The concept of STEM teaching and advocacy has always been incredibly important; the focus on learning both science and mathematical concepts, in accordance with development of skillsets needed for application to real-world concepts is much-needed.
Specifically in Pakistan, the government has placed focus on science and technology learning at the forefront of the education agenda, with announcements being highlighted that 456 schools in Pakistan are to be converted into STEM schools in 2020, and this number being doubled this year.
There is no doubt that these subjects are incredibly important, and will become even more so through continued technological, mathematical and scientific advancement. For February’s monthly special, Land of the Pure interviewed some of Pakistan’s most notable individuals working in the STEM sector.
Saadeqa Khan is the founder and chief editor of Magazine Scientia, a new, up and coming STEM-centered magazine looking to build awareness and understanding of the concept in the country. Saadeqa was the perfect candidate for our STEM in Pakistan series, spearheading the science revolution in the country through her greatest power: writing. Having written for multiple highly acclaimed news outlets in Pakistan, Saadeqa hopes to leverage the "art of science and the science of art" to create a Pakistan that leads global STEM developments.
Q1) What motivated you to choose the career that you have today? What were the biggest barriers?
I used to write for essay competitions in college and later at University. During my MSc in Physics, I had trouble in understanding concepts and theories of Quantum Physics. I started reading Stephen Hawking's book and was amazed by how brilliantly he explained Quantum Physics and Cosmology. A few of my friends, however, had trouble understanding English, and so I set out to begin translating books and texts of this sort into English.
So, I started translating one of Stephen Hawking's books, The Grand Design' into Urdu. My Senior teachers at the University of Baluchistan and fellows applaud my work so I kept on interpreting.
In 2016, I penned down my first Sci-Fi novel titled 'Dawaam', which was based around natural disasters and how to tackle them. I was motivated by the feedback friends and the public offered, and also began writing Urdu columns for prominent news outlets like Dawn.
I feel that there is a general interest in science in the wider population, but that does not translate into our media reporting and content, and it was this that Magazine Scientia sought to counter.
Q2) Could you tell us a little bit about Magazine Scientia?
Scientia Pakistan is a digital science magazine; I launched it in February 2019 alongside a set of passionate students currently based at the Quaid-E-Azam University in Islamabad. We aim to reshape the narrative of science Journalism in Pakistan, and are a non-profit organization.
Financially, this has been a long and strenuous journey, but it is our genuine passion and commitment for the cause that keeps us going, alongside recognition within and beyond Pakistan. We have been featured by the likes of SETI Institute, Gulf News, The Independent Urdu and Geo News!
Recently, we launched an edition titled 'Being a Professional amid the Coronavirus Pandemic', in which we interviewed 25 professionals from around the world on how the pandemic had impacted their worklife.
Students from different universities around the country and even from international universities are regularly writing for our magazine and Pakistani scientists serving worldwide continue to reach out to us for the publication of their breakthrough research news/stories that our national outlets take for granted.
Q3) How do you empower the youth to join the science journalism field through a digital science magazine?
During 2018-2019, I used to write science-based articles and conducted a couple of internationally recognized Scientists' interviews for Dawn.com and Express Tribune. A number of students contacted me for support in terms of publishing their work, but little to no platforms were willing to take them on.
All these writers now write for Scientia, and I took time to guide them in science writing and support them through the publishing process. In science writing, what matters the most is learning and research skills, and it is important that we do not disregard students and their work simply on the basis of grammar.
Our youth is very passionate about Science writing, and we need more magazines like Scientia; science writing workshops, training sessions, or seminars need to be regularly organized in educational institutions for empowering our youth for research-based writings.
Q4) What are some projects you are currently working on?
For now, our focus is on sponsorship and collaboration with National and International organizations. We need financial resilience for future projects. Two primary projects under consideration are hard copies of each of our editions that will deliver to university libraries, alongside a parallel outlet in the Urdu language
Q6) What steps need to be taken to eliminate barriers to science journalism in Pakistan?
It's a daunting task! The real barrier to science journalism is the public, its attractions and its priorities. The lack of science-based content is not solely down to media outlets, but also the average Pakistani.
We need to educate people and change their mindsets. This couldn't be done individually, we need to formulate a strict media code of conduct and policy regarding science news and authentic coverages. TV channels should set out two to three hours daily for science programs or documentaries, as PTV did in the past. We have to shift our priorities from controversy and drama towards what really matters, and what will take the country forwards.
Q7) What do you think is the future of scientific research and development in Pakistan?
This is indeed an arduous question to answer. I am optimistic, and I believe in fixing things through efforts, passion, and positivity, but practically speaking, a number of material tools are also necessary to progress.
To enable world-class scientific research in Pakistan, we need a shift in the education system that prioritises learning over memorisation, understanding over exams and exploration over confined, strict rules. We need a modern educational system with an updated syllabus based on practical, lab work that can help establish the foundations for science research in the country. It is so important that in today's day and age, the government prioritises education of the young population so that we can progress socially, politically and economically!