The Need for Data Science Education in Pakistan

The technology-centered world we live in today has paved its way into what is being called the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) impacting the future of jobs and economy globally. 

Constant development in telecommunications and electronics heralds an era where most tasks will be possible on a computational medium, which will affect all sectors, be it economics, healthcare, management or even agriculture (e.g. hydroponics). Bioinformatics and Bio-engineering have revolutionized medical research, particularly with the introduction of CRISPR-Cas9 technology, which has made genome editing a possibility. Other applications such as Robotics and 3D Printing have proved to be a game-changer for manufacturers and engineers, alike. Likewise, corporations are now moving towards a novel approach in management and risk assessment, with the use of Data Science – a promising interdisciplinary field about processes and systems to extract knowledge or insights from data in various forms. 

Machine learning is one such domain of Data Science – in layman terms, it focuses on developing algorithms enabling systems to take in massive amounts of data, learn from it, and generate predictions or improve themselves in an automated fashion. In this way, when the system is exposed to a new data set it can adapt from experience and identify hidden patterns. One of its major exploitation is in enabling companies to make informed decisions. It does so by studying data for e.g. customer information, transaction records, or traffic data etc. which can subsequently help companies to determine the most suitable course of action. Machine learning, coupled with other Artificial Intelligence (AI) applications, is the centerpiece in the running of some high-profile startups such as Vacasa, Samsara, SparkCognition, and BlackThorn Therapeutics. These are some of the startups that raised the highest amounts of funding last year – a key indicator of the future potential of AI. 

Pakistan boasts an array of educated and eager individuals. However, it is not yet making full use of the benefits data science has to offer. The missing link in Pakistan’s case is the lack of quality education that meets industry expectations, hands-on training, awareness, and direction on this subject. At present, the traditional education system is focused on giving degree-based learning through predetermined curriculum year-over-year whereas the requirement of the industry is evolving every year, as technology advancements call for action to efficient and effective adaptation to skill-based learning. 

An imperative need to bridge this gap is evident which can be done not just by introducing emerging technologies in Pakistan into the curriculum but by training current industry professionals who wish to learn the skill. Introduction of data literacy workshops and analytics training programs will make the organizations more robust and help them to scale more swiftly. All in all, this concerted effort will help Pakistan craft a more effective trade policy, boost regional trade, and drive export-oriented growth through openness of data and independent data analysis. Furthermore, with data science being amongst the most cutting-edge and sought-after skills in the world today, Pakistanis will not only be able to contribute to their local organizations, but will also be in-demand across borders. The introduction of institutes which aim towards equipping Pakistan with this skillset is therefore of indispensable importance. 

By 2022, 58% task hours are expected to be performed by humans and 42% by machines or algorithms


Some noteworthy initiatives are already present in Pakistan, sharing the same enthusiasm for furthering the knowledge of data science and analytics. Open Data Pakistan is one such startup inaugurated thanks to the collective efforts of National Center for Big Data and Cloud Computing (NCBC), Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) and Higher Education Commission (HEC). It provides a portal where data can be stored, shared, and accessed by multiple parties including the government, NGOs, researchers alike. The data is categorically divided into broad domains such as economy and finance, health sciences, public safety, and science & technology. Such a platform for data sharing makes hefty amounts of raw data available for analysis, interpretation, and making prognosis. The Centre for Economic Research in Pakistan (CERP) is another organization acting as a data-driven policy institution in Pakistan. It employs state-of-the-art data analytics in order to aid private companies in revamping their product and process design; one that maximizes company efficiency and creates minimum losses. On a more distinguished note, the Government of Pakistan, aided by Ms. Tania Aidrus, has launched a ‘Digital Pakistan’ initiative in the country. It aims to create a digital ecosystem in Pakistan for public welfare by introducing latest technologies in various sectors such as Health, Education, Policies, and E-Governance. 

Inarguably, data science & analytics is a means to attain success and its value is only expected to increase from here on. An article in the World Economic Forum emphasizes this idea. It discusses the 2022 jobs landscape and paints a picture of what is to be expected in the professional sphere in the ensuing years. Machine learning and robotics technologies are predicted to rise and jobs which are obsolete in this regard are expected to decrease. A startling observation is shared in the article regarding human involvement in business and industry. By 2022, 58% task hours are expected to be performed by humans and 42% by machines or algorithms. A gap in skills is recognized and it is deduced that jobs are now becoming more skill-oriented rather than focusing on academic intellect. Data Analyst and AI Engineering jobs are amongst the top emerging roles by 2022. It is apparent that almost all of these professions pivot around 4IR technologies. The key take-away from this is that although initiatives have been introduced in Pakistan, they alone are not enough. Further investment in AI awareness, learning, and advancement is needed and the emerging startups need to be supported and advocated by the government and public. 

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a phenomenon which is capable of changing the destiny of any struggling economy. It can greatly contribute to a nation’s defense systems, transportation, governance, telecommunications, and healthcare to name a few. It is discernible that the world is shifting towards a highly mechanized and technological version of itself and it would be wise for Pakistan to put its footing in a similar direction. This can be done by nurturing awareness of data science and creating opportunities for the public to learn and apply technological skills. Training the youth and even professionals of the nation to implement data science, in an ethical and beneficial manner, will certainly prove to be fruitious; helping the country to secure a prosperous position in the future. 

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