Pakistan exported $ 25 billion worth of goods in the current year, its highest level since 2013-14.
For a country of 220 million people with an abundance of raw materials and resources, these are peanuts compared to many other countries with smaller populations: Malaysia and Turkey exported $ 188 billion and $ 157 billion. of goods with populations of only 32 million and 84 million, Singapore with just 6 million people and no raw resources exported $ 372 billion, while Hong Kong with just 7 million people exported $ 496 billion.
South Korea with a quarter of Pakistan’s population had exports of $ 577 billion. It is no secret that in countries deprived of natural resources, high-tech services and manufacturing industry play a major role in increasing exports, resulting in high GDP.
The future belongs to the world of innovation and technological breakthroughs: artificial intelligence, 5G, internet of things, cloud and mobile computing, data mining, cryptocurrency, robotics and blockchain among others. Over the next 15 years, computers will become smarter than humans, resulting in an omniscient singularity. By capitalizing on these technologies, many companies have become richer than developed countries. As a result of this transformation, IT companies like Apple, Microsoft, and Google have achieved market capitalizations of over $ 1.5 trillion and are now worth more than Italy, Canada, Russia, South Korea or the United States. Australia. It is the new world order of technological disruption.
Obviously, we are not adding value to the education and knowledge of our young people with advanced skills. A third of our population is between 15 and 35 years old, and 75 million under 15 years old are ready to join the intellectual and technological workforce in the next 15 years. For more than three decades now, all universities and colleges in Pakistan have offered computer science degrees, and thousands of institutes have offered short courses leading to a certificate. In addition, we train a large number of coders as part of the Presidential Initiative for Artificial Intelligence and Computing (PIAIC).
Despite these efforts, we have not had an impact on IT exports as our level of IT education does not match that of the developed world and, as a result, less than 20% of our IT graduates are qualified to serve the export industry. . There are only a few exceptions, NUST, LUMS, GIKI and a few others that provide world class computer training. Second, most of our IT institutes focus on low-tech computing, including basic applications, programming, web development, computer graphics, SEO, network and security, and media marketing. social, among others. These services are not only very competitive on a global scale, but they are outsourced for a maximum of $ 15 an hour, while high-tech IT services cost at least $ 40 an hour.
We can’t even compare ourselves to our next door neighbor, with whom we started the journey together after Independence. In 2020-2021, Pakistan’s computer exports were $ 2 billion, compared to $ 200 billion for India, which includes advanced information technology. If our young people had been trained to global standards, including advanced computer science, we might have achieved computer exports of at least $ 30 billion. As we fall 15 times behind, India is already positioning itself to overtake the United States with the largest population of high-tech IT developers in the world by 2024.
What can we do to increase our IT exports to at least $ 30 billion over the next five years? The following concrete steps need to be taken: First and foremost, we need to establish world-class IT institutes. They don’t need to be four-year degree programs, but should focus on delivering six-month to one-year, high-tech computer certification programs. We need to produce at least 10,000 world-class hi-tech certified developers per year over the next five years (PIAIC is a good start but it is too slow with only three hours of instruction per week for an entire year, with not very positive reviews).
Second: the government must establish IT incubators (or software parks) in each university, which must all be networked. These incubators should also hold regular free workshops on marketing, branding, human resources skills, business development and project management for IT professionals and businesses.
Third: Seed capital, grants, loans, bonuses and government cash rewards for start-ups and exporters, as well as capital through private investors (venture capitalists and angel investors ) should be made available to the incubator’s IT companies on a competitive basis.
Fourth: The government, through various forums like PSEB, PASHA, etc., should create an online database of all freelancers and IT companies, and market them aggressively on social media platforms to become visible to the world whole. Fifth: Overseas Pakistanis with outstanding marketing skills and public relations network should be appointed “IT Ambassadors” in major technology centers around the world and tasked with researching business for our companies.
We are not too far behind the developed world if we act today. The half-life of high-tech is less than 18 months. It usually takes a year to learn a technology and a year to master it. If we can capitalize on this opportunity and the right resources are made available, we will make a difference.
Pakistan can give other countries a race for money and quickly climb the ranks of technologically advanced and prosperous countries by following the course of action above. We live in a new (disruptive) world order (see my previous article in these pages, ‘The New World Order’ (July 20, 2021). Our young people need to break their old-fashioned chains, think outside the box, act now and quickly, grab it this opportunity of the disruptive technological new world order, and lead Pakistan to the next age.
The writer is a former president of HEC.