Category: Education

Death from malaria has been diminished by half

Global efforts have halved the number of people dying from malaria – a tremendous achievement, the World Health Organization says…It says between 2001 and 2013, 4.3 million deaths were averted, 3.9 million of which were children under the age of five in sub-Saharan Africa.

Each year, more people are being reached with life-saving malaria interventions, the WHO says.

In 2004, 3% of those at risk had access to mosquito nets, but now 50% do.

There has been a scaling up of diagnostic testing, and more people now are able to receive medicines to treat the parasitic infection, which is spread by the bites of infected mosquitoes.

An increasing number of countries are moving towards malaria elimination.

In 2013, two countries – Azerbaijan and Sri Lanka – reported zero indigenous cases for the first time, and 11 others (Argentina, Armenia, Egypt, Georgia, Iraq, Kyrgyzstan, Morocco, Oman, Paraguay, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) succeeded in maintaining zero cases.

In Africa, where 90% of all malaria deaths occur, infections have decreased significantly.

Here, the number of people infected has fallen by a quarter – from 173 million in 2000 to 128 million in 2013. This is despite a 43% increase in the African population living in malaria transmission areas.

WHO director general Dr Margaret Chan said: “These tremendous achievements are the result of improved tools, increased political commitment, the burgeoning of regional initiatives, and a major increase in international and domestic financing.”

But she added: “We must not be complacent. Most malaria-endemic countries are still far from achieving universal coverage with life-saving malaria interventions.”

Based on current trends, 64 countries are on track to meet the Millennium Development Goal target of reversing the incidence of malaria by the end of this year.

One portion of my personal efforts to get Americans to think beyond their family, their community, is the larger community that is our world. Just as we are affected by the loss of young people who may have grown up in the poverty and illness afflicting life that we see around us – there is an even larger community outside the comparative wealth of this nation that fights the same negatives to stay alive – times 10 or 100.

As a species we all lose every time we suffer a young death from disease or war. Someone who might have grown up to discover a way to a better, longer life for us all – never had a chance to achieve any contribution to humanity. We’re all moved to a new place of potential achievement by the simple opportunity of life extended to those who would have missed that chance a decade ago, a century ago.

We have to realize the human family really is a global family.

Off-grid primary school built using shipping containers


Louver walls of local masonry inserted to encourage natural ventilation

Shipping container-based buildings can suffer – indeed, usually do suffer – from significant insulation issues. But Johannesburg-based firm Architecture for a change (A4AC) recently built a community center and school in Malawi from shipping containers that aims to mitigate this with an open design. The firm also installed rainwater harvesting and solar power to allow the school to operate off-grid.

The Legson Kayira Community Center and Primary School is a simple structure, both inside and out. It measures 4,090 sq ft and comprises two classrooms, a large central courtyard, and some bleachers. The building is primarily used to teach children, but also serves as an adult training center, weekend market, and community center.

The school was manufactured at A4AC’s workshop in South Africa, before being transported to Malawi. During construction, the firm used a number of shipping containers as a basic building material and added a lightweight steel supporting frame and roof. A4AC also removed sections of the containers and installed louvered walls to encourage natural ventilation.

In addition, large sections of the classroom walls can be opened on a hinge in order to turn the interior into a semi-outdoor space, and shade netting helps block out the sun. The roofs are angled to channel rainwater into gutters which then feed water storage tanks. The roofs also sport solar panels which provide power for the interior lighting and a laptop and projector, which is used to show movies and soccer games.

On-site construction took just eight weeks. My favorite building blocks – remaindered, disused shipping containers – served the purpose admirably. Structural steel is durable, needs little more than paint not only to form a lasting structure; but, with a little talent, to be changed and re-purposed.

Marijuana revenue helping schools on projects political hacks won’t fund

image

As marijuana revenues trickle into the state, slow to meet projections, a few Colorado school districts are among the first to see some impact from the state’s new funds.

The state Department of Education’s program to fund capital projects — known as Building Excellent Schools Today, or BEST, grants — had received more than $1.1 million from marijuana taxes in May when it made the annual award recommendations.

The state also is readying another $2.5 million from pot taxes so interested schools can hire health professionals.

The additional capital project money has been welcomed as the state fund for the BEST grants has been declining and the program reached a cap for the financed grants it could issue through bonds…

The marijuana excise tax — which is 15 percent on unprocessed recreational pot sales on its first sale – — netted about $3 million from January through June 30. The education department receives the funds monthly and will dole out the awards recommendations every May.

Next year, officials estimate the pot contribution to the BEST grants will be about $10 million. But some school officials say there’s a misconception about where the pot money is going.

“I feel like the word on the streets is marijuana funding is going to schools, but certainly it’s not going to schools for operating costs,” said Ryan Elarton, director of business services for the Pueblo district. “And not every district gets it.”

Besides the new marijuana funds, BEST grants have been funded by sources including money from the state land trust and spillover from Powerball profits after funding the Great Outdoors Colorado fund…

From other marijuana revenue appropriated by the legislature, $2.5 million has been set aside to increase the presence of health professionals in schools.

Schools that apply for those grants and win could have that money by January.

It’s hilarious that schools may get back some of the necessities cut by conservative politicians — and they’ll be getting it from profits generated by legal ganja.

The sad part remains that folks trapped in the two-party belief system can’t get any results from simply going to the polls on election day. Frankly, issues like school safety, healthcare for the student population, reasonable curricula dedicated to learning and all that entails — are a natural for independent political organizing. Yes, just like legalizing marijuana.

Then, you’re not required to shove a natural local response to problems into a cookie cutter mold designed by seventeen lobbyists employed by a Congressional action committee.

Kentucky Baptists vote to expel church for being too tolerant


Crescent Hill Baptist Church — Looks pretty solid to me

Kentucky Baptists have voted to sever ties with a Louisville church that is open to performing same-sex marriages.

Baptist leaders from around the state gathered Tuesday in Bowling Green for the Kentucky Baptist Convention’s annual meeting. They voted overwhelmingly to end their longstanding relationship with Crescent Hill Baptist Church.

The church’s pastor, the Rev. Jason Crosby, has said the church is open to performing same-sex marriages and ordaining gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual members. Crosby made a plea Tuesday to allow the church to remain a part of the convention. He said the decision came after much discussion and a process that lasted two months.

“We looked at what is sexual orientation and gender identity,” Crosby said. “We took a vote in which we decided that we would fully welcome and affirm gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals in the life of this church.”

Kentucky Baptist Convention Executive Director Paul Chitwood said same old blah, blah, blah!

Crosby said his congregation supports the new stance and believes that in years to come, the church will be on the right side of history…

Bigots will continue to build themselves a tightly-fenced world on a piece of ideology steadily shrinking, diminishing as ignorance is diminishing. The process is often slow; but, it is inexorable.

Thyroid drug tied to birth defects — once again

Another study has linked the Graves’ disease treatment methimazole with birth defects, Japanese researchers reported…

In an interim analysis of the prospective POEM study, there was a far higher incidence of methimazole embryopathy in women who took the drug during their first trimester than would be expected in the general population…according to Naoko Arata, PhD, of the National Center for Child Health and Development in Tokyo.

Women shouldn’t use the drug in those early stages of pregnancy when the fetus is developing organs, she said at the American Thyroid Association meeting.

Most recommendations instruct clinicians to stop methimazole during pregnancy because of earlier associations with birth defects. These women should instead be treated with propylthiouracil (PTU), the guidelines state.

But PTU has been associated with liver injury to the mother and more recent research suggests that it may also carry risk of birth defects.

Indeed, at last year’s ATA meeting, Danish researchers reported that both drugs carried a higher risk of birth defects: 50% higher for PTU and 75% higher for methimazole compared with the general population…

When the fifth case of methimazole-related anomalies was reported in 2011 — out of a total of 85 live births — the researchers decided to conduct an interim analysis.

Arata said these five cases had exposure to methimazole during the whole pregnancy…

She said she strongly recommends not using methimazole during the organogenesis period in women with Graves’ disease, adding that preconception counseling is extremely important.

I hope enough doctors read about questions raised by studies like this. Even though I have a young, sharp, physician as my GP – I always make it a practice when in his office for a checkup to waylay him with a couple of the medical questions, procedures, studies and discoveries I’ve covered for one or another blog – just to see if he’s staying broadly up-to-date.

I would hate to know more than he does, even if it concerns a very small area of interest. I already qualify as a world-class hypochondriac. :)

Want to help poor kids succeed: make them actually go to school

Here’s a deceptively simple way to close part of the achievement gap between poor and wealthy students: make sure that poor students are in school as much as their richer peers.

A recent study found that absentee rates could explain up to 25 percent of difference in math scores between low-income students and less disadvantaged ones. Getting kids to come to school seems like an obvious way to help them score better on tests and eventually graduate. But it’s often overlooked in favor of more complicated, more controversial, and more interesting interventions. Here’s why attendance is incredibly important, and why it’s a tough problem to solve.

Going to school is required by law, and studies tend to assume that schools are following through. Schools aren’t required to report how many students are chronically absent, so very little national data exists on how often students miss school. Even the definition “chronically absent” varies, although the generally accepted definition is around 20 days of school per year…

Missing school means they fall even farther behind. Children who are chronically absent in preschool and kindergarten are more likely to be held back in the third grade. As early as sixth grade, whether a child is going to school is a good indicator for whether she’ll ever graduate high school.

The opportunism of New Mexico politicians is almost beyond comprehension. When it became obvious kids were falling behind – checking grades, accomplishments by 3rd grade, 6th grade – the solution that guaranteed the most votes for state legislators is called the social pass. If the school determines a child’s grades are so poor they shouldn’t be passed along to the next grade – that kid’s parents can demand a social pass and the child moves along to the next grade with their classmates – so their feelings aren’t hurt.

K-12 attendance can even predict college graduation rates: Johns Hopkins cites a study in Rhode Island found students who were chronically absent in high school, but still managed to graduate and enroll in college, were more likely to drop out during their freshman year than students with regular attendance records.

RTFA. Lots more of the same examined from different perspectives. My BITD look doesn’t surprise me because I saw examples of this laissez-faire crap starting up in the 1950’s into the 1960’s. Students graduating high school who were functional illiterates. They didn’t have to study literature, build reading skills, learning skills, if they didn’t feel like it. That was sufficient reason.

Just walk that along each decade through attendance, any other standards you care to examine.

The Great Kansas Tea Party Debacle

Brownback_Cartoon

The Republican party headquarters in Wichita, Kansas, shares space in a strip mall with Best Friends Pet Clinic, a cowboy-boot repair shop and a Chinese restaurant called the Magic Wok. Inside, on a recent Wednesday afternoon, a modest gathering of party faithful mill about, I’M A BROWNBACKER stickers affixed to their blouses and lapels.

It’s a terrible slogan. Four years ago, when Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback first took office, you might’ve wondered if these people, on some subliminal level, actually wanted to be humiliated by a filthy-minded liberal activist looking to add a new “santorum” to Urban Dictionary. As a senator and a failed presidential candidate, Brownback was already one of the nation’s most prominent social conservatives, “God’s Senator,” in the words of a 2006 Rolling Stone profile. But Brownback turned out to be even more radical when it came to economic policy. In 2012, he enacted the largest package of tax cuts in Kansas history, essentially transforming his state into a lab experiment for extreme free-market ideology. The results (disastrous) have reduced the governor to making appearances at grim strip malls like this one in a desperate attempt to salvage his re-election bid.

The last time I came to Kansas, in March 2013, Brownback could often be found wandering the halls of the state Capitol, sporting one of his signature sweater vests, smiling and nodding at passing strangers or offering impromptu lectures to schoolchildren paused in front of the oil painting of John Brown, the fearsome Kansas abolitionist, that hangs outside his office. Here in Wichita, though, he looks exhausted. When he takes the stage, he squints out at the audience through puffy eyes. His Texas counterpart, Gov. Rick Perry, stands behind him, having been summoned north to help bail out Brownback’s flailing campaign…

Then the Texan steps to the podium and delivers a version of a speech I saw him give earlier this year in Kentucky, where he had been mobilized on a similar mission for Mitch McConnell. After boasting about all the jobs his policies have drawn to his state, Perry praises Brownback for placing Kansas on a similar “upward trajectory,”…

There are a couple of problems with Perry’s speech. First of all, he happens to be delivering it in Wichita, where, this summer, Boeing, for decades the largest private employer in the state of Kansas, shuttered its entire operation, shifting those jobs to cities like Seattle, Oklahoma City and San Antonio, Texas (oops).

The larger problem, of course, is that Perry wouldn’t even have to be here in Kansas if Brownback’s economic plan had not already proved catastrophic…not only cutting taxes but also slashing spending on education, social services and the arts, and, later, privatizing the entire state Medicaid system. Brownback himself went around the country telling anyone who’d listen that Kansas could be seen as a sort of test case, in which unfettered libertarian economic policy could be held up and compared right alongside the socialistic overreach of the Obama administration, and may the best theory of government win…

That word, “experiment,” has come to haunt Brownback as the data rolls in. The governor promised his “pro-growth tax policy” would act “like a shot of adrenaline in the heart of the Kansas economy,” but, instead, state revenues plummeted by nearly $700 million in a single fiscal year, both Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s downgraded the state’s credit rating, and job growth sagged behind all four of Kansas’ neighbors. Brownback wound up nixing a planned sales-tax cut to make up for some of the shortfall, but not before he’d enacted what his opponents call the largest cuts in education spending in the history of Kansas.

Read ‘em and weep, folks – except the good folks don’t deserve the tears. They knew what this idiot was going to do. Even though every previous attempt by a supply-side economics reactionary had failed – all the way up to and including Reagan’s guru, David Stockman. Read Mark Binelli’s whole article.

They voted Brownback into office. He did what he promised to do. The state now waits for bankruptcy, fully prepared to deal with nothing but more disaster, education system crushed, employers ready to flee.

Any history-literate cynic knows American aren’t well enough-educated to vote in their own economic interest. Our nation’s history of bigotry and racism aid the whole process. Reactionary demagogues who would only be considered fringe candidates in other Western nations regularly take their seats in Congress. But, still – Kansas voters outdid themselves with God’s favorite candidate.

Thanks, Mike

“Active Fatalism”


Wolfgang Schaeuble

A core problem with the modern world is that we have heroism all wrong. It is not just the conflation of heroes with celebrities as role models, giving rise to the endless magazine lists of ways to be more like Beyoncé. The more serious issue is how, in the rush to elevate the authors of exceptional acts, we forget the ordinary man and woman doing their often menial jobs day after day. I am less interested in the firefighter-hero and the soldier-hero (not to mention the hedge-fund honchos and other quick-killing merchants thrust into the contemporary pantheon) than I am in the myriad doers of everyday good who would shun the description heroic.

A few weeks back I was listening to remarks by the German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble. The minister was the target of an assassination attempt in 1990 that left him partially paralyzed, confined to a wheelchair. He brought up Sisyphus, the Greek mythological figure whose devious attempt to defy the gods and even death itself was punished with his condemnation to the task of pushing a boulder up a hill, only for it to roll down again and oblige him to renew the effort through all eternity. No task, it would appear, better captures the meaningless futility of existence. But Schäuble suggested that Sisyphus is a happy man for “he has a task and it is his own…”

The phrase was arresting because the culture of today holds repetitive actions — like working on a production line in a factory — in such contempt. Hundreds of millions may do it, and take care of their families with what they earn, but they are mere specks of dust compared to the Silicon Valley inventor of the killer app or the lean global financiers adept in making money with money. Routine equals drudgery; the worker is a demeaned figure; youths are exhorted to live their dreams rather than make a living wage. Dreams are all very well but are not known to pay the mortgage.

Schäuble was echoing the French writer and philosopher, Albert Camus, who in his book “The Myth of Sisyphus” noted that “there is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn…”

In Camus’ book, “The Plague,” one of the most powerful moments comes in an exchange between the doctor at the center of the novel, Bernard Rieux, and a journalist named Raymond Rambert. Rieux has been battling the pestilence day after day, more often defeated than not. Rambert has been dreaming of, and plotting, escape from the city to be reunited with his loved one.

Rieux suddenly speaks his mind: “I have to tell you this: this whole thing is not about heroism. It’s about decency. It may seem a ridiculous idea, but the only way to fight the plague is with decency.”

“What is decency?” Rambert asked, suddenly serious.

“In general, I can’t say, but in my case I know that it consists of doing my job.”

Read the whole article. There are more examples. They make the point.

I haven’t read Camus since I was 17 or 18. At the time I was drawn more by Sartre…in turn more drawn to Engels than Marx. I guess I’ve always felt that societal ennui to be important as cultural inertia as anything.

I have both The Stranger and The Plague sitting in my wish list at Amazon and will likely revisit that thoughtful, existential anti-fascist again this winter.

Thanks, Helen

More physical activity improved school performance

The scientists…at the Centre for Brain Repair and Rehabilitation at the Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, have tested the hypothesis that increased physical activity stimulates learning and improves school performance.

In the study, published in the scientific periodical “Journal of School Health,” 408 twelve-year-olds in the Gothenburg region were given two hours of extra play and motion activities per week, in collaboration with a local sports club. This was approximately twice the normal amount of curricular physical activity.

The effect of the intervention was evaluated by comparing the achievement of national learning goals by the children four years before and five years after its implementation. The results were compared to control groups in three schools that did not receive extra physical activity.

The results are clear, according to the scientists: A larger proportion on students in the intervention school did achieve the national learning goals in all subjects examined — Swedish, English and mathematics compared to the control groups.

“You can express it that two hours of extra physical education each week doubled the odds that a pupil achieves the national learning goals. We did not see a corresponding improvement in the control schools, where the pupils did not receive extra physical activity — rather the contrary, a deterioration,” says scientist and neurologist Thomas Linden at the Sahlgrenska Academy.

“Our hope is that planners and policy-makers will take our results into consideration,” says Lina Bunketorp Käll the researcher and project leader of the study.

Guess what? In Sweden that might actually happen.

In a parallel effort, a planned 5-story elementary school was changed to a 4-story school as built. Instead the building was constructed around an atrium for exercise and dance with running tracks on the rooftop. In China.