G M Shah - The technology in use determines present and future of people. No group or nation can claim a place among the prosperous if does not exercise control over latest knowledge and resultant technology, which produces most developed means of production in a given time and space. Only those nations have survived the onslaught of adversaries which either excelled in developing or shaping indigenous technology according to the requirements of times or adapting to the most advanced one. The Britons initiating the ‘Industrial Revolution’ or the ‘post-1870’ Japanese are the prime examples.

Like many other developing and under-developed countries, Pakistan has remained unable to transform its economy, society and state institutions according to the global economy; therefore, we missed both post-modernisation and globalisation-based IT revolution, resulting in persistent tribal and feudal structures and a weak economy, which is pressed hard to compete with others. The failure meant that the majority fell victim to ‘digital divide’ with multiple negative effects like millions of unskilled labours and many others in work force but unable to ensure optimum use of productivity in their respective organisations or fields.

In this scenario, the PML-N government in Punjab decided to distribute laptops among students, with a sole criterion of merit.  The move is a natural outcome of the PML-N’s vision to equip the youngsters with the state-of-the-art of knowledge and tools so that they can become part of the mainstream workforce and today’s globalised economy.

Before going into further details, some words about the ‘habitual critics’, who are ‘not unsurprisingly’ claim to represent liberal and progressive schools of thought in Pakistan. From the ‘secular PPP’ to the ‘indefinable change-famed’ PTI and power-hungry PML-Q, all of them are of the view that the venture is just a political stunt and wastage of resources. They also say that the distribution of laptops is ‘spontaneous reaction to the tsunami fear’.

Well! Without wasting time on unfounded criticism, one may ask them some simple questions: What is their plan of action to bridge the digital divide? Did they ever thought of updating the means of production and modifying the social relations in a manner that people are enabled to think and produce beyond the limited horizon of pseudo traditional societal affiliations? What is their proposed remedy to initiate a socio-economic process culminating into a progressive and developed Pakistan with vibrant democratic polity? Why themes like social mobility are not on their agenda?

These questions get more importance given their posture as if they are the lone torch-bearers of modernity and democracy, while the PML-N is something of a representative of pseudo anti-development conservative forces. People want clear answers as they are not going to be fooled by slogans-only manifestos. They understand who have always aligned with and acted on behalf of traditional economic interests, revolving around ignorance and mental slavery.

Coming back to the benefits of the initiative, no sane person can deny the fact that a laptop today is the equivalent of giving someone a vast library of books 50 years ago. It’s a tool to support IT entrepreneurship that has produced six of the best 10 entrepreneurs of our times, according to Forbes. It’s a way to gain formal education from foreign universities’ increasing online courses and engage with other citizens of the world via millions of online interest-based forums and broaden one’s horizon.

Furthermore, the laptops will also help our citizens to neutralise Fox’s false perception of our country and project real image of Pakistan to the world. It’s a tool using which even kids as young as five-year-old are getting access to world class education from revolutionary mediums like ‘khanacademy’, a non-profit educational organisation and a website created in 2006 by Salman Khan, an MIT graduate, to provide a high quality education to everyone. In short, the laptops are a gateway to an ever-growing repository of knowledge.

The critics must remember the fact that Punjab government’s venture is not a freak case as many other countries of the world are providing laptops to the students. In Uruguay, every primary school student is getting a laptop under ‘one laptop per child’, a brainchild of Nicholas Negroponte, founder of the One Laptop per Child Association (OLPC). Other countries like Peru, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Rwanda are also aiming achieving the OLPC dream.

On the other hand, Turkey is going to produce 15 million tablet PCs which will be given to Turkish students free of charge that would also support domestic production and employment. Similarly, Uttar Pradesh and other Indian states are also giving free laptops and computer tablets to students. Now the question is: why shouldn’t Pakistan go after the mission? The ideologues must share their thoughts with the nation.

And last but not the least, the PML-N government in Punjab has taken a step towards reminding our people that the state is there to serve them. Hence, it will strengthen the state-individual and state-society relation, making people to affiliate with the state, and not the non-state actors that have eroded the social and political fabric of the society. The PML-N deserves credit for its innovative thinking and long-term vision.