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Virtual Classrooms Foster Medical Education and Research in Bangladesh

Shiro Nakata's picture
Prof. Laila Banu (center) and Next Generation Sequencer (left) in her laboratory
Prof. Laila Banu (center) and Next Generation Sequencer (left) in her laboratory

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) is a leading post-graduate medical institution and the only medical university in Bangladesh. It plays a unique role in enhancing the quality of medical education and research. BSMMU is one of the largest beneficiaries of the Academic Innovation Fund (AIF) under the Higher Education Quality Enhancement Project (HEQEP) which has brought about significant improvements in the quality of medical education and research.
 
Launching the first-ever virtual classroom for medical education in Bangladesh

Teaching quality in medical education and training is increasingly a thorny issue in Bangladesh. Teachers in medical colleges are inadequate both in quantity and quality. Currently there are only around 120 pharmacology teachers across 86 medical colleges in Bangladesh.

To address the challenge, the AIF supported the Department of Pharmacology of BSMMU to establish the first-ever virtual classroom system for medical college students in Bangladesh. The system has a great potential of changing the landscape of medical education and training in Bangladesh.
Network of the virtual classrooms connected to medical colleges in different regions of Bangladesh
Network of the virtual classrooms connected
to medical colleges in different regions of Bangladesh
​The “Virtual Teaching-Learning Program on Pharmacology” sub-project was launched to pilot innovative use of information technology in medical education by establishing a virtual classroom environment. Under the pilot, medical college institutions across Bangladesh are connected to the virtual classroom. It allows senior medical professors in Dhaka and even international experts from abroad to deliver their lectures to students in medical colleges in different regions. Students can attend real-time online classes, download teaching materials, and assess their competence in self-administered test.
 
“So far 36 topics are available to the students for free. An online question bank has been uploaded containing about 4,000 questions. We also established a synchronous teaching system that is so far connected with 32 medical colleges. Professors in Dhaka now remotely teach classes to students outside of Dhaka, and sometimes international guest lecturers also give lectures via the synchronous system. It is an exceptional experience for students in remote areas to listen and ask questions to renowned medical professionals. The bandwidth of internet connectivity is the only challenge. BSMMU is connected to high-speed Bangladesh Research and Education Network (BdREN), whereas colleges in remote areas have only narrow-band connectivity and cannot receive our synchronous broadcasting. It is now essential for the colleges to get broad-band internet connectivity.” says Professor Mir Misbahuddin, the sub-project manager at Department of Pharmacology, BSMMU.


Establishing a world-class genetic research environment

​ The “Modernization of Genetic Research Facilities and Patient Care Services” sub-project by the Faculty of Basic Medical Sciences is another success at the BSMMU. The sub-project installed a Next Generation DNA Sequencer, the only one of its kind in the country, and established a modern fully equipped genetic research laboratory. The sub-project aims to promote research on human genetic diseases in Bangladesh, which have never been addressed due to the lack of proper facilities, and invites international experts in genetics and molecular biology to train medical researchers in Bangladesh.

With this Next Generation Sequencer, we can now analyze the DNA sequence of Bangladeshi citizens and explore the genetic data of most prevalent genetic diseases in Bangladesh.’ explains Laila Anjuman Banu, sub-project manager and professor of Genetics & Molecular Biology. “Currently, we are developing a database of patients suffering from breast cancer and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy in Bangladesh. The database is useful for researchers in Bangladesh for further researches on developing molecular diagnostics and designing targeted therapeutics in the near future. This is a cutting-edge arena for medical research worldwide. We have published two papers already using this new sequencer.” she added.

AIF sub-projects awarded to other departments such as Anatomy, Urology, and Palliative Care have been equally successful.
 

Maintaining momentum in Myanmar

Axel van Trotsenburg's picture

Myanmar is undergoing a historic transition. After decades of armed conflict and economic stagnation, the country is beginning to make important strides toward realizing its potential and the aspirations of its people.

Our engagement in Myanmar started more than 60 years ago when it became a member of the World Bank, soon after gaining independence from British rule.

Back in 1955, the Bank’s first economic report stated: “the lack of security remains a disrupting influence on the economic life of the country” while “the long term economic potentials are bright” on account of its moderate population growth and abundant natural resources. It also noted the importance of “encouraging private sector enterprise to improve the standard of living of the people”— these are topics that continue to resonate in today’s development discourse.

In the early 1950s, Myanmar’s GDP per-capita was comparable to that of Thailand, Korea, and Indonesia.  Like others in the region, Myanmar was coming out from colonial rule and a period of struggle. Sixty years on, Myanmar has a per capita GDP just above $1,100, less than one third the average for ASEAN countries and one of the lowest in East Asia.

The good news is that Myanmar has begun the catch up process. Major political and economic reforms since 2011 have increased civil liberties, reduced armed conflict, and removed constraints to trade and private enterprise that long held back the economy.

In Mexico, a rising rate of homicides has zero impact on educational outcomes. That’s good news.

Carlos Rodríguez Castelán's picture
Economists are often disappointed by research findings that show a statistically insignificant effect. This sometimes even leads researchers to stop pursuing a topic that might otherwise engage them fruitfully. This outcome thus represents a loss to social science: knowledge and insights are not put forward to be built upon.
 

The fumble that may have saved his life

Alexander Ferguson's picture



Ahmad Sarmast may owe his life to a fumble with his cellphone. He bent down in his seat to pick up his mobile just as a suicide bomber detonated his charge behind him at a music and theatre performance at the Institut Français d’Afghanistan in Kabul.

The founder and director of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music survived the December blast that killed one and injured more than 10. Dr. Sarmast suffered perforated ear drums and shrapnel in the back of his head.  But the experience has not deterred him from his ambition of reviving and rebuilding Afghan musical traditions through establishing and leading the country's first dedicated music school.

“Music represents the right to self-expression of all the Afghan people,” he told me during a tour of the modest building in a suburb of Kabul where ANIM is housed.

girl playing piano

The institute’s young musicians, many of them former street vendors or orphans, have toured the world to showcase Afghan music and present a more positive face of the war-torn country. An ensemble played at the World Bank in 2013 and went on to perform amid great acclaim at the Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall in New York.

If Sri Lanka is to join the knowledge economy, it needs to improve its education, training and skills

Nisha Arunatilake's picture
With innovation taking a central role in driving markets, countries are increasingly looking to invest in innovation and technological change to be competitive and improve productivity. Innovation is driven by talent and creativity. But the demand for highly skilled workers, especially workers in the science and technology fields are increasing globally.

College education still makes a huge difference for Chinese workers

Hongbin Li's picture
A recent study undertaken by Professor Hongbin Li of Tsinghua University, has looked at the rates of return from a college education in China. On all levels, having a college degree pays off, even with the recent sharp increase in the number of graduates. Moreover, the returns that accrue from going to the very best colleges are exponentially larger than those gained by graduating from a middling or low ranked college. Over a lifetime of employment, this adds up to a huge difference in total earnings.

More comments on using the Internet to connect students and teachers around the world for 'virtual exchanges'

Michael Trucano's picture
connecting
connecting
A few years ago I was visiting a high school in central Russia and stopped by a chemistry class near the end of the day. It looked, more or less, like a chemistry class that one might see in many places around the world: kids in white lab coats pouring stuff into beakers, taking measurements and scribbling results on their notepads (and then doing the same thing again, and again).

The students were hurrying to collect their data so that they could compare them with other groups in the class -- and, it turned out, with the results 'from Toronto'. 'Toronto?' I asked, a little confused. 'What do you mean?'

I was told that the class was linked via Skype to a chemistry class in a high school outside Canada's largest city, which was doing the exact same experiment. 'Go have a look', one of the Russian kids said, nodding his head toward a computer monitor on a nearby table that showed a row of beakers much like those on the tables near me. The Russian student turned on the nearby microphone, called out a name ... and two heads popped up on the screen, attached to bodies halfway around the world. The students greeted each other, made a quick joke about the Maple Leafs and Ak Bars (the respective local hockey teams), and then started discussing the experiment.

The teacher later told me that she had been communicating with teachers in other countries whom she had found on the Internet and had been using Skype for about a year to connect to some of their classrooms, in order to demonstrate to her kids how science is really a global language, and how important it is to share your findings with the whole world. The local education officials who were with me on the school tour got very excited about all of this -- they had never seen such a thing. Yes, when I think about it, it is pretty neat, the teacher responded. Despite the occasional communication problem or technical glitch, however, her students really didn't really think this was a very big deal. Many of them were used to playing videogames with kids in other countries over the Internet already, she said, and to them this was in some ways just more of the same.

A post on the EduTech blog last week offered ten comments, questions and perspectives on connecting students and teachers around the world to each other to facilitate such 'virtual exchanges'. Here are ten more:

[As I noted when presenting the earlier list: I don't pretend to be an 'expert' on this stuff -- although I have learned from many folks whom I think probably deserve such a label) -- and no doubt there is at least one potential exception to every rule of thumb or guideline or piece of advice I present below. As with the earlier list, I make no claims to comprehensiveness; some important things are no doubt discussed incompletely, and others perhaps not at all. That said, hopefully there is something here that some of you might find useful -- or which provokes you in useful ways.]
 
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Using the Internet to connect students and teachers around the world for 'virtual exchanges'

Michael Trucano's picture
technology at the middle of a human connection
technology at the middle
of a human connection

Almost twenty years ago, the World Bank president was scheduled to visit some schools in Uganda. Around that time, the Bank was exploring the possibility of investing in videoconferencing to connect its offices, and those of its counterparts in government ministries, to each other as a way to promote more regular dialogue (and, it is probably worth noting, to save some travel costs as a result).

Wouldn't it be excellent, Jim Wolfensohn asked, if we could somehow connect these kids in Uganda to schools back in the United States in some way using the Internet so that they could talk to each other and exchange ideas -- can this be done?

A World Bank colleague (who was soon to become my boss) said, 'yes sir, absolutely, we can do this.' At the time, it turned out that he actually had no idea how to get this done ... but he and a few other bright people eventually figured it out, the schools were connected, and Ugandan and American kids talked with each other via video in real time, more or less successfully. (Videochatting over the Internet back in 1996/1997 was an often frustrating endeavor, but, given enough energy and more than a little luck, it did -- kind of, sort of, sometimes -- work.) Out of this small 'success' was born the 'school-to-school initiative', which soon was renamed the 'World Links for Development' program and which over the next decade worked with ministries of education in 20+ middle and low countries around the world to help connect schools, teachers and students to the Internet -- and to each other.

Obviously, much has changed from 1996 to 2015. Information and communication technology itself has, of course, changed dramatically: There is more of it; it is more powerful; it is faster; it is cheaper; it is available to many more people; and many more people know how to, and do, use it as part of their daily lives. Just because the tools to make connections between teachers and learners across national borders have improved a lot, however, doesn't mean that it is easy to actually make and sustain such connections over time in ways that are useful -- and sometimes even exciting.

Because of my experience with World Links (and a number of other similar efforts), I am often approached by groups looking (to quote from one related representative email inquiry) to 'connect teachers and students around the world in order to engage in enriching collaborative learning projects together to promote global peace and understanding and develop 21st century skills and competencies'. To the extent it might be of interest to anyone (and just possibly to save myself and others the time it takes to meet to discuss such things in person or over email), I thought I'd share some hard-won lessons and perspectives about what seems to work (and what doesn't) when it comes to connecting teachers and students around the world to each other so that they can achieve whatever it is they hope to achieve as a result of such connections.

I don't pretend to be an 'expert' on this stuff (although I have learned from many folks whom I think probably deserve such a label), and no doubt there is at least one potential exception to every rule of thumb or guideline or piece of advice I present below. The list of things discussed here  makes no claims to comprehensiveness. That said, hopefully there is something here that some of you might find useful -- or which provokes you in useful ways.

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