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Regulating Testing Services in Pakistan for Promoting Meritocracy

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Testing and assessment services are rampant in Pakistan as most of Public and Private Sector recruitment is done through these  Testing services. These Testing services are also entrusted with the duty of conducting Admission, Scholarship and Entry tests of Undergraduate, Graduate, Post Graduate, MBBS, BDS, BE and other related degrees.

Though the testing services have brought innovation and transparency in public and private sector recruitments, yet these testing services are questioned for declaring favorable results to those on the basis of  So-called Corruption in the test results and announcing desirable results in the favour of candidates.

The  Testing services  such as  National Testing Services  (NTS) , Pakistan Testing services (PTS) , Open Testing Services (OTS) , Universal testing services (UTS)  Sukkur IBA Testing Service  (STS) , Quality Testing services (QTS) , Baluchistan Testing Services (BTS ) are the few notable testing services operating in Pakistan .

NTS, PTS and OTS have  frequently been contracted Testing services since most of the Public and private sector Organization utilize their services for conducting recruitment, scholarship, admission and entry tests.

NTS leads the testing services as frequently contracted Testing service by all the federal  Provincial Governments for the Posts from Grade 1 to 17.One  still wonders that how  these  testing services are conducting Assessment Tests  for the Posts of Grade 16 and Grade 17 when we already  have  Public service commission at Federal Level and Provincial  Public service Commissions functioning in each province and the State of Azad Jammu & Kashmir to carry out recruitment from grade 16 and above upon the requisitions received from various  Government Departments at Federal  and Provincial Level .

The recruitment policy notified by the PSC’s clearly mentions that recruitment for the Posts of grade 16 and above to be carried out by FPSC at Federal Level and Provincial PSC’s at Provincial Level except Posts in President’s Secretariat ,DG ISPR or ISI etc.

We have seen in the past that these Testing services were contracted on the basis of benefiting their favourite whereas, the talented and deserving candidates were deliberately deprived of the right of jobs.

These Testing services mostly hire the Paper setters outside of their organization domain and provide swapped /jumbled coloured booklets to the candidates at the time of Interviews. The paper quality of some testing services is usually not at par with the level of recruitment or post and creates confusion amongst the candidates regarding the tests. For example, NTS mostly conducts entry test for the MBBS in various provinces including Sindh and Punjab.

A handsome amount is accrued from the students on the pretext of Admission and Processing fee that is unjust and an attempt to blatant earning from these collections.

What disturbs the students most that are leakage of paper during the night through social Media channels i.e Whatsapp raising enormous questions over the credibility of these Tests and testing services….?

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Last year, such controversy surrounded the NTS when some of the students of MBBS Entry Test complained to the court and protested against the NTS for Leakage the paper on Whatsapp one hour prior to the test thus paving the way for ineligible candidates to the Professional Education of Medical Science.

Hundreds of Students took to the streets and started chanting slogans against NTS and demanded to reconduct entry test in a transparent manner and at the same time. Earlier the test was conducted separately in various Districts in phases that made the result suspicious and questionable.

In the meantime, NAB raided the NTS headquarters and took the record into their custody. All the newspapers carried the news that due to Entry Test paper Leakages and Key distribution to the students on the basis of corruption was the cause of NAB’s raid.

The Personnel of high ranks at NTS Headquarters denied such raid even the NAB rejected such claims of the raid on NTS headquarters. Well, the drama continued since it was ascertained that an NTS staffer or Test Supervisory or Invigilation staff had leaked the paper with answer key to help their own close relatives to be the future doctors.

In this whole drama, The health departments of the respective provinces remained calm and mum over the issue until the Sindh High court took the issue after hearing the complaints of affectees but court works on the basis of evidence and the same happened there .

The Provincial Health Minister on the directives of  CM Sindh  announced cancellation of Test and asked the DUHS (Dow University of Health Sciences) Karachi to reconduct the test instead of NTS .

Hearing the announcement, the candidates, who had passed the test, rushed to the court and prayed to the court to restore the same result as they told the honorable court that the test was conducted transparently and the results were declared on merit. The complainants could not prove the leakage of the Answer key and paper, thus the court ordered to restore the Test Result and directed the medical colleges to proceed with the admission process.

Such huge controversies are always attached with NTS warranting the government to regulate these testing services and establish Testing Services Regulatory Authority (TSRA) to keep a check on various recruitment tests that are being conducted in public Sector or Private sector especially the Medical College Entrance Tests conducted by NTS throughout the country this year.

Though, Higher Education Commission introduced its own brand namely “Education Testing Council and announced to conduct all Medical and Engineering colleges admission tests through Education Testing council free of Cost as The Traditional testing services charge huge amounts from candidates as processing fees. This gave, to some extent, a sigh of relief to students that at least a uniform educational testing may replace these testing traditional services. Though ETC of HEC conducted the tests for Federal Educational institutes but unfortunately several Provincial Governments especially Sindh and Punjab once again followed the same practice and once again contracted the NTS to conduct the Medical College Entry Tests in Sindh and Punjab despite its controversial past experiences that furthered the woes of the bright and dedicated students who could be instrumental in bringing innovations in Medical science. But ,with announcement of NTS conducting Medical Entry Test, has shattered  the dreams of hundreds of students .

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The PMDC and PEC must come forward and raise their reservations against the Testing services that are engaged in this lucrative business and looting people with both hands due to their evil designs of making money and destroying the very fabric of Medical education. Even the selection of teachers through NTS in Sindh, Punjab and KPK was marked with irregularities.

It is high time for the Government to mull over the issue and establish the Testing Services Regulatory board or Authority immediately so that rampant irregularities and corruption in these testing services may easily be curbed.

Regulating all Testing Services operating in Pakistan will lead to transparency and promotion of merit in each of their contracted projects. There is also a need of reviewing their past performance and ranking of their services in Categories. If any testing service hits below the belt then that Testing service may be blacklisted and banned for future contracts or projects.

We need to build standards in the Educational and Professional testing system as we need to create testing services like ETS  global  which prefers online testing technology, Video Interviews through Skype   and Auto marking software  to check the answerer sheets and announce results within hours.

The Testing services need to restructure their testing model and set the papers matching the job description of the post. This will  be beneficial for the company hiring through these testing services as they would have qualified candidate as per requirements.

There is also need to speed up the process of recruitments in public sector through the public service commission at Federal and Provincial level since it takes almost a year for the selection of suitable candidate undergoing Screening Tests, interviewing, Psychological testing and final recommendation.

This whole process affects the performance of the organizations submitting their requisitions for various posts as they will have to wait for almost a year till the availability of the suitable candidates qualifying all the phases of recruitment from Screening to Recommendation.

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Fintech NayaPay Secures $13M As It Rolls Out Digital Payments In Pakistan

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NayaPay, a Pakistan-based fintech platform, has raised $13 million in one of the largest seed rounds in South Asia. Bringing together a diverse mix of leading global institutional and angel investors, the round was led by Zayn Capital, global fund manager MSA Novo and early-stage VC Graph Ventures from Silicon Valley.

Singapore-based Saison Capital, Waleed Saigol’s Maple Leaf Capital, and Warren Hogarth, CEO Empower Finance, also participated in the round, alongside a major investment from the sponsors of the Lakson Group – a Pakistani conglomerate with interests in media, telecom, industrials, financial services as well as controlling stake in Colgate-Palmolive Pakistan and McDonald’s Pakistan.

NayaPay is the first fintech of its kind in Pakistan having recently secured the first E-Money Institution license from the central bank, State Bank of Pakistan. It is on a mission to make financial services simpler and accessible to millions of Pakistani users. NayaPay aims to be at the forefront in the digitization of Pakistan with its two-sided platform for the underbanked.

Pakistan presents a significant market opportunity for NayaPay, where over 50 million adults are unbanked and only 33% of women have a bank account. With 70% of the population under 35 years old, there is a significant mobile-first generation.

Almost $4tn payments are made each year but only 1% of these are made digitally currently. On the merchant side, the majority of SMBs in Pakistan are unregistered, have traditionally dealt primarily in cash, and have very limited access to business banking.

The fintech has launched its chat-led super app targeted primarily at students and freelancers, and is building a SaaS-based platform called NayaPay Arc offering universal payment acceptance and financial management tools for SMBs.

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NayaPay’s platform strategy will harness the network effects between consumers and merchants, as seen in platforms such as Square Cash/Square, WeChat Pay, AliPay, and Venmo in their native markets.

NayaPay CEO and Founder, Danish A. Lakhani, commented, “NayaPay is empowering young Pakistani adults starting their financial journey, from students stepping into adulthood to freelancers and entrepreneurs taking an active role in managing their finances. In many senses, it’s a coming-of-age moment for many and our goal is to continue to innovate and build functionality to become a part of their daily lives, for the rest of their lives.”

Danish A. Lakhani added, “Micro, small and medium businesses make up 90% of the merchant base in Pakistan, and yet they are underserved when it comes to access to basic financial services. NayaPay Arc will provide universal payments acceptance and a range of business financial management tools to empower entrepreneurs and small business owners.”

“The tools are intended to give business owners visibility of their cash flows, pay suppliers and grow sales. Our goal is to enable them to focus on growth while we take care of the rest. By helping small businesses harness the power of technology, we believe we can transform the Pakistani economy,” he added.

Faisal Aftab, Managing Partner and Co-Founder at Zayn Capital Frontier, said, “We are very bullish on fintech in Pakistan. While just beginning to emerge, Pakistani fintechs have the advantage of learning from peers and placing better informed strategic bets.”

“We were impressed by the completeness of the vision of the founding team at NayaPay, and their differentiated platform-based strategy — first focused on servicing the needs of underbanked consumers and SMBs with specific use cases and building out from there. With a proven ability to execute on the ground, the founder has an impressive track record of building and scaling businesses in Pakistan, including the country’s largest fiber broadband service (StormFiber),” he added.ADVERTISEMENT

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Omar Siddiqui, General Partner at Graph Ventures, added, “We are excited to partner with Danish and the NayaPay team as they scale their leading digital payments platform for consumers and merchants in Pakistan. We have been early-stage investors in 300+ companies over the past decade in the United States, Southeast Asia, and Latin America, and we are excited to see the mobile and fintech technology trends that have empowered consumers in these markets also emerge in Pakistan.”

“NayaPay already offers the most robust solution for consumers to access next-generation financial conveniences in Pakistan, and we look forward to working with the team as they roll out new products and grow their consumer base,” he further said.

Danish A. Lakhani concluded: “Customer trust is a key pillar of any platform’s success. At NayaPay, we are consumed by our obsession to simplify the lives of both consumers and merchants with our app and NayaPay Arc while supporting our customers with robust and scalable technology and fanatic customer service. We are also partnering with leading banks to provide additional value and convenience to our mutual customers, eventually leading to a full digital banking experience.”

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The Digital Economy

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The economy and society are undergoing profound changes as a result of digitalisation. It fuels entrepreneurial innovation, regional economic growth, and productivity. Additionally, it has consequences for economic growth, the labour market, and political engagement. And it imposes new educational and training requirements – not just in the realm of information and communication technologies.

Today, as the world prepares for 5G technology, the IT think tanks in Pakistan must seriously consider efficient ways to catch up with the world and maximise economic benefits.

Despite considerable expansions of ICT access prior to the COVID-19 crisis, the ICT availability and use remained far from universal. The COVID-19 crisis expedited advanced economies’ digitalisation and made catching up more difficult for nations or areas trailing before. We must explore the current state of digitisation in Pakistan, its economic impact, and how should we pave the way for future technologies.

Digitisation is regarded as the fourth industrial revolution. However, in Pakistan’s case, we may not be at par with the world. The biggest challenge that the country faces is the overall readiness to completely make use of digitisation. According to the World Bank 5G readiness plan, the Government of Pakistan (aligned with the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority) must devise a strategy to attract multinational organizations to invest in a digital transformation infrastructure. There remain multifaceted challenges to Pakistan’s adaption of 5G technology. Despite a huge growth potential, we see that the Foreign Direct Investment in the telecommunication sector has dropped from a staggering US$763 million in the FY 2019-20 to a meagre US$202 in the FY 2020-1. The primary reason for this drastic drop in investment is the poor adaptability of technology amongst the population.

The economic contribution of the mobile industry in Pakistan might reach $24 billion by 2023, accounting for 6.6 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product.

5G technology offers endless economic and industrial benefits. Up to $3.5 trillion in revenue is expected to be generated by the 5G value chain by 2035, with up to 22 million employment being supported.

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The Global GDP growth will increase by $3 trillion cumulatively between 2020 and 2035, according to projections based on 5G deployment. By 2035, 5G-related services, such as mission-critical services, increased mobile broadband, and enormous IoT improvements, would be worth over $12 trillion, according to estimates. Retail, healthcare, education, transportation, and entertainment are among the areas projected to benefit from 5G technology.

According to the Pakistan Telecom Authority (PTA), the country has over 98 million 3G/4G subscribers or 43.51 per cent penetration. Despite network advancements such as the addition of new 4G towers, over 90 per cent of mobile devices constructed or manufactured in the country are only compatible with 2G technology. At the moment, roughly 53 per cent of all SIM subscribers utilize 2G devices. The experts believe that for a successful transition to the 5G technology, at least 60 per cent of the population must be connected to the 4G technology.

The broadband penetration is only about 46.4 per cent in Pakistan, which must be expanded drastically to ensure economic benefits. Amongst many challenges that hinder the technology adaption in Pakistan are, “the lack of large contiguous blocks of the affordable spectrum”, “broader access to fibre backhaul” and “widespread availability of affordable 5G smartphones and other devices.”

Pakistan’s IMT spectrum management policy has been identified as the primary impediment to the sector investing fully in 4G development and sector competitiveness.

The current government does seem to have a good plan of action to boost the 5G technology in the country – some of which include:

o Tax rebate, tax rationalization, and elimination of duty tariff on import of all components of high end 4G and 5G devices;

o Duty-free IMT/5G network-ready equipment imports to facilitate 5G readiness and mobile broadband to support wider mobile broadband and 5G networks deployment;

o Special incentives for global Telecom equipment vendors to establish assembly and production lines in Pakistan to promote local assembly of IMT/5G and IoT ecosystem devices including chipsets, and

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o Licensee shall establish at least one 5G Innovation and test centre/lab to scale up 5G ecosystem for start-ups and entrepreneurship activities at their own cost for citizens.

All these are indeed solid items on the action list but the Mobile Economy Asia Pacific Report 2021 projected, “Pakistan will be at the lowest end in terms of smartphone users as well the 5G coverage among the selected countries of Asia Pacific region by 2025.” According to the GSMA estimate, the economic contribution of the mobile industry in Pakistan might reach $24 billion by 2023, accounting for 6.6 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product. The same report estimates, smartphones will account for over 80 per cent of all connections in the Asia Pacific by 2025, up from 68 per cent in 2020. However, Pakistan was near the tail-end of the list of 12 major countries, just above Bangladesh, and it is expected that neither of these two countries will meet the 80 per cent target in the near future.

The 5G technology will be a game-changer for Pakistan. The Small and Medium Industries could benefit greatly by adopting online selling techniques, reaching global markets, and learning from international best practices, supply chain, and business operation strategies. Pakistan’s education and medicine industry is expected to be the biggest beneficiary of the 5G technology with its low latency and widespread applications, which can help overcome the poor student-teacher ratio that currently stands at 29 to one.

The truth is that it is not as easy as it may seem to the officials, from 2017 through 2035, the world will need to invest $3.7 trillion, or 4.1 per cent of global annual GDP per year, on infrastructure to overcome existing gaps. Of this amount, 54 per cent will go towards meeting the needs of Asian countries. Therefore, experts in Pakistan must carefully consider their approach to resolving the challenges in 5G technology and adopting a single national strategy.

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PM for use of modern technology to bring country’s population into formal economy

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Prime Minister Imran Khan Tuesday while terming the 220 million population of the country as ‘the biggest human resource and asset’ underlined the need of bringing all into the formal economy through use of modern technology and gadgets.

The prime minister was addressing the launching ceremony of “Raast”, Pakistan’s instant digital payment system, an initiative of the State Bank of Pakistan. The initiative would enable person to person transactions and facilitate free digital banking.

The prime minister observed that unless they utilized the modern technological revolution to bring the whole population into the loop of formal economy, this huge asset would, otherwise, become a burden.

Appreciating the efforts of SBP to facilitate people over the banking system, he said the common man often hesitated in visiting the banks, stressing that steps at ‘bottom up’ would bring the commoners into formal economy by easing their modes of payments and transactions through opening of accounts via Raast.

The prime minister said the performance of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government would be judged in the year 2023 on the basis of its measures to reduce poverty.The UNDP report had placed Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as the only province in the country where the PTI’s government during its first term had successfully reduced poverty, he added.

The prime minister said due to such achievement, the people in KPK voted for the PTI in the 2018 elections.He further opined that it would be a great success of his government to lift the people out of poverty. The Covid pandemic had affected the world population alike but the government in Pakistan took measures to save its people from the economic meltdown and inflation, he added.

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The prime minister noted that saving rates and tax-GDP ratio was low in Pakistan when compared with the rest of the world and it could be increased by making technological advances and by fine tuning the formal economy.

For increasing tax revenue, he said, usage of technology was being ensured by the Federal Board of Revenue as out of 220 million population, only 2 million were paying taxes.
The prime minister said that they had collected data of those people who were living a luxurious life but not paying any taxes.

Referring to 9 million overseas Pakistanis as valuable assets for the country, the prime minister suggested establishment of a cell to further facilitate them in sending their remittances home.

He said their remittances had helped in supplementing the country’s foreign reserves.
The prime minister stressed that they must make efforts to ensure direct financial support to the lower segments of society through use of modern technology and cited the rolling out of Ehsaas Ration Programme in this regard.Speaking on the occasion, Governor State Bank of Pakistan Dr Reza Baqir said that ‘Raast’ would bring revolution in the banking payment and transaction modes and it was part of different initiatives launched by the SBP under its digitization programme.

The SBP governor explained that the initiative had four main characteristics including opening of fast payment account, free of cost transactions, the easier way of person to person payments and availability of all banking channels.

Reza Baqir said in previous year, $500 billion e-banking transactions were made which had been more than the country’s $370 billion GDP, witnessing 30 per cent growth rate.About 190 people in the country had mobile phones and 80 million people had bank accounts, so there was a need to facilitate those who had no cell phone links with their banking accounts or have no accounts at all.

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He said due to the government’s initiative to facilitate and support the lower and middle sections of society, including housing finance, about Rs131 billion worth loans had been approved by the banks.

Minister for Finance Shaukat Tarin suggested that the government’s certain initiatives like Kamyab Jawan, Kamyab Pakistan and Ehsaas ration programmes could be linked with this initiative.He said the government was taking all measures to protect the lower and middle classes from the effects of inflation and in this regard, they would unveil a few new pogrammes in the next few weeks.

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