Much has been said about the loss that happens to the home country when its highly educated and skilled people migrate to the developed world in pursuit of a better lifestyle, high income or opportunities to achieve their dreams. This phenomenon is commonly known as the “brain drain” in the parlance of the social sciences. Social scientists have argued against brain drain ( for example Jagdish N. Bhagwati (1976) has proposed the imposition of tax on the receiving country of the brain) and have called for the brain gain- that is bringing high-skilled people to the home country-. Their arguments notwithstanding, however, in political situations and geographical locations like ours, these brains could be rotted away and skills might be rusted off because of the non-availability of proper habitat. I prefer to call this phenomenon “brain stagnation”.
In the Malakand region of K.P. where I live, I see highly educated people, often having foreign degrees in STEM subjects or the humanities, are compelled to memorize who was Akbar’s tutor or who built the Qutub Minar?
They are unwillingly drawn to this competition of cramming names and dates by the National Testing Service (NTS) which conducts tests for most of the government’s posts, especially elementary and secondary education and the police. Qualified people appear in these tests because they are crossing the age limit that is set by the government for the induction of employees.
These people at this critical stage want to “secure their age” either in teaching or the police- the two commonly available government jobs for the educated folk here. Additionally, they want to survive (don’t confuse it with a decent living) but cannot do hard labour work because of the cultural and physical constraints. A few handy examples will illustrate this point further. Dr Ahmad has a PhD in chemistry on a Fulbright scholarship from the USA.
After returning to the motherland, he applied for jobs at many universities in Pakistan but did not get any response, finally, he got a visiting faculty position at the University of Okara where he “ make ten to fifteen thousand rupees per month”.
Dr Sehroon Khan shared his exasperation like this “Only I was the only candidate eligible for the post of associate professor in Biochemistry at Hazara University, and I have three postdocs, a first author patent, 40+ SCI papers with accumulative SCI impact factor of 130+, the Best paper award from World Agroforestry Centre (CMES), around 1000 citations, three projects completed with a total worth of 22 million rupees, and so many more…yet surprisingly, I was informed that I have failed the interview and the post has to be re-advertised”.
Dr Rahman completed his PhD in microbiology from China.
He found himself jobless and broke like much other educated youth after returning to Pakistan. Coming under extreme financial pressure, he went to the job market where every degree holder goes – the private schools. He did not receive a job offer from any school either because the school already had a teacher or, more importantly, the school administration felt embarrassed paying Rs. 10000 to a foreign PhD holder.
Dispirited and depressed, he joined a private nursing college at a very low salary. He was lucky in terms of salary because this scribe also teaches there on less than half his salary.
This is despite the fact that I have degrees in English, History and International Relations –of which the last one is from the UK. Since there was not any subject related to his expertise, Dr Rahman was given a subject that the nurses could not teach themselves i.e. The Teaching-Learning Principles (TLP). Since Dr Rahman was trained as a researcher and he has spent most of his time in the laboratory rather than the department of education or teacher training college, he has to first learn the jargons and theories of educational psychology himself and then teach them to others. This will ultimately wane his skills as a researcher and will rot off his education as a microbiologist.
Needless to say that he also appeared in the NTS tests for the government schools’ teaching but could not succeed because in case that he is good at science but would be weak in math or English literature.
To add some stories from other disciplines, there were two of my friends who had studied for M.Phils. in business management. one got a low-level job in forestry and another one was lucky enough to get a constable job in the police. One wonders what a police constable would do with his advanced business studies degree.
Abbas, who had studied engineering, got appointed as a Qari in high school through National Testing Service (NTS) while another one, who has an engineering degree from Germany, appeared in the same test but failed because he might not remember that the “Lyrical Ballad” was published in which year or that who designed the flag for Pakistan. Naseeb Zada, who has a masters in English literature, M.Ed. and an M.Phil. in Computer Science joined the police as a constable to secure his age.
After trying his luck on many posts, finally he secured a primary school teaching post after serving one year in the police. Bilal has an M.Phil. in geology and became a CT teacher. Ahmad has an M.Phil. in business studies from The Institute of Management Sciences, Peshawar on the US-AID scholarship and became a CT teacher too.
There are too many agonizing stories of young and ambitious men and women who had big dreams while getting admissions in the local or foreign universities however, after seeing their dreams being shattered in the air, the coming generation would take a lesson: why spent your time and money on studying business or engineering if you have to become a police constable or a school teacher at the end of the day! And perhaps that is the reason why the merit of admissions into the English departments in KP has risen above many scientific subjects because English graduates can find school teaching jobs more easily than others.
Considering the lamentable loss of this recherché asset, one would naturally conclude that unless the government shows a genuine interest in the hard-earned skills and costly education of these people, isn’t brain drain a better option for them than brain stagnation?
The writer is a poet and has studied English literature, history and politics.