Physics Education in Pakistan
Aziz Fatima Hasnain
The Islamic Republic of Pakistan is situated in the northwest of South Asia. About 180 million people live on a land of 796,000 sq. km having US $450 per capita income. Pakistan’s economy is based on agriculture and agricultural products. The port of Karachi also plays a major role in supporting its economy. In Pakistan one may find Islamic values finely mixed with 5000 years of cultural heritage.
Many of the economic development programs cannot achieve their goals because of the 2.9% annual population growth. Education and health sectors are the ones badly affected by this growth rate.
Education in Pakistan
The Ministry of Education is responsible for formal and informal education in Pakistan. Education departments in the provinces control the administration of primary to college level education, while the Higher Education Commission takes up matters related to higher education at the universities. Universities have their own curricula and examination system. For technical education there are separate district offices and boards of examination in the provinces.
To bring its society into consonance with the changes taking place in the world, the Pakistani Government has initiated many development programs to enhance scientific and technological capabilities in every field. Computer education has been introduced at the grass roots level. Computer labs with Internet connectivity have been set up in schools and colleges to make the computer technology accessible to each and every student. With the development of IT in Pakistan, demand for expenditure on higher education and research has increased.
There are about 32 universities and 9 degree awarding institutes in the public sector, and 18 universities and 9 degree awarding institutes in the private sector. There are about 475,000 students in the universities. Most of the private universities offer business or computer education to students. Out of five medical universities there are three private universities, and one out of four engineering universities belong to the private sector.
A student starts learning science in the primary schools, including introductory knowledge of concepts from biology, chemistry, and physics. Science is compulsory up to class eight. After class eight, students have the option to continue education in four major groups: 1) science group; 2) gneral science or humanities group; 3) home economics group; 4) computer science group. A student, after completing 10 years of secondary education in any of the groups at the age of 15, may continue a 2-year course of higher secondary education in the same group. At this stage, another option, a commerce group, is offered to students. After passing the higher secondary examination, students join professional colleges or universities.
Physics as a subject is introduced in class 9 and 10, and it is compulsory for science students. Physics is taught every year up through class 18 (masters level). A rather traditional style of teaching is followed at all levels. It is a common practice to concentrate the teaching/learning process around the prescribed syllabus. Teachers avoid demonstration of physical concepts because of the nonavailability of equipment. There are certain constraints in the system, which do not let the teacher develop her/his skills of teaching. Teaching based on textbooks and examination is the major source of inhibiting the individual’s capabilities. Verylittle attention is paid to developing problem solving skills and concept building among students. There are teachier training programs for school and college teachers, but these program do not play an effective role in changing the teaching/learning pattern.
Research in physics
Quaid-e-Azam University has contributed a lot in producing PhDs in Pakistan. So far it has produced near about 100 PhDs in physics QAU has laboratories facilitated with sophisticated equipment for research. The statistics about PhDs produced from other universities is significantly low. The reason for small number of students opting research for higher degree is that universities abroad attract them.
Apart from universities, there are research institutes in Pakistan where students perform research. The Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission and its affiliated institutions, the Centre for Solid-state Physics, and the A.Q Khan research Laboratories are the premier research institutes.
Recently Higher Education Commission has established a list of supervisors who are involved in research activity and offer PhD program for students. The website is hec.gov.pk at this website one may also find updated list of students who are involved in research program especially the website of Quaid-e-Azam University.
Strategies for development
The Higher Education Commission has now become a controlling authority for tertiary education. The first task of HEC is to implement a “Model University Plan.” In its model university plan, HEC has given a new dimension to administrative and academic structure of state universities as well as to private universities. HEC has formulated advisory groups at the national level for the promotion of basic sciences. An advisory group for physics, which consists of physicists from universities and research organizations, has been constituted. The function of this group is to bring forth problems related to physics and prepare proposals for the improvement of physics education in Pakistan. A four year BSc course, proposed and designed by National Centre for Physics has been submitted to HEC. A research program in nano physics, submitted by advisory group was approved by HEC. Presently three groups are involved in nano physics project according to available facilities in the institutions. Two groups are working at QAU and PAEC at Islamabad and the third group is working at Karachi University.
The major obstacle is that our authorities have not yet convinced that good physics education play an important role in the development of country. It is hard to expect good physics education from least motivated and nonqualified teachers of physics at secondary schools. Poorly managed teaching laboratories at colleges and universities have affected the performance of students.
Centre for physics education
Under the patronship of Dr. Abdus Salam, some dedicated physics teachers belonging to university, colleges and schools established a Centre for Physics Education, Karachi in 1991 to promote conceptual understanding of physics at all level and to serve it as a resource centre for physics teachers where they could upgrade their knowledge of physics. Ever since these teachers organized their first workshop on teaching of physics in 1985, they have become the pioneers of setting new trends in teaching of physics. These teachers have been successful in developing CPE into a resource center for physics in which one may find books, periodicals and other instructional material including many costly software programs of physics. CPE is proud of establishing Computer Based Physics Laboratory at APWA Govt College in 1995.
The Centre for Physics Education is very well recognized at international forum of physics education, especially in Asian region. From the CPE platform we have organized workshops, seminars and training programs at local as well as international level. Recently in 2003, 2nd International Conference on Physics Teaching was successfully organized, in collaboration with the Physics Department, University of Karachi. In that conference we had speakers from Italy, Malaysia, Nepal, Philippine, Sudan and USA. This activity was sponsored by UNESCO Jakarta, Abdus Salam Centre for Theoretical Physics Italy, Phillip Industries of Pakistan and the National Centre for Physics, Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad.
Aziz Fatima Hasnain is Secretary General of the Centre for Physics Education in Karachi. Her email address firstname.lastname@example.org.