Thursday, October 20, 2016

AKU-EB hosts Principals Conference

By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The Aga Khan University Examination Board (AKU-EB), in collaboration with the Oxford University Press (OUP), hosted the second Principals’ Conference in Karachi.

With an aim to provide structured learning opportunities to educational leadership and to gain insights into school improvement from an indigenous as well as a global perspective; educationists across Pakistan participated in this conference to discuss challenges and to find ways to improve school leadership and thereby raise the standard of teaching and learning. 

The educationists deliberated on prevalent educational issues in Pakistan and discussed how to build linkages with their peers in order to learn from best practices and thereby boost results. The participants also discussed ways to collaborate and to help students to successfully transition from one level to another. 

With an aim to further strengthen and build capacity of school leadership, AKU-EB also launched Pakistan’s first Principals’ Network at this conference. The objective of the network is to engage school principals, heads and institutional leaders across Pakistan and to facilitate the sharing of ideas, innovations and best practices that contribute in the development and implementation of whole school improvement programmes. 

“Engaged teaching and learning affects the knowledge, skills, attitudes and capacities of student to contribute in the communities in which they live. It broadens their horizons and approach towards education which prepares them to practice higher-level critical thinking,” Dr Shehzad Jeeva, Director,AKU-EB, observed in his welcome address.

.“Why is it that when the human intellect is exploring outer space deep space, probing the depth of the ocean and releasing the vast potential of its genius through invention, discovery and innovation that our children’s minds are still throttled by an education system that is rigid, inflexible and rooted in traditionalist systems and structures. The paradigm shift to center our approach to educating children on proven effective practices of pedagogy, teaching and learning is imperative,” the chief guest, Shahnaz Wazir Ali, Trustee, Education Trust Nasra Schools and President, Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology (SZABIST), stated. 

“To attain learning outcomes, in knowledge and skills, and make ‘the great leap forward’ so every child can achieve his/her potential, we must break the shackles of over-regulation, and centralized controls, pitch resources into promoting quality teaching and learning, and place the ‘teacher’ and the ‘student’ at the center of the change process. The Principal’s Conference brings together the change agents, “educator leaders”, to transform school learning,” she added. 

Renowned national and international speakers and panelists engaged the participants in thought provoking sessions. 

The highlight of the conference included a session by Nicholas Horsburgh, a veteran author and textbook writer of the OUP on Ownership and Engagement. Shahid Badami, Principal, Ghulaman-e-Abbas School, and Ali Gohar Chang, Principal, IBA Public School, Sukkur, shared inspirational stories of their schools, striving to provide and promote quality education in challenging areas of Pakistan followed by a panel discussion by Dr Ayesha Mian, Chair, Department of Psychiatry, Aga Khan University, and Prof Dr Muhammad Shafi Afridi, Chairman, Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education, Peshawar. 

An intriguing discussion on Re-Imaging the Textbook was led by an experienced panel including Dr Nicki Saroca, Faculty, Habib University, Rahila Ashraf, General Manager, Education, Oxford University Press, Kermin Parakh, Principal, Bai Virbaijee Soparivala (BVS) Parsi High School, and Dr Uzma Javed, Director, Studies, The City School, Lahore. 

The conference concluded with an interactive session titled ‘World CafĂ©’, conducted by Abbas Husain, Director, Teachers’ Development Centre. 

“The importance of education throughout human history is undeniable. Education is the key to an individual’s as well as a nation’s future. In today’s world, populated by seven billion plus people, all striving for a better future for themselves and their coming generations, education is as essential as air and water, not only to survive but to progress. Education is the understanding, imparting and application of knowledge for personal as well as professional progress. Education is the foundation on which knowledge and life are built,” Ameena Saiyid, Managing Director, Oxford University Press (OUP), remarked while presenting the vote of thanks.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Social bias also contributing to mental illness: Dr Ayesha Mian

By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

There is a perception that people with mental illness are violent, look different from others, can never get better or cannot be productive members of society. These inaccurate and misleading stereotypes impact adversely on people's struggle to cope with their condition.

These were the views of Dr Ayesha Mian, an associate professor and chair of the Department of Psychiatry at the Aga Khan University (AKU) while addressing journalists at a dialogue on mental health at the Karachi Press Club (KPC). 

The session was organized by AKU in coordination with the club’s Health Committee. 

“The studies show that people with mental illness are much more likely to be a victim than a perpetrator. Media should come forward and be strong partners against this social bias,” she stressed. 

“Family members, friends and the society in general have a vital role in helping people recover from mental illness. They need positive attitude and acceptance of their conditions,” she added. 

It is estimated that approximately 50 million people suffer from common mental disorders in Pakistan. The illness afflicts 15 to 35 million adults, which is approximately 10 to 20 per cent of the population. Additionally, approximately 20 million children, or over 10 per cent of the population, need attention from mental health practitioners. Unfortunately, there are only 400 trained psychiatrists in the country, meaning that there is roughly one psychiatrist available per half-million people. 

Dr Ayesha Mian explained that mental illness refers to a wide range of mental health conditions that affect mood, thinking and behaviour. People go through periods when they feel emotions such as stress and grief, but symptoms of mental illnesses last longer than normal and are often not a reaction to daily events. When symptoms become severe enough to interfere with a person’s ability to perform day-to-day chores, they may be considered to have a significant mental illness. 

She described factors that may lead to depression, anxiety and addictive behaviors, and eating disorders, stressful life situations, use of alcohol or recreational drugs, imbalance of a chemical substance in the brain, and genetic disorder or having a blood relative with a mental illness. Exposure to environmental stressors, inflammatory conditions, toxins, alcohol or drugs while in the womb can sometimes be linked to mental illness. 

“While not all mental illnesses are preventable, some changes in lifestyle can significantly help. Be an organized person in your routine life, take wise and timely decisions, and take good care of yourself with healthy eating, regular physical activity and sufficient sleep, usually seven to eight hours for adults. Avoid conflicts in personal as well as professional life, try to participate in social activities, and get together with family or friends regularly. Avoid alcohol and drug use,” she advised. 

“Pay attention to warning signs, for example, inability to cope with daily problems or stress, and have an evaluation by a mental health or other healthcare professional. In most cases, symptoms can be managed with a combination of medications and therapy or counseling,” she emphasized.

On the occasion, Dr Ayesha Mian also informed that AKU’s 19th National Health Sciences Research Symposium will focus on mind and brain. Starting from November 4, the annual conference will bring together hundreds of national and international healthcare professionals working in the field of neuroscience. 

Apart from the covering journalists, the session was also attended by Professor of Neurology at AKU, Dr Saad Shafqat, Secretary General of KPC, Alauddin Khanzada, Secretary of Karachi Union of Journalists, Shoaib Ahmed, and the club’s Health Committee members, including Waqar Bhatti and Hamid Rehman Awan.

Pakistan Railways aims high

By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

Parveen Agha, Chairperson and Secretary of the Pakistan Railways (PR), has unveiled plans for the further development of the organization to transform into a most viable entity while it has attained financial autonomy with revenue generation having gone up from Rs 18 billion 3 years back to 36 billion at the financial close.

Ruling out the privatization of the PR, she made it absolutely clear to all concerned that the resources were being mobilized to turn it around in the larger national interest. 

She said that none of the trains have been privatized but only their operation handed over to private sector operators. 

She stated that the private operator of business train was in default of around Rs one billion and the train was now being run by the PR itself. 

Talking to media at the Divisional Headquarter, during her ongoing visit to Karachi, she dispelled the impression that any proposal on privatizing the PR was being considered at the highest level. The Divisional Superintendent Railway Engr Nisar Memon, and the SSP Railway, Robin Yamin, besides the Deputy DS (Operations) were also present on the occasion. 

Parveen Agha informed that under the umbrella of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the railway infrastructure is being upgraded in collaboration with Chinese and major ingredients of the project were finalized during a recent meeting of a high level Pakistani delegation which included Federal Planning Minister, Ahsan Iqbal and Federal Railway Minister, Khawaja Saad Rafiq, besides herself which undertook a tour of China.

Under the project railway system will be upgraded from Peshawar to Lahore and then from Lahore to Karachi sector wise with Lahore-Multan Sector to start first. 

She said that upon completion the train will run at a speed of 160 km as against 100 km/hour at present reducing the travelling time substantially. 

She informed that the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has approved the funding of Rs 2.5 billion for the Lahore-Multan project while the Lahore-Karachi segment has been aligned with the CPEC. 

Parveen Agha was optimistic about getting the momentous projects completed by 2018 by which time the capacity of PR will be enhanced manifolds. 

The Secretary Railways informed that Railway is set to earn another all time high Rs 13 billion revenue through transporting imported coal from Bin Qasim to the site of 660 MW Sahiwal Coal-fired power plant. She said that coal transportation will start from April 2017 while trial transportation will begin in November with the import of Consignment. 

Parveen Aga revealed that the freight revenue generation has tremendously increased from Rs 1 billion to Rs 11 billion had high praise for Karachi Railway Division for its contribution. 

She said that, with the efforts of present Divisional Superintendent Nisar Memon, this Division alone shared Rs 9.7 billion towards freight revenue. 

While referring to running high speed trains, she informed that Railway has finalized an agreement with the General Electric under which 75 locomotive of 4 to 4.5 thousand HP would be imported. 

She said that delivery of 55 locomotives will start from November while talks were underway with regard to financial implication for the remaining 20 engines. 

To a question, she stated that the much talked about Karachi Circular Railway (KCR) was now a provincial subject and the Government of Sindh was taking care of it. 

“The Sindh Government had approached us on this matter a couple of years ago and we had assured them of our wholehearted technical support and facilitation in upgrading and operating the project,” she said. 

To another question, she remarked that the PR was tackling the menace of encroachment in the most efficient manner all over the country. 

“We have had partial success in this regard. We have succeeded in getting some of the encroached lands vacated, like the Chanesar Halt and the Kalapul in Karachi, besides ensuring that no fresh encroachments took place during the last three years. But a lot has still to be done in this regard to get back our invaluable lands in the larger interest of the PR,” she conceded, adding that the regained lands would be channelized for revenue generation. 

To a question she said that the Jaffer Express incident in Balochistan was an unfortunate on, having occurred primarily due to law and order situation while the Patoki train-bus accident had taken place due to negligence of railway staff and the matter was being investigated. 

Meanwhile DS Railway Nisar Memon shared with PNFS that the Federal Secretary during her trip has visited Bin Qasim Port, Marshaling Yard besides Karachi City and Karachi Cantonment railway stations, having reviewed the working at length. The PR chief was due to visit the Karachi Port Trust (KPT) on October 10.

Friday, October 7, 2016

AKU, GIZ set off to boost Pakistan’s industry

By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

Improving the health and safety of workers in the textile sector, Pakistan’s largest industry, can boost productivity, competitiveness and compliance, according to studies released by the Aga Khan University and GIZ, the German development agency, at a collaborative event.

The textile industry, with its significant contribution to the country’s exports (58 per cent), is supported by an estimated 10 million strong workforce who often face safety and health issues.  
Most commonly, textile mill employees are exposed to significant amounts of cotton dust leading to respiratory diseases such as byssinosis as well as complaints such as chest tightness, shortness of breath and persistent coughing. 

The MultiTex research project, carried out by AKU’s Community Health Sciences Department, found that employees most at risk of chest ailments were the least aware of health hazards. The Return on Prevention study by GIZ found that textile industry stakeholders could be willing to invest in health and safety as they were aware of a return on investment. 

The AKU’s MultiTex project looked at the severity of health risks in textile mills and workers’ understanding of occupational health and safety (OHS) hazards around them. 

Interviewing 300 employees at seven mills in Karachi, with a workforce of approximately 9,000 people, almost all (90 per cent) were not educated and most had little awareness of the risks of cotton dust. 

Worse, employees who were more exposed to cotton dust, since they worked longer shifts and more days per week, than their counterparts were less aware of health hazards. 

Almost 80 percent of the workers were not using safety precautions (such as facemasks) that would help protect them against hazards at the workplace. 

“These preliminary findings reinforce our earlier study. Our previous research on 372 workers in 15 textile mills in Karachi found that cotton-dust related diseases and ailments were common,” Dr Asaad Nafees, Assistant Professor, AKU, remarked. 

“About 1 in 10 textile workers developed byssinosis, 2 in 10 employees suffered from shortness of breath and 3 in every 10 labourers complained of tightness in the chest. These health risks reduce the quality of life for so many employees and result in absenteeism and lost productivity for the textile industry. With 10 million or more employees in this sector, this represents a significant cost in human capital and potential manufacturing output,” he added. 

The MultiTex study saw researchers use special indoor devices to measure air pollution in different parts of the mills. Workers also wore personal air monitors (which tracked whether dangerous levels of cotton dust were being inhaled) and were given lung function tests before and after shifts to assess the seriousness of the daily impact of pollution. 

The AKU researchers are currently conducting follow-up studies to understand the long-term health threats facing employees. For now they have suggested three possible approaches to improve the health and safety of workplaces. Personal protective equipment, face masks to reduce inhalation of harmful particles followed by OHS training for managers and workers to improve knowledge, attitude and practices. 

Organizational changes to minimize the number of workers in danger areas and to reduce the time spent by workers in high exposure settings and structural changes involving the purchase of new machinery or improved workplace design and ventilation. 

These recommendations complemented the research Return on Prevention study that involved structured interviews with employees in 58 companies to understand whether investments in occupational health and safety pay off for companies in the textile and garment industry. 

The companies interviewed stated that occupational health and safety practices were ‘very important’ especially in the areas of warehousing, production, personnel allocation and transport. They also stated that investments in health and safety typically paid-off, offering a return of 2.5. 

Speaking at the event, Mr Olaf Petermann, from German Social Accident Insurance BG ETEM said that investments in occupational health and safety boost the competitiveness and compliance of Pakistani businesses.

“The research findings shared today help build a case for textile industry stakeholders to improve health and safety since it will benefit both workers and the financial performance of companies,” he noted. 

“The Sindh Labour department is fully committed to improve the occupational health and safety standards in the industry,” Sindh Labour Department’s Joint Director (Health and Safety) Ali Ashraf Naqvi, added. 

“This event has enabled an informed discussion among all stakeholders of the industry and we look forward to working with all representatives to ensure a healthy workforce and a strong industry,” Zulfiqar Shah, Joint Director, Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER), recognized. 

The event ended with a panel discussion featuring representatives from the Sindh Labour Department, a technical consultant from SGS Pakistan and officials from non-governmental organizations, HomeNet, PILER and business associations. They discussed the relevance of the findings for the industry’s future and the most feasible steps to take to achieve OHSE goals.

AMUOBA remembers Dr A T Khan

By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services) 

Rich tributes were paid to the late Dr A T Khan, the first Vice-Chancellor of the Sir Syed University of Engineering and Technology (SSUET), Karachi, at a memorial meeting organized by the Aligarh Muslim University Old Boys Association (AMUOBA), at the SSUET campus. 

He was particularly remembered for his contribution in the preparation of draft of Charter for the establishment of the SSUET and his role towards promotion of engineering education. 

The speakers on the occasion talked with awe about the educational acumen of late A T Khan who dedicated 39 years of career in promoting the cause of education and recalled his services for SSUET as its first Vice-Chancellor following his retirement from the NED University of Engineering and Technology, at the same position. 

The former Vice Chancellor of the University of Karachi, Dr Pirzada Qasim Raza Siddiqui, a renowned educationist and scholar, was the chief guest in the ceremony which was presided over by the SSUET Chancellor, Jawaid Anwar. 

The speakers included the SSUET Vice-Chancellor, Prof Dr Jawed H. Rizvi, Brig Dr Nasim A. Khan, Dr Prof Abdul Samad Khan, Engr Najib Haroon, Engr Asif Qasim Maisoorwala besides Mohammed Mohsin Khan, son of late A T Khan and Treasurer AMUOBA. The family members of late A T Khan were also present on the occasion. 

In his presidential address, the SSUET Chancellor Jawaid Anwar paid glowing tributes to late A T Khan and said that he was a true educationist who understood the importance of knowledge. 

He said that it’s for the first time that this function in memory of late Dr A T Khan has been organized because he’s fully convinced that only those nations progress which remember their legends and Dr A.T. Khan was also a legendary figure. 

He recalled that it was with this vision that AMUOBA organized a similar memorial meeting earlier for the late Engr Z A Nizami, the first Chancellor of SSUE, and named one recently constructed new academic block after his name. 

Similalry, the AMUOBA organized had memorial meeting for another legendary personality Zakir Ali Khan whose association with AMUOBA spanned over 50 years besides organizing a seminar on Shaheed-e-Millat Liaquat Ali Khan, adding that one building will also be named after Shaheed-e-Millat. 

Chancellor Jawaid Anwar while highlighting the importance of knowledge quoted a Quranic Verse which first word is ‘Iqra’ and said this gives a reflection of the importance Islam gives to acquisition of knowledge. 

He underlined the importance of teachers, stating that teaching is one such major responsibility which contributes to the building of nations and Dr A T Khan was one of those teachers who immensely contributed towards this cause. 

Describing him as the most impressive personality for his students, he disclosed that the SSUET planned to establish a soil testing laboratory to be named after Dr A T Khan 

Speaking as the chief guest, Prof Dr Pirzada Qasim Riza Siddiqui, also paid tributes to late Dr AT Khan and regarded him a role a great model for teachers and students. 

He said to be feeling honored having had very close relations with late Dr A T Khan and advised the students to follow his footsteps for the achievement of their career objective. 

Dr Pirzada advised the professionals to join teaching by choice and not by chance for its being a noble profession. Dr A T Khan had a quality that with the minimum resources he made great result out of it, he added. 

In his speech the SSUET Vice-Chancellor, Prof Dr Jawed H Rizvi, said that from now on Dr A T Khan will be remembered on regular basis for his contribution in teaching and in civil engineering in particular. 

Engr Mohammad Mohsin Khan, son of late Dr A T Khan thanked the SSUET Chancellor and the AMUOBA President, Jawaid Anwar, the SSUET Vice Chancellor, Prof Dr Jawed H Rizvi , and the AMUOBA for organizing the purposeful memorial meeting to pay homage and recall the immense educational contribution of his illustrious father.

He observed that it was for the first time in 20 years when Dr A T Khan is being paid tributes in such a befitting manner after having served for 39 years at the NED University, rising from Lecturer to Vice Chancellor. 

He said it’s a source of great inspiration that as many as members of Dr A T Khan's family were civil engineers. 

Engr Najeeb Haroon rated Dr A T Khan a great teacher and recalled his important role in civil engineering in Pakistan. 

Engr Asif Qasim Maisoorwala recalled that Dr A T Khan also taught ethics and how education led us to spend life. 

Prof Dr Abdul Samad reckoned that Dr A T Khan was the pioneer of soil mechanics in Pakistan, having introduced it in 1960s. 

Brig Dr Naseem A. Khan, representing Usmani Associates suggested that such events should be held on regular basis for our past and present legends. 

The meeting ended with a vote of thanks by the AMUOBA General Secretary, Mohammed Arshad Khan, and the presentation of souvenirs to Pirzada Qasim and other dignitaries.

Akhuwat chief inspires SSUET students

By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

Dr Mohammad Amjad Saqib, Executive Director, Akhuwat Foundation, visited the Sir Syed University of Engineering and Technology (SSUET), Karachi, where he had a detailed session with its students.

The Akhuwat Foundation’s founder inspired the students and inculcated in them a sense of gratitude for their blessings and a sense of responsibility to share these with people who are less fortunate. 

The Lahore-based Akhuwat Foundation was established in 2001 with the objective of providing interest free microfinance to the poor in order to enhance their standard of living. 

Drawing on the principles of social justice and brotherhood, Akhuwat has been striving to alleviate poverty by creating a system based on mutual support in society, having adopted microfinance as its operational strategy with the loans being offered in accordance with the doctrines of Qarz-e-Hassan. 

Akhuwat, registered under the Societies Registration Act of 1860, levies no interest on its loans, operates through religious places and seeks to inspire and harness the spirit of volunteerism in society. The mandate of Akhuwat extends beyond financial transactions as it makes every effort to guide, support and empower the poor.

Dr Amjad Saqib has been bringing to light the fact that in Pakistan, almost 50 percent population was forced to live below poverty line which made it the responsibility of affluent people to prevent the poor from becoming beggars. 

"We feel that it is our responsibility to provide them interest free loan to hard working poor people to establish their own small business to support their families," he was quoted as saying. 

During the last 15 years, the Akhuwat Foundation has provided three billion rupees interest free loan to over 1.6 million families to make them independent economically and the recovery of loan was around 99.9 per cent which helped them to perpetuate its welfare activities.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Around 4,000 appear in SSUET entry test

By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

Nearly four thousand candidates aspiring for admission in the Sir Syed University of Engineering and Technology (SSUET), Karachi, appeared in the pre-admission entry test for bachelor’s degree programmes held at the Karachi Expo Centre on October 2.

Besides the areas of four provinces, a good number of candidates from far flung areas like Gilgit, Baltistan and Azad Kashmir also appeared in the entry test for the academic year 2017. 

The SSUET, a centre of excellence since 1994, offers admissions in 11 disciplines which include electronic, computer, civil, bio-medical, telecommunication, electrical engineering and architecture besides computer science, software engineering, bio-infomatics and information technology. 

As per required criteria the eligibility for admission in first seven disciplines is minimum 60 percent marks in HSC and 55 percent for rest four disciplines.  

The Chancellor SSUET, Jawaid Anwar, besides Vice-Chancellor Prof Dr Jawaid H Rizvi and Registrar Syed Sarfraz Ali who were present on the occasion, visited the test centre and reviewed the arrangements.

In his brief remarks on the occasion Chancellor Jawaid Anwar said it would be ensured that admissions to all disciplines are made strictly on merit basis and he has issued firm directions in this respect. 

The university, he pointed out, prepared future leaders able to compete the ever growing challenges in the fields of engineering and technology. 

"With career focussed education, the SSUET prides itself for having a highly qualified and experienced faculty committed in meeting the international standards,” the Chancellor stated. 

The Vice Chancellor, Prof Dr Jawaid H Rizvi, remarked that in keeping with the emerging trends, the university has introduced new technologies to meeting the ever-increasing market demands. 

The university is equipped with air-conditioned laboratories with 1,500 plus Nodes Computer Network and high speed internet connectivity and enjoys highest HEC's W4 category and is graded as 5-star University by Charter Inspection and Evaluation Committee (CIEC). 

Chartered in 1993, the SSUET is ISO 9001: 2008 certified and is a member of Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) and International Association of Universities (IAU), UNESCO, Paris.