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The unprecedented pandemic the world is facing today has affected even the remotest of areas on this plant and the inhabitants therein. But besides the economic losses, the loss of learning for children is something that has become a major worry for all nations. Asad Ullah Khan tells us how the Punjab government has acted to curtail the effects of COVID-19 on education.


cientists, researchers and doctors around the world have teamed up and are working tirelessly to find a cure and minimize the devastating impact of COVID-19 outbreak. It is needless to say that the impact the pandemic will have globally cannot be overestimated; safe to say that the world order will be shaken, leaving it up to debate whether the globalization as we know it today will continue. It is a surprising thought, considering that the idea of a de-globalized world was an alien notion only a few months ago.

Dr Arif Alvi,

President of Pakistan 

There is a dire need to impart education to students keeping in view modern-day requirements as well as the demands of the market. This will help check unemployment. Education has much more impact on people and society than wealth, and Virtual University is playing an important role in promoting education in the country’s far-flung areas.

Tariq Banuri

Chairman, HEC 

Education is the vanguard of international collaboration and the Higher Education Commission (HEC) of Pakistan is fully committed to solution-oriented academic and research partnerships with foreign entities. 

 

Dr Amjad Saqib 

Philanthropist, Founder of Akhuwat 

Uniformity between what one says and how one acts is a must to create true leadership skills among individuals. A good leader takes practical steps to implement his vision. Students must have high moral values, tolerance and sense of justice to move ahead in life.

Vocational and technical education is one of the surefire ways a country can ensure that a majority of its youth get their hands on decent paying jobs, or get the skills that help them run sustainable small-scale businesses of their own. In Pakistan, there has only been a limited focus on the potential this key educational sector carries. But will Ali Salman, the new TEVTA chief, get technical education the popularity it deserves?

Experts estimate that in US alone, there are over 30 million jobs that pay an average of $55,000 a year, but do not require a bachelor’s degree. Yet only a limited people are getting to those jobs. Reason? Everybody is running after college degrees to get their hands on jobs that just aren’t there anymore. In the changing times that we live in, skills are becoming increasingly more in demand than degrees and that is where technical education comes into play.Around the world, there are millions of jobs that require not a college or university degree to be tended to effectively, but specific skills that need to be performed to attain perfection. Manufacturing sector is a case in point. While it might be the managers that plan a production run, a manufacturing unit still needs skilled human resource to run the machines, tune them, maintain them and keep their health in check to ensure that the manufacturing cycle goes on unhindered.

In Pakistan, technical education has somewhat been thought of as ‘unworthy’, meant for jobs that no one really wants, but in reality not one person can survive without. Consider this: how long can you go without reaching out to a car mechanic, an electrician, a plumber, a carpenter or even a tailor for some specific need of yours? Not often we reckon. Technical and vocational education is a highly rewarding domain, one that not only primes you for performing at jobs that need skilled hands, but also enables you to be in a position to begin your own work and be your own boss.

With Ali Salman Siddique as the new chairman of Punjab Technical and Vocational Training Authority (TEVTA), we are hoping Pakistan and Pakistanis realize the importance this sector carries. Siddique is a decorated man. He has a BA (Hons) in Economics and Development from University of Sussex, CPE in Law from BPP Law School, London and LLM in Law & Development from University of Warwick. We sat down with the new TEVTA chairman to discuss the scope of technical and vocational education and how he plans to make TEVTA as relevant as it should be.

 

1: You joined as the TEVTA chairman about 8 months ago, can you tells us about the vision you have for the organization? 

When I joined TEVTA in August 2019, I set a 100-day timeline according to which our vision was prepared. The vision is to empower our youth with a new focus on quality, demand-driven skills and to develop economic opportunities through entrepreneurship, as well as ensuring job placements at the local and international level. Earlier, there was focus on quantity, as we had 400 institutes and passed out around 94,000 graduates. The change I brought after taking charge was that I shifted the focus on to quality, not quantity of our students. I believe that the skills that are being provided through 150 courses should be demand driven, and if the courses are not in demand, they should end. 

2: What do you think are the major challenges facing you and the organization?

We don’t have any credible data of last 20 years, or of about 2 million graduates that have passed out in the last 20 years. We don’t know if they are placed on jobs, what salary they are drawing or if they have become self-employed. When you don’t have data, you are spending billions of rupees on a product you don’t know about. We don’t even know how much we are contributing with in the country’s economy. 

 

3: What interventions, steps and changes have you put in place to cope with the challenges?

TEVTA provides skills for industries across Punjab. There was not much international effect, but the organization does support local industries and small businesses. But the problem I noticed was that when I asked industry people about TEVTA, their views about it were not ideal. I think TEVTA was formed for industries and to provide them with skilled labor force. How can industry move forward without skilled labor despite having updated machinery and latest technology? I realized that TEVTA had become a department similar to other government departments that don’t have close liaison with the industry sector, meaning TEVTA and industries were not taking ownership of each other. The landmark initiative is the new Apprenticeship Law 2020. According to this model, a student is hired by industry and registered with TEVTA. The industry will provide them on-job training and we will also train them according to his job description. The new law will be replaced by the Apprenticeship Act 1962.

 

I have shifted the earlier organizational focus on quantity to quality of our students. I believe that the skills being provided through 150 courses should be demand driven, and if the courses are not in demand, they should end.

 

4: For the past two decades, TEVTA has been focusing on conventional technical education system. Are you focusing on the same or have you planned modern, demand-driven technical education?

At first, we reviewed the curriculum and whether it was outdated or in line with industrial demands and gauged if an international curriculum was required. So I came across a Rs 10 million funding from World Bank parked in TEVTA since 2015 for moving on to Competency Based Training and Assessment (CBTA). It is an internationally accredited system implemented in more than 130 countries. This system focuses on building competencies, imparting quality training and assessing the levels of competency and training for productive economic use. I think all TEVTA courses should be renewed in line with CBTA. Previously, the courses had theory and practical bases in which an individual student was not able to learn and train, but in this system, every student must have to do everything on his own. The student has to pass individually. This enhances quality standards. 

 

5: Hundreds of TEVTA colleges have outdated machinery and rundown labs. How much resources and efforts are required to upgrade the infrastructure?

Yes that’s true, but we are updating labs and machinery in 83 institutes because the most important factor in technical education is practical know-how. The problem was that we just did not have proper labs and equipment to impart that training. So in March, 83 labs and equipment at as many institutions are being upgraded with funding from World Bank and GIZ. Until now, 36 courses have been shifted to CBTA and the remaining are under process. It’s difficult to buy up-to-date machinery, so we are in liaison with international agencies and donors and government to provide the required funding. For the theory part, we are introducing smart classrooms and simulations where students will be exposed to modern technology with multimedia and computers in the classrooms. In collaboration with Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB), we are also working for simulations of various courses. For example, a student goes into a lecture of an electrical course and finds only a blackboard and half decent books. In the future, students will learn all operations of a machine through readymade simulations. 

6: Around 100,000 graduates pass out from TEVTA institutions each year. In what ways do you think these graduates will be employed and what steps are you taking to ensure their absorption?

I think it is our duty to provide students skills, it’s the responsibility of the industry to provide jobs to skilled labor. About linkages with industry, I have bifurcated the 150 courses into 18 different sectors. We are offering courses in garments, civil engineering and others; all these courses are being tailor-made by industry folk themselves. We will link it with national skills council that has been set up by the federal government.We also set up a Career Development Division in TEVTA for the first time. This would be headed by top executives in various sectors including local, international and entrepreneurial. Industry stakeholders would be connected with career counseling and job placement centers at TEVTA institutes across Punjab. This would facilitate both students in connecting with the local and international industry for job placement as well as industries as they look for valuable human resource. 

We don’t have any credible data of last 20 years, or of about 2 million graduates that have passed out in the last 20 years. We don’t know if they are placed on jobs, what salary they are drawing, or if they have become self-employed.

7: Some of the courses being taught date from 20 years ago. What is your plan to update them to suit industry’s needs?

We don’t really know what the demand of the industry is different cities, as there is no such data available across the country. So we are working in collaboration with P&D department for skill mapping that will help us offer new courses as per the demands of various industrial sectors across Pakistan. Initially, courses were initiated without taking the industry on board. These courses used to change after three years on recommendations of experts, but a considerable gap has remained between what the industries want and what TEVTA offers. After I took charge, I ordered a gap analysis that included Asian Development Bank (ADB), World Bank, GIZ, industry and National Vocational and Technical Training Commission. I met all these stakeholders and asked them about the problems our department was facing. After all the meetings, we came up with a 100-day program and gave a vision that is being implemented. 

8: Tells us about your plans to upgrade TEVTA institutions or the problems you are facing in this regard?

If we upgrade the 403 institutions that we have, we would need Rs 50 billion. Therefore, we can’t do it all at once. What we did was identify various economic zones in the province. In collaboration with ADB, we will upgrade eight Centers of Excellence with the funding worth $100 million. These centers will support in areas of Food Preservation and processing, construction, IT, automation, technology and other sectors. Four centers are being set up with the assistance of National University of Technology (NUTECH).These centers will not be constructed from the beginning, but existing facilities will be upgraded. So instead of spending money on infrastructure development, we will spend money on human development. We are also working for international accreditation for all our courses so our students can look for work abroad. 

9: Pakistani workers in the Middle East, Europe and other countries number in hundreds of thousands. What are your plans to enhance this skilled workforce?

For our international wing, separate desks will be set up at overseas commissions and foreign offices for data sharing of the demand for skilled manpower internationally. These organizations have the data of worldwide jobs so our international wing will collaborate with them for placement of our students globally. 

10: You have been working very closely with the private sector ever since you joined TEVTA. What is the reason behind that? 

Yes, we initiated partnerships and collaborations for the first time and we are now working with several private academic institutions for various purposes. LUMS, UMT, FCC, Home Economics University and University of Lahore are our partners. All MoUs with these institutions were signed in just six months and will help with research and development. Also, we have started the first entrepreneurship program in collaboration with LUMS. As a pilot project, National incubation center of LUMS is mentoring the first batch of 30 TEVTA students and equipping them with business skills to begin their own startups. We are also collaborating with Microfinance Bank and government entities to provide funding for these initiatives. Our goal is to develop our own incubation center to institutionalize entrepreneurship program for our students. 

12: The current regime is facing a financial crunch. Has TEVTA also been affected? 

We are facing financial problems because TEVTA was never a priority for past governments. For the first time in history, everyone from the PM to the education minister and the chief minister is talking about skills-based education and technical training. We have set up an international desk for donor agencies, so if there is a lack of resources and financial problem at the government level, we can raise donations from international donors. 

13: Good teachers are the key to success. Do you think TEVTA’s teachers are well trained?

No matter how good we construct a building or provide state-of-the-art equipment, there will be no quality until there are no good trainers. A center of excellence for training of teachers is being set up that will be functional by October. This center is being setup with the help of GIZ. All teachers have to be trained on CBTA basis. We are in shortage of 6,000 teachers and we are going to fill this shortage very soon after the approval of the Punjab chief minister. 

14: Where do you see TEVTA after five years, based on the interventions you have taken?

The TEVTA 2023 vision is that I want to provide skills and give economic opportunities to around one million students across Punjab in five years. Every year, 20 to 25 percent increase will be seen in the current enrollment of 200,000 per year. We want these students to become entrepreneurs; job creators instead of being job seekers. So I want TEVTA to become a leading resource is South Asia for skill provision. I want every TEVTA student to be able to easily get a job anywhere in the world.

Forgetfulness is a trait increasingly becoming common in the younger generation. Haleema Khalid presents the case about why it might be a direct result of our enhanced reliance on gadgets and decreased use of our own brains.

“Oh! Sorry… I forgot…”

“Well, it’s embarrassing but I don’t remember…”

“Please remind me, I often forget things…”

“Yeah, I know what you’re asking for…. But can’t recall at present…. Let me Google it.”

These are a few widely used statements among young adults in present times. Memory or recall of things that do not generally require hard thinking is becoming a rare trait among the young and it must occur to older parents, friends, and people that only a couple of decades ago, the young people hardly had trouble with this ‘memory’ thing. But there could be a simple answer to this: reliance on smart gadgets.

In the days of yore, memory was not such a hard-earned attribute, for people relied less and less on external gadgets and more on their mental muscle to keep track of themselves and things that needed to be looked after. This ‘age of smartness’ and the resources that we conveniently call ‘smart’, are quickly reducing younger generations to brain-less beings, and are most probably responsible for the ultimate forgetfulness on the part of young adults.

 

Digital Diet

From the wider social realm, this can be taken as a sample of post-modern smartness that has given birth to the ‘digital-technogen’ – a generation feeding on a smart digital diet. Every passing day brings in a new technological innovation that claims to make our lives easier and our conduct ‘smarter’. For example, socializing, which used to be an art inculcating ethics, morality, values, dignity and natural easy-going ways of adapting oneself, is now becoming extinct. These days, socializing has turned into sitting in alone in a corner with your smart phone and feasting on your friends’ timelines. 

In the days of yore, memory was not such a hard-earned attribute, for people relied less and less on external gadgets and more on their mental muscle

This digital diet is becoming increasingly visible. In schools, traditional books are being replaced by tablets. No skimming through a heavy dictionary for meanings of difficult words, no mental or written calculation to solve an Algebraic equation, no more effort to read through the pages of a book. And the question all of this raises, and should raise, is: should we be concerned to be raising a generation that is hardly in the habit of using its mind?

This question is justified, as technology keeps hypnotizing young minds and in fact hampers cognitive development. I have lost count of the young adults who are found constantly complaining about memory issues. At times, they are even unable to dig in to their memories to name the last movie they watched. It has even become trendy to not ‘remember’ birthdays, anniversaries or events, as it is something meant for our smart devices that have a ‘great responsibility’ to notify us about what we should be remembering. It is quite a feat if someone recalls a loved ones’ birthday or some other life event before a phone notification, which of course has to be wished through technological means. 

Long live the social media!

To be blunt, social media has made the task of socializing simple and easy-going, but certainly at the cost of moral and social upbringing. I wonder if it concerns someone.

 

Concerns

Serious concerns have been raised by researchers, neurologists and other concerned bodies about the effects of smart gadgets. South Korean experts have established that people who increasingly rely on technology are found to suffer deterioration in cognitive abilities, more commonly visible in patients who have undergone a head injury or psychiatric illness. Such concerns have been reported by The Telegraph in an article “Surge in Digital Dementia”, published on June 23, 2013. These concerns regarding overuse of technology worldwide and its adverse effects on cognitive development of human race have been shared by German Neuroscientist Dr Manfred Spitzer.

This ‘age of smartness’ and the resources that we conveniently call ‘smart’, are quickly reducing younger generations to brain-less beings

In line with this, Dr Kristy Goodwin, a child learning researcher, believes that pervasive use of technology is causing children to have shorter attention spans and impaired language skills.This sounds more like losing track of normality on part of present-day humans, as for the most part, normality itself has become a symbol of abnormality. If we consider general skills like reading, writing, painting, walking, and thinking, we will find that common human abilities like those above have become privileges in today’s age. 

 

Changing Order

Reading, writing and basic computing, for example, were once life skills that demanded use of mental abilities to sort things out and move ahead in life. However, now humans sit comfortably inside their luxurious technological cages, passing commands one after the other to get work done. A lot of times, humans are not even expected to think at all, but only repeat certain physical actions to get work going. It seems the space inside of humans’ head once reserved for brains has been replaced by Google.

It has even become trendy to not ‘remember’ birthdays, anniversaries or events, as it is something meant for our smart devices that have a ‘great responsibility’ to notify us about what we should be remembering

In every aspect of life in the real world, we find a struggle for making things easy. This has inculcated a major shift in the thought process of humans; an inclination towards producing and inventing technology to make things easy to process. We now demand technology to take all risks for us in conducting pursuits of life. But amidst this technological mess, we have forgotten how scary living on the further bank really is. Only after a decade, we may find that we have at our hands a young generation sans perception, sans necessary life skills and sans everything except mechanics.

Nature has a habit of taking its faculties back if they are not used. We must not deceive ourselves with technology and keep in tune with the capacity nature has provided us

There is a general concern among nations over this culture of consuming technological-diet, which in turn promotes slackness in the youth. World Health Organization statistics claim that by the year 2050, around 2 billion people will be in their 60s or above, which indicates that approximately 20% of present-day youth will be at the retirement age. And given the increasingly decreasing habit of utilizing our mental capabilities to the full, these 2 billion will have raised another generation that is even more limited in their ability to utilize the remarkable gadget inside of their heads – the brain. The humanness of humans is a natural trait; a privilege. And nature has a habit of taking its faculties back if they are not used. We must not deceive ourselves with technology and keep in tune with the capacity nature has provided us. Else, in the future, humans may even have trouble recalling their own names, without a smart gadget reminding them of so.

he worsening coronavirus crisis has led to the world resorting to drastic measures, including higher education institutes worldwide trying to implement all measures enlisted in the yet to be written book of what to do when crisis strikesAccording to a survey conducted and published by Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) on how universities are addressing the coronavirus outbreak, almost 50% of the universities around the world have switched to scheduled courses online.Furthermore, 19% have delayed the start dates for some courses until the following semester, 17% have changed application deadlines, deferred some of the 2020 admission offers to 2021, and 8% of the surveyed universities have even started conducting their own English language tests.However, 50% of the varsities are anticipating a detrimental impact on student admissions in the aftermath of the virus outbreak. Universities in the UK, for instance, are deeply concerned that coronavirus could leave them with too few applicants to stay financially viable.

According to BBC, emergency controls are being considered to stop a free-for-all in student recruitment. There is also a fear that more students might take a gap year since universities are uncertain whether they will be reopening campuses for the autumn semester or not.Moreover, universities are expecting a fall in the number of overseas applicants, making funding from home students highly important. The higher education watchdog, Universities UK, intervened to stop universities from making unconditional offers to students, as it was found that some were promising places regardless of grades.

At least 19% of the universities surveyed have delayed start dates for some courses until the following semester, 17% have changed application deadlines, deferred some 2020 admission offers to 2021, and 8% have even started conducting their own English language tests

At least 50% of the participants surveyed by QS believed that the number of applicants might drop, whereas 26% thought the number would remain the same. The institutions were asked how often they were contacting their international students with information related to coronavirus, with 39% responding that they were reaching out to students a few times a week, however, 4% said that they were not contacting students specifically regarding coronavirus. Student mobility and global university partnerships have been significantly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic as well.Hosting recruitment events or sending representatives to international courses is also not possible considering the air-travel restrictions placed all over the globe. 

At least 50% of the participants surveyed believe that the number of applicants can drop, whereas 26% think the number will remain the same

These are most certainly trying times for universities and students across the globe. The uncertainty around the pandemic is making it difficult for the world to impart and pursue education. However, as the world battles the new virus, universities are taking measures to ensure that education remains uninterrupted.

Laziness is a crime all of us are guilty of often. But what happens when you get so into the habit that it starts taking a toll on important matters, like finishing off that crucial term assignments, or beginning that tough prep for the final exams. Well, you have become a professional  procrastinator. Mahrukh Nadeem writes why procrastination is really bad and how you can kick the habit.

eople often find themselves guilty of delaying things they want to get done by indulging in irrelevant activities. Cases in point: a student who wanted to finish an assignment but binge-watched a favorite web series; an employee who wanted to work on an important presentation that could make or break his promotion, but instead got caught in an inconclusive discussion on politics; a college girl who wanted to finish off an important research paper, but spent hours liking and commenting on photographs on her social media feed.Let’s admit it, we have all fallen victim to the seemingly unavoidable mental state of “I will do it tomorrow” and paid heavily for it, because that tomorrow, frankly, never dawns. This act of delaying and wasting time before a deadline or assigned task is known as procrastination.Or as Oxford Leaner’s Dictionary explains it: the act of delaying something that you should do, usually because you do not want to do it.In other words, procrastination entails ignoring an important, but likely boring or unpleasant task, in favor of one that is more enjoyable or easier.

PROCRASTINATION AND 6 EFFECTIVE WAYS TO FIGHT IT

Impact of Procrastination 

We all procrastinate. It is a fact. We often keep tasks pending on our to-do lists for days, weeks or even months. But procrastination is not a healthy habit, for it can take a toll on our lives and affect our mental health. Procrastination is an ideal way of losing precious time, forgoing many a life-changing opportunities, failing to reach our maximum potential and above all, failing to achieve the tall order of goals that we set for ourselves.

Procrastination is an ideal way of losing precious time, forgoing many life-changing opportunities, failing to reach our maximum potential and above all, failing to achieve the tall order of goals that we set for ourselves.

Frequent delays in meeting assignment deadlines and projects submissions may be detrimental to our academic as well as professional reputation and may reflect badly on us as individuals. Moreover, procrastination can force someone with the habit to eventually fall into the mental trap of self-doubt. When we consistently fail to achieve targets that we set only due to the unchecked habit of procrastinating, introspection may lead us to believe that one is simply not up to the mark when it comes to keeping promises and rising to the occasion, leading to low self-esteem. 

We have all fallen victim to the seemingly unavoidable mental state of “I will do it tomorrow” and paid heavily for it, because that tomorrow, frankly, never dawns.

When things go out of control and procrastination becomes a habit that you cannot shake off regardless of how important the task at hand is, you run a serious risk of causing damage to your physical and mental health. If you feel that your laziness and habit of delaying important things is getting way out of kilter, you must seek help and give serious thought to your problem to be in control over things that you can control. Let us discuss a few ways how you can fight this habit that is casting a negative shadow on your performance, whether you are a student, a teacher, a professional or a team leader. 

Overcoming Procrastination 

  • Prioritize

For starters, you need to prioritize your tasks. Sit down and write your tasks in order of priority and mark your deadlines. This will help you think clearly about which task is more important, and how much of an impact it will have on your future, be it your academic credentials or career growth. We usually procrastinate because there are often too many things on the table to take care of. Resultantly, we lose track of our priorities and focus on not so necessary tasks because they seem easy.

 

  • Weigh The Cost

When we procrastinate, we often give in to short-term gains (pleasure, relief from distress) and ignore our long-term gains (consequences of the tasks and opportunities around it). If you are delaying your tasks over and over again, you must weigh the cost of those delays. The pros and cons formula might help you there. Grab a paper, draw a line to make two halves and begin a quick analysis of a task at hand. On one side, list all the consequences that you may face if you keep on procrastinating and on the other, list down all the benefits you will gain if you complete that task. This exercise will help you analyze the cost of procrastination. 

 

  • Following 5-minute Rule

Starting a task is the hardest part; we keep shelving our tasks because they are either too boring or difficult or ambiguous or frustrating. But beginning a task may be all the motivation you need, at least according to the Zierganick Effect, which states that once we start something, our brain remains alert until we finish it. So all you really need to do is persuade yourself for doing the task for 5-minutes and the Zierganick Effect will do the rest for you. Hopefully.

 

  • Divide And Conquer Approach

A job that is the size of a giant sea serpent maybe the reason you are procrastinating over and over again. So it could be a great idea to slay the monster into bits and pieces. The Divide and conquer algorithm is a computer science term that works by breaking down a larger problem into smaller sub-problems and beginning solving them to reach the greater solution. Think of the hardest of tasks and take a minute to ‘divide’ it into smaller, achievable sub-tasks. Now start working on those sub-tasks and eventually combine the pieces to ‘conquer’ the larger problem. Dividing your tasks into chunks makes it easier for our brain to take the information in and start looking for solutions. 

 

  • Distraction-free zone.

How many times has this happened that your focus on an assignment you needed to get done got evaporated by a simple beep on your cellphone? Or hasn’t a text message often led to you abandoning a job underway and entering an altogether different state of mind? In a world of 24/7 internet connectivity, distraction comes in all shapes and sizes. It has become extremely easy to get lost in the digital world available on your smart phone for hours unnoticed and knowing how to fight distractions could go a long way towards dealing with procrastination. The advice is to disable all digital distractions and put your phone down while you tend to an important job. As an example, turn your phone off or place it in another room before you hit the books for exam prep. 

 

  • Reward yourself

You survived for an hour without your phone and were able to complete the task you had been delaying all morning? The completion calls for a treat. Reward yourself with your favorite ice cream, a movie or even extra screen-time. Celebrate and reward yourself for this little success of yours, as it will surely help you find the motivation to keep working towards bigger goals.Hopefully these tips will help you to keep yourself on track and kick the habit of procrastination for good. Your feedback on whether the tips worked for you would be a great resource for measuring the efficacy of these steps to tackle procrastination.

Mahrukh Nadeem is a clinical psychologist. She can be reached at mahrukh.nadeem@gmail.com

A teacher explains the proper way of washing hands to her pupils at a school in Pakistan. The focus on personal hygiene could not get any more serious than it is right now given the strange times we are facing following the global spread of the coronavirus. As we write this, there are more than 341,337confirmed cases of people that have contracted the virus across the planet, while already the number of deaths has surpassed 14,700.The world seems to have come to a halt and governments across the globe are implementing harsh measures to keep the virus from spreading further. This includes a mass closure of schools, colleges and universities, a move that has affected more than 500 million students worldwide.

In a new report, the UNICEF says hundreds of millions of children around the world will likely face increasing threats to their safety and wellbeing – including mistreatment, gender-based violence, exploitation, social exclusion and separation from caregivers due to actions taken by governments to curb the spread of COVID-19 pandemic. 

In a matter of months, COVID-19 has upended the lives of children and families across the globe. School closures and movement restrictions are disrupting children’s routines and support systems. They are also adding new stressors on caregivers who may have to forgo work.

Stigma related to COVID-19 has left some children more vulnerable to violence and psychosocial distress. At the same time, control measures that do not account for the gender-specific needs and vulnerabilities of women and girls may also increase their risk of sexual exploitation, abuse and child marriage. Recent anecdotal evidence from China, for instance, points to a significant rise in cases of domestic violence against women and girls.“In many ways, the disease is now reaching children and families far beyond those it directly infects,” said Cornelius Williams, UNICEF Chief of Child Protection. “Schools are closing. Parents are struggling to care for their children and make ends meet. The protection risks for children are mounting. This guidance provides governments and protection authorities with an outline of practical measures that can be taken to keep children safe during these uncertain times.”Increased rates of abuse and exploitation of children have occurred during previous public health emergencies. School closures during the outbreak of Ebola virus disease in West Africa from 2014 to 2016, for example, contributed to spikes in child labor, neglect, sexual abuse and teenage pregnancies. In Sierra Leone, cases of teenage pregnancy more than doubled to 14,000 from before the outbreak.

PHEC To Assist Varsities Continue Education Online

 

The Punjab Higher Education Commission (PHEC) has constituted a nine-member committee to enable higher education institutions to continue teaching lessons online.This comes in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic which forced the Government of Punjab to announce closure of all education institutions until May 31. The closures have been categorized as early summer holidays this year in lieu of the usual April/May – August/September window.Headed by PHEC Chairperson Dr Fazal Ahmad Khalid, the goal of the committee is to set out guidelines to ensure an efficient transition to online learning.The committee, comprising of vice chancellors of prominent public varsities, will work in tandem with higher education institutions to facilitate smart classrooms and to meet the IT needs of these institutions in order to manage as seamless a transition as possible.

 

Ministers Discuss Education Schedule, Exams In Face Of Corona Virus

An online video conference-based meeting between education ministers of all four provinces was held on March 26. The meeting took stock of school and examination schedule and how they have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic.Federal Minister for Education Shafqat Mehmood presided over the online conference, while provincial education ministers of all the provinces, secretaries of school and higher education departments also attended the conference.The conference was aimed at discussing the education related issues of all provinces amid coronavirus. Extending vacations in educational institutions and examination schedule of different classes were also discussed. Punjab education ministries would finalize decision regarding both issues after committee meetings.All provinces have extended vacations in schools until May 31st and termed them as summer vacations. Through an order on March 24, the Punjab government’s cabinet meeting extended vacations in schools until May 31, announcing that the vacations would be part of summer vacations.The Punjab cabinet also decided that half fee would be charged from students during the closure period, but the teachers would receive full salaries. 

 

HEC To Fund Research To Address COVID-19 Crisis: HEC Chairman

The Higher Education Commission (HEC) has sought proposals from universities, institutes, and individual researchers on ideas to address the novel coronavirus crisis. This was decided in a special video meeting of HEC’s senior management on March 24.The bulk of HEC staff has been directed to work from home, following the directives of the Health Ministry, so all the work of the commission is conducted electronically. Applications are received online or through courier, meetings are conducted by video link, and all papers and files are handles electronically. These arrangements have been out in place in order to ensure that all major services of the commission continue to be provided without interruption during the current emergency.The research initiative has been launched with support of the World Bank, and is entitled the RAPID Research and Innovation Fund (RRIF) program. It aims to mobilize the research capacities of universities in support of national efforts to address the COVID-19 crisis.Under the initiative, a rapid assessment and review mechanism has been established to analyze research and innovation proposals urgently. Each applicant seeking funding through the RAPID Research and Innovation Fund can propose an idea based on one of the priority themes. Funding will be provided to selected research-intensive institutions for analysis of data, testing of specimens, access to facilities or equipment, or development of essential products or services.

 

UHS Establishes National Tele-Medicine Center For Corona Virus Control

The University of Health Sciences (UHS) established a National Tele-medicine Center for Coronavirus (COVID-19) control to help healthcare providers manage and mitigate the spread of deadly virus.“It is so important for sick people to stay at home, and if they’re not that sick they can still use tele-medicine, talk to a doctor, and get some reassurance. And if they don’t have the virus, then it’s really good too — because it keeps them home and away from other sick people,” Punjab Governor Chaudhry Muhammad Sarwar said after inaugurating the tele-medicine center at UHS.He said coronavirus could be defeated only through precautionary/safety measures for which every single person of the society would have to play his/her role.Sarwar called for getting prepared to eliminate coronavirus with determination. The governor added that the coronavirus was jeopardizing economies of even developed countries and had become the biggest challenge for the world. He said Prime Minister Imran Khan was monitoring all anti-corona measures and was issuing necessary directives and ensuring release of funds to health and other relevant departments on a daily basis.

 

Unapproved Statutes Impede Appointments In 15 Public Universities

Around 15 of the 28 public sector universities in Punjab are unable to appoint key officials due to unapproved statutes and service rules, the Academia Magazine has learnt.Reliable sources at the Higher Education Department (HED) told Academia Magazine that as there were no approved statutes of public sector varsities, appointments of registrars, controllers of examination and treasurers could not be done as per the directions of the Punjab Governor Chaudhry Muhammad Sarwar.According to the sources, the service rules of Government College University Lahore, Fatimah Jinnah Women University Rawalpindi, Government College University for Women Faisalabad, Government College University for Women Sialkot, University of Sargodha, University of Education and newly established universities were still in the process of approval from the chancellor.They revealed that the unapproved service rules of these public sector universities were the result of cumbersome procedure for approval of draft statutes, inattention of the Higher Education Department and the vice chancellors of the universities.