The third Afkar-e-Taza ThinkFest organised by Information Technology University (ITU) kicked off on Saturday. Education & National Heritage Minister Shafqat Mahmood was the chief guest at the opening session.Addressing the first session, Shafqat Mehmood said that the government was trying to mobilise graduates across the country to improve literacy ratio from 58 percent to 70 percent and working to create national curriculum to remove the disparity in education system as the present education system in based on injustice. The minister said that education provided frame of reference and perception while we practice different streams of educational institutes including madrasas, government and private schools, which created different minds and classes, which never helped in the making of a nation. Our society had decided that only English medium would go forward, he added.He further stated that improving quality of education has been taken as a challenge by broadening the pool and to resolve serious economic issues. In his welcome address, the acting ITU Vice Chancellor Dr Niaz Ahmad Akhtar underlined the objectives of the conference initiated in 2016 and said that it provided creation of newer spaces and opportunities for the flourishing of new thoughts and ideas, to bridge the gap between academia and society, providing academic discourse in an accessible yet robust manner and to engage with leading scholars from around the world.Discussing the Future of Democracy in Pakistan, Aqil Shah from Oklahoma University said that democracy ensured freedom of expression, enables to peacefully accommodate constitutional amendment to make normal prosperous Pakistan while boggy of corruption and in the absence of freedom of expression resulted in the rise of social movements. Deliberating on the Types of Populism Nationalism, Demography & Authoritarianism, Dr Christophe Jaffrelot from Paris said that parliaments have lost their powers and role of media was the only space for free media. Hussain Nadim from Sydney discussed the Economists Democracy Index, which revealed that only 19 countries considered democratic, 57 with flawed democracy including US, 39 hybrid regimes and 52 autorotation regimes.The conference’s organising committee chairman Najam Sethi highlighted the areas of interest including history, politics and international relations and said that Lahore is fertile with ideas. Through such activities, bipartisanship could flourish, remarked Dr Yaqoob Khan Bangash. Today (Sunday), the second day of ThinkFest, there will be Information & Broadcasting Minister Fawad Chaudhary and Finance Minister Hashim Jawan Bakht discussingn the Manto film controversy by acclaimed scholar Ayesha Jalal in conversation with Raza Rumi.Professor Cemil Aydin will launch his book The Idea of the Muslim World in conversation with Dr Tahir Kamran from Government College University. Also launching her book on the samadhi of Maharaja Ranjit Singh will be Dr Nadhra Khan from the Lahore University of Management Sciences with renowned Punjab scholar Jean-Marie Lafont from France. Dr Tariq Rahman will also launch his book on jihad in South Asia. Other talks will cover topics like Afghanistan, urban planning in Lahore, fog and the environment, nuclear non-proliferation issues and the Me Too phenomenon.The Afkar-e-Taza ThinkFest will also feature three other special plenary speakers, where Professor Gauri Viswanathan from Columbia University will speak on post colonialism and globalisation, Professor Akeel Bilgrami, also from Columbia, will discuss his latest work on secularism and identity and Sir Richard Evans, a distinguished scholar of European history, will speak on conspiracy and democracy.Published in Daily Times, January 13th 2019.