The launch of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Programme for higher secondary students by the government on Wednesday provides a launchpad for students to realise their potential in these streams. But this is only possible if the project is handled ably by the government.
Although the project is only in its pilot stage—50 government-run schools have been targeted—the possibility of students from all economic backgrounds becoming experts in the critical STEM fields could lead to greater development in these fields. International research has shown that expertise in these subjects can be crucial for the economic prosperity of a state, especially if it is looking to develop a comparative advantage in the secondary sector of production.
Other countries have advanced learning programmes as well—where the brighter students are selected to study on a more advanced trajectory than their age groups for greater progress. For us, once the testing stage is over, the programme must be rolled out to accommodate all of our students, especially those in public schools. Since this would entail access to greater learning resources such as dedicated labs and a focus on problem-based learning, the benefits of this can help advancement in STEM fields in the long term.
But in order to elevate this initiative above face value and make it a permanent fixture of education in the country, the government must move beyond just the provision of equipment and improved learning techniques. A separate curriculum stream must be developed, alongside the recruitment of teachers that are well-equipped to handle our best and brightest students.
But most importantly, for this project to truly bring in the best talent Pakistan has to offer, the government must look to get a substantial proportion of girls in the programme as well. Statistics of results in various exams indicate that girls tend to secure better grades on average in Pakistan; this would mean that they could take up more than half of the allotted seats for advanced STEM students. Much like our students, this programme can stand to offer a lot towards the economic and social progress of Pakistan; but the only way for this to happen is to follow through and not let this become another programme that eventually gets forgotten.
Source: Published in The Nation