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Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Creating waves on Social Media networking sites

By Zena Mason
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The omnipresent "thumbs up" sign has become an integral part of all forms of social media websites, from Facebook itself to Linkedin, Twitter, the fitness tracking site MyFitnessPal and language learning sites. 

Though Facebook has evolved "likes" to include "reactions," there is a consistent theme of judging the content of your posts by how many "likes" you receive. "Likes" can be thought of as a simple barometer of approval. 

You post baby photos on Facebook and 50 of your friends like it. You make a poignant statement on Twitter and someone retweets it. You find a picture and write an article post on Linkedin. Upon seeing the "likes" start to trickle in, you get a buzz of social approval.

Interestingly, the need for social approval, something which before the "like" button, social networking or the internet, used to either occur face-to-face and with other factors in play. 

With the "like" button, there are no nuances of face-to-face interaction. You know they hit "like," but you can't necessarily know why. Maybe people clicked "like" because they were in a good mood. 

Maybe they bumped the thread because they disliked something you said and want to come after you. 

Maybe there is some idea in your post that they wanted to save without caring about other things that you do. Another result of the "like" button is the speed. 

Because you can post things immediately, you can respond immediately trends in your audience, particularly if you use all the free trend analysis software available for virtually all the social networking sites.

On my Quora site, I noticed that after writing several articles, all with varying rates of writing quality and time put into them, it was controversial politics topics where I got the most views. 

Media has changed, but people still love a good old fashioned sensation. But at what cost? Are people's attention spans decreasing because there is less of a need to put thought into what they do, or are their attentions too shallow because they are spread over so many different topics and platforms? 

It is in the interests of many websites to get people "hooked" on their website and pay for yearly subscriptions to use and/or share more specialised content such as language lessons and weight loss regimens. 

Because social networking sites are structured in a certain way, they encourage you to think in a certain way. In facebook, if you want feedback on anything, it's like lowering a bait into the water and waiting for the fishes to bite. 

It's an almost passive manner of expressing yourself. You have some idea of what you think your friends will like and you tentatively prepare the content with certainty about what the result will be. 

This is why, even though it has been done hundreds and thousands of times before with superior lighting, angles and reasons to post it, people keep posting the very same dishes, because there is an illusion of some kind of success.

The illusion of "likes" is that it is actually very easy to get thousands of likes but if they are from the wrong people it means nothing. 

I post things on social media because I want to keep track of things I like and find interesting. 

Because I post unique things, not things that are guaranteed to get plenty of likes, I learn things about my friends. 

I shared an emotional story about a specific aspect of mental health, and I found out who amongst my friends sympathised with that because they also have that issue or support a close friend or family member who have it. 

In today's society, we are so scatterbrained with the myriad of things that we have to think about. I usually find success with Social Media when I focus on a single topic. Topics are great because they are usually tags and can be found in all kinds of search engines. 

For every topic, there are a definite number of users, likes and any other statistic you can think of. Everyone has varying levels of interest with every topic, which is important to consider depending on whether you're trying to sell something, build a network, learn a language, socialise, rally support or crowd fund. 

Some people are more focused than others, but it is the focused people, not the unfocused people, who will pay for memberships, organise activities and do work. So want more positive engagement from your social networking sites? Forget "likes." 

**The writer is based at Acton, Australian Capital Territory, Australia.

Pakistan, US researchers launch artificial intelligence study


By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The researchers at the Aga Khan University and the University of Virginia are collaborating on an innovative project that will harness the power of artificial intelligence to understand a particularly complex disorder of the intestine, Environmental Enteric Dysfunction (EED).

The EED, often referred to as a neglected disease of poverty, is widespread among children in low-income countries such as Pakistan where the population is exposed to contaminated water and poor sanitation. 

The EED hinders the gut’s ability to absorb essential nutrients compromising children’s growth potential and leaving them vulnerable to a range of diseases. 

The data scientists have already demonstrated how ‘intelligent’ computers can outperform experienced radiologists and pathologists in detecting signs of disease in x-rays and biopsies. 

Dr Sana Syed, an assistant professor in paediatrics at the University of Virginia and Dr Asad Ali, associate dean for research at Aga Khan University, are now applying ‘deep learning’, a type of artificial intelligence, to train a computer programme to analyse microscopic images of tissue located deep inside the small intestine.

The initiative, funded through an Engineering in Medicine grant from the University of Virginia (UVa), will be conducted in collaboration with the Data Science Institute at UVa. 

The project will see computers break down the size, shape and structure of images of the intestine’s cells into a matrix of numbers. 

Every number corresponds to a pixel, the smallest unit of an image, and as the programme scans more of these images, it becomes alert to abnormal patterns. 

Eventually, the computer will learn to compare images of healthy intestines to those affected with EED and to pinpoint the differences at the cellular level that trigger the disorder. 

The images of intestines affected by EED being studied come from work in SEEM, a USD $13m multi-country grant funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. SEEM is co-led by Dr Asad Ali, associate dean of research at Aga Khan University, and Dr Sean R Moore at the University of Virginia. 

Along with the images from SEEM, Dr Syed will also be analysing images held in the University of Virginia’s pathology archives as well as those provided by collaborators from the University of Zambia’s School of Medicine.

“Applying cutting edge data science methods on these images will help us decipher this complex, high-dimensional biomedical data, and yield insights that will improve the way we diagnose the disease,” Dr Sana Syed, assistant professor in paediatrics at the University of Virginia, remarked. 

“Advances in computing technology offer a neutral, systematic way to process huge amounts of data and this enables us to pursue a multiomics approach where we analyse information on proteins, chemical compounds and even microorganisms to study all the biological changes caused by EED. This knowledge could then be used to test nutritional or pharmacological interventions that can reduce the harmful health effects of EED.” 

In the longer-term, Dr Syed and Dr Ali believe that these insights could also transform the way doctors diagnose EED. At present, the only way to conclusively identify the disease is through a biopsy, an invasive procedure that involves extracting tissue samples from a person’s intestine. 

The researchers aim to use the insights from their work to create a comprehensive set of screening biomarkers, chemical warning signs, that would help future clinicians diagnose EED through a simple blood or urine test. 

“The EED is one of the drivers of chronic public health problems in the developing world such as malnutrition, stunting, and poor response to vaccines,” Dr Asad Ali said. 

“Addressing EED will help us unsettle the vicious cycle of poverty triggering poor health, and poor health leading to poverty,” he added. 

The SEEM is a multi-institutional partnership focused on the EED. The partners on the project include AKU, the University of Virginia, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital and Washington University.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

NBP, Balochistan sign agreement for automation of tax collections


By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) has signed an agreement with Balochistan’s Excise, Taxation and Anti-Narcotics department for the automation of tax collection system across the province.

The agreement was signed by Muhammad Farooq, NBP’s Executive Vice President, Payment Services and Digital Banking Group and Fateh Muhammad Khajak, Director General Excise, Taxation and Anti-Narcotics Balochistan. 

The NBP President, Saeed Ahmad and Balochistan’s Secretary Excise and Taxation, Zafar Ali Shah Bukhari were also present at the occasion. 

The JazzCash is collaborating with NBP in the tax automation project. 

Speaking at the occasion, Zafar Ali Shah Bukhari, Secretary Excise, Taxation and Anti-Narcotics, Balochistan, said that earlier the taxes were collected manually through NBP’s branches, which had its own challenges and complications. 

Reconciliation of collected money was one of the biggest problem while at times transparency and timeliness were compromised in manual system, he added and said that the implementation of new automated system would make the process much easier for customers and will provide real time validation as well. 

Saeed Ahmad, President NBP said that automation and digitization of all government procedures and payments & taxes collections is one of the primary objectives all federal and provincial governments to achieve complete E- governance. The NBP is assisting all the provincial governments in digitalizing their various payments, fee and taxes collection systems.

He mentioned that the NBP has already inked MoUs and agreements with various provincial and federal departments for digitally collecting their fee and payments including Directorate General of Immigration & Passports, Bureau of Emigration and Overseas Employment, Public Service Commission KPK, Islamabad Traffic Police, Driving License Sindh and Dealer Vehicle Registration System (DVRS) and collection of e-Tax in Punjab. 

He further stated that NBP was playing a major role in enhancing the financial inclusion by aligning with digital banking revolutions in Pakistan. NBP is in process of developing systems for digitization of all G2P & P2G payments. 

He highlighted that NBP is actively working to digitalize its banking services built on a collaborative model with Telcos and other stakeholders. This will help in promoting Alternate Delivery Channels and enabling the right environment for inclusive growth and achieve the goal of financial inclusion, Saeed added.

Being a public institution, he said, it is our mandate to develop a digital suite of financial services with an access to market players through any available digital channels for enhanced customer convenience with focus on enabling e-governance infrastructure. Our substantial participation in e-credit program, as well as forging links with other stakeholders including telecom service providers is expected to boost formalization of the economy. 

He said that the bank’s biggest projects recently, was to rapidly grow our ATM network which already grew from 376 ATMs in the year 2014 to over 1,000 ATMs in the year 2016. This exponential growth in our ATMs extended financial services to far flung areas of the country, where previously no other bank had ventured even in the remotest of areas in FATA. 

He said that his aim is to geographically cover the NBP’s services from the peaks of Karakoram to the Arid Zones of Baluchistan.

Regarding the agreement with Balochistan tax department, President NBP said that the NBP has chosen JazzCash to be its official partner in branchless banking project.

People could pay their due taxes and payments from the JazzCash outlets and shops across Baluchistan and they wouldn’t need to visit Excise and Taxation department. 

Through this service, outstanding amounts of the relevant taxes can be extracted and payment options will be available for real time collections through JazzCash. Saeed said that this facility will minimize the operational hassles of the Excise and Taxation Department and also provide convenience, comfort, transparency and fast track options to general public. 

Saeed Ahmad said that initially this will be rolled out through JazzCash and gradually other partner mobile money operators as well as ADCs of the bank i.e Mobile App. And ATMs will be added in due course. 

The NBP’s Head of Central Payment Services and Digital Banking Group, Farhan Durrani, Muhammad Sultan Jaffar, Regional Head Quetta, NBP, Qazi Muhammad Ali/Director IT Excise and Taxation, Faheem Mumtaz, Head of B2G JazzCash, Muhammad Ghufran Abbassi, Regional Head, MFS JazzCash, Naveed Ejaz, Regional Head, B2G JazzCash, Shakeel Tareen, Regional Head Sales, Balochistan Jazz Cash and others attended the ceremony.

Friday, May 18, 2018

AKU study reveals hypertension growth in rural Sindh


By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

 A study exploring the risk posed by high blood pressure in rural areas of Sindh has found alarmingly low awareness of the disease, and numerous cases of uncontrolled blood pressure despite the use of medication.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is often seen as a ‘lifestyle disease’ that is common in urban areas where risk factors such as stress, poor eating habits and a lack of exercise are common. 

However, findings from a baseline survey conducted by Aga Khan University in 10 rural areas of Thatta, released on May 17, World Hypertension Day, point to the disease being a public health threat in rural areas as well. 

One in three adults in Pakistan is already living with high blood pressure, according to statistics from the World Health Organization. The study noted a similar prevalence in rural areas with one in five adults over the age of 40 living with hypertension. 

Researchers also found low awareness of the disease with six out of ten people suffering from high blood pressure not knowing that they had the disease. Even those taking medication were at a high risk of health complications associated with hypertension since the survey found that more than seven out of ten people on anti-hypertensive drugs continued to suffer from uncontrolled blood pressure.

The baseline survey was part of an ongoing multi-country collaborative trial Primary Care Strategies to Reduce High Blood Pressure: A Cluster Randomized Trial in Rural Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.  
One of the striking findings of the study was the prevalence of inadequate treatment for hypertension as nearly 90 per cent of individuals in the study were only taking a single blood pressure drug. 

However, effective control of blood pressure requires most patients to take more than one anti-hypertensive medication. 

Moreover, the study found that just under half of all patients (48 per cent) were not taking their medicines regularly which also increased their vulnerability to the disease. High blood pressure is a major contributor to heart disease, the leading cause of death in Pakistan, and can also lead to the onset of other non-communicable diseases such diabetes, stroke and kidney disease. 

“Hypertension has reached epidemic levels in Pakistan and other South Asian countries,” Dr Imtiaz Jehan, associate professor at AKU and principal investigator of the study in Pakistan, remarked. 

“We must focus on how to prevent new cases and on ways to improve existing hypertension management care. We plan to use insights from our ongoing study to determine which solutions can be integrated into the public healthcare systems thereby saving the most lives.” 

The control and prevention of non-communicable diseases (NCD) such as hypertension is a global health priority with targets under goal 3 of the Sustainable Development Goals calling for a one-third reduction in deaths caused by such diseases by 2030. 

“The growing burden of non-communicable diseases in Pakistan means that this trial will generate evidence that is likely to inform much needed NCD care program planning which will improve the performance of health systems,” Dr Sameen Siddiqui, chair of the department of community health sciences at AKU, observed. 

The study’s principal investigator Professor Tazeen Jafar from Duke National University of Singapore Medical School said: "The majority of individuals with treated hypertension have uncontrolled blood pressure in rural Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh with significant disparities among and within countries. Urgent public health efforts are needed to improve access and adherence to anti-hypertensive medications in disadvantaged populations in rural South Asia.” 

The study in Pakistan is part of a multi-country research collaboration called COBRA-BPS (Control of Blood Pressure and Risk Attenuation – Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka).

Monday, May 7, 2018

Mayor praises KMC fire fighters


By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The Mayor of Karachi, Wasim Akhtar, has declared the fire fighters as heroes, complimenting them for putting their own life in danger to save lives and property of other people.

“The World Fire Fighters Day reminds us the sacrifices of fire fighters and great work which they did all over the world. The fire brigade of the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) will be provided modern facilities and all necessary equipment and apparatus which are required to put off fire in any metropolitan city. The Sindh government as well as the federal government have been requested to provide funds for fire brigade so that this department could be made even more effective and better,” he remarked in his message on on the World Fire Fighter’s Day celebrated on May 4. 

Mayor Wasim Akhtar stated that Karachi was a big city where many industrial zones as well as commercial centers with high rise buildings existed along with densely populated areas where in case of fire eruption, fire brigade has to take instant action and reach the site of incident and start the fire extinguishing operation.

“In order to enable our fire fighters do their important job effectively and safely we need to fulfill their requirements and provide them with maximum machinery, vehicles and equipment so that they could perform in any situation,” he said.

He added that upgrading fire brigade in the city was included in the annual development plan and fire fighters have been provided with better facilities. 

The Mayor acknowledged that the fire fighters of KMC had performed excellently in past despite of having no modern equipment and machinery to put off fire in the city therefore they deserved our praise and appreciation.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Karachi Mayor reviews Nazimabad underpass development works


By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The Mayor of Karachi, Wasim Akhtar, regretted that no attention was paid on the maintenance of city underpasses during the decade alleging that the Sindh Government was only doing development works on papers as none of the ministers or even MPA was seen on roads, unwilling to leave their air-conditioned rooms for the cause of a city not belonging to them.

“80 percent of our Rs 80-crore budget being spent on sewerage works and I will send the bill of sewerage works to the Sindh Government.  We are doing development works on the ground and are among the people. We are third tier of government and I have full support of the elected city council.”

He expressed these views while talking to media representatives on a visit to Nazimabad underpass on May 3 to review and inspect the road carpeting and other uplift works.

MNA Kanwar Naveed Jamil, MPA Mahfooz Yar Khan, Vice Chairman DMC Central Shakir Ali, Chairman of City Council Works Committee Hassan Naqvi, MC Central Afaq Saeed, Chief Engineer and Executive Engineer were also present on this occasion.

The Mayor informed that the road carpeting work in the Nazimabad, Liaquatabad and Gharibabad underpasses was being done with a cost of Rs two crores.

He said that besides improving the roads in underpasses, their drainage system will also be made better and whole system will be overhauled to make these underground corridors safe and convenient for citizens.

Wasim Akhtar remarked that in past these underpasses were having lot of problems and street crimes happened there whereas many people got injured and killed in accidents in these underpasses but no one paid attention to this serious problem of Karachi.

He said with the start of uplift works in the underpasses rain water will not stay in these passes during rains and citizens would have this facility to use them in rainy season also.

The Mayor of Karachi stated that the elected representatives were in regular contact with the people in their area and all development works being done under their guidance and consultation.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Typhoid vaccine approved in Pakistan


By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

A new typhoid conjugate vaccine is to be added to the National Expanded Programme for Immunization following new evidence about the threat posed by a strain of typhoid that is extremely difficult to treat with antibiotics.

An outbreak of extensively-drug resistant (XDR) typhoid in Hyderabad has already affected many children. The research from Aga Khan University (AKU), presented at the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group meeting in Islamabad, shows that cases are now appearing in Karachi, rural areas on the outskirts of Sindh, as well as in Quetta and parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. 

The results of an emergency vaccination campaign launched by the Sindh health department in the worst-affected talukas of Hyderabad in January 2018 were also presented. The data showed that the typhoid conjugate vaccine was safe with no adverse events being noted in 99.7 per cent of children who received doses. 

The Ministry of National Health Services Regulations and Coordination will now submit an application to GAVI, a global, public-private partnership committed to increasing access to immunization, to seek funding for the vaccination.

“The recent GAVI commitment of US$ 85 million in funding to support the introduction of typhoid conjugate vaccines is a great opportunity for Pakistan. We have previously introduced vaccines against pneumonia, diarrhea and the injectable polio vaccine. The launch of the typhoid vaccine will be another step towards improving the immunity of our children against disease,” Dr Syed Saqlain Ahmad Gilani, national programme manager for the federal Expanded Programme for Immunization (EPI), stated. 

With this addition, the EPI would vaccinate children against 10 deadly diseases like diphtheria, hepatitis B, meningitis, measles, childhood tuberculosis, tetanus, pneumonia, whooping cough, polio and now typhoid. 

“We are running out of medicines that can treat typhoid as the new XDR strain is resistant to five classes of antibiotics. Immunization is the only feasible option we have left against this superbug and since this vaccine has been demonstrated to be safe, we now need to intensify our efforts to bring it to every child in Pakistan,” Farah Qamar, associate professor of paediatrics at AKU, explained. 

Over 1,000 cases of XDR typhoid have been noted in Hyderabad and Karachi since 2016; this is alarming since only six cases of drug-resistant typhoid were found in the whole of Pakistan over a five-year period between 2009 and 2014. 

 Dr Anita Zaidi, Director of Vaccine Development, Surveillance, and Enteric and Diarrheal Diseases at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and an AKU alumna, was also involved in global efforts to generate evidence of the efficacy for this vaccine against typhoid fever. 

“For too long, typhoid, which invariably affects the world’s poorest people, has been neglected in efforts to improve global health. With this new vaccine, the first-ever to be useful for preventing typhoid in young children countries, will finally be able to protect millions of children who are most vulnerable to this deadly disease,” she observed.

The research and advocacy efforts were backed by a team at AKU including Professor Rumina Hasan, Professor Zahra Hasan and Dr Sadia Shakoor from the department of pathology and microbiology, Dr Farah Qamar, Dr Tahir Yousafzai and Dr Momin Kazi from the department of paediatrics and child health at AKU. 

The control and prevention of water-borne diseases such as typhoid is a global health priority with targets under goal 3 of the Sustainable Development Goals calling for the eradication of such diseases by 2030.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Sindh government launches major upgrade to health worker curriculum



By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The Sindh government has approved a major upgrade to the curriculum for lady health supervisors (LHSs) in a move aimed at enhancing the quality of door-to-door preventive healthcare services delivered by lady health workers (LHWs).  
 
The new curriculum, which incorporates the latest treatment guidelines for pneumonia and diarrhoea: two preventable diseases that caused over 670,000 deaths in the country in 2015, was unveiled during a meeting of provincial stakeholders and researchers involved in the Nigraan Plus study at Aga Khan University.
 
The new curriculum includes directives on how LHSs can effectively support and supervise the work of LHWs thereby empowering them to apply the latest knowledge and clinical skills to manage pneumonia and diarrhoea at early stages; when care is the most effective.

“This revised LHS curriculum will now be used for training purposes and it is envisaged that it will ultimately help in better management of childhood diarrhoea and pneumonia. I express my sincere gratitude to representatives of the Sindh Lady Health Worker’s Programme for Family Planning and Primary Healthcare, and the Nigraan Plus team at AKU for their voluntary participation to revise this curriculum. They have made great efforts in reviewing and translating it to Sindhi and in producing the first-ever electronic copy of this curriculum,” the Sindh Lady Health Worker Programme Director, Dr Ghulam Hussain Sheikh, observed.

Nigraan Plus, a community research and management intervention in Mirpurkhas, saw AKU researchers work alongside provincial health officials to investigate the real-world barriers hindering the fight against pneumonia and diarrhoea.
 
One of the components of Nigraan Plus was a knowledge assessment survey of 32 LHSs and 160 LHWs in the district which found that most health workers lacked the minimum knowledge to manage cases of the diseases. It also noted a need to improve the quality of mentorship provided by LHSs to LHWs.

 “Most of the discussion about improvements to health systems revolves around LHWs. This means that LHSs are vastly underutilized. An LHS who effectively mentors 15 to 20 LHWs under his/her guidance can have a massive multiplier effect since every LHW is responsible for 100 households. Our revised curriculum and the policy recommendations flowing from our findings have highlighted cost-effective and simple measures that will help Pakistan achieve targets under Sustainable Development Goal 3 on reducing childhood mortality,” Professor Fauziah Rabbani, the project’s principal investigator, stated.

The researchers and health officials from the Sindh government also discussed a range of relevant findings from research under the ongoing Nigraan Plus project.  
 
Over the first year, community health workers surveyed over 4,000 mothers and caregivers in low income areas of Mirpurkhas. They found that fewer than one in three caregivers were aware of the symptoms of dehydration, a complication associated with diarrhea, while less than four out of ten households surveyed could detect breathing difficulties, a symptom of pneumonia.

A lack of awareness of these symptoms resulted in 70 per cent of families paying to visit a private clinic for treatment even though these health issues could be easily treated at the doorstep by an LHW, members of the Nigraan Plus team noted.
 
The researchers also noted that parents often stopped giving food and drinks to a child suffering from loose motions in order to ‘give the body rest’. This widespread practice often resulted in a worsening of dehydration often requiring hospital care.

 The findings from the study also noted unnecessary delay and expense in the treatment of dehydration. This is because most families went to the market to buy sachets of oral rehydration salts (ORS) even though they could quickly boost their child’s health by making a home-based solution with salt, sugar and water. This delay in providing ORS also raised the likelihood of dehydration worsening to a dangerous level.

Similar misconceptions were also noted in the case of pneumonia with the majority of caregivers viewing signs of respiratory infection as being a ‘mere cough’ meaning that only 12 per cent of respondents provided appropriate antibiotics to their children.

The researchers called on the government to enact the measures in order to protect children from pneumonia and diarrhea like the LHWs should have access to antibiotics, zinc supplements and ORS. This will help them provide essential treatment at home instead of urging caregivers to visit the hospital.

It was also suggested to launch a mass awareness campaign on the importance of home-based rehydration to treat diarrhoea, and the use of antibiotics to tackle pneumonia and expand SMS-based surveillance system so that LHWs can highlight critical cases to their supervisors. Which will enable a follow-up visit to be made within 24 hours.
 
Nigraan Plus is part of the Umeed-e-Nau project that is being implemented by AKU in collaboration with Pakistan’s provincial health ministries with the support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
 
Other officials present at the event included Special Secretary (Admin), Department of Health, Sindh, Mr Abdul Waheed Shaikh; Provincial Monitoring Coordinator, Sindh Lady Health Worker Programme for Family Planning and Primary Healthcare, Dr Pir Ghulam Hussain; and District Coordinating Officer, Mirpurkhas, for the Sindh Lady Health Worker Programme for Family Planning and Primary Healthcare, Dr Hamza Ali Panhwar.

Dr Sameen Siddiqi, chair of the Department of Community Health Sciences at AKU, University Provost and Vice-President, Academic, Dr Carl Amrhein, and AKU’s Community Health Sciences faculty Dr Shagufta Perveen, Dr Imran Naeem and Anam Feroz were also present.

Greater value, prestige desired for teachers


By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The misconceptions present in phrases such as those who can’t do, teach and you’re just a teacher are at the heart of Pakistan’s education problems, according to speakers at the Teachers Matter symposium organised by AKU’s Institute for Educational Development (IED).

The symposium brought together 250 policy experts, principals, teacher educators and researchers who noted that the low status of the teaching profession is one of the major issues affecting the recruitment, development and retention of qualified teachers. 

“Teachers are looked down upon even though their work lays the foundations for an educated, prosperous society. The country’s commitments under the sustainable development goals require education stakeholders to attain universal access to primary and secondary education by 2030. You cannot achieve education for all without having teachers for all,” Dr Sarfaroz Niyozov, Director, IED, remarked. 

The speakers at the event noted that many aspiring teachers choose to follow other professions because of concerns over pay and career development. They highlighted the need for school systems to introduce formal career development plans as well as continuing professional development schemes to boost teachers’ subject knowledge, teaching skills and their broader understanding of the profession. These initiatives would keep teachers motivated and participants noted that research shows that it is good for students too.

A study commissioned by UNESCO cites research into how students who are taught by two underperforming teachers in a row, are at risk of never catching up on their peers. 

“An enthusiastic teacher cultivates a love for learning in students which prompts them to apply what they learn in class to the real world. Everyone wants high test scores however the centrality of teachers in ensuring those scores is often ignored. Teachers need to be provided a facilitative environment in which they can prosper and inspire their students,” Dr Sajid Ali, an associate professor at IED, reckoned. 

The speakers at the event recognized that attending a variety of professional development programmes should be mandatory for all teachers and encouraged schools to reward teachers who apply novel techniques and learning methods in the classroom. 

However, speakers also noted that technological advances mean that today’s teachers have a wealth of resources at their fingertips. Teachers must also take charge of their performance by striving to innovate in the classroom and by constantly reflecting on how well students are learning, they added. 

While the participants at the symposium noted that government statistics highlight major shortages in the number of teachers in public schools, they viewed the education system’s failings as being a result of shortcomings in both the quantity and quality of teachers. The poor perception of teaching as an occupation has also had an impact on teachers entering and exiting the profession. 

The speakers noted that many schools suffer from a high turnover with large classes, poor working conditions, low job satisfaction and low salaries relative to other industries being cited as reasons for teachers leaving their jobs. 

“Teachers are agents of change; the conduits of knowledge and education. Yet, the teaching vocation remains one of the most undervalued. The search for and retention of good teachers will continue to be a challenge until we can begin to value those who teach,” Sabrina Dawood, CEO of Dawood Public School, stated. 

The participants at the seminar also pointed to the gap between working conditions in private and state schools. They noted that public sector schools offer much better pay packages and job security than the private sector. 

However, they also pointed out that public sector schools need to improve their mechanisms to hold teachers accountable for their performance. The other speakers at the event included Asim Iftikhar from Aga Khan Education Services Pakistan, Unaiza Ayub from The Citizens Foundation and Sadiqa Salahuddin from the Indus Resource Centre.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Agha Siraj rules out horse trading in senate elections


By Rashid Zia Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

“The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) would sweep the general elections 2018 throughout the country as the PPP Chairman, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, has won the hearts of Punjab.”

This was observed by the Speaker of the Sindh Assembly, Agha Siraj Durrani, while talking to media at the residence of elder of All Sindhi-Pathan Nawabshah community, Jan Muhammad Pathan. Durrani contradicted the allegations of horse trading leveled against the PPP, adding that other parties were attempting to pass the impression as if their hands were clean. 

“That who fed whom and how much quantity of grass was given to the horses would be known soon but even if anyone have evidence of horse trading he or she should show it,” he said. 

When asked Imran Khan if would contest from Karachi, Durrani said that it is Imran’s wish to contest general election from any part of the country but the factual position is that he would bag how many votes public would see. 

He said that the PPP has always served the masses due to which public has identified failed politicians who had claimed the demise of the PPP. 

Speaking on the differences having erupted in MQM ranks, he stated that the PPP was neither making profit out of it nor was is the party policy. 

However if any political party faces crisis of such situation then party workers get disappointed and join other parties and this was the reason that others were turning to the PPP. 

Durrani considered it to be the beauty of democracy, insisting that by election and general election have big difference and he was confident to win as the people now desired a change.