Mar 3, 2009

No sponsors for science

Every now and then we hear a great deal of rhetoric about the need to encourage scientific education and research in our country. But, quite evidently, such words mean absolutely nothing at all, as they did last year. A group of 'A' level students from a prestigious girls' school in Lahore won the Regional Space Settlement Design Competition, organised in Gurgaon, India by NASA, after taking part in it with 15 other schools. The story of their success has appeared in a number of newspapers and the returning students received an enthusiastic welcome earlier this month at the Wagah border. The award for the students is an invitation to the finals of the event, in Houston this summer, where they would compete against other young winners from around the world. The Indian teams who fared as well in the event have already been promised support by their government. The Pakistani students continue to seek a sponsor to fund the cost of travel to the US for the team of around twelve.The achievement by Pakistani girls is an unusual one. It is true the successful students come from among the few women in the country with access to elite information imparted by skilled teachers. But even so, their achievement in a field that involves the use of advanced principles of physics and mathematics is an unusual one, coming in a sphere where women everywhere in the world seem to struggle to hold their own. Our government needs to step in. Achievements by women need to be encouraged at a time when even their right to a basic education is under threat in some parts of the country. Given the image of Pakistan in the world, we must use any opportunity to alter the largely negative perceptions that exist. This would seem to be one such chance. It would be sad if it were missed once more.

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