President Dr. Arif Alvi has said that Pakistan is on the path of rapid growth of e-commerce, tele-health, and e-finance, and is moving towards a robust digital economy. He said this while addressing the inauguration ceremony of the five-day 51st Asia-Pacific Advanced Network (APAN) meeting virtually hosted by Pakistan Education and Research Network (PERN).
Pakistan is hosting the APAN meeting for the first time. APAN meetings are organized twice a year where its members and other interested participants come together in working groups, workshops, technology sessions, committees and plenary sessions to demonstrate and discuss advances in technology and applications, research collaboration, knowledge discovery and sharing for a better future.
The President said that Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) had already spread to every social and economic sector, but the Covid-19 pandemic has made them even more essential. To respond to this challenge, Pakistan has a comprehensive liberalization policy for the development of ICTs. As a result, all indicators have registered rapid growth. Pakistan has achieved a tele-density of 83 percent, with almost 176 million cellular phone users out of a total population of 220 million. At the same time, the number of broadband subscribers had risen to 93 million, while informational exports have increased by 35 per cent each year in the last three years.
Dr. Alvi appreciated the contribution of the Higher Education Commission (HEC) in the promotion of ICTs in the country. Pakistan has over 300,000 English speaking IT professionals, 13 software development parks, and more than 20,000 IT engineers and graduates. “Pakistani IT professionals and graduates have the potential to work for country’s development as well as serving companies abroad. And there is still a tremendous need for a large number of IT graduates in the country.”
The President observed that situation arising out of pandemic has strengthened the IT-based communication through different platforms. Because of the level of institutional commitment, Pakistani universities were able very quickly to turn to digital means and distance learning modes of information delivery. HEC has provided students with access to over 60,000 books and other digital material. Besides enabling them to continue their educational activities during the pandemic, it also helped equip students with skills and knowledge necessary to keep pace with the world in the era of Artificial Intelligence, Block-chain technology, software technology, and cloud computing. He hoped that the HEC-APAN collaboration will grow further in all strategic areas, including commerce, communication, and education. As people are able, more than before, to communicate, exchange knowledge and to exchange financial information, so this will improve the country’s economy in many ways.
Chairman HEC Tariq Banuri said that HEC is a proud partner of APAN, as the two entities were learning from each other’s experiences to move forward during the information age, and especially in the situation caused by pandemic. He hoped that the 51st APAN meeting will come up with a proactive agenda for education. “We will learn together and move forward, while not only dealing with these challenges but also prospering amidst them.”
Mr. Banuri highlighted HEC’s ICT-based research initiatives, including establishment of PERN, smart classrooms, wide access to digital libraries, and rapid adoption of Learning Management System (LMS). “PERN has enabled Pakistan to rise to the challenge posed by the pandemic.” He said that PERN has not only connected Pakistani universities with each other, it had also provided them with connectivity across the Asia-Pacific region. Efforts are now underway to connect colleges across the country.
In his welcome address, Chair APAN, Prof. Jilong Wang reiterated the Network’s vision for development of Asia-Pacific region. He said that APAN is promoting and facilitating network-enabled research and education activities, including research collaboration, knowledge discovery and sharing, tele-health and natural disaster mitigation.
It is pertinent to mention here that PERN links all universities and other academic and research organisations, and provides access to researchers to a fully integrated communication system, including accessibility to the global research and education networks through physical Trans Eurasia Information Network (TEIN) connectivity and community driven Asia Pacific Advanced Network (APAN) membership. These networks have become a key driver for promotion and facilitation of network-enabled research and education activities.