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EDITORIAL: The recent positive developments with respect to our space programme mark a promising trajectory for the nation’s scientific and technological growth. Earlier in the month, Pakistan launched its first lunar satellite, iCube-Qamar as part of China’s Chang’e-6 lunar mission, with the aim of exploring the “dark side” of the moon.

Building upon this historic achievement, plans have now been announced to launch yet another satellite, the MM1, in a bid to bolster the country’s communication infrastructure through the establishment of a sophisticated network that could meet the demands of our fast-evolving telecom sector.

It goes without saying that the strides being made on this front are entirely welcome and are an indicator of the tremendous potential we have in this new space age. Modern space programmes largely focus on the launching of small satellites, which have multiple applications across a variety of sectors, including communication, agriculture, disaster management and navigation, among a host of other purposes. However, the question whether Pakistan would be able to cash in on the vistas our satellite programme could open up remains in significant doubt.

This is in large part due to the attitude of the Pakistani state towards modern technologies, which has long been marred by suspicion and resistance, hindering their potential to leverage innovation for societal development and economic growth.

A case in point is the recent clampdown on internet freedoms through restrictions on X and the launching of a new cybercrime agency that looks set to further throttle the digital space. The tall claims officials are so fond of making regarding the advancements being made in this new internet and space age won’t amount to much if the state persists in taking measures that end up stifling innovation and creativity.

Moreover, our skewed priorities as a nation over recent decades has ensured that our science education remains in the doldrums, with there being complete disregard, and almost contempt, for scientific research starting from the state level down to the lower rungs of society, which has in turn led to a paucity of scientific achievements emanating from our shores.

Perhaps, a leaf could be taken from India’s book, where its founding fathers made it a point to keep scientific education at the front and centre of the country’s education policy, setting up the highly successful Indian Institute of Technology whose aim was to develop a skilled workforce to support that country’s development.

In fact, even the Indian Constitution explicitly aims at inculcating “scientific temper” within its citizens, i.e., the ability to question, and not be satisfied with an answer just because it is given by an authority figure, without first testing the veracity of the statement.

The first rule of an effective science education, therefore, is having the freedom to ask questions, and that is the very characteristic missing from the way education is imparted in this country where students are discouraged from posing inquiries and where mindless rote learning has long been the norm.

This then later results in the fostering of a citizenry that dares not question authority figures, and when individuals dare to do so, it is considered dangerous enough to invite the wrath of those in power. This has been the underlying malaise marring our polity where the simple asking of questions is considered hazardous, with the fallout of this attitude having far-reaching negative repercussions.

Amidst all the recent talk about declaring education emergencies, it is self-evident that our education policy must start keeping science education at the forefront, as well as foster a system that inspires innovation, creativity and the asking of questions. The state must realise that fighting technology is a futile endeavour as that is one battle it is bound to lose, with citizens bearing the brunt of the fallout in the form of lost opportunities and hindered economic progress.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2024

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