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Government Girls' School Becomes the Envy of Kerala

A government girls school in Kerala, patronised mostly by students from poor families seeking free education, has established excellent standards and become the envy of other institutions in the state, thanks to an unlikely group of benefactors — a CPM MLA, a Dubai-based NRI businessman, IIM-Kozhikode, ISRO and Infosys.

From the days of weather-beaten buildings and less than a dozen toilets for 2,300 girls, the Government Vocational Higher Secondary School in Nadakkavu in Kozhikode has seen its student strength rise and is aiming to become one of the 10 best schools in the country while several government schools in Kerala have either closed down or been categorised unviable after students preferred private institutions.

The transformation has its roots in a programme called Promote Regional Schools to International Standards through Multiple Intervention (PRISM) launched by Kozhikode's CPM MLA Pradeep Kumar, The Indian Express reported on December 31, 2013.

"Since I became a legislator in 2006, parents in my constituency were seeking my recommendation for their children's admission in leading private schools in the city. This forced me to think about improving facilities at government schools, which have the best teachers recruited on merit basis. If IIMs and IITs are the best in their categories, why can't a government school excel,'' Kumar said.

While the MLA has given the school Rs 5.5 crore from his local area development fund since 2008, Dubai-based businessman K E Faizal, through his Faizal and Shabana Foundation, has donated Rs 15 crore to modernise infrastructure.

Together, the funds helped develop state-of-the-art school buildings - including a new block built under the guidance of Scottish architect William Cooper - an indoor stadium with three basketball courts, hockey ground with astro turf, football and badminton courts, a dining hall with 2,000 seating capacity, atrium, gymnasium, heritage zone, science lab and a library with 25,000 books.

The PRISM concept was shared with Prof Saji Gopinath of IIM-Kozhikode, who roped in a social service group of the institute to prepare a project report. Subsequently, the state education department recognised PRISM as a model project for the overall development of government schools.

ISRO was approached for support when Madhavan Nair was its chairman. It constructed four science labs which are on par with any college. Infosys pitched in with 150 computers.

The academic and infrastructure developments have attracted more students, with student strength jumping to 2,300 from 1,800 from classes 5 to 12 this academic year.

"Ninety-five per cent students hail from the most backward families in the city. There are students who are subjected to torture by their drunken fathers. They do not have a peaceful atmosphere to study at home. Some don't have basic furniture to do home work. We have even thought about constructing a dormitory so that these deprived girls can stay in school during their exams," said principal Been Philip.

The PRISM project has boosted the confidence of teacher and students. We are looking for cent per cent result in school exams," he added.

Although the school is expected to face a rush for admission in the next academic year, MLA Kumar said it has been decided to give preference to students from government lower primary schools over those from unaided private schools.

Diabetic-friendly rice variety identified

Acharya N.G. Ranga Agriculture University has taken up research on development of diabetic-friendly rice varieties in collaboration with private industries according to the University Vice-Chancellor Alluri Padma Raju.

Mr. Raju was speaking to The Hindu on the sidelines of a meeting of rice millers, peasant representatives and agricultural scientists conducted by the Agricultural Research Station (ARS) at Maruteru, West Godavari district, Andhra Pradesh, last month.

“Scientists are on the job of building glycemic indices (GIs) with the data on how much carbohydrates in each existing rice variety raises a person’s blood glucose levels after consuming the particular variety,” he said. As of now, 40 rice varieties were available with the researchers and 14 of them were found to be having anti-diabetic properties. Of them, BPT-5204, popularly known as Samba Masuri, was found to be more friendlier to diabetics, Mr. Raju explained.

The research strategies involved collection of anti-diabetic genes from different varieties and introduced them in the select varieties by way of selective breeding through the marker identification method.

Diabetes was fast spreading and people even below 30 years were falling prey to the disease, of late. The breakthrough, if achieved in the on-going research, would be a boon for the people prone to diabetics caused by food habits, among others, in a country where rice consumption accounted for more than 80 per cent, he hoped.

The Samba Masuri was identified as an ideal variety for projection as more diabetic friendly given its ‘admirable’ strains such as easy to cook and preservation without becoming stale for a long time after cooking and non-sticky in nature, Mr. Raju said.

The V-C informed that the gale-resistant paddy varieties, need of the hour in the cyclone-prone Godavari delta region, were likely to be released in April next, facilitating sowing for the next kharif. The research had been in progress for the last 4-5 years and it was currently under trial in different stages, he added. If these new breeds hit the markets, the paddy growers would be relieved of the miseries caused by the predominant variety of Swarna in view of its susceptibility to lodging at times of cyclones, he said.

National Cancer Centre to be set up

Expressing concern that while 11 lakh patients were added, cancer killed about nine lakh persons every year, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has announced the setting up of a National Cancer Centre, which would be linked to all regional and State level Cancer centres.

This would be part of the government's strategy to counter the spread of the disease.

Mr. Singh was addressing a select gathering after laying the foundation stone of the Rs. 450 crore Homi Bhabha Cancer Hospital and Research Centre (HBCHRC) at Mullanpur Garibdas town of Mohali district in Punjab, on the outskirts of Chandigarh. The facility which according the Prime Minister would take four years to complete would have latest equipment, 200 doctors and 500 nurses as well as paramedical staff. It would be equipped to handle 10,000 new cases and 40,000 post treatment follow ups. Apart from radiation and chemotherapy, the facility would be able to carry out about 2500 surgeries annually. He said that excellent infrastructure, road connectivity and proximity to the Post Graduate Institute for Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), were the main considerations for allotting the centre to its present site, where the Punjab government donated 50 acres of land.

Mr. Singh said that the 27 regional cancer centres were already functioning under the National Cancer Control Programme of the Union government. He said that with the cooperation from various State governments cancer institutes were also being set up, while emphasis on early detection was being promoted through National Rural Health Mission. In Punjab a cancer institute would be set up in the Government medical college at Amritsar, while a cancer treatment facility would be set up in Hoshiarpur. He said that the government had already initiated the process of setting up a 12 super specialty hospital at Sangrur, which would be satellite centre of the Chandigarh based PGIMER. It would have dedicated cancer treatment wing.

Underling that reforms in the healthcare sector were a priority, the Prime Minister said that the government was committed to ensure that quality facilities at affordable prices were available to people from all walks of life. He said that emphasis was on assuring that medicines were available at cheaper rates, improvement in primary health facilities, augmentation of related infrastructure and research as well as providing modern treatment for life threatening diseases.

Vultures back from the brink

A team of forest officials headed by Kagaznagar Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) P. Ramesh has brought good news for conservationists.

Vultures in the Murliguda beat deep inside the Bejjur Forest Range, Adillabad, Andhra Pradesh have begun breeding, which means the habitat is safe for critically endangered scavenger birds.

The team was lucky to get a photograph of the birds. The forest officials, who had camped close to the Pala Rapu cliff, reached the habitat of the vultures before sunrise. They spotted five birds, all long-billed vultures, soon after sunrise.

Mr. Ramesh said the spot is perfect for birds but there is scope for further improvement. According to the village people, the population of vultures close to the Pala Rapu had fallen suddenly about three years ago, he said.

Madapa Srikanth, the Gond Upa sarpanch of Kammarguda gram panchayat which is close to the vulture habitat, said the birds faced danger owing to effluents being released in the Peddavagu by the Sirpur Paper Mills. “The consumption of polluted water from Peddavagu finished hundreds of birds some three years ago,” he said.

“Another interesting aspect is that these vultures do not consume carcasses even if available in the vicinity of Pala Rapu. They seem to be visiting another vulture habitat situated in Sironcha in Maharashtra for food,” reveals M. Ram Mohan, Bejjur Forest Range Officer.

He also said this phenomenon necessitated the provision of food for birds locally. Other members of the team are Deputy Forest Range Officer S. Venugopal, Murliguda Forest Beat Officer Laxmi and base camp watcher Bakkaiah.

India's PARAM Yuva-II ranks 44th among world's most power efficient supercomputers

India's supercomputer PARAM Yuva II, developed by the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC), has bagged 44th rank among the world's most power efficient computer systems, according to a Green500 List announced at the Supercomputing Conference (SC 2013) in Denver, US.

The PARAM Yuva II supercomputer has been ranked no.1 in India and no. 9 in the the Asia Pacific Region, reports Press Information Bureau.

CDAC had unveiled the PARAM Yuva II supercomputer earlier in 2013. The supercomputer is aimed at helping the scientific community gain a faster way to crunch data. The supercomputer is also energy efficient with approximately 35% reduction in energy consumption, as compared to its predecessors.

“The PARAM Yuva – II uses hybrid technology – processor, co-processor and hardware accelerators - to provide the peak compute power of 520.4 Teraflop/s using 210 kiloWatt power. The interconnect network comprises of homegrown PARAMNet-III and Infiniband FDR System Area Network. This system is designed to solve large and complex computational problems. The system has 200 Terabytes of high performance storage, and requisite system software and utilities for parallel applications development,” says Ministry of Communications & Information Technology in a release.

The Param Yuva-II is believed to be an important step forward in India's efforts to build the world's fastest supercomputer in the world by 2017.

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