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Pakistan among top 4 countries in STEM enrolment

KARACHI: Pakistan ranks 92 out of 100 countries in the Global Skills Report 2023 published earlier this month by Coursera — a US-based massive open online course provider — in terms of skills proficiency. This is a significant decline for the country which ranked 64th in skills proficiency in 2022.

For business skills, Pakistan has a score of 22 per cent (a sharp decline from its previous score of 50 per cent). For technology skills, Pakistan has obtained a score of 10 per cent, a dip from the previous 51 per cent. For data science skills, the country’s score is 8.0 per cent. All scores are ranked against the average regional scores of 41 per cent (business), 49 per cent (technology), and 52 per cent (data science).

In his comment to The News, Co-founder of Data Darbar Mutaher Khan expresses that “Coursera’s overall ranking and the performance on three tracks [business, technology, and data science] should be taken with a pinch of salt in my view. Because the difference in results compared to previous editions is too big, which raises questions about the sampling.”

Focusing on Pakistan’s significant drop, he says, “now it is difficult to say what the reasons are, but one guess could be that Pakistanis signed up for Coursera courses in droves this year, many of whom possibly were just testing it out and did not necessarily pay too much attention to the assessments.”

He believes it is “hard to argue that in one year, Pakistani human capital’s skills slipped by 28 points. And it is not just about relative rank: the deterioration is visible in absolute percentages for each track. This is not to say Pakistani talent is great or should be among the top countries in terms of skills.”

Even though Pakistan’s global ranking is dismal, it has shown a 79 per cent year-on-year growth in enrolment, becoming the fourth country globally (out of 100) with the highest STEM enrolments. Enrolment count from Pakistan stands at 642,562 – behind Nigeria (675,371), the US (4,639,771) and India (6,000,967).

Speaking to The News, Deputy Chief of USAID Higher Education System Strengthening Activity Dr Ayesha Razzaque, discusses the reasons behind the shift towards distant learning among Pakistanis, “skills are the new currency in the job market. [In Pakistan], four-year curricula are neither updated frequently enough nor corresponding degrees/transcripts do a good job of communicating what the graduate is able to do.”

She adds that across the world, “there is a shift towards acquiring micro-credentials instead on top of an undergraduate degree. So, instead of enrolling in a long-term programme, one could enroll in a shorter certificate program and get only the necessary skills. Our universities will eventually need to catch up too.”

When asked what the government and the private sector can do to improve the situation, Mutaher says: “there are a couple of things the government at least seems to be doing. For example, the HEC has a partnership programme with Coursera, which is a great step. Similarly, it recently earmarked Rs2 billion in the budget for specialized IT trainings.”

He argues that even though there have been initiatives over the years, “what impact have they made? Unfortunately, details for that are not available.” He also shares that the private sector has been more lax. While they have launched programmes, such as one under the Pakistan Software Export Board (PSEB) umbrella, its progress tracker shows really modest results so far. There is a lot more they [the private sector] can do, like partnering with universities, possibly endowments, and mass internship programmes among other measures.” Ayesha also adds that the report “does not include a detailed country analysis for Pakistan which is why it is not possible to identify the motivations of learners from Pakistan to enroll in these courses. However, one could speculate that a number of reasons for Pakistani students/professionals to do a Coursera certification may include the need for “a certification that is not provided by the local education industry or is not of adequate or comparable quality.”

“None of our local universities enjoy universal brand recognition. So, a likely motivation for a certification from a widely recognized global university or big-tech company signals hands-on skills in the regional/ global job market.”

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