The Punjab government’s 151 digital libraries project is quite expansive. Its goal to improve access to information and improve higher education within three years is ambitious and maybe too lofty. The targets are trifold: to provide greater access to information to institutions, to provide more reading material, and to preserve scholarly pieces of writing. Higher education in Pakistan is currently in a primitive state. Considering its premature status, the decision by the Punjab government to allocate Rs940 million is welcome on a macroscopic level. Taking a more focused view on it, however, will reveal some intricacies that will prove to be a challenge in improving the quality of higher education in Punjab. Realistically, the grand venture of which implementation would be the final step, will probably take longer than three years. The matter is not just about establishing digital libraries; it is more about delivering access to the people and educating them about accurate usage. On this note, there is the blaring question about the real education emergency in the country: primary education. The establishment of digital libraries will only be utilised by a handful of people who have been formally trained in education. The logical step is to first provide free and compulsory education as promised in Article 25A of the Constitution of Pakistan. This would follow the order of building education from bottom up.
There are many major stakeholders and parties involved in the project, including the Punjab Higher Education Commission, the Higher Education Department and the Punjab Information Technology Board. The incorporation of technology and wider access to information for the public deserves approbation but the foundations first need to be laid. Hopefully, these are not mere excitable tactics to win voters for the next election. It is also hoped that this undertaking will not fizzle out like the effervescent laptop scheme, which did nothing for the improvement of literacy in Punjab or the country.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 19th, 2017.