Short-cuts to writing?



By Zubeida Mustafa

We Pakistanis are very ingenious and resourceful when it comes to solving seemingly intractable issues. We manage to “invent” solutions for every problem we face – and there is no shortage of those.

Power shortage? Generators and UPS’ flood the market and, presto, you have your own power supply. What’s more, you have a choice to meet the size of your pocket.

Security concerns with crime on the rise? Private security companies can provide guards on demand and, depending on your budget, you can have as many as you want. They are also armed to give you an extra sense of safety.

A child doing badly in her studies because the school is failing to meet the standards set for it? No problem. Get private tutors and, with the mushrooming of tuition centres, you have a wide choice.

Need to publish research papers to be promoted as professor? And those no-good editors don’t find your research sound enough to publish? Don’t worry. There are numerous, if somewhat dubious, online journals who will publish your paper for a fee and you get a title of a publication to add to your CV and get a promotion.

The latest to join this privileged club is an institution called The Writing Centre. Not that such centres didn’t exist before. They catered primarily to the needs of aspiring creative writers, providing one-on-one training to those who could write but needed guidance in fiction writing.

But now such centres have a new dimension. They have ‘consultants,’ not teachers, to perform their functions. In April, the impressive sounding ‘First National Dialogue on Writing Centres’ brought together a number of people from various universities and institutions, where writing is being taught as an organised discipline. Hosted by the Institute of Business Administration’s (IBA) Ardeshir Cowasjee Centre for Writing (ACCW), the idea of the dialogue was to promote this new entrant into our academia. An array of high-profile speakers were present to praise, not the art of writing, (which I would do any day), but the centres that teach writing.

And, of course, writing needs a language. From what I could gather from the two sessions I attended, the language being promoted is, as expected, English. Dr Ishrat Hussain, former Director of the IBA and now Professor Emeritus, rightly pointed out that, “In the current phase of globalisation, English is the principal language of technology, science, research and international relations. Pakistani students seeking to acquire new levels of professional qualification in Pakistan or in overseas countries direly need to enhance their proficiency in English to be able to benefit from new knowledge and obtain progressive employment.”

The disturbing question one is confronted with is: Aren’t our schools and colleges teaching the students how to write? English has been promoted aggressively in our school system at the expense of our indigenous languages, especially in the elite private schools, so it comes as a surprise that their students need writing centres to learn how to write. And mind you, these schools constitute the catchment area of enrolment in most business universities.

I had visited the ACCW soon after it was founded in 2014 at the invitation of Dr Ishrat Hussain. I was impressed, though a bit uneasy with the implications of such an institution. I was told then that some students coming from high-fee schools – I won’t name them – were not sufficiently proficient in English. Hence the need to teach them how to write and bring them at par with their classmates. Now I am told that the ACCW has so far “helped over 1035 students to improve their writing skills, critical, analytical thinking and self-confidence in articulation. Providing a one-on-one consultancy facility in sessions of about 40-45 minutes’ duration, students and consultants (senior students, lecturers etc.) review idea generation, structure of texts, grammar and syntax and complex stylistic concerns.”

That means our teaching and language standards have gone down further. In this context, the Writing Centre would appear to be an innovative idea. It would have been so much better had the students been taught all this when they were in school. But obviously they are not being taught well enough. Hence the demand for often exorbitantly costing tuitions and for writing centres.

The writing schools are shortcuts to make amends for the flaws in our education system. Instead of addressing the basic weaknesses in our collapsing system of education, we are trying to provide for a small class that is privileged.

As happens when such an approach is adopted, the gulf between the haves and the have-nots widens. It is the moral responsibility of the elite to extend a helping hand to the disadvantaged ones. Can we afford to leave 25 million children out of school while a small crust of the more fortunate ones get the best education for which they can pay?

Another cause of concern is that we tend to explore solutions at the higher education level, when a preponderant majority of the children who enter the education stream have dropped out. Crying over spilt milk after a child’s formative years are over, does not help much. It is time we stopped slicing education into different sectors. It should be treated as a composite whole. If schools fail to teach language properly, the universities will naturally get students who cannot write. To say academic writing has to be taught, as one speaker said, is a myth. Anyone who knows how to write in a language and has knowledge of his subject, can be given guidelines in an hour on how to write a business letter, make a project proposal or write a research paper. There is no shortcut to writing.

Zubeida Mustafa is a senior journalist. She writes on a variety of subjects but her interest has mainly been in the social sector which she has covered extensively. She has investigated in-depth issues such as education, health care, women’s empowerment, children’s rights and the lives of ordinary people.

Source: Newsline May 2017

Where the ill lies

By Zubeida Mustafa

“THERE has been an enormous overproduction of uneducated and ill-trained medical practitioners … due to the existence of a very large number of commercial (medical) schools … which are profitable business.”

Does the above refer to Pakistan? It doesn’t but it could as it is an apt description of the conditions prevailing in the country. The words above are from Abraham Flexner’s 1910 report on the state of medical education in North America. It led to the closing down of 124 of the 155 medical schools operating in the US and Canada at the time. Continue reading “Where the ill lies”

The magic crop

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE existential threat that Pakistan faces today is the insidious devastation of our human resources. It is a silent crisis, yet to be recognised, as an entire generation of children faces a slow death by malnutrition.

Denied basic nutrients — especially protein — essential for their physical and cognitive growth in the critical first 1,000 days of life, the majority of children never enjoy the same health and mental growth as that of a normal well-fed child. Paediatricians tell us that the damage done during this window of life — from conception till the second birthday — cannot be reversed. We have been warned, but nothing stirs us out of our complacency.

According to the Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey 2013-14, 45 per cent of children under five in Pakistan are stunted while 30pc are underweight. That means many of our children are denied the capacity to realise fully their learning and growth potential. Malnutrition also affects their mothers who give birth to them.

New solutions are needed to provide nutrition to children.

This is the real food insecurity that Pakistan faces. Its grim implications are not reported by the media because we do not have too many deaths by famine. But, silently, the minds of our children are dying. It is an irony that we cannot feed the little ones when nature has blessed Pakistan with an abundance of wheat. Poverty and the unaffordable price of wheat mean that children are being starved of nutrition. The decline in official subsidies over the years and the rising cost of inputs has put food beyond the reach of the common man.

It is time to think of new solutions, especially in terms of providing nourishment to children. The Food and Agriculture Organisation has the answer in quinoa, which has been dubbed as the miracle grain, the magic food and, above all, the complete protein possessing all the nine essential amino acids needed to build the body and brain of a growing child.

Another major advantage it offers is its low cost of production and its natural adaptability to diverse climatic conditions. FAO, a vocal advocate, declared 2013 as the International Year of the Quinoa.

The grain, it is claimed, has many nutritional properties and is also cheap to grow. Dr Shahzad Basra, professor of agronomy at the Faisalabad Agriculture University, is an ardent supporter of the quinoa and has been doing research on the seed since 2009 when he imported some germplasm from the US Department of Agriculture to test it in Pakistani conditions.

According to him quinoa is gluten-free, rich in protein (15-19 pc), has many minerals such as zinc, magnesium, manganese, etc and a low glycemic index. Wheat, our staple grain, has only 13pc protein. Dr Basra also points out that quinoa is a resilient crop that is not affected by unfavourable weather, thrives in saline soil — clayey or sandy — and is drought resistant. The yield per acre is 800 kilograms. This is much lower than that of wheat. But I presume the yield of quinoa will grow with more research and cultivation.

What I find strange is that given these advantages, why is quinoa not being promoted in a big way in Pakistan? According to Dr Basra’s information, quinoa is cultivated on 800 acres (a little over 300 hectares) or so which means a production of 640,000kg a year, most of which is exported. It is true that a culinary taste for quinoa has yet to be developed. That calls for a public campaign in a land of wheat eaters.

This is worth it as quinoa has done well as the staple food of the Andean region in South America where the indigenous populations have preserved the crop carefully with their traditional knowledge and practices.

From what I understand, the government has not tried to promote quinoa at all. Those who have, including some resea­rchers and cultivators, have focused on its rich potential as an export item. As prices have risen in the world market, local production has increased somewhat in the last three years. As a result, the price of quinoa, Dr Shahzad tells me, has declined in Pakistan from Rs3,500 to Rs400-600 per kilo.

It is time we thought of our children. The government needs to draw up child-centred nutrition programmes focused on quinoa. This is possible if a policy is adopted to indigenise the grain and devise ideal agricultural practices to maximise its production. It need not displace wheat. Given its easy-to-grow properties, tillers could grow it on land that is not fit for wheat cultivation. Why not distribute the ‘barren’ land among small farmers and show them how to grow the magic crop?

Sensible pricing and export policies could ensure affordable prices with export being allowed only above specified ceilings after local nutritional needs have been met. Small entrepreneurs should step forward to produce cereal and baby food.

Source: Dawn



May 12th 2007-17

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

May 12th   2017 is as good as come and gone. As I recall 2007—the year of CJP Iftikhar Chaudhry, for his persona was at once the catalyst and dynamic—that May 12th anniversary marker’s mood-content would be anachronistic today. Its villains and martyrs have squirmed and shifted, and are no longer held firmly within the mould of that year’s context.

Which also indicates its characters are operative: vital and politically relevant, not merely historical.   Continue reading “May 12th 2007-17”

Physician let a colleague treat you

By Zeba Hisam

TODAY I am writing this while waiting for my turn for physiotherapy for my right hand carpal tunnel syndrome. I had been having severe pain that became worst on twisting movements and pulling or bearing weight on this hand. First I took a painkiller regularly without any benefit then kept on complaining about pain and was scolded by my mother and elder sister to consult a doctor and not to treat myself. I got all my lab investigations done which came out to be normal ( CP, ESR, CRP, uric acid, RA factor and T3, T4, TSH and the x-ray of my wrist). I was convinced that it was carpal tunnel syndrome as I previously got a persistent parasthesia on my right hand so I got an appointment with my teacher, Professor of neurology, Dr. Abdullah, who endorsed my diagnosis and sent me to this amazing physiotherapy Center named “Neurology & Falij care Center”! He advised me to get my physiotherapy done by the specific lady physiotherapist. So it’s my third session today and I do the exercises advised by her regularly at home multiple times. I hope and pray that improvement will come soon. 

I am writing this because I want to warn and advice all doctors who are even specialist in their own specific fields, to please consult a doctor if you have any complaint and do not let yourself be treated by yourself considering yourself as a self sufficient doctor! As we take the history of a patient then we examine the patient physically in a proper set up of our clinics to make a diagnosis so like that, we also need to be examined in the same manner by another professional doctor and trusting that doctor and following the advice given!

I give an example of my doctor friend who got fever with sore throat. She followed her own advice by assuming a viral infection so didn’t take any medicine and neither got any tests done. After a few days she was sick enough to not come out of bed. She mentioned this to another doctor who met her by chance. That doctor said that her husband had the same sickness and he got well by a five day course of tablet Levofloxacin. On her advice, she took that medicine and deteriorated further. I also met her by chance and found her unable to talk and walk. She was in need to be on a hospital couch to be examined by me or any other doctor. Her super spirits kept her working and she told me that everyday her fever settles with panadol tablets and she comes to work! It was beyond my comprehension! She consulted me on her way by standing in the corridor and asked me for some appropriate medicine? How could I answer that without even taking her proper history and physical examination? This I am telling you about a specialist doctor’s behaviour on illness and not of a layperson! 

One of a colleague gynaecologist working in the same hospital,  came to me one day with complaints of dizziness and feeling of doom. I checked her vitals and found her blood pressure to be 200/120 mmHg. I advised her to get admitted and get her tests done but she said there is no history of hypertension and lately she had a few episodes otherwise she was fine and was not taking any medicine. Although every time she had this episode she used to go to the emergency department to lie down on a bed with a sub lingual Capoten tablet given by emergency duty RMO and after half an hour, she would return to her  OPD for examining her patients! (How could she ignore her patients)! She never checked her blood sugar level or lipid profile or electrolytes or urea and creatinine! She was so oblivious of hypertension’s complications! So at times we can give only a sincere advice and let the doctor decide what he has/she to do! 

So doctors! Take a break if you are sick and consult another doctor to help you by examining and treating you with an appropriate diagnosis!

The writer is a Consultant Physician at the Zubaida Medical Center, Karachi

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