations to make them faster with enhanced functionalities and greater convenience. Innovation is essentially adapting to change. In Pakistan innovation rarely blooms. Often the most innovative solutions come from outside our borders. Indigenous thinking seems to lag. To pick up pace we need intervention at a national level. Universities and colleges are the think tanks of any country. Only innovative educational institutes can steer our country towards the path of modernism. Creating such institutes or changing existing ones is an uphill task. Pakistan is far behind the “innovation” race. One way to rank ourselves is to find out how many researchers we are producing and how many people are in the business of acquiring and distributing knowledge; a key ingredient needed to foster innovation. According to Higher Education Commission, Pakistan produced 1,351 PhDs in the year 2014. Italy, with one-third of Pakistan’s population, produced 10,678 PhDs. And let us not forget Indonesia which spawned 3,591 PhDs in the same year.

These figures, however, are not very useful in measuring our inventiveness. Acquiring knowledge is not useful unless it is utilized to create change and materialize scholarly ideas. According to World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), Pakistan received 209 resident patent applications in the year 2015. This is merely a drop compared to China’s 968,252 applications. Indonesia, with similar demographics and economic setting received 1,058 applications.

Pakistan is at the crossroads where it is juggling with change on many fronts and we need to instill a national passion for innovation. The chief responsibility lies with universities and colleges across Pakistan and they can do wonders in bringing us abreast with other comparable developing countries like India, Indonesia, and Brazil.

Universities should create thinkers rather than graduates and entrepreneurs rather than office workers. According to Dr. Zahid Ayub, founder and director of Natural Fluids Refrigeration Center, in GIK Institute, innovation arises from a culture where education and creativity are intermixed. He contends that education should never be about giving lectures, home assignments, or conducting surprise quizzes; it should be about motivating students to create and incubate new ideas. Of course, not everyone is an entrepreneur. It is the job of the teacher to identify the shining stars who will usher new discoveries. Once you identify them the next step is to guide them on a one-on-one basis, mentor them, and harness their abilities. A teacher’s performance should be measured on how closely they have connected with rising stars in their class. Every university should open incubation centers which can put the greatest minds together and create innovations in areas which address the immediate needs of the country such as food insecurity, water depletion, energy crises, etc.

Trade institutes should also be a part of every major university. These institutes can award 2-year diploma courses for imparting vocational skills. Again, we need entrepreneurs not office workers. A person possessing expertise and finesse can be self-employed. They can never be jobless and overtime, as they perfect their art, they can scale-up and benefit from economies of scale. Some of the biggest companies in the world today were founded by people possessing a certain set of skills which they perfected overtime.

Innovation should never be sought because it sounds glamorous or it is the next buzz word. It should be pursued because of its potential to sparkle human development and create sustainable solutions. This is where partnerships come into play. Universities need to develop partnerships with private companies, nonprofit organizations, and even government institutes to collaborate for developing solutions to most pressing problems. In fact, entire curriculums need to be developed in unison with other stakeholders. Apart from collaboration, universities should also launch research and development (R&D) labs to help students experiment with new designs and ideas.

Pakistan has a huge potential for innovation. We have a huge human resource; the population is relatively young. There is an improved regulatory framework and we have seen growth in incubators and accelerators which provide support to start-ups. According to analysis by AT Kearney, Pakistan will witness a 44% rise of start-ups in the year 2020 compared to 2016. This is a welcoming sign and universities across Pakistan have a huge role to play in ensuring that we innovate where it matters most.

The article was originally published in TheWeeklyPakistan on February 21, 2019. For original content click here.

Humza Irfan

Humza Irfan (The Author) has more than 8 years of progressive experience as a professional writer. He has penned more than 200 articles on assorted subjects. His forte includes writing content for advocacy, persuasion, creating awareness and story-telling. He has done his masters from Lahore University of Management Sciences. He holds extensive experience of working with the nonprofit sector of Pakistan and has been associated with a number of diverse social causes in related to education, higher education, health, special-needs education, disability, human rights, gender parity, etc. His blogs can be accessed on www.brandsoncanvas.com. He tweets @humzod (twitter.com/humzod).

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