Channel: karachi – The Express Tribune Blog

Tackling Karachi’s energy crisis


Karachi is the economic power-house of Pakistan, yet the city is facing a massive energy crisis which needs to be tacked on an urgent basis. To remain viable in the coming years as the highest contributor to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), a strategic energy road-map for the city needs to be drafted under a comprehensive framework. How we prioritise our actions and create the right benchmarks is crucial. To enhance technological expertise within the sector, we need four components to be simultaneously inter-connected: human resources, research, development and investment. Providing incentives for the private sector must be the top priority, followed by research based target setting, then bench-marking, and then finally enacting the appropriate legislation.  Despite its geographic scale, a rising population, and the fact that the city currently lacks a viable programmatic framework, Karachi has a unique competitive advantage. The strategic advantage that Karachi has over other cities is that it can leverage a viable energy programme through a transition to renewable energy since it possesses almost all possible renewable energy resources, namely: wind power (inland and offshore), biomass energy production, wave and tidal energy, solar (photovoltaic) power, and waste to energy. Manghopir’s hot sulphur springs are rich in geo-thermal energy, thereby making geo-thermal power a possible option to explore. Moreover, the vast landscape of Karachi makes it uniquely suitable for bio-fuel based energies (biomass). On household and neighbourhood levels, wind and solar power transmission is already showing great results and can be built more aggressively as an alternative energy solution. Off-shore wind mills can be put up off the coast, keeping it environmentally friendly. Finally, the amount of waste being produced by a population of 15 million, either being burnt at the source, drained into the sea or dumped recklessly in land-fill sites, is creating an environmental hazard. Hence, the waste-to-energy option is also viable for Karachi, especially inside the two non-perennial water bodies, namely Malir and Lyari River and the massive dumping of polluted waste in the sea. But, in recent years, Karachi has been facing a directional crisis. Instead of focusing on the above mentioned potential avenues, we have seen policies triggered towards heavy cost intensive options like the use of imported coal for energy generation. Despite the world moving away from coal production as a source of power, we are unable to comprehend the economic and human loss to our city incurred due to coal extraction. Coal is counter-productive as a power source since it loses the majority of its energy due to high emissions in the coal extraction phase, making it a very expensive source of energy to rely on. One major concern for our city is the complete absence of research and development in terms of building our technological capacities, where we lack coordination in research among institutions. Instead of building internal capacities, we have resorted to importing equipment from China and other countries, thereby reducing our academic and scientific capability when it comes to solving the energy crisis. Another serious problem we face in Karachi is the number of automobiles and motorcycles on the roads, adding to the energy consumption load and carbon emissions. Despite knowing that we have a severe energy crisis in Karachi, the public mass transit system is still in disarray. The ambitious claims of the government to re-shape Karachi’s energy sector are commendable. However, without ensuring ways to build local capacity, incentives like introducing energy audits, product labelling and standard setting alone will not yield results. How will the government ensure finances, build indigenous tech-innovation, and create intra-governmental coordination between private and community stakeholders? Focus needs to move away from launching counterproductive projects towards a cohesive participatory process. The future energy road-map for Karachi requires a balanced mix of legislation, fiscal instruments, regulations and ordinances, creating a regulatory framework, and introducing the required financial incentives. The five point agenda for the energy road-map of the city should comprise of the following steps which could help tackle the city’s energy crisis. Firstly, the energy policies in Karachi need to be participatory. The city government, federal and provincial governments, the private sector, media, civil society, NGOs, academia and climate change experts all have to be on the same page. The vision must unite to bring about a consensus, with each stakeholders’ role being clearly defined. Secondly, the legislative action needed to execute the framework for the energy sector of Karachi needs to be robust, focusing on the global best practices and their interface with the provincial and federal government tiers of influence by building scale, training, infrastructure, communication linkages. Thirdly, human capital development can be achieved by strengthening our academic programmes across Karachi, reviewing existing research programmes, introducing research grants, creating powerful teacher training and mentoring sessions, and encouraging students to pursue environmental studies in college. Fourthly, the renewable energy profile of Karachi must be developed to clearly pinpoint and identify a comprehensive resource pool for renewable energy, thus creating a cost-benefit analysis of each available option and its on-ground application. Once the database is in place, then comes the bench-marking and establishing of targets, like setting up smart grids and storage capacity levels. This should be followed by the creation of short and long term funding option availability, creating a link between the spending on increased renewable energy and a reduction in the urban carbon footprint of the city. Lastly, Karachi, like all other metropolises, must produce an annual green-house gas inventory (GHI), which would indicate changing trends, major emitters, policy measures and administrative guidelines to help cut down on green-house gas emissions. Furthermore, a build-up of the public mass transit system in Karachi could drastically reduce the use of private vehicles, hence lowering traffic congestion and the environmental damage which is only furthering the acute energy crisis Karachi is facing.

Why Pakistan must ban congregational prayers during the COVID-19 crisis


Many years ago, I read Christina Lamb’s famous but controversial book titled Waiting for Allah: Pakistan’s Struggle for Democracy. Although her book, touched upon various facets of the Pakistani society, it focused on the role of religion. She made two key arguments. First that Pakistan was trapped by the need to adhere to a “true” version of Islam, which impeded its progress.

She wrote, “The more the country strives for what its religious scholars see as true Islam, the less equipped it becomes for running a twentieth-century state, and the more it is forced to watch once-lagging competitors such as South Korea, Thailand and Malaysia steam ahead.”
Her second core argument was that instead of taking charge of the situation and taking the necessary steps at the time they are needed, Pakistani rulers and institutions, have the tendency to leave it to God and miracles. In fact the book ends with the sentence, “Pakistan is still waiting for Allah”. The book was written back in 1991 but I think the two arguments mentioned above are still extremely relevant. Right now Pakistan, just like the rest of the world, is grappling with the rampant spread of the coronavirus. As a country, it needs to take some very tough but time sensitive decisions about a nationwide lockdown that may have lasting economical impacts. But if Italy is seen as an example, the consequences of delaying a lockdown are far more horrific. But Pakistan's government seems to be waiting for some miracle as they hesitate to do the necessary. Prime Minister Imran Khan ruled out a nationwide lockdown during his speech, citing economic reasons and expressed hope that the Pakistan's weather will combat the spread of the coronavirus. Instead of being proactive, he has so far told people to practice care for the next month and a half while hoping that a theory about the weather, with no conclusive evidence to falsify, will save the country from this pandemic. Right now it seems like we are relying on prayers and hope is the official strategy. Finally, due to pressure from all sides, including the powerful establishment, the government has finally announced a lock down in Punjab though it remains to be seen how effectively it will implement it. The government’s lacklustre response is compounded by our society’s attitude towards religious rituals. For example, right now, it is of paramount importance that public gatherings, including those of religious nature, are avoided. This would imply offering all prayers, including the Friday congregational prayers, at home instead of mosques. But for a lot of people this is unacceptable and as I write these sentences, a raging debate has ensued over whether or not it is permissible in Islam to pray Friday prayers at home. Some hardline clerics have taken the extreme stance that male Muslims, unless ill, should go to the mosque to fulfil his religious duties despite the threat from the current pandemic. It is perhaps due to this reason that despite the very real threat of the coronavirus and appeals from the government, many continue to offer Jumma (Friday) prayers at mosques all across Pakistan. Evidence from Malaysia  and also from Tablighi Ijtema in Raiwind, Pakistan shows that large gatherings of people may serve as mass infection grounds, necessitating an official ban. There is undoubtedly a great deal of public pressure on the government, which is perhaps why the prayers are still being allowed. This move is a serious mistake in my opinion. The most surprising part is that many Muslim countries including Saudi Arabia and Iran, have banned all sort of public gatherings, including those that are religious. Saudi Arabia has temporarily banned everyone, including its own residents, from performing pilgrimage around the Holy Kaabah. Iran has closed several shrines in order to mitigate the spread of the virus and its police even used force to disperse crowds when they tried to force their way into two popular shrines. Other Muslim countries have also imposed similar restrictions on public gatherings. Yet, many are still gathering outside mosques in Karachi to pray, where a complete lockdown has been announced. For some odd reason, we as a society think we are the ultimate custodians of faith and that our mosques and religious public gatherings are more important than mosques in other countries and the Umrah itself. Whereas the actual custodians of holy Islamic places, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, are taking all possible precautionary measures and putting human lives above everything else. But then this has always been an issue with our society. We are more prone to religious violence, our blasphemy laws are harsher, and treatment of women worse than many other Muslim countries. For some reason, we insist on being more religious without understanding the true meaning and essence of our religion. Islam gives sanctity of human life the utmost importance and yet we constantly overlook it for religious exhibitionism. Right now, we need to act rational, which frankly is completely in line with our faith, to defeat this virus. We should pray at home and not indulge in false public display of religiosity. The federal government should also take a lead and temporarily ban religious public gatherings along with all other public gatherings, as we have a very limited window of time.

Sindh coronavirus lockdown: The unfamiliar sight of leaders, leading


We often see the chicken and the egg problem in political systems; chronically bad leaders and a cynical populace coexist in mutual contempt. In this scenario, if a leader tries to do good, the population is ill-equipped to recognise it because, like a snarling, abused street dog, it has known only ill treatment and neglect. Such has been the case in Karachi during the recent weeks. Unused to leaders leading or, indeed, fulfilling even the basic requirements of governance, Karachiites have been treated to the unfamiliar sight of the Sindh government taking proactive measures against the COVID-19 menace. From the prescient decision to shut down schools on February 27th upon diagnosis of the first two cases in Karachi, to a barrage of subsequent measures ranging from setting up health screening desks at the airport, to arranging quarantine facilities and expanding testing capacity, to the closure of Sindh government offices, parks, dine-in restaurants, shops and malls and ensuring uninterrupted utility services, the government has shown itself to be alert and responsive.  These measures have culminated in the announcement of a much–needed 15-day lockdown. Each step has been communicated clearly to the public from the horse’s mouth, as it were; regular tweets from officials have left little scope for the usual wild rumour-mongering or panic. As chronically neglected Karachiites, this efficiency has confused us. Initially, there was some immediate backlash, ranging from sarcasm to scepticism to hostility, from some parents of school-going children, business owners, analysts, keyboard warriors and a lot of person on the street, all second guessing the official approach. Even some overseas Karachiites, who are often ‘more loyal than the king’, aggressively questioned the sanity of these steps, quite ignoring the complete lack of measures taken by their own, adopted governments in North America and Europe at the time. To make matters even more confusing, the federal government, self-touted symbol of all things new, dynamic, and forward looking, appeared to be strumming its sitar instead of applying itself to limiting the spread of the virus. “Don’t panic” does not a pandemic policy maketh. Gradually, Karachiites have been forced to acknowledge the praiseworthy efforts of the provincial leadership. Positive feedback has also trickled in from the rest of the country, even from the unlikeliest of people. Hand in hand with these public trust issues has been the problem of convincing our elders to take the situation seriously, perfectly summed up in the following viral meme: https://twitter.com/evan7257/status/1239002985239392256?s=20 This parental resistance appears to be a worldwide issue – journalists have bemoaned the blithe responses of their own parents in hilariously relatable articles. In Karachi, our older generation has weathered violence, extortion, terrorism, kidnapping, street crime, water shortages, power outages, broken roads and filthy neighbourhoods for the last three decades. As a result, even the under 60s look like they’re 70+. Worse, they have attitudes that can only be described as frankly psychotic (or badass, depending on your point of view).  If a tsunami is about to hit, they’ll take their families to Sea View to welcome it. And if coronavirus is burning through the city, they’ll go pray Jummah (congregational prayers) crammed with hundreds of possibly coronavirus-infected strangers - all praying, ironically, for an end to coronavirus. While we have been treated to the unique spectacle of self-isolating Hollywood celebrities instagramming from within their mansions - unkempt, unshaven, bored and without professionally styled hair and makeup - our parents have continued to pop next door for neighbourly coffees, take evening walks with friends, and haggle with the corner fruitwallah (fruit vendor). Thank God we finally have a curfew. So there it is. Suddenly, we are in the grip of a pandemic, we are saying good things about our provincial government, our children are home 24/7 blithely broadcasting our private lives to online classmates and we’re yelling at our parents to stay home. The mental torque is excruciating. No one is sure how the next few weeks will pan out for the country. Two things are clear, however:  Karachi’s neglected population is responsive – even after years of what can only be described as official abuse – to the authorities’ efforts. The groundswell of goodwill should not be wasted. More importantly, the Sindh government leadership has revealed it can actually lead and mobilise the government machinery for the greater good. They should keep up the excellent work and apply their efforts, energy and enthusiasm to the myriad travails that plague us: sanitation, water management, unplanned development, and crime come to mind. The Sindh government could transform the lives of ordinary citizens and earn well-deserved appreciation. If that weren’t reward enough, when these leaders inevitably meet their Maker they would be transported to Heaven on the wings of the prayers of millions - win-win, as they say! Is anyone listening? Karachi ka kuch karona!

What being a suspected COVID-19 patient taught me


I returned to Pakistan on March 10, 2020, before things started to get locked up for the coronavirus. I was a resident of UAE but had to leave because my residential visa had expired. Till now travel bans had not been imposed and I was quite satisfied as I was not showing any symptoms and had not yet learned that one can be asymptomatic while being a carrier. It was business as usual at the Sharjah airport but there was a thin veil of fear in everyone’s eyes and I too found myself using a hand sanitizer repeatedly. None of the passengers were wearing protective masks yet. I made it to the plane and was handed a customary health and travel history form. It was assumed that a screening will be awaiting us at the Karachi airport because the coronavirus had started gradually spreading in Pakistan as well. But there was none, in fact, the airport was just as crowded, as were the streets and Karachi was hustling and bustling just like I had left it. I was extremely happy to see my entire family, consisting of my elderly parents, siblings and their children, waiting at home for me. Educational institutes were closed but no other means of social distancing had been employed or encouraged yet and I proceeded to drown myself in the company of friends and family. Here is a brief timeline of my activities from the day I started meeting extended family and friends to the day I received a message from the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) Sindh that put me through a roller coaster of emotions. March 12, 2020: I visited my cousin’s place to congratulate him on the birth of his baby. My mum accompanied me and we met other relatives there as well. Since the Pakistan Super League matches were in full swing, it took us two hours to cover half an hour’s distance because we were near the National Stadium. March 14, 2020: Four days after I arrived, my sister invited me for dinner. I decided to be thoughtful and stopped at a busy bakery to pick up cake for dessert. March 16, 2020: This day, I met the most people that I had since coming to the city. I started the day by going to Karachi University to submit my examination form as their administrative offices were still open. There alone interacted with people in the administrative block, at a bank in the vicinity and also at my former department, where I not only met teachers but also a dear friend. My cousin, whose baby I had visited earlier in the week, was hosting an aqiqah ceremony for the new born the same day so after wrapping up my errands at the university, I joined the rest of my family at his house. We were about 50 people of all ages, ranging from the week old baby to my elderly father who is 67. March 17, 2020: A week after my arrival I got a message from PDMA Sindh, saying:

Assalam o Alaikum Sidra Adnan, as you have traveled during last 14 days to Pakistan you are advised to remain at your home strictly for 14 days; and if you develop cough, fever, body ache or shortness of breath during these 14 days, immediately isolate yourself and make a call to Corona Virus Control Room at 021-9920xxxxor 021-9920xxxx or 0316-011xxxx. A team of Health Department shall attend you at your doorstep for the screening of COVID-19.This public message is issued in the best interest of your health, family and loved ones.”
The words ‘remain at your home strictly for 14 days’ were like somebody had dropped a bomb on me, because that was the only thing that I had not done since I had returned to the country. Sick with worry, I immediately dialled the numbers sent to me in the text but the line was busy. After a couple of tries, I got through and gave my travel history, while telling them that I was not feeling ill or showing any symptoms, wondering if I should get tested. I was told that since I had no symptoms I was not eligible to be tested but I should stay at home for the next few days. March 18, 2020: The very next day I woke up with an irritation in my throat and flu-like symptoms. As the day progressed, my temperature climbed and I was feeling fatigued. By the evening, I had gotten so ill that I could barely walk and the only positive sign was the absence of a cough. I feared the worst but decided to be sensible and called the coronavirus control room again to explain my condition. I received a profound and rapid response from the other side. The representative took my details including my home address and asked me to isolate myself immediately, which I did. Then the District Health Communication support officer contacted me and told me to get tested for COVID-19 either at Dow University Hospital (Ojha Camp) or the Agha Khan University Hospital (AKUH). He also suggested that I go to AKUH, charging approximately Rs10,000, for the test  instead of Ojha Campus because it was flooded as tests were being conducted nearly free of cost. Understanding that waiting at Ojha Campus may not be an option for me, owing to my health, I decided to bite the bullet and go to AKUH. My brother and I reached the AKUH Coronavirus Centre at around 11pm and were greeted by a full waiting room. Over a 100 suspected COVID-19 patients were awaiting their turn to be tested. After the initial process, we were told that we would have to wait for at least three hours or more. Deciding that it will be safer to wait at home, we went home and came back early next morning. But not before being reassured by the district health officer at midnight that if I am not tested at AKUH by 6am, he will arrange for a screening at my house. He also said that his team would have conducted a test earlier but they had a limited number of kits. March 19, 2020: The dawn at AKUH was silent and gloomy, or that is how it seemed to me at least. We reported to the emergency screening desk and I got my first bit of good news, the doctors said my symptoms had settled and were milder than they were last night. It was still necessary to test me, owing to my travel history. I was led inside after all formal requirements were fulfilled, where the physician on duty conducted a nasopharyngeal swab test, which basically consists of a swab going uncomfortably deep into your nose. He also told me to isolate myself completely until the test results come in 24 hours later. The Sindh government official was just as worried as we were, evident by an early morning text message from him, inquiring about the screening. After I informed him that a test has been conducted and I am going into complete isolation, he wished me the best. The period of self-isolation was one of the scariest experiences of my life. The imminent test results were stressing me out. I couldn’t help but think, what if I was positive? What havoc did I wreak on society? I had flashbacks of all the places I had been to and the people I had met. Such sentiments were making self-isolation even more difficult. As worried as my family and I were, we did not feel alone and the Sindh government stood beside us, every step of the way. I had been continuously receiving calls from the doctors assigned by the local bodies, asking about my symptoms, and briefing me about correct ways to isolate and how to be cautious during this time. March 20, 2020: I got a call from my brother-in-law at around 7:30 am, saying that the website shows that the reports can be collected. My brother immediately rushed to AKUH to bring back the coveted envelope containing my test results. We opened it with trembling hands but thank God I tested negative for the coronavirus and did not have COVID-19. I immediately forwarded the report to the district health department and they too breathed a sigh relief. My time as someone suspected to have COVID-19 was very scary and I hope we all stay safe and home in these unprecedented times.

Why the LUMS fee hike is problematic


The spread of Covid-19 at breakneck speed has ravaged Pakistan’s economy in unprecedented ways. Countless households have faced crippling reductions in their income, if not a complete loss of employment. Many of these families include students currently enrolled in universities across the country – now confined in their homes, struggling to keep up with the demands of a remote education. In unparalleled times of economic recession such as these, the responsibility of ensuring continuing access to education falls on the shoulders of leading universities. However, in the midst of what is already a challenging time, there have been reports of Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) implementing an exorbitant hike in their annual fee for both, current and incoming students. Email correspondence from the university administration describes a structural change in the fee system. Combined with a 13 per cent inflationary increase in the charges of each credit hour, students may be now faced with an inordinate fee bill which only adds to already existing financial strain. While it could be argued that the institution decided on a fee hike due to inflationary pressures, students have expressed outrage at such a significant change being finalised without their voices being heard, raising questions about the legitimacy of a decision-making process that inherently minimises student representation. As per the previous fee system, students taking between 12 to 20 credit hours were charged the same amount despite the difference. After the change, students will be charged according to the number of credit hours they take. Through emails, the administration argued that that the difference in annual fees under the new system would be “ignorable” for a student that is enrolled in 12 credit hours every semester. However, what LUMS seems to have ignored is that most of its students typically take on a much heavier course-load. Depending on their degree, students on average end up taking at least 16 credit hours per semester. Such students may be taking additional courses to simply graduate on time, or may have structured their future semester plans in a way that would requires them to take more than a certain number of courses in a single semester – obviously, without prior knowledge that the fee-structure would be drastically changed. For many students who have now been enrolled in the university for over two years, it is practically impossible to redistribute their course-load to avoid a significant increase in the fee. LUMS has effectively changed the terms of the student-university agreement without prior notice. The reports have sparked widespread condemnation on social media from students and instructors alike. Instructors have expressed disbelief over the reported change: https://twitter.com/taniasaeed/status/1257350593158529024 Hundreds of students have also gathered around the hashtag “LUMSFeeHike” on Twitter, questioning the timing of the institution’s decision: https://twitter.com/baewafa2/status/1257325676358590465 Taking notice of student outrage, the University’s Student Council initiated communication with the administration, arguing that the change in fee for most students is far from “negligible”. Quoting the LUMS Student Handbook, the council stated that the university itself recommends that students typically take 17-20 credit hours. Taking different undergraduate degrees as examples, they provided calculations showing that the new system could result in an increase in fees ranging from Rs100,000 to Rs 200,000 for graduating seniors. Therefore, students must either prepare to pay an outrageously inflated fee in the midst of financial hardship, or risk delaying their graduation. Whether or not the students' protest against the fee hike will lead to a revision in policy is yet to be seen. However, the incident raises important questions about the role students have historically been allowed to play in the matters that impact them the most. If LUMS is truly as inclusive as it claims, it must acknowledge the devastating effect this decision has on deserving students during a time that is already very demanding. The varsity has often been criticised for its fostering a certain kind of students, creating an environment that only a certain economic class may have access to. If universities are to avoid social and economic gatekeeping, it is necessary that they begin to involve students from under-represented backgrounds in major financial decisions – after all, it is they who face the brunt of the consequences. Difference between the old and new fee

Major Credits to be taken in last year alone (according to UG Guide) New minimum senior year fee New maximum senior year fee Previous fee (Figures provided by Accounts Receivable) Minimum difference Maximum difference
Anthropology 37-40 PKR 891,700 PKR 964,000 PKR 760,000 PKR 131,700 PKR 204,500
Pol Sci 37-40 PKR 891,700 PKR 964,000 PKR 760,000 PKR 131,700 PKR 204,500
History 38-40 PKR 915,800 PKR 964,000 PKR 760,000 PKR 155,800 PKR 204,500
English 37-40 PKR 891,700 PKR 964,000 PKR 760,000 PKR 131,700 PKR 204,500
Econ 34-40 PKR 819,400 PKR 964,000 PKR 760,000 PKR 59,000 PKR 204,500
Econ Pol 35-36 PKR 843,500 PKR 867,600 PKR 760,000 PKR 83,500 PKR 107,600
Chemistry 34 PKR 819,400 - PKR 760,000 PKR 59,000 -
Math 35-40 PKR 843,500 PKR 964,000 PKR 760,000 PKR 83,500 PKR 204,500
Law 36 PKR 867,600 - PKR 760,000 PKR 107,600 -
MGS 33 PKR 795,300 - PKR 760,000 PKR 35,500 -

The Covid-19 pandemic: Education response for Sindh


Around 6.7 million children were out of school in Sindh even before the pandemic brought its carnage to Pakistan. The province was already in a learning crisis and the ongoing pandemic will further strain the education system while negatively impact learning outcomes. It is undeniable that it was the need of the hour to shut down educational institutes, as keeping them open would further exacerbate the ongoing health crisis. But now as educational institutions gear up to open on July 15, the situation is calling for difficult decisions yet again. Policymakers are faced with a strange dilemma, where when they do not reopen educational institutions, the impact on the economy, both in terms of the actual monetary impact and students not getting the desired or deserved education, will deepen. But if schools, colleges and universities are reopened, policymakers will also have to take into account the risk of infection to both the students, staff and the resulting load on the healthcare system. Then there are news reports which suggest that educational institutes may not open on July 15th at all and may remain shut for another six months even. This adds to the students' problems, especially as, the concept of homeschooling is barely adopted in Sindh, and many parents can either not teach the course material to their children or are simply not even aware that such options exist. Even though, some schools in the private sector have moved towards online modes of education, the numbers are not large enough. Owing to connectivity issues, as well as the novelty of the setup, there is a lot of trial and error involved, leading to uncertainty for everyone, especially since some assessments have also moved online. Some exams on the other hand have been downright cancelled. Perhaps the most worrying part about this disruption is how it will increase the inequality between those who are able to access education by any means right now and those who are not. This will not be all. The closing of schools is already causing a ripple affect that has increased the instances of child abuse as they are home more and in the future it will result in an obvious learning loss, along with increased dropout rates especially in the lower income households, more educational disparity especially between the public and private educational sectors and it will also affect the demand and supply of education. The increased dropout rates in lower income households will as a result, bring an increase in other menaces such as child labour and marriages as well. Not to mention the long-term impact of children that are suffering through a pandemic without going to school and their friends, with an increased likelihood of either experiencing violence first or second hand. Other impacts of the pandemic on the education system may include a cut in funding from the government, leading to a further decline in the quality of education in  the province. With a drop in funding, teaching jobs may also not remain as lucrative, adding to the dearth of good teachers.  If this remains the case, over the years, skilled human capital will also decline, adding to unemployment and social inequality. All hope is not lost and we still have time to quickly move towards strategies to aid continuous learning but to also take steps to make the return of the students and staff safer. Acknowledging how the education system in place was not working is a huge step that we can take, with a focus on revamping it entirely. Policymakers need to focus on managing the situation at hand, while creating a policy framework that accounts for the accelerated learning gaps resulting from the disruption. One way to do that is to ensure that funding allotted for education must not be compromised on, so if it cannot increase, it definitely should not decrease even if education seems like an easy target when deciding budget cuts. While, as discussed, there is an essential need for SOPs guided by medical teams for a safe return of staff and students, mental health aids, in the form of therapists or counselors should also be looked into. Syllabus and course planning need to be revised especially for public schools and perhaps, uniform platforms can be created where syllabi can be decided in tandem by both the private and public sector. It is important that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past when we come back to teach our youth and in turn empower our nation. If schools indeed are to remain shut for the next six months, option of remote learning need to be developed beyond just a single TV channel. Student loans and other incentives should also be offered to ensure that children come back to school and do not quit due to financial reasons.  Parents should also be given training or at least the opportunity to be more involved in their children's activities, especially when it comes to government schools. This is the best time to revamp an ailing system, but this is also a sensitive time, where decisions, especially related to education, will have the potential to haunt us for a long time to come.

The Mao of Sindh: Remembering Hyder Bux Jatoi 50 years on


Hyder Bux Jatoi, who passed away 50 years ago today, was one of the great people who lived and worked in Sindh during the last century. Jatoi joined the Sindh Hari Committee after resigning from his government service in 1945. He remained the leader of the struggle of the peasants for a quarter of a century, thus making the Hari Committee one of the most powerful social movements in the Indian subcontinent in the 20th century. He kept struggling for the national, democratic, social, cultural and economic rights of the people. From the period of studentship to his death in 1970, Jatoi continuously fought for the attainment of social justice and against every kind of economic, political and social oppression. Jatoi’s rallying cry was:

“جام محبت پيئي سنڌ، جيئي سنڌ جيئي سنڌ” (May Sindh drink the cup of love, long live Sindh, long live Sindh!)
Fittingly, today also marks the World Day for Cultural Diversity. One of the goals which UNESCO sought to foster when it first sanctioned this day was to promote human rights and fundamental freedoms, something which Jatoi fought for all his life vis-à-vis Sindh and with regards to its peasantry. Today on the World Day for Cultural Diversity, it is imperative to remember our heroes from across the Pakistani spectrum. Jatoi was the latest in a long line of great Sindhis, from Sufi Shah Inayat Shaheed and Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai to GM Syed, Sobho Gianchandani, Ibrahim Joyo, Shaikh Ayaz, Rasul Bux Palijo, Nazir Abbasi, Fahmida Riaz, Zarina Baloch, and Benazir Bhutto. Mao Zedong’s words came back to me while I was working on this piece about Jatoi. Like Mao, Jatoi betrayed his class and left his cushy job to take up the cause of the peasants; like Mao too he was a poet and writer committed to his land, language, people and culture, and lived for 69 years with great dignity. His dignity was drawn from the land he loved. But unlike Mao, he passed away still waiting for the dream of a socialist, sovereign and prosperous Sindh to materialise. With Jatoi’s untimely death, Sindh’s peasants were orphaned. The people’s poet Habib Jalib acknowledged Jatoi as his leader and giver of political consciousness. He therefore penned a poem about Jatoi, with the simple title Hyder Bux Jatoi Re Bhayya (Hyder Bux Jatoi O Brother), which is being shared here today to mark Jatoi’s 50th death anniversary. While explaining the context of this poem in his autobiography, Jalib narrated that he had worked with Jatoi and had been assigned the duty to accompany him on his election campaign against Ayub Khoro, the iron man of Sindh in the 1954 elections. Jalib went to Larkana along with a group of students from Karachi, where he was based in those days. In the chowk at Larkana, Khoro met the group and challenged them, saying,
“You student folks, what have you come here for?”
Jalib recounts that he responded by screaming,
“We have come to set fire to your chambers and havelis.”
Upon hearing this, the police officers standing next to Khoro arrested them. Khoro later had the house where Jalib was staying set on fire and also had Jatoi’s car incinerated. That was the time when Jalib’s political poetry had begun and this particular poem was read in a meeting in Larkana, and was subsequently recited in all the rallies of the haris. This poem thus needs to be read today not only as a tribute to Hyder Bux Jatoi but as a valuable document of Pakistan’s social and political history.


Hyder Bux Jatoi Re Bhayya (Hyder Bux Jatoi O Brother) by Habib Jalib

“Hyder Bux Jatoi re bhayya Hyder Bux Jatoi

There is no other who sympathises with the hari

Hyder Bux Jatoi re bhayya Hyder Bux Jatoi

One landlord alone, robs the wealth of us in our thousands

He dresses well, roams in a car, his pleasures like brigands

We cry with hunger and his house replete with fairs

We cannot even get a blanket, a shawl he himself wears

Hyder Bux Jatoi re bhayya Hyder Bux Jatoi”   

The future of online higher education in Pakistan


Virtual education degree programmes and e-learning universities tend to be perceived of lesser quality and validity as compared to classroom-taught programmes. However with the pandemic, both public and private universities have been mandated to move their courses/classes online as per the directive of the Higher Education Commission (HEC). Over the last month, there have been a number of articles in newspapers concerning the shift to online teaching. Advocates of the online shift (mostly private institutions) have been congratulating themselves on the quick and smooth transition they have made. Others, including many student groups, have been resistant to the idea of e-learning. They claim that infrastructure, access to technology and connectivity are not set up to equitably meet the needs of students in Pakistan. However, there has been limited discussion on what e-learning conceptually requires and whether we, as a nation, have the pedagogical skills to provide online courses for degree programmes. E-learning or Emergency Remote Teaching (ERT)? We would argue, based on our experience, that what universities in Pakistan are doing during the current Covid-19 crisis is actually Emergency Remote Learning (ERT) and not e-learning. We believe that ERT is a practical, temporary or short-term shift of delivering education through a new modality because of a crisis with not much change in pedagogy, whereas online education requires careful deliberation. Without much preparedness and an urgency to facilitate teaching and learning as an emergency response, faculty have been struggling to make this transition and support students. Most have never taught online, but many have made a commendable effort to adapt to the circumstances based on trial and error. However this is a stop gap solution with a short-term vision, where faculty members are trying to replicate face-to-face instructions to live online sessions as a solution. In contrast, with e-learning it takes months to design, plan and execute a good quality online course for students, with specialised training and resources. For online education, it is important to have institutional policies and frameworks for course design, minimum standards for teaching, alongside access to technology and student assessments. For this article we interviewed faculty members from various private universities in Karachi who have been teaching online for over a month. Most shared that their universities previously did not allow remote teaching of courses. As a result, many universities in Karachi do not have policies for online education and assessments that reflect best practices and support structures (except initial guidelines and handbooks for continuing the process of instruction). In absence of such structures, it is difficult to ensure transparent and standardised online teaching. For implementing any remote education, access and familiarity with technology is key. Our interaction with faculty and students in Karachi found that apps like Zoom (paid and unpaid versions), Microsoft Teams, and Google Classrooms are the most frequently used platforms. Few universities are relying on unpaid versions of these platforms which restrict session timings and options of having a controlled online learning environment. The ability to shift to using technology is a challenge for many instructors, particularly those who have not relied on technology in the classroom before. Faculty and students we interviewed identify a lack of knowledge of appropriate tools and techniques suitable to respond to the need for virtual classrooms. This is particularly true of large class teaching formats. It is a steep learning curve, hence features of online platforms (such as small group discussion, online forum-based debates and reflection, and collaborative tasks) often remain underutilised to achieve the learning outcomes which can be a source of dissatisfaction for many. Due to a lack of training in e-learning pedagogy and student preparedness to transition to new modes of learning, faculty members continue to face challenges such as a decrease in attendance, low participation and attention, disruptive behaviours and sometimes no acknowledgment of their instructions. Many students zone out during long non-interactive synchronous lectures or get frustrated with the constant connectivity issues. Familiarity with technology is not only a technical issue but also a teaching skills or study skills issue. One of the limitations for many private universities in Karachi has been that the orientation and training for this transition has been provided by IT departments who are not pedagogues. An uncertain terrain for students The student learning experience must be at the core of all pedagogy, hence it is imperative that their readiness in terms of access to technology, learning needs and digital literacy be facilitated. We spoke to undergraduate students across disciplines from various private universities in Karachi who shared their experience of the shift from remote to face-to-face learning. Although many were appreciative of the efforts of faculty to quickly transition to new modalities of teaching, they still shared numerous challenges. These include low bandwidth due to increased work from home policies, electricity issues, unavailability of personal desktop/laptop and personal delegated space for studying, stress, juggling between family life and education, physical and mental health issues, fear of being infected or having a loved on getting Covid-19; gender discrimination and domestic workload, and well as feeling of isolation from friends. For few students, online education has been an opportunity to think more carefully about their learning tasks - how they can pursue detailed projects and/or deeper research, and learn how to communicate their ideas better due to the time at hand. Some families are facing financial hardship and concerns of how to find an internship/employment in the current context are ever present. Some fear that they may not be able to return to university next semester and wonder if they should take a semester off till in-class teaching resumes. Embracing the idea of e-learning: the future of higher education We believe given our experience that there is a need to draw on both classroom and virtual pedagogy to meet the learning accessibility needs of students. Even when lockdown is eased, there is a need for advocating for blended learning models (a mix of face to face and online) as there might be multiple lockdowns in the future. Global research on e-learning demonstrates that effective student learning (including quality instruction) results from careful instructional design, planning and research. Therefore, moving away from one-time orientation and training sessions, faculty development at universities will have to focus on a well-crafted continuous programme for course design support, which is available before the next semester and continues as a regular feature throughout the year(s). Prioritising investment and resource allocation for instructional design expertise through creation of online education centers in universities, and hiring learning designers (responsible to integrate pedagogy with technology) to collaborate with faculty on course (re-)design, management and enhancement. Simultaneously a local research strategy and funding for e-learning also needs to be put into place by HEC, the findings of which can feed into constant improvement of curricula and pedagogy. Students must be engaged in this process as their input is extremely valuable in tailoring instruction to meet their learning needs. Universities and faculty have shown resilience through the initial shift but now we need to account for student autonomy, choice and interest in course activities so student engagement can be ensured. Come august, when students will have their first day in universities on-line rather than on-campus, student orientation and support programmes should have a strong focus on digital, multimedia and information literacy, mental health and self-regulation as e-learning requires an ecosystem in which to function beyond the virtual classroom. Student intersectional considerations and sensitivities including but not limited to social group, gender, ethnic and other identities — such as age, disability, sexuality and geographical location should be at the heart of all course design. Rental service for students to acquire technology from university asset banks or partnering with financial institutions so students can either buy technology on installments or rent it, is essential along with reliable subsidised internet connectivity. The success of online learning during and beyond the pandemic will be largely dependent on how universities will bring their focus back to learning design and research. This also requires an immediate change of perception that technology is just a prerequisite. Universities must acknowledge that the quality of their student’s learning experience needs to be a core consideration and that the actual drivers of teaching and learning are faculty members backed by a supportive administration and policy environment.

PIA crash coverage: The melodramatic news trade


Here is what is etched in my memory in the aftermath of the crash: A grieving father being pushed for comment on television. As if the unfathomable loss alone was not enough, victim’s families at the behest of reporters who are badgering them for an ‘interview’. The mourners, who can barely contain themselves, struggle to utter a few words before they break into a disarray of emotions. Their eyelashes are drenched and a heartfelt score is playing in the background. On May 22, a PIA jetliner with 99 passengers aboard crashed in a populated neighbourhood in Karachi. The locality, only few miles away from the runway, sent residents into arrest. A thick cloud of smoke billowed from the area as the aircraft caught fire. Video clips quickly started making rounds on social media and traditional Pakistani media was overwhelmed with breaking news updates spiking traffic on news channels and websites nationwide. But there was one thing that remained largely unaccounted for, the casualties in the crash and the fact that there were survivors. However, it was too late. By this time, news outlets had embarked on a vicious rat race, trading information in exchange for eyeballs. Most of them had released the flight manifest – an otherwise confidential document – thereby giving an impression that all passengers aboard had been presumed dead. The media had turned into what can be described as a bazaar; milking ratings and overlooking in the process that this disaster left many homes in shambles and many families without factual information about their loved ones. As a journalist, impatient for information, and a Karachiite sitting miles from home, I rummaged through the live feeds of most news outlets. I saw newscasters assuming all on board to have been dead, a full passenger list, photos of the ‘presumably’ deceased and an enthusiastic undertone in the delivery of the news, all of which lacked sensitivity at best. The media melodrama overshadowed a tragedy yet again. At this point, the local media had turned into a monster with very little regard for what would ensue when families of the victims would see photos of their loved ones’ flash across screens. And as a result, loss of credibility for the media when some of those declared deceased have returned as though resurrected from the dead. Add to the plethora of existing news channels, the emergence of social media, which was even more brutal. Renowned senior journalists and critics, some of whom I look up to, took a jibe at the airline and questioned the pilot’s technical skills without conclusive evidence. Another clip to go viral was one which was presented as footage from the plane in the last few seconds before the crash. No authenticity of this clip was by far established. More disinformation circulated when leading news channels used a picture of a PIA airliner which turned out to be bogus as it was reportedly a screengrab from a video that surfaced last year. On open source information, such as an audio file comprising a conversation between the pilot and the control tower, could probably be held off for publishing until later. What further appeared as blatant disregard was a reporter proudly stating that he was reporting from a live scene of carnage or at one point from an airhostess’s home where he pressed the family for comment. By this time, social media was replete with speculations on who could possibly be survivors. The flight manifests had been taken off air as hospital authorities confirmed that they were still identifying bodies. But it was too late to make amends. The coverage had reached the ins and outs of the internet, vehemently coming off as an industry where workers had little training to tackle disaster situations. In response to the media frenzy, journalists across social media platforms mobilised resistance, calling out news agencies over their irresponsible coverage of the incident. During the course of my rather brief journalistic career, I can recall several instances where the media treated a tragedy as an opportunity for gains. But the question is, how long before we collectively realise that garnering attention by shoddy means isn’t just fleeting but also disreputable?

Losing loved ones to Covid-19: The altered cycle of grief


Death.  An experience that would one would have a rare encounter with, is now sitting at our doorstep, knocking to come in. With over 144,478 confirmed corona virus cases in Pakistan according to the latest stats provided by the Government of Pakistan, one of the significant factors contributing to its rapid spread is that it can be transmitted from one person to another. Anyone who is even within six feet of a carrier can get the virus, thereby increasing the chances of a community spread. Which brings me back to what I started talking about, death. It’s not just the manner in which people are dying from Covid-19, isolated from their loved ones and in a lot of pain, but also the way the process of grief is being altered in its aftermath. We just lost a family member to this wretched illness, who was also suffering from cancer, and it’s possibly the only time when our family did not hold a funeral. There were no last goodbyes, hugs, comforting silences, shared tears or even just a glimpse of the dearly departed. In other words, the stages of grief are now impacted in ways that are new. Having lost my father a few years ago, I remember just standing next to his body moments before they took him away. The way I had stared at him that day and had not moved a single muscle, is possibly the longest I had ever really ‘looked’ at him. We may see our parents every single day, spend time with them but it was only in those few hours that I noticed so much that I never had before. All his wrinkles, his moles, the way his skin would fold around his cheeks, the way it glowed, and the familiarity of this face that I knew I would never get a chance to see again. I stared at him because I wanted to hold on to that memory. But surprisingly, that face is now blurry when I think about it, but the feeling remains,  the feeling of being full. Because I was able to give myself that time to just be with him. Even if he didn’t respond, even if I couldn’t speak to him anymore. But today with more and more people dying and their families are not being able to look at them for that one last time due to the fear of contracting the virus. I can’t help but think of all those will not get to experience that closure. It is also making me think of all those who lose family members to plane crashes or bomb blasts, where burying their loved ones is not an option. To say it is tragic would be an understatement. However, ‘a sorrow shared is a sorrow halved’ and that is exactly what many across the globe are unable to do at the moment. Friends and family are unable to provide physical support by simply being there. Yes we can call using apps such as Skype and Zoom but human touch cannot be replaced by technology. It can aid but it cannot heal. Having said that, I understand the process of grief is different for everybody. Some may need more space than others, some may want to talk about it, some may not. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to grieve. But to have that option being taken away from you is what causes further helplessness at a time when you are already helpless in the face of death and the deadly virus.  What do you do when you are barely adjusting to the new ‘normal’ brought on by a global pandemic and are now also made to adjust to living life without your parent, spouse or friend. When the process of grief gets disrupted or interrupted, symptoms of complicated grief may start to show.

“In complicated grief, painful emotions are so long lasting and severe that you have trouble recovering from the loss and resuming your own life.”
It is then imperative if not necessary to adapt a new way of mourning where we still allow ourselves to grieve. Where we still reach out to our loved ones and be there for them in the same manner we would have had we been allowed to, only now we may just have to do it virtually. Where we share stories of those whom we have lost, and cry together or laugh together. If anything, the weight that our words carry now, or a picture we may post or videos we may share matter now more than ever and may just be a new way of ‘being there’. Perhaps now, even though it may never be the same, technology will just have to make up for physical touch and comfort.