It was a scorching August afternoon in 2017, when she received the email. She had been selected to represent Pakistan at the International Junior Science Olympiad (IJSO) which was going to take place that December in the Netherlands. She was among the six selected students. Her happiness peaked and the preparations for the tournament began.
After a rather tough visa procedure, their seats were confirmed, and they eventually departed with boundless prayers with them. The Pakistan Science Foundation and the Ministry of Science and Technology were sponsoring them.
The irony of the situation was that they had to pay for the tickets themselves.
They were the lucky 6 who were going, out of the many more who could have gone but didn’t apply to participate, just because their parents could not afford to spend that amount of money on the tickets. After much struggle, the selected students finally got the visas (literally one night before) and held aloft the green flag among 300 students from 50 different countries across the globe.
They won a Bronze medal, and raising the green flag on the stage in that glorious auditorium brought real goosebumps to them, and filled them with pride.
I was one of the members of this team and I can proudly say that I was lucky enough to represent Pakistan and bring back a Bronze medal having competed with students from across the world. The International Junior Science Olympiad is an academic competition — a 10 day gathering of a myriad of intellects from across the globe — where the participants’ knowledge in Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Arithmetic is tested. This contest is known for its intensity because it requires a broad range of knowledge in all these major subjects. Top-scoring students are selected from each country and they get a chance to compete with their counterparts from across the globe.
My participation at IJSO was “a once in a life-time” experience. Those 10 days are unforgettable. The competition brought us out of the world of cramming we are used to in our country. We were introduced to an absolutely new way of looking at what Science actually is. Science is about practical knowledge, understanding, and expertise to be applied to solve daily life problems. Unfortunately, we are at least a 100 years behind other countries, just because the main focus of the current education system in Pakistan is not on building concepts, but rote-learning, with the focus on passing the examination and getting promoted to the next grade. In fact, this very experience provided us with the insights to cope with the scientific dilemmas that real life presents us with.
The theme of the competition this year was “water and sustainability”, focusing on how to conserve the golden resource and to be able to leave a plentiful and limitless reservoir of water for the generations to come in the next 500 years, at least. We focused on the strategies to enhance our recycling efficiency and renew the previously non-renewable resources. Actually, those 10 days spent in such an educational environment among a bunch of future scientists, engineers, doctors and policy-makers of tomorrow have left a deep mark on our thinking. The motivational lectures we received during different trips have sparked the latent spirit of scientific creativity in our hearts and stimulated the desire to use our minds in the construction of a better Pakistan for generations to come.
There is no doubt that only on the basis of education can countries progress and advance. It is a fact that some countries which came into existence later than us stand further down the road to development and prosperity, just because their utmost priority since the first day has been education. Education is the jewel which never fades, the gold which never gets denuded of its luster and a treasure which can never be stolen. Even a mere glance at history clearly demonstrates that success is bestowed upon those who embellish the minds of their younger generations with education.
It is important to consider that the priorities of the government and policymakers of a country determine whether there will be ever-green prosperity or ruins of a glorious past at that very place in next few centuries. In fact, it is a matter of utmost shame for the whole nation, that our country can spend millions of dollars in laying the foundations of wonderful architectural monuments, but we fail to sponsor and fully fund education enthusiasts at a global learning platforms. Education does not seem to be our priority. Therefore, there should be no reluctance in admitting that soon we will be left far behind in the comity of nations, if we do not wake up now!
History shows that over the past five centuries, when the emperors of the sub-continent were lavishly spending their treasures to build glorious architectural marvels, those in Europe spent their meager assets to research and learn, and the result is before us when we own the ruins of our apparent glory today, and they cherish the era of real glory now!
These facts I highlight are not to shame any of us or to lose hope. It is to spark a real spirit deep within ourselves, to review our policies and revise our strategies. We must modify our priorities and realise that investment in education has returns higher than any other investment in the world.
Unfortunately, nobody is being selected this year for the event I attended last year mostly at my own expense, because of ‘insufficient (government) funds’. Let this change NOW! Let our youth be exposed to golden learning opportunities nationally and internationally. Let them reach the pinnacle of success! Let the green flag be hoisted proudly across the word. Let the creative minds and extraordinary minds we own today, not get rusted due to the absence of capitalising on opportunities. Let´s pledge to make things different.
The writer is a Bronze Medal Winner at International Junior Science Olympiad (IJSO)
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