The “Pakathon”

My first ever visit to LUMS. Very exciting rickshaw ride from the other side of the city. Took about half an hour to reach. Not complaining. That comes AFTER I reached. The campus is beautiful. Very spiffy. But right outside the gate runs an open sewer as stinky as any sewer ever was. Why can’t they at least cover it? God knows LUMS has plenty of funds. The sewer does not only kill a person’s appetite with the lingering smell that doesn’t leave you for hours afterwards but can be a serious threat to kids attending the university. Dengue, anyone?

Now that that’s off my chest …

I was there to meet my mentor. Just happens he was here for something called the “Pakathon“. And this Pakathon-thingie is soooo cool. Now here is what it does (briefly). The is sort of a hackathon of social entrepreneurs brainstorming and presenting ideas to use tech for solving various issues in Pakistan such as health, education, violence prevention etc. In 3-days time, student-teams have to come up with an idea, prepare a business plan focusing on finance and marketing. 6 teams from around 20 Pakistani universities (eventually. For now, it’s just 2 universities with 6 teams each) are connected then virtually to teams and mentors from places like Harvard and MIT. The event is live streamed. Judges then deliberate and announce winners the next day. Winning goodies include up to $10k in seed funding as well as incubation at Harvard and MIT and Sloan etc.

iEnvious.

The competition is open to plans from both Pakistani as well as students from other countries studying at these institutes. I had the opportunity to speak to 2 of the 6 teams at LUMS. Came back very inspired. Especially with the idea for using teach to collect donations to send street kids to school. The other was to create a Ushahidi kind of platform to report violence, accidents, crime etc to relevant authorities using SMS. The kids were all pretty clear on what they wanted to do and had done their homework considering the ideas and plans were all prepared within 24 hours. Wow!

Can’t wait to see how they do.

You can watch the live stream here:

Watch live video from pakathon on www.justin.tv

OK byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Warning: This Post Has Nothing To Do With Entrepreneurship!

Thursday, 22 November 2012.

A 17-yrs old student of FA Part II is dropped off by her father at her college. A while later she complains of chest pain. Within 15 minutes she is dead!

Maria Ayub was diagnosed with a serious heart problem at the age of 15. Most educational institutes require parents/guardians to state if their child/ward has any critical medical condition or allergies. I hope Jinnah College for Women, the top college for women in Peshawar, had that criterion on their form. Maria had been studying in the college for 2 years. Everyone knew of her illness.

Here is how the students present there describe the incident:

(She) started suffering which seemed to be a heart attack, early this morning at college, around 7:30am. The students say that they argued with the teachers asking them to take her to the hospital, but the teachers said they were not allowed to leave college without the college principal’s permission. The principal was not in college that early. They waited for 30 minutes till the girl breathed her last.

Teachers argue neither the nurse nor duty teacher were present that early since college starts at 8. If the college starts at 8 AM and staff does not reach until a quarter to 8, why are students allowed to go inside? Anything can happen! Like the 2 bombs that were recently disposed (November 13) at the Army Public School and College for Women in Peshawar.

Also, once teachers were informed, did they really have to wait for the Principal to come who was on casual leave that day?  Also, did the teachers have no idea Maria had a heart condition? If you undertake to take a critically ill student into your college shouldn’t you make it a point to inform all staff members about it in case of just such emergency? Why was no CPR given by the nurse? Aspirins are a common treatment for most heart diseases. Did none of the staff members think of it?

What horrifies me and makes me angry is not that Maria died. It was her time and even if someone had been there she couldn’t be helped. It’s the fact that someone with a mild problem who can easily be treated with timely treatment or through basic first aid would God-forbid be in danger of facing a similar fate.

And you know what’s ironical? Just some time before this incident the college imposed a ban on girls hugging other girls in case it … ummm … makes them sin (?!) The administration and management were both so busy saving those girls morals they neglected protecting their lives.

From even the greatest of horrors irony is seldom absent.” (H. P. Lovecraft)

Plea to Educational Institutes – Please Let the Teachers Teach

Summer breaks are horrible. Means the kids stay home and do nothing but watch TV or play video games. Can’t blame them – too *bleep-ing hot outside. No decent swimming pools – none that comes with proper safety standards at least.

Came across this wonderful TED Talk by Ken Robinson (yeah, dunno what rock I was lying under): 

I was a really average student. I could have been really good but I never put enough time into it and then there was Maths *shudder. Most of my teachers couldn’t stand me mostly because I asked a lot of questions, disrupted the class, made silly comments, and was just really the class clown and spent most of my time standing outside the class then sitting inside.

What I lacked was an interest in anything except languages – English and Urdu, and I was quite good at those. Another thing I loved was the debating club. Was a part throughout school and college. Naturally I took a language course in college and then at the university level. But, it was disappointing to say the least! All the teachers were interested in was to just “cover the course”. It was a constant race and we were unwilling mules.

Same when I became a teacher! The school had to have a uniform curriculum through all its branches throughout the country which makes sense. But what I found really silly was that we had to do the exact same Q&As with the students, and exact same exercises, and exact same word definitions. It was literature and grammar we were teaching for crying out loud. A teacher is supposed to fine tune her lessons according to the level of the students in the class. So for instance the first year my class was really brilliant. Surprisingly and annoyingly good. So I could go through passages quickly with them, teach them more advance concepts, give them extra reading to do at home. The year after that was a complete different set of kids. They lacked basic concepts and had to be taught from scratch. However, I was expected to teach both groups the exact same thing at exactly the same pace.

I remember how I tried doing Stream of Consciousness exercises with the latter group and focused on just doing class activities that did not require any writing for a week. Idea was to get them to take an interest in literature and be able to understand and feel the words. I had a lot of angry parents come in next week complaining how they weren’t paying for their kids to have a good time in school but to learn and show results. Sighhh …

You know what was really sad? Those kids were really bright though their grades might let you to believe otherwise. They came up with the most fascinating stories and ideas. Imagination was real to them. It was easier than fact. But then you had to tell them, “I don’t have time for your stories. We have to complete 10 exercises in an hour and I gotta check them all.” Yeah, that was the goal of every teachers day – finish the course work for that day and forget about whether the students actually understood anything or not.

My request to all teachers: Students who are not good in your subject does not mean they are bad students. Even if they are not good in any subject in school, it still does not mean they are bad students. It just means, they have yet to find out what interests them. For me, it was my flashing lights (I mean “tech”) and startups. Something I was never introduced to during school, college or university. For others it may be dancing, painting, skating, cooking … anything.

Please don’t kill their self-respect and creativity.

OK byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

P.S. Phew – will try and keep the one a lil light-hearted. ;)

Education For All (EFA) Crowdsourcing Challenge

Crowdsourcing is cool … don’t ask me what it means … Google it or simply go to Wikipedia and search. I am writing about it ‘coz …… you got it ….. it’s cool (Am I saying ‘cool’ too often?). I want to show you one of the reasons why. Go here. UNESCO has joined hands with the Pearson Foundation and Nokia to start a crowdsourcing challenge. Why? To meet the 6 goals set at World Education Forum 2000. You can learn more about these goals and the idea behind it in the video below:

If you think you have an idea that could help reach these goals, visit this page for more details. Your idea can win you a Nokia Lumia 800, $3000, and a library of children’s books worth $3000 for a not-for-profit in your country.

Yayyyy … I am excited to find out what happens.

Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee