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Daily Category  (Education)

ASEAN Ph.D. Fellowship Programme (APFP)

Context:

Union Education Minister virtually addressed the students from ASEAN member states who have been selected for the prestigious ASEAN Ph.D. Fellowship Programme (APFP).

ASEAN Ph.D. Fellowship Programme (APFP):

  • It was announced on 25th January 2018, the eve of India’s Republic Day, by the Prime Minister of India in the presence of leaders of all the ten ASEAN member states. 
  • Under the APFP, 1000 fellowships will be provided exclusively to the ASEAN citizens in IITs. 
  • APFP is the largest capacity development program undertaken by the Government of India for foreign beneficiaries.
  • The ASEAN Ph.D. fellows will be recognized as the alumni of the respective IITs from where they will be completing their PhDs.  
  • It is funded by the Government of India.

Significance:

  • The academic and research ties among India and ASEAN member states will be mutually beneficial for both the regions. 
  • It will strengthen India’s ties with ASEAN members in culture, commerce, and connectivity. 
  • APFP will open many doors to synergies in the field of technology and research for the academicians, researchers, and scientists from India and ASEAN. 
  • The researches and inventions by them will be used for the betterment of humankind across the globe.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN):

  • It is a regional organization that was established to promote political and social stability amid rising tensions among the Asia-Pacific’s post-colonial states.
  • Motto: “One Vision, One Identity, One Community”.
  • 8th August is observed as ASEAN Day.
  • ASEAN Secretariat: Indonesia, Jakarta.
  • Founding members: Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand.
  • It, now, also includes Vietnam, Brunei, Myanmar (Burma), Cambodia, and Laos, totaling to 10 members.
  • ASEAN’s six FTA partners are India, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand.

Source: PIB

Digital to blended learning in post-COVID world

1. CONTEXT OF THE NEWS

The covid-19 pandemic in the early 2020 is affecting edtech and health tech worldwide much like demonetization did to fintech in India in late 2016.

Presently we are witnessing a forced migration to digital learning and this process has exposed the reality of the heavily endorsed Digital India campaign that was launched five years ago.

2. THE SCALE OF DISRUPTION

2.1 The intensity of disruption

  • Over 770 million students have been disrupted globally by the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent worldwide lockdowns.
  • The United Nations has already warned of an unprecedented level and speed of disruption in education in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Presently there are over 37 million students enrolled in higher education in ndia and an interruption in the delivery of education has already caused a disruption that might continue for long.

2.2 What has been impacted?

  • Broadly speaking, education has three functions.
    • creation of learning content through research and writing;
    • packaging with visuals, dissemination of learning through classes, lectures, notes, self-study, discussions
    • assessment and evaluation of what the student has learned
  • All these functions have been majorly impacted and disrupted by the covid-19 pandemic due to precautionary measures of self-isolation and lockdowns.

3. DIGITAL HAVES AND HAVE NOTS' DICHOTOMY

3.1 Amplified struggles

  • Covid-19 has amplified the struggles that children were already facing globally to receive quality education.
  • Even before the pandemic, there were 258 million out-of-school children globally due to:
    • principally due to poverty
    • poor governance
    • living in or having fled an emergency or conflict

3.2 Lack of digital resources

  • There are many programs to address the global education crisis but the dramatic escalation of covid-19 pandemic has brought new challenges for 550 million children who had access to physical education but not to digital learning systems.
  • A majority of people globally are deprived of access to digital resources as
    • good internet connectivity
    • digital gadgets like laptop and tablets
    • electricity
  • Such people are forced to waste productive learning time.

3.3 Digital Education in India

  • Despite coverage of 70% of Indian population with mobile telephony, more than 25% of the population lacks the resources needed for digital learning from home.
  • Talks around digital education have been there in India for over a decade now, but nothing has substantial has taken place.
  • Even the premier institutes in India have issued digital content only sporadically.
  • Except for distance learning universities, the majority ofeducational institutions in India have neither digitized their contentnor made online learning an integral part of their teaching-learning process.

3.4 Digital Haves and have nots

  • Digital penetration beyond tier 1 and 2 cities and towns in India is still too abysmally low to replace face-to-face learning even remotely and the COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare this pitiful condition.
  • Therefore, there are two digital classes in India:
    • the digital haves, who use online webinar platforms like zoom, google class etc. to learn, discuss and complete assignments
    • and the digital have nots, who depend on occasional phone calls from their mentors and Facebook posts or a WhatsApp group chat with videos often not downloading

4. GOVERNMENT SPENDING

4.1 Present Government Spending

  • In all probability, digital access will be a human right in the future and the government needs to realise this as soon as possible.
  • Government spending in India is lower than Tanzania, Angola and Ghana with only less than 3% of national budget for public education.
  • Such a nation cannot ensure digital education for the masses.

4.2 Required Government Spending

  • Nothing short of 7% of national budget for public education can achieve the following:
    • upgradation on public education infra-structure both physical and digital
    • large scale re-training of the teachers at every level
  • The enforced social distancing norms and nationwide lockdown has quickened the transition to complete digital learning pedagogy for those with partial or full digital resources. 
  • However, the next phase of the transition process requires policy changes.
  • Such steps can bring unprecedented changes in public education in India like:
    • learners will seek education voluntarily and collaboratively
    • every skill or chapter taught will lead to an defined and desired outcome
    • instead of being instructed, education will be explored organically
    • instead of an imposition, education will be a collective experience fostering diversity, teamwork and mutual respect

4.3 Contribution from non-governmental entities

  • Apart from government spending, 2% of the profits of corporate India needs to be allocated for investing in creating digital access to India at large
  • Telcom companies should come out with packages designed especially for students and teachers regarding internet access.
  • Furthermore, non-government organizations should roll out voluntary support to digital access for all Indians through campaigns like donation of discarded but functioning cell phones, laptops etc. to the less privileged.

5. DIGITAL LEARNING TOOLS TODAY

5.1 Requirements of Digital Learning

  • The covid-19 has necessitated educational institutionsto rapidly offer online learning to their students and fortunately, both, technology and content are available to help universities for this quick transition to digital.
  • Digital learning requires digital transmission of contentsinmultiple forms like audio, video and documents. 
  • Digital learning can involve face-to-face live audio-visual discussions like Zoom or without face-to-face learning as in Google Class.

5.2 Other strategiesto enhance the digital learning experience

  • The Flipped classroom method is an effective instructional strategy in this regard.
  • Here the study resources are provided in advance, and the actual classroom session begins with a quick quiz, then doubts clearance, and then moves to discussions.
  • This internalized, collaborative, experiential and bottom-up learning is more effective than traditional teaching that is instructional, hierarchic and top-down.

5.3 Other avenues of digital learning

  • Some other tools of digital learning are
    • Massive open online course
    • Collaborative distance learning, wikis, blogs etc.
    • Learning Management Systems like BlackBoard learn and TCSion LMS to develop customized, secured and IPR protected content.
    • Online learning avenues like Swayam online lessons from UGC.

5.4 Use of innovations in digital learning

  • Digital learning can be further assisted with Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed Reality (MR) to enhance the learning experience.
  • These immersive and contextual experiences combined with artificial intelligence driven chatbots can further enhance the digital interface of the learner and the mentor.

6. DIGITAL LEARNING VALUE-ADDS

6.1 Developing personalised curriculum

  • Development of even a personalised curriculum is possible by incorporating big data analytics and content management like in WiseWire where the content changes for each student.
  • There is also an increasing demand for developing educational content with style and language that suits the learners like use of millennials' language and style.

6.2 Using Smartphone applications

  • Smartphone applications can also help teachers interact with students and keep a track of their progress.
  • They can also collaborate via cloud-based applications on projects. Teachers can also publish quizzes and polls to keep the students engaged.
  • Other applications also use video as a learning resource.

6.3 Use of Social Media

Social Media applications also being creatively integrated with school education.

  • Facebook Pagesare being usedto broadcast updates and alerts.
  • Facebook Group and Google Hangout are being used to stream live lectures and host discussions.
  • Twitter is being used as class message board.
  • Platforms as Word Pressare being used to create class blogs for discussions.

7. DIGITAL ASSESSMENT AND EVALUATION

7.1 Assessment

  • It refers to the performance of the learner.
  • It helps the teacher to decide is the student is learning and what improvements are required and where.

7.2 Evaluation

  • It is a systematic process of determining the merit value or worth of the instruction or programme.
  • It helps to determine the effectiveness of the course.

7.3 Digital Assessment and evaluation

  • There are plenty of options available for digital assessment and evaluation of the learning. Some of them are:
    • Online quiz
    • online open book examination with time-managed and proctored question paper
    • applied questions based on comprehension and not memorization
    • Telephonic interview etc.
    • Feedbacks can be put to use for evaluation

8. POSSIBILITIES IN EDUCATION BEYOND COVID

8.1 Era of blended learning

  • The covid-19 pandemic has been a boon for online learning across all education levels and now the focus should be on providing quality content.
  • The post-covid era will be one of blended learning as the COVID-19 experience in education has taught us that digital tools are mere complements and not substitutes to the intimacy provided by face-to-face learning.
  • However, as the contents are increasingly moved online, it leaves the precious classroom time for more productive utilisation like discussion, debate and guided practice.

8.2 Teachers as mentors

  • In the post-covid new normal, teachers will act as mentors since information and knowledge will be available at the fingertips of the learners.
  • These mentors will be needed to inspire, motivate and direct students to a new domain of learning.

8.3 Students as true learners

  • Likewise, students will now be true learners since there is a greater onus of learning on the students.
  • Students study for exams, marks and degrees, under the tutelage of teachers, with a structured syllabus.
  • Learners learn within and beyond the classroom, from mentors and others, for lifetime use of knowledge for a career and life, within and beyond the syllabus.

9. CONCLUSION

In the post-covid education, engagement is at the center with an equal share of entertainment. Absence from classrooms and disinterest in learning have been the two most serious grievances of learning for a long time.

Digital learning allows the learner, the flexibility of being engaged with the learning process at his time, place and pace.

The future education will qualitatively be different from present. In the future, marks and degree certificates will not decide the quality of education.

The quality of the content will instead be decided by the level of academic and related online and social media engagement of the learners, the quality of content shared by mentors, and the value and volume of content generated by engaged learners.

A race to the bottom

1. CONTEXT OF THE NEWS

Recently the results for Class X and XII were declared and the students have scored as high as a 100%.

Some have all scored a 100% in humanities subjects. The newsworthiness of the declaration of the CBSE result competes with events as the monsoon, the budget and a stock market collapse.

While the inflated marks in the exams makes everyone happy, the editorial suggests that this evaluation strategy will have long-term repercussions.

2. CLASS X AND XII EXAMS

2.1 Importance of the exams

  • This time of the year is nerve wrenching for the lakhs of students who have already appeared in their Class X and Cass XII, and their families since during this time of the year, the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) declares the results for these classes.
  • Over the years, a student's performance in Class X and XII examinations has become a benchmark for their academic competence.
  • More than that, success or failure in these exams is the key determinant of the self-worth for lakhs of students.

2.2 How big are these exams?

  • The number of students from across the country appearing for these examinations are to the tune of above 30 lakhs.
  • Not only that, even in terms of the range of subjects, these exams are mindboggling. In 2018 the CBSE offered around 800 subjects ranging from the mundane physics, maths, biology, economics to esoteric disciplines like olericulture and confectionery.
  • To reduce the risk of paper leakage, CBSE sends many sets of encrypted question papers to the examination centres some of which are located in extremely remote areas.
  • Therefore, these exams conducted by the CBSE across the nation are a humongous task in planning and logistics.
  • Furthermore, the successful completion of the entire process year after year without any major glitches is a testament to the organisational abilities of the CBSE.

3. EVALUATING THE CBSE

3.1 Lack of competency in evaluation process

  • However, unfortunately the same level of logistical and organisational competency of the CBSE is not visible in arguably the most important aspect of the whole exercise viz. academic soundness of the learning and evaluation processes.
  • The most important reason for the existence of the CBSE is ensuring relevant syllabi, high academic standards in teaching the students and the evaluation of students and the boards does not seem to be delivering here.

3.2 Syllabus

  • The syllabus is an essential part of the whole learning process in any subject.
  • It largely defines the boundaries of what is to be taught and up to what degree of detail.
  • The syllabus is usually set by the SME (subject matter experts) which includes teachers and researchers.
  • The experts decide the inclusion or exclusion of topics, their sequencing and their relative importance.
  • After the syllabus is decided, it is translated into textbooks, which are written by another set of experts commissioned by NCERT.
  • The NCERT textbooks are comprehensive and maintains high academic standards.

3.3 The evaluation process

  • The CBSE has done a laudable job in setting the syllabi, commissioning the textbooks and conducting the exams.
  • Therefore, the core issue is that of the evaluation process and its feedback effects on the learning process.
  • If the students and teachers, the two most important actors in the evaluation process know that evaluation demands a certain kind of pedagogy and methodology, then there is enough incentive for them to adopt the same and this feedback works in many ways.

3.4 Maximum good to the maximum number

  • A case in point for the effect of feedback on evaluation demands is the portion of the syllabus that is being tested in the exam.
  • The Class XII board exam covers the syllabus taught only in Class XII instead of the combined syllabus of Class XI and XII.
  • Because the evaluation of the Class XII board exam is only on the basis of the syllabus of Class XI, the syllabus to be covered in Class XI received only little attention by both students and teachers.
  • Far worse is the fact that in order to do “maximum good to the maximum number,” the CBSE, in some subjects like Physics has included relatively easier topics in the Class XII syllabus while the more challenging concepts are left for Class XI.
  • This can have dire consequences on the assimilation and understanding of the subject.

4. THE HIGH EVALUATION SCORES

4.1 Moderation

  • As seen above, the evaluation process is determining the learning outcomes.
  • However, the experts point out that the evaluation process appears to have only one overarching goal that is to ensure that maximum number of students pass the exam and a large number of them score very high marks. 
  • This goal is ensured by the innocuously named system called “moderation”.
  • The question papers undergo moderation to ensure that they are not too challenging and if by any chance, a reasonable question paper, which really tests the conceptual understanding of the student gets through this rigorous exercise, there is a great hue and cry about it.

4.2 Generosity in giving marks

  • The results of the CBSE Class X and XII exams show the generosity of CBSE in giving the marks.
  • The following metrics are steading increasing with every passing academic calendar:
    • the pass percentage
    • the number of students getting above95%
    • the number of students getting 100%

4.3 Intended goal of evaluation

  • Such numbers looks very impressive on paper but in reality reduce the whole evaluation process to a farce.
  • The evaluation of a student intends to test the following:
    • understanding and conceptual clarity of the subject
    • the power of critical thinking acquired by the student
    • the student's ability to assimilate the concepts of a subject
  • Therefore, the marks after evaluation are meant to provide a true measure of the student's appropriateness for further academic work or a job.

4.4 Effect of high marks

  • The marks scored by the student is meant to provide an honest benchmark of the student's capabilities but this exercise is rendered futile if it becomes obvious to outsiders, either by themselves or in a comparative sense, that the marks scored are not a true reflection of the student’s abilities.
  • The lack of trust in the evaluation system of the CBSE is evident from the following:
    • The most premier and self-respecting institutions of higher learning in the country do not trust these marks and therefore have their own entrance tests.
    • Academics in the country are frequently seen lamenting the weak foundations of students’ learning.
    • The industrial sector is also often seen complaining about the lack of analytical skills in the same students after their college degrees.

5. CONCLUSION

Even the dictators in many countries known to rig the elections do not make it to a 100% in their favour so that the elections appear 'free and fair'.

Inflating the marks keeps the trio of parents, students and politicians happy but this race to the “top” in reality is a race to the bottom and will have long-term consequences.

This populist approach to evaluation by the CBSE needs a revisit. CBSE needs to reorient its evaluation system in such a manner that it encourages actual learning.

India cannot be a major player in the knowledge economy of the future if our evaluation system does not encourage actual learning.

Educational Materials in Indian Sign Language

Context:

A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between Indian Sign Language Research and Training Center-ISLRTC and NCERT to make educational materials accessible for Deaf children in their preferred format of communication viz Indian Sign Language.

  • According to the WHO in 2018, the prevalence of hearing impairment in India is around 6.3% which means 63 million people suffering from significant auditory loss.

Significance:

  • The availability of NCERT textbooks in Indian Sign Language will ensure that Hearing Impaired children can also now access educational resources in Indian Sign Language.
  • It will be useful for Hearing Impaired students, teachers, teacher educators, parents, and the Hearing Impaired community, which in turn will have a huge impact on the education of Hearing Impaired children in the country.
  • After this MoU, NCERT educational books and materials will be available in Indian Sign Language which is the same all over India, which means all hearing-impaired students of India whether, from East or West or North or South, they all will read NCERT books in a single language i.e. Indian Sign Language. 
  • MoU is a step towards achieving the common goal of fulfilling the needs of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPWD) Act, 2016, and New Education Policy, 2020.

Indian Sign Language Research and Training Centre:

  • It is an autonomous national institute of the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DEPwD), Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.
  • It was established in 2015.
  • It is dedicated to the task of developing man-power for popularizing the use of Indian Sign Language, teaching and conducting research in Indian Sign Language.

NCERT:

  • It is an autonomous organization under MHRD.
  • NCERT is responsible for ensuring qualitative improvement in school education by undertaking and promoting research in areas related to school education.
  • It acts as a nodal agency for achieving the goals of the Universalization of Elementary Education.

Source: PIB

Reset rural job policies to recognise women’s work

1. CONTEXT OF THE NEWS

As the Indian economy comes out of the lockdown restrictions while the health implications of the COVID-19 is still looming, the labour market policy should be designed in a way to reverse the gender-differentiated impact the COVID-19 has had on the Indian economy.

This editorial discusses the need to designing and implementation policies to assist women.

2. GREATER IMPACT OF COVID-19 ON WOMEN

2.1 Effect on jobs

  • The adverse economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are adversely huge on women but very little attention is paid on the adverse impacts of the pandemic on women due to paucity of official statistics on women workers.
  • Due to the inadequate and inaccurate data available on women's work, there is also a lack of specific policies and programmes to assist them.
  • A survey conducted by Azim Premji University on 5,000 workers across 12 States, 52% of whom were women workers revealed that the adverse impact of the nationwide lockdown are disproportionately higher on women worker.
  • The survey revealed that while 71% of women rural casual workers lost their jobs during the lockdown, the number stands at 59% for men.
  • Data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) also confirms the above finding. It reveals that job losses in April 2020 were larger for rural women than men when compared to the data for April 2019.

2.2 Effect on health and nutrition

  • As the nationwide lockdown significantly lowered employment in agriculture and allied activities and halted non-agricultural employment completely, the burden of care on women mounted up.
  • All the members of the family were at home during the lockdown. Men out of jobs or working from home, children out of schools, the chores of cooking, cleaning, childcare and elderly care became more onerous.
  • Managing the increased amount of household work that too during a crisis when provisioning has to be done at reduced levels of income and tight budgets will surely have significant long-term effects on the physical and mental health of women.
  • High levels of malnutrition among rural women is most likely going to worsen as rural families survive on reduced food intake.

3. PRE COVID-19 SITUATION

  • For a thorough examination of COVID-19 impact on women workers, we analyse the situation before the pandemic.
  • 25% of adult rural women were counted as “workers” in official data for the year 2017-18 in the national labour force surveys.
  • However, the situation changes drastically when we examine the data from time-use survey.
  • A time-use survey collects information on all activities undertaken during a fixed time period (usually 24 hours).
  • Presently, there are no official time-use survey data available.
  • Although, the National Statistical Office conducted a time-use survey in 2019  but the results are not available.
  • This editorial uses time-use survey from a village in Karnataka.

4. FEATURES OF RURAL WOMEN WORKFORCE

4.1 Crisis of regular employment

  • Rural women face a crisis of regular employment.
  • It suggests that women not reported as 'workers' in official surveys are so because of lack of employment opportunities and not due to “withdrawal” from the labour force.
  • The crisis of regular employment has definitely intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic and the nationwide lockdown.

4.2 Participation by women from all sections

  • Several independent surveys have revealed that women from almost all sections of the peasantry participate in paid work outside the home barring some regional exceptions.
  • Therefore while considering 'potential workforce' women from a majority of rural household should be taken into account and not just women from sections of rural labour or manual worker households.

4.3 More participation by older women

  • Relatively younger and more educated women often do not seek work because they aim at finding work in skilled non-agricultural sectors while older women are more likely to work as manual labour.

4.4 Rising wage gaps

  • Another crucial finding is that wages for the same work for women are rarely equal to wages for men, barring some exceptions.
  • The gap between the wages is highest for non-agricultural works, which is the new and expanding source of employment.

4.5 Exceedingly high work hours

  • A women's workday in rural India is significantly higher.
  • When all forms of work are included viz. economic activity and care work (which includes household chores as cooking, cleaning, childcare, elderly care) the total work hours for women is exceedingly long.
  • Surveys reveal that total work hours for women (in economic activity and care) ranges from 61 to 88 hours in the lean season and up to as high as 91 hours (or 13 hours a day) in the peak season. All women have at least a 60-hour workweek.

5. EFFECT OF THE LCOKDOWN ON JOBS

5.1 Effect on jobs in agriculture sector

  • Various surveys have shown that during the lockdown period no agricultural activity was undertaken during the lean months of March to May in large parts of the country where rain-fed agriculture is prevalent.
  • In parts of India where irrigated agriculture has significant presence there were some harvest operations (such as for rabi wheat in northern India) but these activities were largely mechanised.
  • In yet other harvest operations like that of vegetables there was a low tendency to involve hired labour out of the fear of infection and a majority of households relied on family labour.
  • Hence, summing up even as agricultural activity continued during the lockdown period, employment avenues for women were severely restricted.
  • Similar was the case for agriculture-allied activities like animal rearing, fisheries and floriculture. Both income as well as employment in agriculture-allied activities were adversely affected by the lockdown.
  • Village studies show that women are inevitably a part of the labour process in case the family owns animals whether milch cattle or chickens or goats.
  • During the lockdown, demand for milk fell by at least 25% due to closing up of hotels, restaurants and eateries as well as fear of infection by households.
  • Incomes from the sale of milk to dairy cooperatives fell down for women throughout the nation.
  • In the fisheries sector as well women could not process or sell fish and fish products as fishermen could not go to sea due to the lockdown.

5.2 Effect on jobs in Non-agricultural sector

  • Jobs in non-agricultural sector too halted completely as construction sites, brick kilns, petty stores and eateries, local factories and other firm were completely shut down in the lockdown period.
  • Studies have shown that women have accounted for more than half of workers in public works. But there was a dearth of employment available through the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS).
  • Therefore, in the first month of lockdown there was a total collapse of non-agricultural employment for women although there was a big increase in demand for NREGS employment.
  • Government schemes most importantly those in health and education sectors have been one of the new sources of employment for women in the last few years like women working as Anganwadi workers or mid-day meal cooks.
  • During the pandemic, Accredited Social Health Activists or ASHAs, 90% of whom are women, have become frontline health workers, although they are not recognised as “workers” or paid a regular wage.

6. WAY AHEAD

  • First and foremost we need to redefine the contours of rural labour market by including the contribution of women as the country emerges from the lockdown.
  • For the immediate and short run provisioning of employment for women, the NREGS can be expanded with special focus on women.
  • A medium to long provisioning of women-specific employment can be done by generating more employment in skilled occupations and in businesses and new enterprises.
  • Women have already been playing a significant role in health care at the grass-root level and therefore in the proposed expansion of health infrastructure in the country, they must be given recognition as 'workers' and should be duly compensated.
  • The announcement of rural infrastructure expansion by Finance Minister is a laudable step but at the same time, safe and easy transport for women from their homes to workplaces needs to be ensured.
  • As the lockdown is slowly opening up, the children and elderly remain at home. The burden of care for them rests on the shoulders of women.
  • In addition, men have seen to have a higher likelihood to contract COVID-19 infection than women do which in turn increases the burden on women to earn the family bread.
  • Given these facts, we also need to reduce the drudgery of care work for women like delivering healthy meals for schoolchildren, elderly and the sick can significantly reduce the burden of home cooking.

7. CONCLUSION

Women should be seen as equal partners in rural workforce and in transforming the rural economy.

To achieve this we need to accurately capture workforce data on women and use it to design and implement policies specific to women.

Can alternative medicine be subject to modern rigour?

1. CONTEXT OF THE NEWS

Recently, an Indian firm developed an Ayurvedic Medicine and claimed it as a cure for the COVID-19 pandemic. Medicine was criticized for making unsubstantiated claims of efficiency.

This editorial discusses the possibility of subjecting alternative medicine to the same levels of evaluation like modern medicine.

2. PROCESS OF DEVELOPMENT OF A NEW DRUG

2.1 The process of Development of a New Drug in modern medicine

  • Step 1: Discovery and Development of a new drug.
  • Step 2: Preclinical Research is done before testing the new drug on people to determine its toxicity on the human body.
  • Step 3: Clinical Research is trials done on humans to study how the drug interacts with the human body.
  • Step 4: Review of the drug by the Nation's Drug Administrative Authority where the study was done on the drug is submitted by the developer and examined by the authority for approval.
  • Step 5: Post-Market Safety Monitoring of the Drug - it takes months or even years to fully understand all the aspects of a new drug. In this step, the Administrative body reviews all the reports on the drug-related to prescription and over-the-counter drugs and cautions or usage information etc. are added.

2.2 Procedure for testing a new investigational drug in Ayurveda:

  • There are two aspects to the clinical use of Ayurvedic drugs.
  • The first category of drugs belongs to those drugs that are described in the classical texts and are listed in the Drugs and Cosmetics Act of India.
  • They have a prescribed formulation to be used in certain specified conditions and have been used for several hundred years in India as well as other parts of the world effectively.
  • If these drugs are found useful in case of a new condition (like many ayurvedic drugs found to be effective in case of COVID-19 infections) and there is textual evidence to suggest their efficacy, such ayurvedic drugs can proceed to human trials straight away because their toxicity and pre-clinical aspects have already been well understood are researched.
  • The second category of drugs, with an entirely new formula for a new set of conditions, has to follow the same path of toxicity, preclinical efficacy, and subsequent clinical trials as modern medicines.

2.3 The need for rigorous testing for alternative medicines:

  • A large number of practitioners of alternative medicine feel that there is a disproportionately higher burden of proof on alternative medicine vis-a-vis modern medicine but each and every drug must be tested for safety and effectiveness before it can be prescribed widely.
  • Past experience or quoting classical texts or literature cannot be a certain proof for the efficacy of the drug against a new disease.
  • The results of certain drugs, which worked well in the case of Ebola, were extrapolated to use the drugs for treating COVID-19, but they did not work.
  • Many a time successful preclinical trials (medicines working in Petri dishes) do not work with the same efficacy on the human body.
  • There are some basic scientific principles aimed to minimize the bias that must be followed by all branches of medicine whether alternative or modern.

3. EVALUATING A NEW DRUG FOR COVID-19

3.1 Lack of a reference point:

  • There is no difference in the standards of testing for evaluation of the safety and efficacy of ayurvedic medicine vis-a-vis modern medicine.
  • Presently there is no standard of care or an effective drug for COVID-19 to reliably compare a new drug with.
  • Drugs are evaluated on the basis of an expected specific outcome.
  • In the context of disease management, neither does a single drug work for the entire population nor does a single drug works with the same efficacy during a patient's lifetime.
  • The CCRS (Central Council for Research in Ayurvedic Sciences) provides guidelines and procedures for the evaluation of an ayurvedic drug.

4. IS AYURVEDA UNSCIENTIFIC?

4.1 Lack of peer review and journal:

  • In the pharmaceutical sector, usually, the trial results of new drugs are reviewed by peers and published in a journal, which is then evaluated for the drugs' benefits or non-efficacy by independent experts.
  • Many people cite a lack of this practice in alternative medicine and there are claims that negative results are not reported in alternative medicine. However, there is more than meets the eyes.
  • Ayurvedic research publications generally do not find a place in well-reputed, high-impact medical journals but still there is no denying that there is a lack of negative outcomes being published but at the same time, it is not a problem with Ayurveda alone.
  • Clinical trials by universities and research counselors, thesis reports of research students keep appearing in Ayurvedic journals, however, there is certainly a need to upgrade the quality of these journals.

4.2 Lack of technological interventions in Ayurveda:

  • There is a definite need for technological interventions and medical instruments as ventilators and pulse oximeters for diseases like COVID-19.
  • It is a common misconception that Ayurveda is allergic to modern technological devices.
  • Ayurveda and alternative medicine not only relies on natural concoctions but also integrates modern medical facilities and technologies in the clinical protocols of these medicine systems.
  • However, Ayurveda also relies on the assessment of disease in an ayurvedic style which includes a focus on both the virus as well as certain baseline health parameters like diet and sleep which indicate the efficacy of treatment.

4.3 Lack of testing of Ayurvedic Medicines:

  • Ayurvedic medicines are generally not allowed anywhere to be tested in severe or critically ill situations, which could improve outcomes.
  • The modern medical world and society both need to be taken in confidence and assured that ayurvedic medicines can be tested in those conditions as well.

4.4 A highly personalized medical system:

  • Ayurveda is often considered as a highly personalized system of medicine where the treatment is customized to an individual.
  • On the other hand, Modern medicine provides for the same drugs for a given set of conditions.
  • For the strictly same set of clinical indications, same ayurvedic medicines can be prescribed too.
  • At the same time, it should be kept in mind that one-drug-fits-all notion in modern medicine itself is being challenged every day.

5. WAY FORWARD:

5.1 Integration of the two systems of medicine

  • Modern medicine is a more rational, analytic, and structured approach towards treating disease.
  • On the other hand, Ayurveda has a holistic and more intuitive approach, which takes the whole person into consideration and not just the disease.
  • While modern medicine focuses only on a cell, an organ or a disease, Ayurveda believes that whole is more important than parts and focuses on the person as a whole.
  • An integrated approach would be a win-win situation for both disciplines, would provide holistic care for the patients and wholesome disease management.

5.2 Science should not be left behind:

  • However, the principles of science and ethics should not be missed during their integration.
  • The strength of modern medicine is that it focuses very strongly on meaningful outcomes of the drug including saving lives and speedy recovery.
  • Sometimes in the name of traditional knowledge, alternative medicines are pushed through without enough research and trials. Negative results are frequently hidden.
  • Traditional medicines like modern medicine should have the humility and transparency to accept that a particular drug does not work (like hydroxychloroquine, remdesivir do not reduce mortality and the dual combination of antiviral drugs does not work).

6. CONCLUSION

Both systems of medicines, modern or traditional ultimately aims to heal individuals and save lives.

An integrated approach would be beneficial for both the systems as well as for the patients. However, a certain basic set of scientific principles must be applied to all systems of medicines.

Furthermore, the products of both the systems of medicine are frequently in the hands of commercial pharmaceutical companies who aim similar tactics to increase profit. This creates more harm than good and presents a case for de-linking the nexus between pharmaceutical companies and medicine.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

1. The Patanjali Controversy regarding claimed COVID-19 cure

  • Recently PatanjaliAyurved owned by yoga guru Baba Ramdev released an Ayurvedic medicine ‘Coronil and Swasari’ claiming favorable results in clinical trials on COVID-19 affected patients.
  • The Union Government subsequently asked Patanjali Ayurved Limited to stop advertising the drug as a cure for COVID-19 and has sought details of the claimed 'successful trial and cure'.
  • The government has asked PatanjaliAyurved to provide details of the name and composition of the medicines that are claimed as successful in treating COVID-19. Additional details about treatment, site(s) and hospital(s) where the research study was conducted, the protocol, sample size, Institutional Ethics Committee clearance, Clinical Trials Registry-India (CTRI) registration, and results in data of the study are also being sought.

2. About AYUSH Ministry

  • AYUSH stands for Ayurveda, Yoga, Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, and Homoeopathy.
  • The Ministry of AYUSH was created on 9th November 2014
  • It aims at ensuring optimal development and propagation of AYUSH systems of health care.
  • Previously the Ministry was known as the Department of Indian System of Medicine and Homeopathy (ISM&H) and was created in March 1995.
  • It was later renamed as Department of Ayurveda, Yoga, Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy (AYUSH) in November 2003; and focused on the development of Education and Research in six systems of alternative medicine viz. Ayurveda, Yoga, and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, and Homoeopathy.
  • Benefits of AYUSH
    • AYUSH medical framework provides certain advantages over modern medical systems.
    • The AYUSH healthcare system is cheap and affordable.
    • It has comparatively lesser side effects than other conventional medical systems.
    • There are evidence of the effectiveness of the AYUSH system even in chronic cases.
    • Patients in the terminal stages of diseases have also benefitted from AYUSH medication.
    • There is a rise in lifestyle-associated diseases in India compared to communicable diseases like tuberculosis and AYUSH Medical System has proven effective in such diseases.

3. Central Council for Research in Ayurvedic Sciences (CCRAS)

  • It is an autonomous body of the Ministry of AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, and Homeopathy), Government of India.
  • It is an apex body in India for the undertaking, coordinating, formulating, developing, and promoting research on scientific lines in Ayurvedic Sciences.
  • The research activities of the Council include Medicinal Plant Research (Medico-Ethno Botanical Survey, Pharmacognosy and Tissue Culture), Drug Standardization, Pharmacological Research, Clinical Research, Literary Research & Documentation, and Tribal Health Care Research Programme.

Objectives of CCRAS:-

  • Formulate aims and patterns of research on scientific lines in Ayurvedic Sciences.
  • Undertake any research or other programs in Ayurvedic Sciences.
  • To initiate, aid, develop and coordinate scientific research in different aspects, fundamental and applied of Ayurvedic Sciences.
  • To finance inquiries and researches for the furtherance of objects of the Central Council.
  • To undertake R & D Consultancy projects and transfer of patents on drugs and processes to industry.
  • To undertake R & D projects sponsored by industries in the public/private sector.
  • To undertake international and interagency collaboration.
  • To provide technical assistance to Govt./Private agencies in matters consistent with the activities of the Council.

 

The Indian Institutes of Information Technology Bill 2020

Context:

The Parliament has passed a Bill to declare five newly established Indian Institutes of Information Technology (IIITs) as institutions of national importance.

  • The five new IIITs set up under the Public-Private Partnership mode are in Surat, Bhopal, Bhagalpur, Agartala, and Raichur.
  • Currently, these institutes are registered as Societies under the Societies Registration Act, 1860, and do not have the power to grant degrees or diplomas.

Background:

  • IIITs are envisaged to promote higher education and research in the field of Information Technology.
  • Under the Scheme of Setting up of 20 new IIITs in  PPP mode as approved by the Union Cabinet in 2010, 15 IIITs are already covered by the IIIT (PPP) Act, 2017, while the remaining 5 IIITs are to be included under the Schedule of the Act.
  • The Indian Institutes of Information Technology Act of 2014 and Indian Institutes of Information Technology (Public-Private Partnership) Act, 2017 are the unique initiative to impart knowledge in the field of Information Technology to provide solutions to the challenges faced by the country.
  • In IIITs, the government contributes 50 %, and the rest 35 % and 15 % are from the respective state governments and the industry. While in the case of the Northeast, 50 % sum of the industry participation is taken care of by the central government.

Details:

  • The Indian Institutes of Information Technology Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2020 has already been passed by Lok Sabha.
    • Recently, the Bill was introduced in the Upper House by Human Resource Development Minister.
  • Currently, there are 25 IIITs in the country out of which five are purely run by the central government and 15 operate under the public-private partnership (PPP) model.

Significance: 

  • Bringing the five new institutes under IIITs Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2020 will make them Institutes of National Importance and they will have the legal right to issue a diploma, degree, Ph.D., etc.
  • These 5 IIITs along with 15 other IIITs will now be able to use the nomenclature of Bachelor of Technology (BTech) or Master of Technology (MTech) or Ph.D. degree.
  • It will also enable the institutes to attract enough students required to develop a strong research base in the field of information technology.

Institute of National Importance:

  • It is a status that may be conferred on a premier public higher education institution in India by an act of Parliament an institution which "serves as a pivotal player in developing highly skilled personnel within the specified region of the country.
  • Institutes of National Importance receive special recognition and funding from the Government of India.

Source: Indian Express

International Literacy Day 2020

Context:

September 8 marks the celebration of International Literacy Day.

  • Theme: ‘Literacy teaching and learning in the Covid-19 crisis and beyond.’

Background:

  • At the 14th session of UNESCO’s general conference in 1966, the first-ever International Literacy Day was declared and since then it has been celebrated annually on September 8 with an objective to highlight the importance of literacy to individuals and communities around the world.

Literacy at the global level:

  • About 775 million adults lack the minimum education that is required to be literate and of those, 60.7 million children are out of school or are rare attendees.
  • According to the UNESCO’s ‘Global Monitoring Report on Education for All’ (2006), South Asia has the lowest regional adult literacy rate, at 58.6%, and the causes for this illiteracy range from severe poverty and the prejudice against women.

Literacy in India:

  • Definition: A person aged seven and above who can both read and write with understanding in any language, is treated as literate.
    • A person, who can only read but cannot write, is not literate. In the Censuses prior to 1991, children below 5 years of age were treated as illiterates.
    • It was decided at the 1991 Census that all children in the age group 0-6, would be treated as illiterate by definition and the population aged seven years and above only would be classified as literate or illiterate.
    • The same criterion has been retained in the Censuses of 2001 and 2011. Further, a person need not receive any formal education or acquire any minimum qualification to be treated as literate.

Data:

  • According to the National Statistical Office (NSO) survey, Kerala has once again emerged as the most literate state in the country (96.2 %)
  • Andhra Pradesh featured at the bottom with a rate of 66.4 %.

The report on ‘Household Social Consumption:

  • Education in India as part of the 75th round of National Sample Survey – from July 2017 to June 2018’ provides for state-wise detail of literacy rate among the persons aged seven years and above.
    • According to the study, after Kerala, Delhi has the best literacy rate at 88.7 %, followed by Uttarkhand’s 87.6 %, Himachal Pradesh’s 86.6 %, and Assam’s at 85.9 %
    • Rajasthan is the second-worst performer with a literacy rate of 69.7%, followed by Bihar at 70.9 %, Telangana at 72.8%, Uttar Pradesh at 73 %, and Madhya Pradesh at 73.7 %
    • The study has pegged the overall literacy rate in the country at about 77.7 %. In rural areas, the literacy rate is 73.5 % compared to 87.7 % in urban areas of the country.
  • At the all-India level, the male literacy rate is higher at 84.7 % compared to 70.3 % among women.
  • The survey showed that the male literacy rate is higher than the female literacy rate among all states. In Kerala, the male literacy rate is 97.4 % compared to 95.2 % among females. 

Source: Indian Express

English the Medium of Education

Context:

The Supreme Court refused to stay the Andhra Pradesh High Court’s order striking down the state government’s decision to make English the medium of education for government school students from Classes I to VI beginning 2020-21 academic year.

  • According to the Supreme Court, Section 29(2)(f) of the Right to Education (RTE) Act says that the medium of instruction shall, as far as practicable, be in a child’s mother tongue.

Arguments made by the court:

  • The ability to speak in English qualifies one for many jobs that are not yet available for speakers of regional languages. Knowing English is often equated with progressiveness.
  • As per the court, lack of knowledge of English will put the students of government schools on a backfoot as compared to those of English-medium private schools in competitive exams,
  • Most scientific books are available only in English and much of higher education is also imparted in English. This may hinder the access of students from government schools to STEM and higher education.
  • English being the global lingua franca gives the students the opportunity to compete at the global level.

Constitutional and Legal Provisions:

  • Article 29 (Protection of interests of minorities) gives all citizens the right to conserve their language and prohibits discrimination on the basis of language.
  • Article 120 (Language to be used in Parliament) provides for use of Hindi or English for transactions of parliament but gives the right to members of parliament to express themselves in their mother tongue.
  • Part XVII of the Indian Constitution deals with the official languages in Articles 343 to 351.
  • Article 350A: It provides that it shall be the endeavor of every State and of every local authority within the State to provide adequate facilities for instruction in the mother-tongue at the primary stage of education to children belonging to linguistic minority groups.
  • Article 351: It shall be the duty of the Union to promote the spread of the Hindi language.

Source: Indian Express

Supreme Court  Guidelines on Conducting Exams

Context:

Recently, the Supreme Court ruled that the states are empowered under the Disaster Management Act, 2005 to override the University Grants Commission (UGC) exam guidelines in order to protect human lives amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Judgement:

  • A three-judge Bench upheld the power of a State and its disaster management authority to countermand the revised UGC guidelines to conduct the final year and terminal semester examinations by September 30.
  • According to the ruling in case of a disaster, the priority of all authorities under the Disaster Management Act, 2005 is to immediately combat the disaster and contain it to save human life. The saving of the life of a human being is given paramount importance.
    • However, the court also held that the powers of the States under the Disaster Management Act do not extend to promoting students on the sole basis of their internal assessment without taking exams.
    • When the State Disaster Management Authority and State government take a decision that for mitigation or prevention of disaster it is not possible to hold the physical examination in the State, the decision is within the four corners of Disaster Management Act, 2005.
    • However, their decision that students should be promoted without appearing in the final year examination is not within the domain of the Act.
  • In the future, if any State found it impossible to conduct the exams by September 30 and wanted to postpone them, it could apply to the UGC, which would consider the request and decide at the earliest.

Arguments:

  • The court also rejected the argument that compelling attendance by holding a physical examination is a violation of the ‘Right to Life’ under Article 21.
  • It pointed out that the revised guidelines take into consideration the fact that the number of COVID cases is rising.
  • The revised guidelines were based on the recommendations of the R.C. Kuhad Expert Committee. They provided three modes of examination - pen and paper, online and blended (both physical and online). A “special chance” was also given to students unable to take the exams.
    • The R.C. Kuhad Expert Committee: It recommended that exams should be held for Terminal Semester Students while the Intermediate Semester Students should be graded based on internal assessment of the present and previous semester. It also suggested the constitution of a Covid-19 cell in every university.
  • The Standard Operating Procedure for the conduct of examination makes it clear that the UGC, MHRD, and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare were fully concerned with the health of students and exam functionaries.

University Grants Commission (UGC):

  • It is a statutory body that came into existence in 1956 by the UGC Act, 1956.
  • It is charged with coordination, determination, and maintenance of standards of higher education.
  • It provides recognition to universities in India and disburses funds to such recognized universities and colleges.
  • Earlier in 1946, UGC was formed to oversee the work of the three Central Universities of Aligarh, Banaras and, Delhi. In 1947, the Committee was entrusted with the responsibility of dealing with all the then existing Universities.

Source: The Hindu

UGC versus States

CONTEXT OF THE NEWS

The recent battle between UGC and some states over the issue of examination of final year college students has exposed the fraught nature of centre state relation in the area of higher education.

TUSSLE BETWEEN STATES AND UGC

  • Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Maharashtra and some other states cancelled the final year exams for college students and declared to award grades and degrees based on in-semester performance.
  • According to UGC, this was the dilution of standards and ordered the universities to hold exams online, off-line or blended before September 30.
  • UGC also termed this the violation of the laws and encroachment on the legislative field of coordination and determining the standards of higher education.

CONSTITUTIONAL PROVISIONAL

  • Education is part of Directive Principles of state policy, Fundamental Rights and Schedule VII of the Constitution.
  • The Indian constitution in its original enactment defined education as state subject. Under Article 42 of the constitution, an amendment was added in 1976 and education became a concurrent list subject which enables the central government to legislate it in the manner suited to it. Provisions related to education are laid in all the three lists.
  • List-I Union List: 7 subjects are related with education. These are:
    • Entry13: Participation in international conferences, associations and other bodies and implementing of decisions made there at.
    • Entry 62: National libraries and national organizations come under this entry.
    • Entry 63: Central Universities comes under this.
    • Entry 64: Institutions for scientific and technical education financed by the government of India wholly or in part.
    • Entry 65: Consists of Union agencies and institution for a) Professional, vocational or technical training, including the training of police officers; or b) The promotion of special studies or research. c) Scientific or technical assistance in the investigation or detection of crime.
    • Entry 66: Arrangement, for higher education and research comes under this entry. It contains coordination and determination of standards in institutions for higher education or research and scientific and technical institution.
  • List-II State List: 2 subjects are related with education in this list:
    • Entry 11: Contains university education.
    • Entry 12: This contains library, museum and other memorable historical places which are not approved or we can say which are cared by both centre and state.
  • List-III Concurrent List: Following 6 subjects are related with education.
    • Entry 25: Technical, medical and university education which is not related with centre list (63-66), so centre and state government both can make laws on it.
    • Entry 26: According to this, centre and state government both can take necessary steps for the development of law, maintenance of health and of other professional education.
    • Entry 39: Newspapers, books and printing presses.
    • Entry 47: Fees in respect of any of the matters in this List, but not including fees taken in any court.
    • Entry 10: Trust and Trustees.
    • Entry 28: Charities and charitable institutions, charitable and religious endowments and religious institutions.

UNIVERSITY GRANTS COMMISSION (UGC)

  • It was established in 1953 and became a statutory body through an Act of Parliament in 1956.
  • It is the apex body that, along with the All India Council for Technical Education, the National Council for Teachers Education and the Distance Education Council, regulates universities and colleges across India.
  • It is not just responsible for providing grants to universities, colleges and researchers but also coordinates university education, decide and maintain education standards, monitor development and advise central and state governments on how to improve university education.

MAJOR CONCERNS WITH HIGHER EDUCATION SYSYTEM

  • The present system is not scientific based and has excessively bureaucratic national system of accreditation and rankings for institutions.
  • The system does not deal with practical knowledge and social problem of the society. Every state has different problems and culture and yet the case study on local problems has been absent in the curricula.
  • If states innovate, the MHRD is more likely to steam-roll it. It was witnessed in Maharashtra, where its innovative programme, Unnat Maharashtra Abhiyan, linking colleges with district administration was refused support by the MHRD.
  • Centre has more control over the system. It decided the curricula, the teachers and their salaries.
  • Most Regulations of the UGC or MHRD do not apply to Central institutions such as the IITs or IISERs. They soak up most of the Funds and prestige and yet their output is not commensurate.
  • Qualifying exams like UGC-NET, JEE, NEET and GATE adversely impact the overall development of the youth. These intervene in the state’s ability to provide doctors and engineers from the local population and distort the meaning and practice of science.
  • It is an elite centralized system which is not accountable to meaningful jobs or welfare within the states.

Issues and Challenges with HIGHER EDUCATION

  • Outdated and rigid curricula, absence of employer engagement in the course content and few opportunities for interdisciplinary learning.
  • Pedagogy and assessment are focused on input and rote learning.
  • Teacher vacancies: High student-teacher ratio, due to the lack of teaching staff and pressure to enroll more students.
  • Lack of research capacity and innovation: Divide between research and teaching; lack of early-stage research experience.
  • An ineffective quality assurance system and a complete lack of accountability by institutions to the state and central government, students and other stakeholders.
  • Lack of employable skills:  Lack of employable skills in students of technical education has been observed. 

CRITICISM OF UGC

  • UGC is first name to criticize when we talk about the reform of higher education. Though the number of students enrolling in colleges and universities one cannot deny the facts that UGC is responsible for the falling standards of higher education.
  • It failed to attract world class faculty to Indian universities.
  • It instituted a flawed system of rewarding research, the Academic Performance Index, based on the number of citations an article gets and the journal in which it is published.
  • It is usually locked horns with different departments and states on different issues of education.

Way Forward

  • There is a need to give space to the state on the matter of the education. The standards must be based on any study of what the states need.
  • Conducting exams during a pandemic should be a decision taken by the states and UGC should not term it as a legislative encroachment.
  • Students should understand how their future is bogged down by a higher education system and a scientific bureaucracy which is structurally flawed.
  • States should create a system which opens up professional opportunities, standards and training for the youth to serve community and achieving excellence through relevance.

Source: Indian Express

National Recruitment Agency (NRA)

Context:

The Union Cabinet has decided to set up a National Recruitment Agency (NRA). NRA will conduct a common preliminary examination for various recruitments in the central government.

  • An amount of Rs 1517.57 crore has been approved for the NRA, for a period of 3 years. The fund will be used for setting up of NRA, and examination centres in ‘aspirational districts’.

Functions of the NRA:

  • Initially, NRA will organise a common eligibility test (CET) to shortlist candidates for the Group B and C (non -technical) posts, which are now being conducted by the Staff Selection Commission (SSC), Railways Recruitment Board (SSC) and Institute of Banking Personnel Selection (IBPS). Later on, more exams may be brought under it.
  • The NRA will have representatives from SSC, IBPS and RRB.
  • The test will be conducted for three levels: graduate, higher secondary (12th pass) and the matriculate (10th pass) candidates.
    • However, the present recruitment agencies IBPS, RRB and SCC will remain in place.
  • Based on the screening done at the CET score level, final selection for recruitment shall be made through separate specialised Tiers (II, III, etc.) of examination which shall be conducted by the respective recruitment agencies.
    • The curriculum for CET would be common.
    • Each district to have an examination centre
    • Examination centres would be set up in every district.
    • A special focus will be on creating examination infrastructure in the 117 ‘Aspirational Districts’.

The validity of the CET score:

  • The CET score of a candidate shall be valid for a period of three years from the date of declaration of the result.
  • The best of the valid scores shall be deemed to be the current score of the candidate.
  • There will be no restriction on the number of attempts to be taken by a candidate to appear in the CET, however, it will be subject to the upper age limit.
  • The relaxation in the upper age limit shall be given to candidates of reserved category  (SC/ST/OBC) and other categories as per the government policy.

The medium of CET:

  • The exam will be conducted in 12 languages that are in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution of India.

Significance:

  • As of now, aspirants have to take different exams that are conducted by various agencies for central government jobs. Every year on an average 2.5 crore to 3 crore aspirants appear for about 1.25 lakh vacancies in the central government.
  • The NRA will conduct CET and based on the CET score a candidate can apply for a vacancy with the respective agency.

Benefits:

  • A single eligibility test would “significantly reduce” the recruitment cycle.
  • Some departments are planning to do away with any second-level test and go ahead with the recruitment on the basis of CET scores, Physical Tests and Medical examination.
  • NRE will benefit the candidates in many ways. In the present system, candidates have to appear in multiple examinations conducted by multiple agencies.
  • Candidates have to incur expenditure on examination fees, travel, boarding, lodging etc. The single examination is expected to reduce the financial burden.

Source: Indian Express

Atal Ranking of Institutions on Innovation Achievements (ARIIA) 2020

Context:

The Vice-President of India has announced Atal Ranking of Institutions on Innovation Achievements (ARIIA) 2020. 

The 2020 ranking:

  • For the first time, ARIIA 2020 has a special prize category for women.
  • The ARIIA announcement included classification of the institutes into two broad categories and six subcategories.
    • Among these, IIT Madras bagged the top position under the category of Institutes of National Importance, Central Universities, and Centrally Funded Technical Institutes.
  • Institute of Chemical Technology, Mumbai got the top position under Government and Government Aided Universities; College of Engineering, Pune under Government and Government Aided Colleges; Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology, Bhubaneswar under Private or Self-Financed Universities and SR Engineering College, Warangal under Private or Self-Financed Colleges were declared on top positions respectively.

About ARIIA:

  • ARIIA is an initiative of the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD).
  • It is implemented by AICTE and Ministry’s Innovation Cell, Government of India.
  • Objective: To systematically rank all major higher educational institutions and universities in India on indicators related to “Innovation and Entrepreneurship Development” amongst students and faculties.

Major Indicators:

  • Budget & Funding Support.
  • Infrastructure & Facilities.
  • Awareness, Promotions & support for Idea Generation & Innovation.
  • Promotion & Support for Entrepreneurship Development.
  • Innovative Learning Methods & Courses.
  • Intellectual Property Generation, Technology Transfer & Commercialization.
  • Innovation in Governance of the Institution.

Significance: 

  • It inspires Indian institutions to reorient their mindset and build ecosystems to encourage high-quality research, innovation, and entrepreneurship. 
  • ARIIA focuses on the quality of innovations and will try to measure the real impact created by these innovations nationally and internationally. 
  • ARIIA also sets tone and direction for institutions for future development for making them globally competitive and at the forefront of innovation.

Source: Indian Express

India’s population data and a tale of two projections

1. CONTEXT OF THE NEWS

A recent study published in the esteemed journal, The Lancet and prepared by the Seattle-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) has astonished the world of population policy.

It has projected India’s population by the end of the century to lower than what anybody could have anticipated.

The editorial discusses various aspects of the report and analyses the population policy of India over time and its effects.

2. PROJECTIONS BY IHME

2.1 Projection for India

  • The research by the Seattle-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) suggests that India will surely become the most populous country in the world with the population peaking by the mid-century.
  • However, the report also suggests that by the end of the 21st century, the ultimate population of India will be around 1.09 billion compared to 1.35 billion presently.
  • The report further suggests that the numbers could be as low as 724 million.

2.2 Projections on COVID-19 related deaths

  • In March 2020, the IHME had projected that the number of deaths in U.S.A. due to COVID-19, by the month of August, would be around 81,000.
  • However, deaths in the U.S. today are twice that projection.
  • This was because the underlying assumptions for the initial model were not borne out.
  • In a similar fashion, the underlying assumptions considered to make the population projection too deserve careful scrutiny.

3. ANALYSING IHME PROJECTIONS

3.1 Projected fertility rate

  • The IHME has projected that by 2100, the average Indian women will bear 1.29 children.
  • Since a couple (two people) will replace themselves with only 1.29 children, this will result into a sharp population decline.
  • While the model puts India's fertility rate at 1.29, the same model predicts a fertility rate of 1.53 for the United States and 1.78 for France.
  • It is difficult to comprehend that Indian parents will be less committed to childbearing than American or French parents.

3.2 Contrast with UN Projections

  • Tillthe year 2050, the IMHE projections are in tune with the widely accepted United Nations projections.
  • The UN projects India's population to be around 1.64 billion by 2050, while the IHME projects it to be around 1.61 billion by 2048.
  • However, in the second half of the century, the two projections diverge significantly.
  • While the UN projects India's population to be around of 1.45 billion by 2100, the IHME put the number at 1.09 billion for the same time period.

                 

3.3 Possible reason for the divergence

  • One of the reasons for this divergence is the excessive reliance of the IHME model on data regarding current contraceptive use in the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) and potential for increasing contraceptive use.
  • However, a research at the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) National Data Innovation Centre reveals that the contraceptive use in the NFHS is poorly estimated.
  • As a result, the unmet need of contraception may be lower than what the IHME model has estimated, thereby leading to the implausible low fertility projections for 2100.

4. FERTILITY DECLINE

4.1 India's Total fertility rate (TFR) over the years

  • Irrespective of believing the UN’s projections, or the IHME projections, one thing is certain that India's demographic future will experience a peaking and subsequent decline driven by a sharp reduction in fertility.
  • India's Total fertility rate (TFR) in the 1950s was approximately six children per woman.
  • Today the TFR stands at 2.2.
  • Ironically, the massive push for family planning and forced sterilisation during the Emergency period led to only a mere 17% decline in TFR from 5.9 in 1960 to 4.9 in 1980.
  • However, between 1992 and 2015 the TFR fell by 35% from 3.4 to 2.2.

4.2 Accelerated Fertility Decline

  • However there is also the question of the accelerate fertility decline to a level where 18 States and Union Territories have a below 2 TFR, which is below the replacement level.
  • The answer could lie in the success of the family planning programme. However, it is to be noted that family planning has long lost its primacy in the Indian policy discourse.
  • During 1975 to 1994, family planning workers were given targets regarding:
    • sterilisations
    • condom distribution
    • intrauterine device (IUD) insertion
  • The targets led to explicit or implicit coercion.
  • However, these targets were abandoned in 1994 following the Cairo conference on Population and Development.

4.3 Carrot and Stick

  • While the incentives for short families have been abandoned, the punitive policies for people with large families has also been largely ineffective.
  • These policies include:
    • denial of maternity leave for third and subsequent births
    • limiting the benefits of maternity schemes
    • ineligibility to contest in local body elections for individuals with large families
  • However, various researches reveal that these policies were largely ignored in reality.

5. ASPIRATIONAL REVOLUTION

5.1 Socioeconomic transformation - the real game changer

  • We see that public policies to encourage small family norms or providing contraception have been unenthusiastic and lax.
  • The question then arises that what led to people adopt the idea of small families?
  • The answer lies in the socioeconomic transformation of India since the 1990s, which has played the major role in abandoning of large families by people.
  • Since 1990s following changes took place:
    • agriculture became an increasingly smaller part of the Indian economy
    • enrolment in school and college rose sharply
    • number of government jobs increased
    • multinationals and software services companies gathered tremendous financial benefits
  • This stimulated the Indian parents to rethink the existing family-building strategies.
  • While farmers saw more farm workers in a large family, the new aspirational parents saw education and enrolment in better schools and colleges as the key to success.

5.2 Different causes for fertility reduction

  • The literature on fertility decline in western countries finds retreat from family to be the cause for declining fertility rate in the west.
  • On the other hand, Indian parents have shown an increased commitment to family by reducing the number of children and investing more per child.

5.3 Aspiration for children not for self

  • Further research reveals that families of different size at the same income level do not differ in the following parameters:
    • leisure activities
    • women’s participation in the workforce
    • the number of material goods they can purchase
  • However, smaller families have a greater tendency to invest more in their children by providing them with a better education.
  • Therefore, it is not the aspiration for the own self but for the children that have driven the fertility decline in India.

5.4 In language of the past

  • Despite the sharp decline in fertility rate across segments of the Indian society, the public discourse is still rooted in the language of the 1970sand on supposedly high fertility rate especially in:
    • some areas such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar
    • some groups such as women with low levels of education or Muslims
  • This has led to politicians proposing remedies that would coerce the apparently ignorant or uncaring parents to have fewer children.

6. CONCLUSION

Demographic data points out that the aspirational revolution is already in the making and we must do the following to hasten the fertility decline:

  • ensure and prepare the health and family welfare system for this challenge
  • provide contraception and sexual and reproductive health services to aid individuals to have only as many children as they desire

Source: The Hindu

Can the NEP aid access to universal education?

1. CONTEXT OF THE NEWS

Recently, the Union Cabinet approved the new National Education Policy (NEP) 2020.

The new policy is in tune with the Sustainable Development Goal of ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education for all in the next 20 years.

The editorial discusses in detail about the new National Education Policy (NEP).

2. EARLY CHILDHOOD CARE AND EDUCATION

  • The NEP has set a 10-year deadline to make all children entering Grade 1 school-ready through Early Childhood Care and Education.
  • This is a very crucial aspect, as with every passing year we lose out on some children.
  • During the initial years of schooling, the brain develops very fast, the child has a huge learning capacity, and therefore we should help them to learn as much as possible.
  • In this context, the deadline set is very crucial to meet.
  • However, this provision is already a constitutional mandate after the commencement of the Right to Education Act.

3. THE CONSTITUTIONAL ASPECTS

3.1 Part IV - Directive Principles of State Policy

  • In Part IV of the Indian Constitution, Article 45 provides for free and compulsory education for children
  • Article 45 states - The State shall endeavour to provide, within a period of ten years from the commencement of this Constitution, for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years.
  • Article 39 (f) of Directive Principles of State Policy in the Indian Constitution provides that children are given opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity and that childhood and youth are protected against exploitation and against moral and material abandonment.
  • Therefore Articles 45 and 39 (f) provides for free, equitable, and accessible education to all the children.
  • The 42nd Amendment Act, 1976 moved education from the State to the Concurrent List.

3.2 Fundamental Right

  • The 86th Amendment Act, 2002 made education a fundamental right under Article 21 A.
  • Article 21 A - The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of six to fourteen years in such manner as the State may, by law, determine.

3.3 Right to Education (RTE) Act, 2009

  • The Act inserted Article 21-A in the Constitution to provide free and compulsory education of all children in the age group of six to fourteen years as a Fundamental Right.
  • Article 21-A and the RTE Act came into effect on 1 April 2010.

4. FREE AND UNIVERSAL EDUCATION

4.1 NEP Provisions

  • The NEP aims at Universalization of education from preschool to secondary level with 100% Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in school education by 2030.
  • The NEP does not say anything about the last years' draft proposal to expand the scope of the Right to Education to include children in the age group 3 to 18 years in its ambit.
  • Many experts believe that the age of six at which the RTE Act begins is a little late and instead should begin at age three.
  • Though the NEP document states to achieve universalization of education, it remains to be seen how the government plans to implement it.
  • The policy has provided for a timeline to bring children under formal education at the age of three due to the present practical issues with anganwadis and preschools.

4.2 Issues with the universalisation

  • The NEP policy does not provide for regular schooling with well-qualified teachers but instead allows open schooling.
  • The NEP has clubbed three years of Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) with the Grade 1 and 2 of primary school and has termed it as ‘foundational literacy and numeracy mission’.
  • Experts have raised concerns over this as the Anganwadi [worker] is not professionally trained and well equipped to be a teacher.
  • Some see this as an attempt by the government to abandon its responsibility of providing for a good, professional teacher for in the earliest years of a child's education.
  • The Anganwadi workers in a way are replacing the parents of the children and therefore it is a good way to begin teaching the children.

4.3 Ensuring universalization

  • The committee members of the NEP were clear that the policy should ensure a very high quality of government education.
  • This is the only way forward to universal education as the private players in education will not open schools in remote areas where the strength if the children is very less.

5. PRIVATE EDUCATION

5.1 Pooling in all resources

  • The policy states education to be a public service, but also advocates philanthropic private participation in education.
  • Some experts have underlined that all existing resources should be devoted to ensuring quality education to children and early childhood care to ensure universal education.

5.2 No discouragement to Private Education

  • The NEP does not discourage private education but only aims to strengthen the government education system.
  • In the last 25 years, private school education stands at nearly 50%, and close to 70% of enrolment in higher education is in private hands.

5.3 Weeding out the non-competent

  • However, the concern is that there are not too many good players providing quality education in the private sector, and there should be a process to filter out the non-competent players.
  • Around the world, philanthropy and the private sector exhibit great participation in education.
  • However, in India, there are many entities operating as not for profit but in reality, are working for profit and there is a need to weed out such entities as well.

6. COMAPRISON OF THE NEW NEP

6.1 Pedagogical alignment

  • The proposed +3+3+4 school structure has led to apprehensions that it could lead to exits at each stage.
  • This is a pedagogical alignment aimed to assess students at Grade 3, 5, and 8.
  • This is to ensure that the students have attained the outcomes designed for them.
  • The restructuring is an attempt to shift the focus on learning outcomes at different stages.
  • The NEP also aims to prevent the biggest dropouts that begin at happening from beyond grade 5.

6.2 Creation of School Complexes

  • The Kothari Commission spoke about a ‘school complex’.
  • It aims to have a collaborative synergy between high or higher secondary schools and primary schools.
  • The Higher Schools are better resourced while the smaller neighborhood and primary schools become feeder schools for the high school.
  • This ensures quality education at all stages.
  • Presently the school complexes are used in a different sense altogether.
  • Under the name of consolidation, 14,000 schools in one State have been closed.
  • The NEP states that we should have larger institutions until the higher education and college level.
  • Some see it as an economic argument of viability and not taking the RTE of children seriously.

6.3 National Testing Agency

  • The need of a National Testing Agency is also under debate.
  • The NEP aims to dismantle old and build new attitudes and mindsets.
  • Presently there is a lot of anxiety and extreme competition in competitive exams like JEE.
  • NEP aims that only those who want to try for JEE need to study for it, the rest students should be given a chance to explore and experiment with new things.
  • Furthermore, higher institutions will have increased autonomy in deciding the admissions which raises the anxiousness of both parents and students.
  • Some percentage of admission through NTA will also provide a partial level-playing field.

7. BROADENING INEQUALITIES

The NEP is silent of the question of a common school curriculum. Furthermore, the policy of imparting education in the mother tongue is also open-ended.

There are arguments that such moves will broaden the inequalities.

7.1 Common school curriculum

  • While the NEP advocates equitable and inclusive education, however the provision of a common school curriculum finds no mention.
  • The NEP Committee discussed on the matters of different boards regarding a common school curriculum.
  • There is an exodus towards CBSE boards in many states but it is partially because the state boards are quite weak.
  • The NEP policy aims to strengthen SCERTs so that these boards can address the need of the children to be educated in their own context and culture.

7.2 Education in Mother tongue

  • The provision for imparting education in the mother tongue is also open-ended.
  • State governments have decided to impart teaching in the regional language.
  • However, there is a problem of areas on the borders of states.
  •  For instance, while the medium of instruction in Karnataka would be Kannada, a large number of population on the Karnataka - Maharashtra border speaks Marathi but reside in Karnataka, and on the Karnataka - Andhra Pradesh border where children speak Telugu, etc.
  • Education should be provided in the dominant language of the community but this would be a hindrance in transferring teachers by the State governments.
  • The idea of the move is to allow local schools to use the local language as the medium of instruction, but the success of the move remains to be seen, as education is also a state subject.

8. LACUANE IS NEP

8.1 Vocational Education

  • Many experts have argued that the thrust on vocational education will weaken the students academically and will even perpetuate hereditary occupations and lead to early exits.
  • Present vocational education in India has no element of education attached to it.
  • It is largely skill-based and based on the hierarchy between knowledge for some and skill for the others.
  • Some experts have shown concern regarding clubbing of grades 9, 10, 11, and 12 and given vocational courses.
  • This might lead to a lot of dropping out, pushing children away into vocational courses or open school.

8.2 Socio-Economically Disadvantaged Group (SEDG)

  • The disadvantage is historical and social.
  • Clubbing everyone under a single SEDG and shying away from using words as ‘Dalit’ or ‘minority’ denies the acknowledgment os the issue.
  • Ii is because of this that many experts feel that the broad categorization of Socio-Economically Disadvantaged Group (SEDG) will hamper equality.
  • It leads to a failure to understand diverse social realities and disadvantages.

9. COMPARISON OF INDIAN EDUCATION WITH FOREIGN EDUCATION

  • Foreign education focuses more on practical based learning and creativity while Indian education focuses more on theory.
  • Education in India is not like education in foreign countries where education is a learning process.
  • The curriculum in foreign education is wholesome encompassing sports along with education.
    • The USA has arts, sports, music, and theatre in the syllabus.
    • Australia focuses more on sports and have cricket, hockey, and boxing in their college curriculum.
    • There is very less scope for extracurricular in the Indian education system.
  • While education is free and public in most countries for instance, in Dubai, primary and secondary education is free and made compulsory under law.
  • Education in India is increasingly becoming a business enterprise from the privatization of education to tuitions and coaching institutes.
  • In India, students rarely pick up education streams according to their field of interest and opt for streams that have better remunerative prospects.
  • The education system in India is slow in adopting the latest technologies in the curriculum while in foreign lands, curriculum moves hand in hand with technology upgrades and industry requirements.
  • Education in India focuses on the memorization of facts and figures, while education in foreign countries imparts knowledge through practical implementation.
  • There are many drawbacks in the present education system in India and one hopes that the new National Education Policy 2020 is a step in addressing this situation.

Source: The Hindu

The National Education Policy 2020

Context:

  • The National Education Policy 2020 has been approved by the union cabinet. The new policy replaces the National Policy on Education (NPE), 1986.
  • This is the first education policy of the 21st century and replaces the thirty-four year old National Policy on Education (NPE), 1986.
  • In 2018, a committee headed by K. Kasturirangan submitted its report on the new education policy.
  • Objective: To transform India into a vibrant knowledge society and global knowledge superpower by making both school and college education more holistic, flexible, multidisciplinary, suited to the 21st century. The policy also aimed at bringing out the unique capabilities of each student.
  • Adult Education: Policy aims to achieve 100% youth and adult literacy.
  • Financing Education: The Centre and the States will work together to increase the public investment in Education sector to reach 6% of GDP at the earliest.
  • Education is in the concurrent list of schedule 7 of the Indian constitution, also most states have their own school boards.

                              

Policies related to School Education

Universal Access at all levels of school education

  • NEP 2020 emphasizes on ensuring universal access to school education at all levels- pre school to secondary.
  • About 2 crore out of school children will be brought back into main stream under NEP 2020.

Following steps will be taken:

  • Innovative education centers to bring back dropouts into the mainstream,
  • Tracking of students and their learning levels,
  • Facilitating multiple pathways to learning involving both formal and non-formal education modes,
  • An association of counselors or well-trained social workers with schools,
  • Open learning for class 3,5 and 8 through NIOS and State Open Schools,
  • Secondary education programs equivalent to Grades 10 and 12, vocational courses,

Early Childhood Care &Education with new Curricular and Pedagogical Structure

  • With emphasis on Early Childhood Care and Education, the 10+2 structure of school curricula is to be replaced by a 5+3+3+4 curricular structure corresponding to ages 3-8, 8-11, 11-14, and 14- 18 years respectively.
  • This will bring the hitherto uncovered age group of 3-6 years under school curriculum, which has been recognized globally as the crucial stage for development of mental faculties of a child.
  • The new system will have 12 years of schooling with 3 years of Anganwadi/ pre schooling.

National Curricular and Pedagogical Framework for Early Childhood

Care and Education (NCPFECCE):

  • Developed by NCERT for children up to the age of 8. 
  • institutions including Anganwadis and preschools will have teachers and Anganwadi workers trained in the ECCE pedagogy and curriculum.
  • The planning and implementation of ECCE will be carried out jointly by the Ministries of HRD, Women and Child Development (WCD), Health and Family Welfare (HFW), and Tribal Affairs

Attaining Foundational Literacy and Numeracy

  • National Mission on Foundational Literacy and Numeracy by MHRD.
  • States will prepare an implementation plan for attaining universal foundational literacy and numeracy in all primary schools for all learners by grade 3 by 2025.
  • A National Book Promotion Policy is to be formulated.

Reforms in school curricula and pedagogy

  • Holistic development of learners by equipping them with the key 21st-century skills, reduction in curricular content to enhance essential learning and critical thinking, and a greater focus on experiential learning.
  • Students will have increased flexibility and choice of subjects.
  • There will be no rigid separations between
    • Arts and sciences,  
    • Curricular and extra-curricular activities,  
    • Vocational and academic streams.
  • Vocational education will also start in schools from the 6th grade and will include internships.
  • NCERT will develop a new and comprehensive National Curricular Framework for School Education, NCFSE 2020-21.

Multilingualism and the power of language

  • The policy has emphasized mother tongue/local language/regional language as the medium of instruction at least till Grade 5, but preferably till Grade 8 and beyond.
  • Sanskrit to be offered at all levels of school and higher education as an option for students, including in the three-language formula.
  • Other classical languages and literatures of India also to be available as options.
  • No language will be imposed on any student. 
  • Several foreign languages will also be offered at the secondary level.
  • Indian Sign Language (ISL) will be standardized across the country, and National and State curriculum materials developed, for use by students with hearing impairment.

Assessment Reforms

  •  Shift from summative assessment to regular and formative assessment, which is more competency-based, promotes learning and development, and tests higher-order skills, such as analysis, critical thinking, and conceptual clarity.
  • All students will take school examinations in Grades 3, 5, and 8 which will be conducted by the appropriate authority.
  • Board exams for Grades 10 and 12 will be continued, but redesigned with holistic development.
  • National Assessment Centre, PARAKH:  Performance Assessment, Review, and Analysis of Knowledge for Holistic Development, will be set up as a standard-setting body.

Equitable and Inclusive Education

  • Special emphasis will be given on Socially and Economically Disadvantaged Groups (SEDGs) which include gender, socio-cultural, and geographical identities, and disabilities. 
  • Gender Inclusion Fund: The policy also includes setting up of a Gender Inclusion Fund and also Special Education Zones for disadvantaged regions and groups.
  • Children with disabilities will be enabled to fully participate in the regular schooling process.
  • Every state/district will be encouraged to establish “Bal Bhavans” as a special daytime boarding school, to participate in art-related, career-related, and play-related activities.
  • Free school infrastructure can be used as Samajik Chetna Kendras.

Robust Teacher Recruitment and Career Path

  • Teachers will be recruited through robust, transparent processes.
  • A common National Professional Standards for Teachers (NPST) will be developed by the National Council for Teacher Education by 2022, in consultation with NCERT, SCERTs, teachers and expert organizations from across levels and regions.

School Governance

  • Schools can be organized into complexes or clusters which will be the basic unit of governance and ensure availability of all resources including
    • Infrastructure,
    • Academic libraries and
    • Strong professional teacher community.

Standard-setting and Accreditation for School Education

  • NEP 2020 envisages clear, separate systems for policy making, regulation, operations and academic matters.
  • States/UTs will set up independent State School Standards Authority
  • (SSSA).
  • The SCERT will develop a School Quality Assessment and Accreditation Framework (SQAAF) through consultations with all stakeholders.

Classical languages:

  • Sanskrit will be offered as an option at all levels of school and higher education.
  • Other classical languages will also be available, possibly as online modules, while foreign languages will be offered at the secondary level.
  • Mother tongue: Wherever possible, the medium of instruction until at least Grade 5, but preferably till Grade 8 and beyond, will be the home language/ mother-tongue/ local language/ regional language. This will be followed by both public and private schools.

Policies related to Higher Education

Increase GER to 50 % by 2035

  • NEP 2020 aims to increase the Gross Enrolment Ratio in higher education including vocational education from 26.3% (2018) to 50% by 2035.
  • 3.5 Crore new seats will be added to Higher education institutions

Holistic Multidisciplinary Education

  • Broad based, multi-disciplinary, holistic Under Graduate education with
    • Flexible curricula,
    • Creative combinations of subjects,
    • Integration of vocational education and
    • Multiple entry and exit points with appropriate certification.
  • UG education can be of 3 or 4 years with multiple exit options and appropriate certification within this period.
  • Academic Bank of Credit is to be established for digitally storing academic credits earned from different HEIs so that these can be transferred and counted towards final degree earned.
  • Multidisciplinary Education and Research Universities (MERUs), at par with IITs, IIMs
  • The National Research Foundation will be created as an apex body for fostering a strong research culture and building research capacity across higher education.

Regulation

  • Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) will be set up as a single overarching umbrella body the for entire higher education, excluding
    • Medical and
    • Legal education.

HECI to have four independent verticals –

  1. National Higher Education Regulatory Council (NHERC) for regulation,
  2. General Education Council (GEC ) for standard setting,
  3. Higher Education Grants Council (HEGC) for funding, and
  4. National Accreditation Council( NAC) for accreditation.
  • Powers to penalise: HECI will function through faceless intervention through technology, &will have powers to penalise HEIs not conforming to norms and standards.
  • Same regulation for Public and private higher education institutions: Both will be governed by the same set of norms for regulation, accreditation and academic standards.

Motivated, Energized, and Capable Faculty

  • NEP makes recommendations for motivating, energizing, and building capacity of faculty thorugh
    • Clearly defined,
    • Independent,
    • Transparent recruitment ,
    • Freedom to design curricula/pedagogy,
    • Incentivising excellence,
    • Movement into institutional leadership.
  • Faculty not delivering on basic norms will be held accountable

Teacher Education

  • A new and comprehensive National Curriculum Framework for Teacher Education, NCFTE 2021, will be formulated by the NCTE in consultation with NCERT.
  • By 2030, the minimum degree qualification for teaching will be a 4-year integrated B.Ed. degree

Mentoring Mission

  • A National Mission for Mentoring will be established, with a large pool of outstanding senior/retired faculty
  • willing to provide short and long-term mentoring/professional support to university/college teachers.

Financial support for students

  • To incentivize the merit of students belonging to SC, ST, OBC, and other SEDGs.
  • The National Scholarship Portal will be expanded to support, foster, and track the progress of students receiving scholarships.
  • Private HEIs will be encouraged to offer larger numbers of free ships and scholarships to their students.

Open and Distance Learning

  • Significant role in increasing GER.
  • Online courses and digital repositories, funding for research, improved student services, credit-based Recognition of moocs, etc., will be taken to ensure it is at par with the highest quality in-class Programmes.

Online Education and Digital Education:

  • For promoting online education
  • to ensure preparedness with alternative modes of quality education whenever and wherever traditional and in-person modes of education are not possible
  • A dedicated unit for the purpose of orchestrating the building of digital infrastructure, digital content and capacity building will be created in the MHRD

Technology in education

An autonomous body, the National Educational Technology Forum (NETF), will be created to provide a platform for the free exchange of ideas on the use of technology to enhance learning, assessment, planning, administration.

Promotion of Indian languages

 To ensure the preservation, growth, and vibrancy of all Indian languages, NEP recommends:

  • Setting an Indian Institute of Translation and Interpretation (IITI)
  • National Institute (or Institutes) for Pali, Persian and Prakrit
  • Strengthening of Sanskrit 
  • All language departments in HEIs
  • Use mother tongue/local language as a medium of instruction in more HEI programmes .

Professional Education

  • All professional education will be an integral part of the higher education system.
  • Stand-alone technical universities, health science universities, legal and agricultural universities etc will aim to become multi-disciplinary institutions.

Internationalization of education

Internationalization of education will be facilitated through

  • institutional collaborations
  • Student and faculty mobility
  • Allowing entry of top world ranked universities to open Campuses in our country

THE GOOD AND BAD ANALYSIS OF NEW EDUCATION POLICY:

Introduction:

National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 aims to revamp all aspects of India's education system that was in place over three decades and bring it closer to the best global standards of education. The cabinet under the guidance of Prime minister Narendra Modi has now given a nod to this new education policy for the 21st century. The new education policy is applauded by many authorities and is regarded as a promising model of education reforms that have been brought in India

Good of New Education Policy:

  • Higher education material in regional language: The policy calls for an “effort” to create high quality bilingual textbooks so students can understand concepts in both English and their regional languages.
  • Remove Rote Learning’: The bad part of Indian Education system was and is in its ‘Rote Learning’. NEP focuses on removal of rote learning and emphasizes on concepts, creativity and extra curricular work.
  • Foreign players: Participation of foreign universities in India is currently limited to them entering into collaborative twinning programmes, sharing faculty with partnering institutions and offering distance education. NEP allows foreign institutions to set up their branch in India. It will increase the education quality in India and further will improve our QS World university ranking.
  • Holy trinity of Science, Commerce or Humanities-the holy trinity of subject streams in Class 11 & 12, with one stream always deemed more divine than the others, have been done away.
  • Multi-disciplinarity: One of the buzz words in the document is multi-disciplinarity — an apparently attractive and flexible proposition, allowing learners to experiment with a variety of options.
  • Technology in Education: The new NEP has a new section on digital education to ensure “equitable use of technology”.
    • A dedicated unit to coordinate digital infrastructure, content and capacity building will be created within the Education Ministry to look after the online learning needs of both school and higher education. 
  • National Testing Agency:  It will serve as a premier, expert, autonomous testing organisation to conduct entrance examinations… in higher educational institutions.” This is expected to be a means of “drastically reducing the burden on students, universities and colleges, and the entire education system.”
    • It would attempt to create space for context-specific and diverse modes of evaluation for different fields of learning is a possibility that remains unexplored.
  • De-bureaucratisation: the NEP 2020 tries to de-bureaucratise the education system by giving governance powers to academicians. The policy recommends including more academicians in decision-making bodies. It recommends preparing a category of educational administrators among the teachers — the idea behind this move is to minimise the dependence on the administrative services and reduce hierarchy.
  • Financial support for students: Efforts will be made to incentivise the merit of students belonging to SC, ST, OBC, and other SEDGs. The National Scholarship Portal will be expanded to support, foster, and track the progress of students receiving scholarships. Private HEIs will be encouraged to offer larger numbers of free ships and scholarships to their students.
  • No More Dropouts: Under the NEP, undergraduate degree will be of either 3 or 4-year duration with multiple exit options within this period. College will be mandated to give certificate after completing 1 year in a discipline or field including vocational and professional areas, a diploma after 2 years of study, or a Bachelor's degree after a 3-year programme.

The Bad of New Education Policy:

  • English on backseat: In a bid to promote regional and local languages, English will take a back seat if this is implemented. While English is the language that was imposed on us for centuries and is the language of our colonizer, it does give us a great comparative global advantage because it is the language that the world talks in.
  • Underfunding of education: The move is also questionable because the education sector in our country is extremely underfunded. The condition of the government schools is deplorable, and the lack of competence is starkly evident.
  • Fiscal Burden: Though all acknowledge this fact that education is such a crucial sector that needs huge investment by the government. This policy promises 6 % of GDP expenditure into education. It will further increase the fiscal burden of the government
  • The incumbent government has set a target of 2040 to implement the entire policy. Sufficient funding is also crucial; the 1968 NEP was hamstrung by a shortage of funds.
  • Poor Quality of education: Another reason for the poor quality of education is the poor quality of teachers in government schools. The level of education that government schools are not as expected and they do not possess an honest image among people. NEP does not talk how it will improve the quality
  • Focus on multiple disciplines will dilute the character of single-stream institutions, such as IITs.
  • Examinations only in Classes 3, 5, and 8: Examinations are not just for checking a student’s potential, but a touchstone — a check and a preparation for education and life. If the foundation is laid thus, the future is definitely under question. Eliminating annual examinations from junior classes is not the solution. A more sensitive approach needs to brought about in parents and teachers to instill this life skill in children.
  • Political and bureaucratic resistance: The national education policies of 1968 and 1986 were also excellent and visionary, but could not be implemented due to political and bureaucratic resistance. The government is very much dependent on its bureaucrats for the implementation of its policies. Education, too, is a field where bureaucratic interests are involved, both at the Centre and state level, and accommodates them even after their retirement. So, it is not easy to curtail bureaucratic interest.

Way forward:

  • It is possible to promote regional and English language, both  at once, but introducing learning in English directly in Class 6 will prove to be very hard on children who come from backgrounds that aren’t as privileged as those from rich and upper-caste families
  • It took 34 years for a change in the education system. So, the rechristened education ministry needs to overhaul at least 34 years, if not more, of the science-stream raga that parents have been dutifully chanting.
  • There ought to be more emphasis given on adult education as it is necessary to teach the parents and guardians first in order that they become keen towards there ward’s education.
  • The condition of the government colleges and institutions ought to be raised to a reasonable level.
  • The NEP only provides a broad direction and is not mandatory to follow. Since education is a concurrent subject (both the Centre and the state governments can make laws on it), the reforms proposed can only be implemented collaboratively by the Centre and the states.
  • It is to be hoped that beyond the immediate excitement that the announcement of the implementation of the NEP has generated, there will be opportunities to examine its long-term implications, and, if necessary, revisit it, before it is actually implemented.
  • To make India a vibrant educational hub, one needs to take steps forward and not backward. We need to compare our education boards with international boards. People lagging need to be brought forward.

Source: The Hindu

The National Education Policy 2020

Context:

The National Education Policy 2020 has been approved by the union cabinet. The new policy replaces the National Policy on Education (NPE), 1986.

Background

  • In 2018, a committee headed by K. Kasturirangan submitted its report on the new education policy. 
  • Objective: To transform India into a vibrant knowledge society and global knowledge superpower by making both school and college education more holistic, flexible, multidisciplinary, suited to the 21st century. The policy also aimed at bringing out the unique capabilities of each student.
  • The new policy is based on the foundational pillars of Access, Equity, Quality, Affordability, and Accountability.

Key highlights of the new policy:

Early Childhood Care & Education with new Curricular and Pedagogical Structure:

  • The 10+2 structure of school curricular is to be replaced by a 5+3+3+4 curricular structure.
  • This will bring the hitherto uncovered age group of 3-6 years under the school curriculum, which has been recognized globally as the crucial stage for the development of the mental strength of a child. 
  • The new system will also have 12 years of schooling with three years of Anganwadi/ pre-schooling.
  • National Curricular and Pedagogical Framework for Early Childhood Care and Education (NCPFECCE) will be developed by NCERT for children up to the age of 8.
  • The planning and implementation of ECCE will be carried out jointly by the Ministries of HRD, Women and Child Development (WCD), Health and Family Welfare (HFW), and Tribal Affairs.

School Education:

  • Ensuring Universal Access at all levels of school education
  • Under the new policy, about 2 crores out of school children will be brought back into the mainstream.
  • The new policy emphasizes on ensuring universal access to school education at all levels- preschool to secondary.
  • Following steps have been taken:
    • Innovative education centers to bring back dropouts into the mainstream, 
    • Tracking of students and their learning levels, 
    • Facilitating multiple pathways to learning involving both formal and non-formal education modes, 
    • An association of counselors or well-trained social workers with schools, 
    • Open learning for class 3,5 and 8 through NIOS and State Open Schools, 
    • Secondary education programs equivalent to Grades 10 and 12, vocational courses,
    • Adult literacy and life-enrichment programs 

School Governance

  • Schools can be organized into complexes or clusters which will be the basic unit of governance.
    • It will ensure the availability of all resources including infrastructure, academic libraries, and a strong professional teacher community.
  • Standard-setting and Accreditation for School Education
    • States/UTs will set up an independent State School Standards Authority (SSSA). 
    • Transparent public self-disclosure of all the basic regulatory information, as laid down by the SSSA, will be used extensively for public oversight and accountability. 
  • The SCERT will develop a School Quality Assessment and Accreditation Framework (SQAAF) through consultations with all stakeholders.

Foundational Literacy and Numeracy:

  • The policy calls for the setting up of a  National Mission on Foundational Literacy and Numeracy by MHRD. 
  • States will prepare an implementation plan for attaining universal foundational literacy and numeracy in all primary schools for all learners by grade 3 by 2025.
  • A National Book Promotion Policy is to be formulated.

School curricula and pedagogy:

  • The school curricula and pedagogy will aim for the holistic development of learners by equipping them with the key 21st-century skills, reduction in curricular content to enhance essential learning and critical thinking, and a greater focus on experiential learning. 
  • Students will have increased flexibility and choice of subjects. There will be no rigid separations between arts and sciences, between curricular and extra-curricular activities, between vocational and academic streams.
  • Vocational education will also start in schools from the 6th grade, and will include internships.
  • NCERT will develop a new and comprehensive National Curricular Framework for School Education, NCFSE 2020-21.

Assessment Reforms:

  • The policy envisages a shift from summative assessment to regular and formative assessment, which is more competency-based, promotes learning and development, and tests higher-order skills, such as analysis, critical thinking, and conceptual clarity.
  • All students will take school examinations in Grades 3, 5, and 8 which will be conducted by the appropriate authority. 
  • Board exams for Grades 10 and 12 will be continued, but redesigned with holistic development.
  • A new National Assessment Centre, PARAKH (Performance Assessment, Review, and Analysis of Knowledge for Holistic Development),  will be set up as a standard-setting body.

Equitable and Inclusive Education:

  • Special emphasis will be given on Socially and Economically Disadvantaged Groups (SEDGs) which include gender, socio-cultural, and geographical identities, and disabilities.  
  • The policy also includes setting up of a Gender Inclusion Fund and also Special Education Zones for disadvantaged regions and groups. 
  • Children with disabilities will be enabled to fully participate in the regular schooling process.
  • Every state/district will be encouraged to establish “Bal Bhavans” as a special daytime boarding school, to participate in art-related, career-related, and play-related activities. 
  • Free school infrastructure can be used as Samajik Chetna Kendras.

Robust Teacher Recruitment:

  • Teachers will be recruited through robust, transparent processes.
  • A common National Professional Standards for Teachers (NPST) will be developed by the National Council for Teacher Education by 2022, in consultation with NCERT, SCERTs, teachers and expert organizations from across levels and regions.

Classical languages:

  • Sanskrit will be offered as an option at all levels of school and higher education.
  • Other classical languages will also be available, possibly as online modules, while foreign languages will be offered at the secondary level.
  • Mother tongue
  • Wherever possible, the medium of instruction until at least Grade 5, but preferably till Grade 8 and beyond, will be the home language/ mother-tongue/ local language/ regional language. This will be followed by both public and private schools.

Language issue:

  • Language issues caused the most outrage because the original draft had called for mandatory teaching of Hindi to all school students.
    • However, the final policy document makes it clear that no language will be imposed on any State.
  • The three languages learned by children will be the choices of States, regions, and of also the students themselves, so long as at least two of the three languages are native to India.

Other provisions:

  • A new curricular framework is to be introduced, including the preschool and Anganwadi years. 
  • A National Mission on Foundational Literacy and Numeracy will ensure basic skills at the Class 3 level by 2025. 
  • Students will begin classes on coding as well as vocational activities from Class 6 onwards.
  • Indian knowledge systems, including tribal and indigenous knowledge, will also be incorporated into the curriculum in an accurate and scientific manner.

Implementation:

  • Education is in the concurrent list of schedule 7 of the Indian constitution, also most states have their own school boards.
    • Therefore, the state governments would have to be brought on board for the actual implementation of this new policy.

Source: The Hindu

India Report on Digital Education, 2020

Context:

Human Resources and Development Minister released India Report on Digital Education, 2020.

About the Report:

  • The report elaborates on the innovative methods adopted by the Ministry of HRD.
  • It brings a better understanding of the various initiatives taken to facilitate remote learning and education for all by taking schools to the students.
  • The report has been prepared by the Digital Education Division of MHRD in consultation with the Education Departments of States and UTs.

Major digital initiatives by State Governments:

  • Rajasthan: SMILE (Social Media Interface for Learning Engagement)
  • Jammu: Project Home Classes in,
  • Chhattisgarh: Padhai Tunhar duvaar (Education at your doorstep)
  • Bihar: Unnayan Initiatives in through the portal and mobile application.
    • Bihar has launched Vidyavahini App with e-books for classes 1 to 12.
    • Under Unnayan Bihar Initiative, Bihar has also launched Mera Mobile Mera Vidyalaya for students and Unnayan Bihar Teacher App.
  • NCT of Delhi: Mission Buniyaad
  • Kerala:  educational TV channel (Hi-Tech school program),
  • Meghalaya: E-scholar portal as well as free online courses for teachers
  • Telangana: online certificate programs for teachers on ‘Management of mental well-being during COVID’.
  • Madhya Pradesh: Top Parent App, a free mobile app that empowers parents of young children (3-8 years) with knowledge and strategies around child development to help them meaningfully engages with their children.
    • KHEL (Knowledge Hub for Electronic Learning), a Game-Based Application has also been started, that covers class 1-3.
  • Uttarakhand is making use of the Sampark Baithak App through which primary school students can access animated videos, audios, worksheets, puzzles, etc.
  • Assam has launched the Biswa Vidya Assam Mobile Application for class 6 to 10.
  • Chandigarh: Phoenix Mobile application to assess the learning outcome for the students of class 1 to 8.
  • Maharashtra: Learning Outcomes Smart Q Mobile App to facilitate learning for students in the state.
  • Punjab: iScuela Learn Mobile Application for class 1 to 10.
  • Sikkim’s Edutech App connects all the schools of Sikkim under the State Education Department.
  • Tripura has an application titled ‘EmpowerU Shiksha Darpan’ in order to facilitate student’s appraisal.
  • Uttar Pradesh: 'Top Parent’ app targeting children from 3-8years age.
    • The application currently houses three high-quality EdTech apps for children – Simple, Maths Masti, and Google Bolo.

Source: AIR

Unnat Bharat Abhiyan (UBA)

Context:

TRIFED has entered into a partnership with IIT Delhi for the Unnat Bharat Abhiyan (UBA) to bring the tribal people towards mainstream development.

Details:

  • A tripartite MOU was also signed between TRIFED, IIT Delhi, and Vijnana Bharati (VIBHA, a Swadeshi Science Movement) at IIT, Delhi.
  • Tribal entrepreneurs under TRIFED’s Van Dhan program will now be able to get access to the expertise of the entire network of academic and research institutions under Unnat Bharat Abhiyan (UBA).
  • TRIFED is also working with various ministries for skill development for Tribal Livelihoods.
  • Ensure "round the year income-earning opportunity" for tribals is very important by engaging them in economic activities like agriculture, horticulture, Medicinal & Aromatic Plants, etc.
  • With the help of IIT Delhi, these tribal forest dwellers will get exposure to newer processing technologies, product innovation, transformational digital systems, and handholding. 

Benefits of MoU:

  • The MoU opens gates for the best students to attend to the problems of sustainable tribal livelihoods.
  • This partnership will enhance the livelihoods of tribal people through the Van Dhan Vikas Kendras established under the Van Dhan Yojana.
  • This MoU will also benefit from the expertise and experience of Vijnana Bharati (VIBHA). 
    • VIBHA is a science Movement with Swadeshi spirit which aims to create awareness about the significant development of science and technology in India 
  • VIBHA will reach out to various stakeholders for convergence with the focus to strengthen Van Dhan Yojna, through its local chapters. 
  • VIBHA will help in gathering critical information on needs and possible intervention to TRIFED, UBA, and tribal communities. 

Unnat Bharat Abhiyan (UBA):

  • It is a flagship national program of the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD).
  • The Unnat Bharat Abhiyan Cell consists of an Advisory Committee, an Executive Committee, and a Core Working Group consisting of about 40 faculty members drawn from various departments of the institute. 
  • UBA aims to link the Higher Education Institutions of India with a set of at least 5 villages. These Higher Education institutions will contribute to the economic and social betterment of these village communities using their knowledge base.
  • Under UBA all Higher Learning Institutes have been involved for participation in development activities, particularly in rural areas.
  • It also aims to create a virtuous cycle between the society and an inclusive university system, with the latter providing knowledge base; practices for emerging livelihoods, and to upgrade the capabilities of both the public and private sectors.
    • Currently, under the scheme UBA, 13072 villages have been adopted by 2474 Institutes.
  • Unnat Bharat Abhiyan 2.0 is the upgraded version of Unnat Bharat Abhiyan 1.0. It was launched in 2018.
  • Now, UBA is extended to all educational institutes. however, under UBA 2.0 Participating institutes are selected on the basis of certain criteria.

Source: PIB

Digital to blended learning in post-COVID world

1. CONTEXT OF THE NEWS

The COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 is affecting edtech and health tech worldwide much like demonetization did to fintech in India in late 2016.

Presently we are witnessing a forced migration to digital learning and this process has exposed the reality of the heavily endorsed Digital India campaign that was launched five years ago.

2. THE SCALE OF DISRUPTION

2.1 The intensity of disruption

  • Over 770 million students have been disrupted globally by the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent worldwide lockdowns.
  • The United Nations has already warned of an unprecedented level and speed of disruption in education in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Presently there are over 37 million students enrolled in higher education in India and an interruption in the delivery of education has already caused a disruption that might continue for long.

2.2 What has been impacted?

  • Broadly speaking, education has three functions.
    • creation of learning content through research and writing;
    • packaging with visuals, dissemination of learning through classes, lectures, notes, self-study, discussions
    • assessment and evaluation of what the student has learned
  • All these functions have been majorly impacted and disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic due to precautionary measures of self-isolation and lockdowns.

3. DIGITAL HAVES AND HAVE NOTS' DICHOTOMY

3.1 Amplified struggles

  • Covid-19 has amplified the struggles that children were already facing globally to receive a quality education.
  • Even before the pandemic, there were 258 million out-of-school children globally due to:
    • principally due to poverty
    • poor governance
    • living in or having fled an emergency or conflict

3.2 Lack of digital resources

  • There are many programs to address the global education crisis but the dramatic escalation of COVID-19 pandemic has brought new challenges for 550 million children who had access to physical education but not to digital learning systems.
  • A majority of people globally are deprived of access to digital resources as
    • good internet connectivity
    • digital gadgets like laptop and tablets
    • electricity
  • Such people are forced to waste productive learning time.

3.3 Digital Education in India

  • Despite coverage of 70% of the Indian population with mobile telephony, more than 25% of the population lacks the resources needed for digital learning from home.
  • Talks around digital education have been there in India for over a decade now, but nothing has substantial has taken place.
  • Even the premier institutes in India have issued digital content only sporadically.
  • Except for distance learning universities, the majority of educational institutions in India have neither digitized their content nor made online learning an integral part of their teaching-learning process.

3.4 Digital Haves and have nots

  • Digital penetration beyond tier 1 and 2 cities and towns in India is still too abysmally low to replace face-to-face learning even remotely and the COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare this pitiful condition.
  • Therefore, there are two digital classes in India:
    • the digital haves, who use online webinar platforms like zoom, google class, etc. to learn, discuss and complete assignments
    • and the digital have nots, who depend on occasional phone calls from their mentors and Facebook posts or a WhatsApp group chat with videos often not downloading

4. GOVERNMENT SPENDING

4.1 Present Government Spending

  • In all probability, digital access will be a human right in the future and the government needs to realize this as soon as possible.
  • Government spending in India is lower than Tanzania, Angola, and Ghana with only less than 3% of the national budget for public education.
  • Such a nation cannot ensure digital education for the masses.

4.2 Required Government Spending

  • Nothing short of 7% of the national budget for public education can achieve the following:
    • upgradation on public education infra-structure both physical and digital
    • large scale re-training of the teachers at every level
  • The enforced social distancing norms and the nationwide lockdown has quickened the transition to complete digital learning pedagogy for those with partial or full digital resources. 
  • However, the next phase of the transition process requires policy changes.
  • Such steps can bring unprecedented changes in public education in India like:
    • learners will seek education voluntarily and collaboratively
    • every skill or chapter taught will lead to an defined and desired outcome
    • instead of being instructed, education will be explored organically
    • instead of an imposition, education will be a collective experience fostering diversity, teamwork and mutual respect

4.3 Contribution from non-governmental entities

  • Apart from government spending, 2% of the profits of corporate India needs to be allocated for investing in creating digital access to India at large
  • Telcom companies should come out with packages designed especially for students and teachers regarding internet access.
  • Furthermore, non-government organizations should roll out voluntary support to digital access for all Indians through campaigns like donation of discarded but functioning cell phones, laptops etc. to the less privileged.

5. DIGITAL LEARNING TOOLS TODAY

5.1 Requirements of Digital Learning

  • The covid-19 has necessitated educational institutions to rapidly offer online learning to their students and fortunately, both, technology and content are available to help universities for this quick transition to digital.
  • Digital learning requires digital transmission of content in multiple forms like audio, video, and documents. 
  • Digital learning can involve face-to-face live audio-visual discussions like Zoom or without face-to-face learning as in Google Class.

5.2 Other strategies to enhance the digital learning experience

  • The Flipped classroom method is an effective instructional strategy in this regard.
  • Here the study resources are provided in advance, and the actual classroom session begins with a quick quiz, then doubts clearance, and then moves to discussions.
  • This internalized, collaborative, experiential, and bottom-up learning is more effective than traditional teaching that is instructional, hierarchical, and top-down.

5.3 Other avenues of digital learning

  • Some other tools of digital learning are
    • Massive open online course
    • Collaborative distance learning, wikis, blogs etc.
    • Learning Management Systems like BlackBoard learn and TCSion LMS to develop customized, secured and IPR protected content.
    • Online learning avenues like Swayam online lessons from UGC.

5.4 Use of innovations in digital learning

  • Digital learning can be further assisted with Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), and Mixed Reality (MR) to enhance the learning experience.
  • These immersive and contextual experiences combined with artificial intelligence-driven chatbots can further enhance the digital interface of the learner and the mentor.

6. DIGITAL LEARNING VALUE-ADDS

6.1 Developing personalized curriculum

  • Development of even a personalized curriculum is possible by incorporating big data analytics and content management like in WiseWire where the content changes for each student.
  • There is also an increasing demand for developing educational content with style and language that suits the learners like the use of millennials' language and style.

6.2 Using Smartphone applications

  • Smartphone applications can also help teachers interact with students and keep track of their progress.
  • They can also collaborate via cloud-based applications on projects. Teachers can also publish quizzes and polls to keep the students engaged.
  • Other applications also use video as a learning resource.

6.3 Use of Social Media

Social Media applications also being creatively integrated with school education.

  • Facebook Pages are being used to broadcast updates and alerts.
  • Facebook Group and Google Hangout are being used to stream live lectures and host discussions.
  • Twitter is being used as a class message board.
  • Platforms as Word Press are being used to create class blogs for discussions.

7. DIGITAL ASSESSMENT AND EVALUATION

7.1 Assessment

  • It refers to the performance of the learner.
  • It helps the teacher to decide is the student is learning and what improvements are required and where.

7.2 Evaluation

  • It is a systematic process of determining the merit value or worth of the instruction or program.
  • It helps to determine the effectiveness of the course.

7.3 Digital Assessment and evaluation

  • There are plenty of options available for digital assessment and evaluation of the learning. Some of them are:
    • Online quiz
    • online open-book examination with time-managed and proctored question paper
    • applied questions based on comprehension and not memorization
    • Telephonic interview etc.
    • Feedbacks can be put to use for evaluation

8. POSSIBILITIES IN EDUCATION BEYOND COVID

8.1 Era of blended learning

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has been a boon for online learning across all education levels and now the focus should be on providing quality content.
  • The post-covid era will be one of blended learning as the COVID-19 experience in education has taught us that digital tools are mere complements and not substitutes to the intimacy provided by face-to-face learning.
  • However, as the contents are increasingly moved online, it leaves precious classroom time for more productive utilization like discussion, debate, and guided practice.

8.2 Teachers as mentors

  • In the post-COVID new normal, teachers will act as mentors since information and knowledge will be available at the fingertips of the learners.
  • These mentors will be needed to inspire, motivate, and direct students to a new domain of learning.

8.3 Students as true learners

  • Likewise, students will now be true learners since there is a greater onus of learning on the students.
  • Students study for exams, marks, and degrees, under the tutelage of teachers, with a structured syllabus.
  • Learners learn within and beyond the classroom, from mentors and others, for lifetime use of knowledge for a career and life, within and beyond the syllabus.

9. CONCLUSION

In post-covid education, engagement is at the center with an equal share of entertainment. Absence from classrooms and disinterest in learning have been the two most serious grievances of learning for a long time.

Digital learning allows the learner, the flexibility of being engaged with the learning process at his time, place, and pace.

Future education will qualitatively be different from the present. In the future, marks and degree certificates will not decide the quality of education.

The quality of the content will instead be decided by the level of academic and related online and social media engagement of the learners, the quality of content shared by mentors, and the value and volume of content generated by engaged learners.

Source: The Economic Times

A race to the bottom

1. CONTEXT OF THE NEWS

Recently the results for Class X and XII were declared and the students have scored as high as 100%.

Some have all scored 100% in humanities subjects. The newsworthiness of the declaration of the CBSE result competes with events as the monsoon, the budget, and a stock market collapse.

While the inflated marks in the exams make everyone happy, the editorial suggests that this evaluation strategy will have long-term repercussions.

2. CLASS X AND XII EXAMS

2.1 Importance of the exams

  • This time of the year is nerve wrenching for the lakhs of students who have already appeared in their Class X and Cass XII, and their families since during this time of the year, the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) declares the results for these classes.
  • Over the years, a student's performance in Class X and XII examinations has become a benchmark for their academic competence.
  • More than that, success or failure in these exams is the key determinant of the self-worth for lakhs of students.

2.2 How big are these exams?

  • The number of students from across the country appearing for these examinations is to the tune of above 30 lakhs.
  • Not only that, even in terms of the range of subjects, but these exams are also mindboggling. In 2018 the CBSE offered around 800 subjects ranging from mundane physics, maths, biology, economics to esoteric disciplines like olericulture and confectionery.
  • To reduce the risk of paper leakage, CBSE sends many sets of encrypted question papers to the examination centers some of which are located in extremely remote areas.
  • Therefore, these exams conducted by the CBSE across the nation are a humongous task in planning and logistics.
  • Furthermore, the successful completion of the entire process year after year without any major glitches is a testament to the organizational abilities of the CBSE.

3. EVALUATING THE CBSE

3.1 Lack of competency in the evaluation process

  • However, unfortunately, the same level of logistical and organizational competency of the CBSE is not visible in arguably the most important aspect of the whole exercise viz. academic soundness of the learning and evaluation processes.
  • The most important reason for the existence of the CBSE is ensuring relevant syllabi, high academic standards in teaching the students and the evaluation of students and the boards do not seem to be delivering here.

3.2 Syllabus

  • The syllabus is an essential part of the whole learning process in any subject.
  • It largely defines the boundaries of what is to be taught and up to what degree of detail.
  • The syllabus is usually set by the SME (subject matter experts) which includes teachers and researchers.
  • The experts decide the inclusion or exclusion of topics, their sequencing, and their relative importance.
  • After the syllabus is decided, it is translated into textbooks, which are written by another set of experts commissioned by NCERT.
  • The NCERT textbooks are comprehensive and maintain high academic standards.

3.3 The evaluation process

  • The CBSE has done a laudable job in setting the syllabi, commissioning the textbooks and conducting the exams.
  • Therefore, the core issue is that of the evaluation process and its feedback effects on the learning process.
  • If the students and teachers, the two most important actors in the evaluation process know that evaluation demands a certain kind of pedagogy and methodology, then there is enough incentive for them to adopt the same and this feedback works in many ways.

3.4 Maximum good to the maximum number

  • A case in point for the effect of feedback on evaluation demands is the portion of the syllabus that is being tested in the exam.
  • The Class XII board exam covers the syllabus taught only in Class XII instead of the combined syllabus of Class XI and XII.
  • Because the evaluation of the Class XII board exam is only on the basis of the syllabus of Class XI, the syllabus to be covered in Class XI received only a little attention from both students and teachers.
  • Far worse is the fact that in order to do “maximum good to the maximum number,” the CBSE, in some subjects like Physics has included relatively easier topics in the Class XII syllabus while the more challenging concepts are left for Class XI.
  • This can have dire consequences on the assimilation and understanding of the subject.

4. THE HIGH EVALUATION SCORES

4.1 Moderation

  • As seen above, the evaluation process is determining the learning outcomes.
  • However, the experts point out that the evaluation process appears to have only one overarching goal that is to ensure that the maximum number of students pass the exam and a large number of them score very high marks. 
  • This goal is ensured by the innocuously named system called “moderation”.
  • The question papers undergo moderation to ensure that they are not too challenging and if by any chance, a reasonable question paper, which really tests the conceptual understanding of the student gets through this rigorous exercise, there is a great hue and cry about it.

4.2 Generosity in giving marks

  • The results of the CBSE Class X and XII exams show the generosity of CBSE in giving the marks.
  • The following metrics are steading increasing with every passing academic calendar:
    • the pass percentage
    • the number of students getting above95%
    • the number of students getting 100%

4.3 Intended goal of the evaluation

  • Such numbers look very impressive on paper but in reality, reduce the whole evaluation process to a farce.
  • The evaluation of a student intends to test the following:
    • understanding and conceptual clarity of the subject
    • the power of critical thinking acquired by the student
    • the student's ability to assimilate the concepts of a subject
  • Therefore, the marks after evaluation are meant to provide a true measure of the student's appropriateness for further academic work or a job.

4.4 Effect of high marks

  • The marks scored by the student are meant to provide an honest benchmark of the student's capabilities but this exercise is rendered futile if it becomes obvious to outsiders, either by themselves or in a comparative sense, that the marks scored are not a true reflection of the student’s abilities.
  • The lack of trust in the evaluation system of the CBSE is evident from the following:
    • The most premier and self-respecting institutions of higher learning in the country do not trust these marks and therefore have their own entrance tests.
    • Academics in the country are frequently seen lamenting the weak foundations of students’ learning.
    • The industrial sector is also often seen complaining about the lack of analytical skills in the same students after their college degrees.

5. CONCLUSION

Even the dictators in many countries known to rig the elections do not make it to 100% in their favor so that the elections appear 'free and fair'.

Inflating the marks keeps the trio of parents, students, and politicians happy but this race to the “top” in reality is a race to the bottom and will have long-term consequences.

This populist approach to evaluation by the CBSE needs a revisit. CBSE needs to reorient its evaluation system in such a manner that it encourages actual learning.

India cannot be a major player in the knowledge economy of the future if our evaluation system does not encourage actual learning.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE)

  • It is a national level board of education in India for public and private schools.
  • The board is controlled and managed by the Union Government.
  • Schools affiliated to the CBSE have to follow that curriculum prescribed by the NCERT.
  • Presently around 20,299 schools in India and 220 schools in 28 foreign countries affiliated to CBSE.

Main objectives of CBSE are:

  • defining appropriate approaches of academic activities to provide stress-free, child-centered and holistic education to all children without compromising on quality
  • analyzing and monitoring the quality of academic activities by collecting the feedback from different stakeholders
  • developing norms for the implementation of various academic activities
  • adapting and innovating methods to achieve academic excellence in conformity with psychological, pedagogical and social principles
  • organizing various capacity building and empowerment programs to update the professional competency of teachers
  • prescribing conditions of examinations and conduct public examination at the end of Class X and XII
  • granting qualifying certificates to successful candidates of the affiliated schools
  • to prescribe and update the course of instructions of examinations
  • To affiliate institutions for the purpose of examination and raise the academic standards of the country

The prime focus of the Board is on:

  • Innovations in teaching-learning methodologies by devising students friendly and students centered paradigms
  • Reforms in examinations and evaluation practices.
  • Skill learning by adding job-oriented and job-linked inputs
  • Regularly updating the pedagogical skills of the teachers and administrators by conducting in-service training programs, workshops, etc.

Source: Indian Express

The Report on Household Social Consumption: Education

Context:

The report on “Household Social Consumption: Education”  has been released by the National Statistical Office (NSO).

  • NSO surveyed 1.13 lakh households spread across over 8,000 villages and 6,000 urban blocks between July 2017 and June 2018. The study also involved 1.52 lakh students across different levels of study.
  • Literacy, accessibility to schools, household expenditure on education, and the rural-urban gap are the criteria of the report.

Key findings:

  • School accessibility: On accessibility, 92.7% of the rural households have a primary school within 1 km as compared to 87.2% in urban areas.
    • But only 38% of the rural household have access to secondary school as compared to 70% in the urban areas on similar parameters.
    • While accessibility to a neighborhood school at the primary level is not an issue in rural areas.
  • Gross attendance: Nearly 100% of boys and girls in both rural and urban areas attending classes.
  • Preference of school: 76.1% of the rural children are attending government-run primary and middle schools, while only 38% of the urban children are attending government schools.
    • However, for graduate and above studies, 49.7% of rural students are attending classes in government institutions as compared to 41% of the urban counterparts in government institutions.
    • At school level the majority of the urban family had shown a preference for private schools, it’s the opposite for rural households.
  • Literacy: The all India literacy rate among persons aged 7 years and above is 77.7%. However, for the same age group, rural literacy is 73.5% and in the urban areas, it is 87.7%.
  • Access to computers: There is a digital divide, only 4% of the rural households having access to computers as compared to 23% in urban areas. 
    • The digital divide between rural and urban households is stark with just 4% of the rural population having access to computers.
    • Only 15% of the surveyed population in the rural cluster has internet access, 42% of the surveyed students in the urban areas have access to the internet.
    • Only 24% of the persons between age 15-29 years in rural areas are able to operate a computer as compared to 56% of their urban counterparts.
  • Expenditure on education: There is also a big gap in expenditure on education, especially at the school level. Annual average expenditure per student at secondary and senior secondary level in a rural household stands at Rs 5,856 and Rs 9,148 respectively. An urban household for the same classes spends Rs 17,518 and Rs 23,832 respectively.
    • The average expenditure per student incurred during an academic session for basic courses was nearly Rs 8,331 for general courses, Rs 50,307 for technical and professional courses.

Source: Times of India

NISHTHA Program

Context:

Ministry of Human Resource Development has launched the first on-line NISHTHA program for 1200 Key Resources Persons of Andhra Pradesh.

Why NISHTHA program is needed?

  • The in-service teacher education system must be sensitive to the feedback from the teachers.
  • The teachers' individual innovations must be recognized for their pedagogic values and should become part of standard teaching methods.
  • Teachers must be very actively sensitized towards the diversities of the country. Then only children can become sensitive to the huge and different diversities is of this vast nation. With these efforts only, children can grow up with the spirit of Ek Bharat Shreshth Bharat.
  • Technology can't replace good teachers, but good teachers assisted by technology can do wonders in transforming education.

NISHTHA:

  • It is a National Initiative for School Heads’ and Teachers’ Holistic Advancement at the elementary stage under Samagra Shiksha - a flagship program of MHRD to improve learning outcomes.
  • NISHTHA in face-to-face mode was launched in 2019. Thereafter, 33 states/UTs have launched this program in their states/UTs in collaboration under the Samagra Shiksha scheme.

Features:

  • NISHTHA- online includes multiple approaches for interaction. While there are text modules along with videos, there will also be live sessions by the National level Resource persons on DTH Swayam Prabha TV Channel.
  • Interactive Voice Response System (IVRS) will also be utilized for interaction with teachers
  • First level training had been provided by the National Resource Group (NRG) to the Key Resource Persons (KRPs) and State Resource Persons-Leadership (SRPs-L) identified by the states/UTs.
  • The NRG had been constituted and oriented by the NCERT drawing members from the NCERT, NIEPA, and KVS. KRPs and SRPs-L had provided training directly to teachers at block level reducing the cascading effect of training.
  • In NISHTHA –online also, Key Resource Persons will play the role of mentors for the teachers.

Coverage:

  • In 29 States/UTs, the NISHTHA training program has been completed by the NCERT at the state level.
  • In 4 States/UTs (Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, J&K, and Bihar), the training at the state level is still in progress. In two states, it is yet to be launched.  
  • District level teacher training program has been initiated in 23 States/UTs. 
  •  Around 23,000 Key Resource Persons and 17.5 lakh, teachers, and school heads have been covered under this program.
  • Due to the COVID-19 pandemic situation, the sudden lockdown has affected the conduct of this program in face-to-face mode.
    • Therefore, for providing training to the remaining 24 lakh teachers and school heads, NISHTHA has been customized for the online mode to be conducted through DIKSHA and NISHTHA portals by the NCERT.
  • Andhra Pradesh is the first state for which ministry launched an online NISHTHA program for 1200 Key Resources Persons through the NISHTHA portal.
    • These resource persons will help in the mentoring of teachers of Andhra Pradesh, who will take on-line NISHTHA training on DIKSHA later on.

Significance:

  • The modules developed under NISHTHA focus on the holistic development of children. It includes curriculum and inclusive education health and well-being, personal social qualities, art integrated learning, initiatives in school education, subject-specific pedagogies, ICT in teaching-learning, leadership, pre-school education, pre-vocational education, etc.  
  • All the modules are centered around learning outcomes and, learner-centered pedagogy.
  • These modules are made interactive with engaging activities for teachers providing space to educational games, quizzes, etc. for joyful learning by the teachers and school heads. It will motivate teachers to implement this in their classroom for enhancing students’ learning outcomes.

Source: PIB

'PRAGYATA' Guidelines on Digital Education

Context:

The Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) has released 'PRAGYATA' guidelines on digital education. National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) has prepared these guidelines. Across the country, over 25 crore students have been out of school since mid-March 2020.

Duration:

  • For kindergarten, nursery, and pre-school, only 30 minutes of screen time per day for interacting with parents is recommended.
  • Schools can hold live online classes for a maximum of 1.5 hours per day for Classes 1-8, and 3 hours per day for Classes 9-12.
  • It emphasized the aim of digital classrooms is not to try and recreate Face-to-Face (F2F) classrooms over the internet.
  • Nature: The guidelines are only advisory in nature and state governments can formulate their own rules, based on local needs.
  • Categories: The guidelines acknowledge that these students live in households which fall into different categories:
    • Those who have computers or smartphones with 4G internet access.
    • Those with smartphones but limited or no internet access.
    • Those with television with cable or DTH.
    • Those with a radio set or a basic mobile phone with FM radio.
    • Those with no communication devices at all.

Need for Survey:

  • It advises schools to first survey the digital infrastructure available with teachers as well as students, the levels of parental involvement before making decisions about the mode of teaching.
    • Therefore, schools must also make arrangements to reach students who do not have access to any digital infrastructure at home.
  • It also recommends ethical practices including precautions and measures for maintaining cyber safety.

Real-time Communication:

  • This is real-time teaching and learning that can happen collaboratively at the same time with a group of online learners or individuals, and teachers allowing instant feedback, e.g. online teaching through video conference, audio conference, using satellite or telecommunication facilities.
    • However, schools should not assume that teaching-learning through it is the only requirement in order to support effective digital learning.

Asynchronous Learning:

  • Guidelines have offered several recommendations for asynchronous learning with tools to allow students to download lessons or listen to radio and TV programs, communicate through Whatsapp and SMS, the study on their own, and undertake creative projects.

Concerns:

  • Children exposed to digital technologies or gadgets for a long time are prone to severe health issues.
  • Thus, sitting with digital gadgets for longer hours can be avoided by designing age-appropriate schedules.

Source: The Hindu

Hardly Smart About Urban Health Care

1. CONTEXT OF THE NEWS

  • To date, the COVID-19 pandemic crisis has largely affected only urban centers.
  • Megacities like Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, and Chennai have accounted for most of the COVID-19 positive cases.
  • India's urban center is not only facing a public health crisis due to the COVID-19 epidemic but also associated with this health emergency is a larger crisis of economic issues and livelihoods.
  • The majority of the urban population has lost employment due to the nationwide lockdown and even their future lies in uncertainty.
  • This editorial discusses the crisis in the urban centers in India and analyses whether they are well equipped to deal with the pandemic and its aftereffects.

2. URBAN CENTERS OF INDIA

2.1 Urban centers as the new focus of policymakers

  • Over the last 15 years, cities have been the primary focus of policymakers and governments as is evident from the dedicated national-level programs on urban development.
  • The present regime's flagship program ‘Smart Cities Mission’ completed its 5 years in June 2020.
  • Buzzwords like “smart cities” and “bullet trains” were widely used during the initial years of the present regime, but in the last few years, they hardly find any mention by the top political leadership.

2.2 Smart Cities Mission

  • The ‘Smart Cities Mission’ aimed at making a hundred selected cities 'SMART' primarily through an “Area-Based Development” model under which a small portion of the city would be upgraded by retrofitting or redevelopment.
  • However, the enthusiasm regarding Smart Cities seems to have faded after five years since its inception.

2.3 Performance of Projects under ‘Smart Cities Mission’

  • Several projects under the ‘Smart Cities Mission’ are behind schedule as revealed by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs.
  • According to the Ministry:
    • There were a total number of 5,151 smart city projects across the 100 cities to be launched.
    • Out of these around 4,700 projects have been tendered and only 1,638 projects have been completed.
    • In terms of expenditure, out of a total investment of ?2,05,018 crore, projects worth ?26,700 crores only has been completed.
  • Given the dismal performance of the projects under ‘Smart Cities Mission’, the idea of completely transforming India’s derelict cities into “smart cities” within five years now seems a pipe dream.

3. STATE OF URBAN HEALTH INFRASTRUCTURE

3.1 A formidable challenge

  • Presently most of the urban centers of India are reeling under the devastation caused by COVID-19.
  • The Integrated Command and Control Centres developed as “war rooms” under the ‘Smart Cities Mission ‘are being used for monitoring real-time data regarding the spread of the virus.
  • Generally speaking, handling the public health emergency and its associated economic fallout remains a formidable challenge.

3.2 A Blind Spot

  • As a matter of fact, the ‘Smart Cities Mission’ had hardly propelled the basic services such as public health.
  • A detailed analysis of projects under ‘Smart Cities Mission’ shows that only 69 of over 5,000 projects undertaken under the Mission were for health infrastructure.
  • Moreover, the total estimated cost of all the 69 projects is around ?2,112 crore which is a mere 1% of the total cost of the mission.
  • Therefore, public health seems to be a major blind spot in India’s smart city dreams.

3.3 Health infrastructure as a part of ‘Smart City’

  • Some critics argue that health infrastructure is not a core element of 'Smart City'.
  • However, the stated objective of the ‘Smart Cities Mission’ was improving the quality of life of urban residents.
  • The mission never focused merely on technology.
  • Public health is an essential function of the local government in India’s constitutional scheme.
  • The Seventy-Fourth Constitutional Amendment to the Indian constitution introduced the 12th Schedule according to which, “public health” is one of the 18 functions to be devolved to the municipalities.
  • Despite the constitutional scheme, the public health infrastructure of the urban centers of India has suffered negligence over the years and new initiatives as the ‘Smart CitiesMission’ have further driven local governments away from their core responsibilities.

4. PROBLEMS FACED BY INDIAN URBAN LOCAL BODIES

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the institutional and human capacity of Indian urban centers to handle a public health emergency.
  • Despite the cities being at the center of renewed policy focus, Indian Urban Local Bodies suffer from a number of problems most notably of which are:
    • They continue to be financially and administratively weak
    • They are heavily understaffed.
    • There is also a huge number of vacancies of Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) workers.
  • Presently ASHA workers are acting as frontline public health workers carrying out contact tracing, in urban areas, especially in COVID-19 hotspot cities such as Mumbai.

5. LEARNING FROM EXPERIENCE

5.1 Relative success of Kerala

  • The relative success of Kerala in containing the pandemic has shown how a decentralized political and administrative system with strong local governments and high investment in local public health care can be effective.

5.2 Downside of participation of resident welfare associations

  • Given the absence of participative local government institutions, the authorities in some big cities have roped in resident welfare associations to monitor COVID-19 cases.
  • However, the downside of the movie is that resident welfare associations have become emboldened in the process and are often imposing draconian rules in a fashion as private authoritarianism in their neighborhoods.

5.3 Lessons for the economic sector

  • Apart from the health sector implications, the COVID-19 experience also shows that the economic conditions of the vulnerable section in the urban cities are also very fragile.
  • There are a large number of job cuts and pay cuts depending on the vulnerability of their jobs in the wake of nationwide lockdown and experts are even suggesting a ‘direct’ urban employment guarantee program for urban centers on similar lines as an NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act).
  • From the present experience of COVID-19 shows that in order to efficiently and effectively tackle a similar epidemic like situation following needs to be done:
    • strengthening local government capacities is an important step
    • urban public health systems are in dire need of heavy investment
    • promote programs that improve the livelihoods of urban vulnerable communities

6. CONCLUSION

Special programs like the ‘Smart Cities Mission’ have unbalanced and skewed priorities.

Due to their parallel governance structures of Special Purpose Vehicles, they offer little hope in strengthening the local institutions in dealing with formidable challenges of a COVID-19 like an emergency.

Instead of such 'special' programs, already existing programs as the National Urban Livelihoods Mission and National Urban Health Mission, which are underutilized and have not been able to deliver desired results due to limited focus and resources, need to be strengthened.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Smart Cities Mission

  • There is no universally accepted definition of a smart city and would have a different connotation to different people.
  • The objective of the Indian Government under the Smart Cities Mission is to promote cities that:
    • provide core infrastructure to the citizens
    • give a decent quality of life to its residents
    • has a clean and sustainable environment and application of ‘Smart’ Solutions

The focus under the Smart Cities Mission is on sustainable and inclusive development and the idea is to look at compact areas, create a replicable model, which will act as a lighthouse to other aspiring cities.

The core infrastructure elements in a smart city would include:

  1. adequate water supply,
  2. assured electricity supply,
  3. sanitation, including solid waste management,
  4. efficient urban mobility and public transport,
  5. affordable housing, especially for the poor,
  6. robust IT connectivity and digitalization,
  7. good governance, especially e-Governance and citizen participation,
  8. sustainable environment,
  9. safety and security of citizens, particularly women, children and the elderly,
  10. health and education

Source: The Hindu

Rolling back the induced livelihood shock

1. CONTEXT OF THE NEWS

The long-drawn nationwide lockdown in the wake of COVID-19 crisis, which was one of the most stringently enforced lockdowns worldwide, is beginning to be lifted up in most of the regions of India.

This editorial looks into the issue of lockdown-induced livelihood shock and suggests policy measures to prevent the shocks from further snowballing into chronic poverty.

2. ELITIST BIAS OF THE INDIAN STATE

As the majority of regions in India enter the 'unlocking' period, it is becoming clearer by the day that India’s less-privileged workforce experienced disproportionately high adverse impact of the lockdown than India's elitist class.

Several media reports and surveys have brought to light the plight of the less-privileged workforce to the surface and revealed the massive scale of falling incomes and loss of means of livelihood.

Majority of the low-waged workforce in India has been pushed into different depths of destitution depending upon the vulnerable of their occupations.

3. PRE LOCKDOWN POVERTY PUZZLE

3.1 Uncertain Poverty numbers

  • Even before the lockdown began, the poverty line in India has been a matter of contention for a long time due to setting up an unrealistically low threshold line to define poverty leading to conservative numbers.
  • The ambiguity around poverty numbers have increased due to
    • irregular updating of official poverty lines and
    • unavailability of data on consumption expenditure from National Sample Surveys in recent years

3.2 Estimating poverty numbers

  • Before the lockdown was imposed in India, around 42% or (56 crores) people were ‘officially’ poor.
  • This number has been derived using the following data:
    • Household Consumption Expenditure reported in the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS), 2017-18 which has replaced the employment-unemployment surveys of the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) and
    • State-specific poverty lines based on Tendulkar Committee recommendations, which was used by the erstwhile Planning Commission in 2011 and adjusted to current price indices.
  • Apart from the 42% (56 crores) official poor, around 20 crore Indians lie in a narrow corridor of 20% above the poverty line which amounts to only a few hundred rupees over the poverty line threshold.

3.3 Lockdown induced shock

  • Given the fragile and vulnerable condition of these 76 crore population, even a modest fall in their earning would lead to a fall in consumption spending and would push a majority of them into destitution.
  • The lockdown has already initiated the process of pushing this vulnerable section into the vortex of poverty and hunger by a huge fall in income levels, job cuts and sucking up their savings.

4. STATE RESPONSE TO POVERTY DEEPENING

4.1 Poverty deepening

  • Various estimates after extrapolating the PLFS data for the year 2020 suggest that during the lockdown period an additional 40 crore people were pushed below the poverty line.
  • 12crore of this lockdown induced new poor are in urban areas, while 28 crores in the rural areas.
  • Matters are far worse for people who were already below the poverty line. They have experienced poverty deepening (further deterioration of their quality of life).
  • In the pre lockdown period, 16% of the Indian population managed their daily expense with ?30 or even less per day, which is only one-third of the already low-threshold poverty line.
  • Various experts suggest this number to have risen up to 42% of the population, pushing 62 crore people into extreme poverty.
  • Such widespread destitution is unprecedented in the nation’s living memory.

4.2 Inadequate state response

  • The official response of the state to tackle the rising poverty has been described as inadequate and poorly conceived by most experts, as is evident from the second economic stimulus package announced by the Finance Minister.
  • The token increase of wages under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) by ?20 (?182 to ?202) is completely insignificant compared to the magnitude of the crisis and distress levels.

5. TALKING SOLUTIONS

5.1 Addressing rural economic distress - Revamping NREGA

  • A new revamped and expanded NREGA is the need of the hour to act as a pivot for rural recharge.
  • Given the reverse migration of workers in massive numbers to rural areas is expected to increase the demand for work by 25% due to the massive increase in rural labour supply.
  • The revamped NREGA scheme should aim to provide a minimum guaranteed employment of 20 days of work per month for at least the next six months to over 90 million workers.
  • This would require an additional financial stimulus of ?1.6-lakh crore.

5.2 Addressing food security - A Universal Public Distribution System

  • A universal PDS has been projected as a panacea for the current distress but its implementation needs to be done with a better focus on equity, identifying the rightful beneficiaries.
  • A noteworthy case is a recent experience of expanding food coupons to non-ration cardholders in Delhi, which led to the exclusion of marginalised communities including Dalits and Muslims at the lowest strata of the work hierarchy.
  • Hence, the implementation of a universal PDS should begin at the grass-root level with identification of the most vulnerable beneficiaries before expansion off the Universal PDS to the relatively better off.
  • The exclusion of the deserving sections due to errors and deficiencies in technology, like errors leading to exclusion while using biometric data to identify beneficiaries should be kept in check as it leads to huge social costs in the form of accentuated hunger

5.3 Stabilising urban economy

  • While the rural economic distress caused due to the COVID-19 crisis has been disproportionately high, the urban economy is also to feel the impact of the crisis as the economy moves towards 'unlocking'.
  • Large-scale reverse migration flows out of the urban informal sector will lead to several severe halts and jolts to the urban economy as it limps towards normalcy as the economy reopens.
  • Give the massive magnitude of destabilisation, an urban employment guarantee programme is an absolute necessity to bring the urban economy back on track and stabilize it.

5.4 An urban employment guarantee programme

  • A ‘direct’ urban employment guarantee programme on similar lines as a revamped NREGA should aim to provide guarantee 20 days of work per month to urban workers. This can be implemented through municipal corporations.
  • The wages for this urban employment guarantee programme could be fixed at 30% over prevalent MNREGA benchmark average wage in the State.
  • This new urban workforce can be used to develop key social infrastructure in urban areas like slum development, drinking water supply, toilet construction, parks and common areas, urban afforestation and social forestry.
  • Such public works programmes in the urban areas can lead to both betterment of the condition of public utilities and efficient utilisation of growth in demand for work in district towns and smaller cities, which have traditionally been outmigration hotspots across the country.
  • The urban employment guarantee programme could also be expanded to encourage a revival of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the most prominent economic clusters across the nation.
  • The programme could also include employer-contractor facilitated programmes in urban SMEs, construction sector projects and other business establishments to provide the workers with an equivalent amount to those working in urban SMEs.

6. CONCLUSION

The working class has been the backbone of the high neo-liberal growth that the world has experienced since the 1990s.

The economy has expanded by paying workers the bare minimum and the major portion of the surplus being transferred to the capitalist class (owners of means of production) with the expectation of reinvestment.

The state is an equal party to the flourishing of this model. A series of state policies had led to the following:

  • increased vulnerability of labouring class
  • the weakening of the collective bargaining power of the working class
  • large scale migration of the working class out of their native towns out of desperation and forcing them to accept low offered wages
  • forcing them to live under extreme poverty and poor living conditions
  • taking away their sense of dignity
  • curtailing any social security benefit available to the working class that could help them survive in times of difficulties

This experience is a brutal reminder for us to alter the course of economic progress and reorient development programmes, the lack and negligence of which would be severe with a high social cost including increasing hunger-related deaths and destitution and increase in social unrest and crime.

Source: The Hindu

Reset rural job policies to recognise women’s work

1. CONTEXT OF THE NEWS

As the Indian economy comes out of the lockdown restrictions while the health implications of the COVID-19 is still looming, the labour market policy should be designed in a way to reverse the gender-differentiated impact the COVID-19 has had on the Indian economy.

This editorial discusses the need for designing and implementing policies to assist women.

2. GREATER IMPACT OF COVID-19 ON WOMEN

2.1 Effect on jobs

  • The adverse economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are adversely huge on women but very little attention is paid on the adverse impacts of the pandemic on women due to paucity of official statistics on women workers.
  • Due to the inadequate and inaccurate data available on women's work, there is also a lack of specific policies and programmes to assist them.
  • A survey conducted by Azim Premji University on 5,000 workers across 12 States, 52% of whom were women workers revealed that the adverse impact of the nationwide lockdown is disproportionately higher on women worker.
  • The survey revealed that while 71% of women rural casual workers lost their jobs during the lockdown, the number stands at 59% for men.
  • Data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) also confirms the above finding. It reveals that job losses in April 2020 were larger for rural women than men when compared to the data for April 2019.

2.2 Effect on health and nutrition

  • As the nationwide lockdown significantly lowered employment in agriculture and allied activities and halted non-agricultural employment completely, the burden of care on women mounted up.
  • All the members of the family were at home during the lockdown. Men out of jobs or working from home, children out of schools, the chores of cooking, cleaning, childcare and elderly care became more onerous.
  • Managing the increased amount of household work that too during a crisis when provisioning has to be done at reduced levels of income and tight budgets will surely have significant long-term effects on the physical and mental health of women.
  • High levels of malnutrition among rural women is most likely going to worsen as rural families survive on reduced food intake.

3. PRE COVID-19 SITUATION

  • For a thorough examination of COVID-19 impact on women workers, we analyse the situation before the pandemic.
  • 25% of adult rural women were counted as “workers” in official data for the year 2017-18 in the national labour force surveys.
  • However, the situation changes drastically when we examine the data from the time-use survey.
  • A time-use survey collects information on all activities undertaken during a fixed time period (usually 24 hours).
  • Presently, there are no official time-use survey data available.
  • Although, the National Statistical Office conducted a time-use survey in 2019 the results are not available.
  • This editorial uses a time-use survey from a village in Karnataka.

4. FEATURES OF RURAL WOMEN WORKFORCE

4.1 Crisis of regular employment

  • Rural women face a crisis of regular employment.
  • It suggests that women not reported as 'workers' in official surveys are so because of lack of employment opportunities and not due to “withdrawal” from the labour force.
  • The crisis of regular employment has definitely intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic and the nationwide lockdown.

4.2 Participation by women from all sections

  • Several independent surveys have revealed that women from almost all sections of the peasantry participate in paid work outside the home barring some regional exceptions.
  • Therefore while considering 'potential workforce' women from a majority of the rural household should be taken into account and not just women from sections of rural labour or manual worker households.

4.3 More participation by older women

  • Relatively younger and more educated women often do not seek work because they aim at finding work in skilled non-agricultural sectors while older women are more likely to work as manual labour.

4.4 Rising wage gaps

  • Another crucial finding is that wages for the same work for women are rarely equal to wages for men, barring some exceptions.
  • The gap between the wages is highest for non-agricultural works, which is the new and expanding source of employment.

4.5 Exceedingly high work hours

  • A women's workday in rural India is significantly higher.
  • When all forms of work are included viz. economic activity and care work (which includes household chores as cooking, cleaning, childcare, elderly care) the total work hours for women is exceedingly long.
  • Surveys reveal that total work hours for women (in economic activity and care) ranges from 61 to 88 hours in the lean season and up to as high as 91 hours (or 13 hours a day) in the peak season. All women have at least a 60-hour workweek.

5. EFFECT OF THE LOCKDOWN ON JOBS

5.1 Effect on jobs in the agriculture sector

  • Various surveys have shown that during the lockdown period no agricultural activity was undertaken during the lean months of March to May in large parts of the country where rain-fed agriculture is prevalent.
  • In parts of India where irrigated agriculture has a significant presence, there were some harvest operations (such as for rabi wheat in northern India) but these activities were largely mechanised.
  • In yet other harvest operations like that of vegetables there was a low tendency to involve hired labour out of the fear of infection and a majority of households relied on family labour.
  • Hence, summing up even as agricultural activity continued during the lockdown period, employment avenues for women were severely restricted.
  • Similar was the case for agriculture-allied activities like animal rearing, fisheries and floriculture. Both income, as well as employment in agriculture-allied activities, were adversely affected by the lockdown.
  • Village studies show that women are inevitably a part of the labour process in case the family owns animals whether milch cattle or chickens or goats.
  • During the lockdown, demand for milk fell by at least 25% due to closing up of hotels, restaurants and eateries as well as fear of infection by households.
  • Incomes from the sale of milk to dairy cooperatives fell down for women throughout the nation.
  • In the fisheries sector as well women could not process or sell fish and fish products as fishermen could not go to sea due to the lockdown.

5.1 Effect on jobs in Non-agricultural sector

  • Jobs in the non-agricultural sector too halted completely as construction sites, brick kilns, petty stores and eateries, local factories and other firm were completely shut down in the lockdown period.
  • Studies have shown that women have accounted for more than half of workers in public works. But there was a dearth of employment available through the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS).
  • Therefore, in the first month of lockdown, there was a total collapse of non-agricultural employment for women although there was a big increase in demand for NREGS employment.
  • Government schemes most importantly those in health and education sectors have been one of the new sources of employment for women in the last few years like women working as Anganwadi workers or mid-day meal cooks.
  • During the pandemic, Accredited Social Health Activists or ASHAs, 90% of whom are women, have become frontline health workers, although they are not recognised as “workers” or paid a regular wage.

6. WAY AHEAD

  • First and foremost we need to redefine the contours of the rural labour market by including the contribution of women as the country emerges from the lockdown.
  • For the immediate and short-run provisioning of employment for women, the NREGS can be expanded with a special focus on women.
  • A medium to long provisioning of women-specific employment can be done by generating more employment in skilled occupations and in businesses and new enterprises.
  • Women have already been playing a significant role in health care at the grass-root level and therefore in the proposed expansion of health infrastructure in the country, they must be given recognition as 'workers' and should be duly compensated.
  • The announcement of rural infrastructure expansion by Finance Minister is a laudable step but at the same time, safe and easy transport for women from their homes to workplaces needs to be ensured.
  • As the lockdown is slowly opening up, the children and elderly remain at home. The burden of care for them rests on the shoulders of women.
  • In addition, men have seen to have a higher likelihood to contract COVID-19 infection than women do which in turn increases the burden on women to earn the family bread.
  • Given these facts, we also need to reduce the drudgery of care work for women like delivering healthy meals for schoolchildren, elderly and the sick can significantly reduce the burden of home cooking.

7. CONCLUSION

Women should be seen as equal partners in the rural workforce and in transforming the rural economy.

To achieve this we need to accurately capture workforce data on women and use it to design and implement policies specific to women.

Source: The Hindu

August 15 launch for Covaxin

1. CONTEXT OF THE NEWS

Recently the head of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) wrote to all the 12 trials for the Covid-19 vaccine candidate, Covaxin, asking to complete all the clinical trials by August 15, which is the date set for the public launch of Covaxin.

This editorial discusses various aspects of the development of a vaccine.

2. ABOUT COVAXIN

2.1 What is Covaxin?

  • Covixin is a potential candidate for the COVID-19 vaccine. It has been developed by the company Bharat Biotech India (BBIL) in collaboration with ICMR’s National Institute of Virology (NIV).
  • It is an “inactivated” vaccine, which means it is made up of particles of killed Covid-19 virus rendering them unable to infect or replicate.
  • When a specific dose of these particles is injected in a person, it stimulates the body to produce antibodies against the deadly virus thereby building immunity against the virus.

2.2 Details regarding Launch of Covaxin

  • The ICMR aims to make Covaxin available for public use by August 15.
  • For achieving this, the ICMR Head has written to the 12 trial sites to make sure that 'all' clinical trials are completed within time.
  • For achieving this, the ICMR head has directed BBIL to complete enrolment of trial participants a week before BBIL had initially planned.

2.3 Is the August 15 launch achievable?

  • Generally, a vaccine goes through three phases of human trials.
  • Until now the approvals have been given only for phase I and II trials by the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation.
  • It its application submitted to Clinical Trials Registry of India (CTRI), BBIL had estimated phase I and II trials to take fifteen months including at least a month for phase I alone.
  • Experts have raised doubts over the successful completion of all three phases within a month and a half.
  • Even most ambitious companies that are already in advanced stages of development of the COVID-19 vaccine have a longer timeframe.
  • Bioethics experts are deeply concerned that the development of vaccines should not be done at the cost of efficacy and safety.

3. OTHER TYPE OF VACCINE CANDIDATES FOR COVID-19

3.1 Non-replicating viral vector

  • Some viruses as the SARS-CoV-2 (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2) has a spike on its surface called the ‘spike protein’, which the virus uses to enter and infect cells and multiply.
  • In a non-replicating viral vector vaccine, the Covid-19 spike protein is modified so that it does not replicate and is then delivered in the human body using a weakened version of a different virus.
  • The body sees the spike protein as an antigen and builds immunity against it so that it can attack the real virus if it tries to infect the body.
  • An antigen is any foreign object (mostly toxins) that stimulates an immune response in the body most importantly the production of antibodies. 
  • Antibodies are used by the immune system to neutralize the antigens.
  • A COVID-19 vaccine candidate of this type being tested by the University of Oxford in collaboration with AstraZeneca.
  • The vaccine uses the ChAdOx1 virus (a weakened version of a common cold virus infecting chimpanzees).
  • The Vaccine is already in phase III and on the earliest will only be available towards the end of this year.

3.2 RNA vaccine

  • This type of vaccine uses messenger RNA (mRNA) molecules that direct the cells to build specific types of protein.
  • For the COVID-19 vaccine, the messenger RNA (mRNA) molecule is coded to direct the cells to build the molecular structure present on the surface of SARS-Cov-2.
  • The immune system will recognize this as an antigen and build antibodies against it, thereby building immunity.
  • Moderna has developed an mRNA vaccine in collaboration with the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The phase III trials of this vaccine are expected to start this month.
  • Pfizer (in collaboration with Germany’s BioNTech) has been giving patients its experimental RNA vaccine at low- and mid-level doses and a launch could be made by the end of the year.

3.3 DNA vaccine

  • This type of vaccine uses genetically engineered DNA molecules coded with an antigen.
  • The body recognizes this antigen and develops an immune response against it producing antibodies developing immunity.
  • Inovio Pharmaceuticals is developing a DNA vaccine named INO-4800 in collaboration with the International Vaccine Institute which has shown positive results in phase I trials.

4. DEVELOPMENT OF A VACCINE

4.1 Time required to develop a vaccine

  • There is no fixed time period for the development process of a vaccine but the process could take decades and still yield no result.
  • An important case being the vaccine for HIV, which is still in phase III of clinical trials even after thirty years of research.
  • One of the fastest developed vaccines was for mumps, which got approval within four years after beginning the trials in 1963.
  • In March this year, Antony Fauci, Director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the Senate Committee that it was not possible to develop a vaccine for COVID-19 before a year or a year and a half and even this ambitious target would require emergency authorization by regulators.

5. STATES OF DEVELOPMENT OF A VACCINE

Generally, a vaccine is developed and tested over a number of stages which have been fast-tracked in various ways for the development of the Covid-19 vaccine.

The stages are:

Stage I: Research and Development

  • This stage generally takes 2 - 4 years but for Covid-19 this stage has progressed very fast due to two reasons.
  • One, Chinese researchers shared the genetic sequence of the coronavirus in January itself, and there are a large number of candidates based on the virus's genetic code instead of its protein.
  • Second, the use of new technologies like m-RNA technology, which injects genetic instructions to human cells directing them to create proteins to fight the virus. However, the technology is still unproven.

Stage II: Pre-clinical Trials

  • This stage generally takes 2 - 3 years.
  • In this stage, scientists test the vaccine on cell cultures and animals. This stage is done before testing the vaccine on humans.
  • In Pre-clinical Trials first, the virus is inactivated and parts of its genetic sequence are pulled out and checked if they stimulate any immune response.
  • This is intended to check if the vaccine candidate continues to harm the cell.
  • In the absence of an immune response or if the vaccine candidate harms the animals, researchers return to phase I.
  • By performing various sub-stages simultaneously, this stage has been shortened for Covid-19.
  • However, the majority of vaccine candidates for COVID-19 are still in the pre-clinical stage.

Stage III: Clinical trials

  • Regulators permit for human testing based on data submitted from the pre-clinical trials.
  • Only a few candidates enter this stage. This stage consists of three phases and usually takes more than 90 months.
    • PHASE I: The vaccine is delivered to a small group of people and antibodies in their blood are measure. This takes about three months.
    • PHASE II: If phase I is successful, scientists move to phase II. In this phase, the vaccine is delivered to several hundred people and three aspects are evaluated.
      1. reactogenicity (ability to produce common, adverse reactions)
      2. immunogenicity (ability to provoke an immune response) and
      3. safety
    • To compare the working of the vaccine under different variables a control is also used.
    • For Covid-19 vaccine development, this stage has been shortened like Moderna, which took just 63 days to reach clinical trials.
  • PHASE III: In the last phase of clinical trials, the vaccine is delivered to thousands of people.
    • This usually takes 6-8 months.
    • This phase assesses the working of the vaccine in larger populations.

Stage IV: Regulatory review

  • The manufacturer submits the data of the clinical trials to receive a licence. This stage is usually fast-tracked during emergencies.

Stage V: Manufacturing

  • Manufacturing of vaccines requires immense resources like funds to the tune of millions of dollars, infrastructure, raw material, and scientific expertise.

Stage VI: Quality control

  • In this stage, both the regulator and the manufacturer monitor the safety of the vaccine.

7. CONCLUSION

This development of Covaxin is indeed a necessity to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Given the high cost of medical services, a nationally developed vaccine will be a huge relief.

While the intention of ICMR to develop the vaccine in record time is laudable, at the same time, the concerns of bioethics experts about crunching all the three phases of clinical trials within a month when human trials are yet to begin is equally important.

Efficacy and safety issues should not be ignored in any case.

Source: Indian Express

Can alternative medicine be subject to modern rigour?

1. CONTEXT OF THE NEWS

Recently, an Indian firm developed an Ayurvedic Medicine and claimed it as a cure for the COVID-19 pandemic. Medicine was criticized for making unsubstantiated claims of efficiency.

This editorial discusses the possibility of subjecting alternative medicine to the same levels of evaluation like modern medicine.

2. PROCESS OF DEVELOPMENT OF A NEW DRUG

2.1 The process of Development of a New Drug in modern medicine

  • Step 1: Discovery and Development of a new drug.
  • Step 2: Preclinical Research is done before testing the new drug on people to determine its toxicity on the human body.
  • Step 3: Clinical Research is trials done on humans to study how the drug interacts with the human body.
  • Step 4: Review of the drug by the Nation's Drug Administrative Authority where the study was done on the drug is submitted by the developer and examined by the authority for approval.
  • Step 5: Post-Market Safety Monitoring of the Drug - it takes months or even years to fully understand all the aspects of a new drug. In this step, the Administrative body reviews all the reports on the drug-related to prescription and over-the-counter drugs and cautions or usage information etc. are added.

2.2 Procedure for testing a new investigational drug in Ayurveda:

  • There are two aspects to the clinical use of Ayurvedic drugs.
  • The first category of drugs belongs to those drugs that are described in the classical texts and are listed in the Drugs and Cosmetics Act of India.
  • They have a prescribed formulation to be used in certain specified conditions and have been used for several hundred years in India as well as other parts of the world effectively.
  • If these drugs are found useful in case of a new condition (like many ayurvedic drugs found to be effective in case of COVID-19 infections) and there is textual evidence to suggest their efficacy, such ayurvedic drugs can proceed to human trials straight away because their toxicity and pre-clinical aspects have already been well understood are researched.
  • The second category of drugs, with an entirely new formula for a new set of conditions, has to follow the same path of toxicity, preclinical efficacy, and subsequent clinical trials as modern medicines.

2.3 The need for rigorous testing for alternative medicines:

  • A large number of practitioners of alternative medicine feel that there is a disproportionately higher burden of proof on alternative medicine vis-a-vis modern medicine but each and every drug must be tested for safety and effectiveness before it can be prescribed widely.
  • Past experience or quoting classical texts or literature cannot be a certain proof for the efficacy of the drug against a new disease.
  • The results of certain drugs, which worked well in the case of Ebola, were extrapolated to use the drugs for treating COVID-19, but they did not work.
  • Many a time successful preclinical trials (medicines working in Petri dishes) do not work with the same efficacy on the human body.
  • There are some basic scientific principles aimed to minimize the bias that must be followed by all branches of medicine whether alternative or modern.

3. EVALUATING A NEW DRUG FOR COVID-19

3.1 Lack of a reference point:

  • There is no difference in the standards of testing for evaluation of the safety and efficacy of ayurvedic medicine vis-a-vis modern medicine.
  • Presently there is no standard of care or an effective drug for COVID-19 to reliably compare a new drug with.
  • Drugs are evaluated on the basis of an expected specific outcome.
  • In the context of disease management, neither does a single drug work for the entire population nor does a single drug works with the same efficacy during a patient's lifetime.
  • The CCRS (Central Council for Research in Ayurvedic Sciences) provides guidelines and procedures for the evaluation of an ayurvedic drug.

4. IS AYURVEDA UNSCIENTIFIC?

4.1 Lack of peer review and journal:

  • In the pharmaceutical sector, usually, the trial results of new drugs are reviewed by peers and published in a journal, which is then evaluated for the drugs' benefits or non-efficacy by independent experts.
  • Many people cite a lack of this practice in alternative medicine and there are claims that negative results are not reported in alternative medicine. However, there is more than meets the eyes.
  • Ayurvedic research publications generally do not find a place in well-reputed, high-impact medical journals but still there is no denying that there is a lack of negative outcomes being published but at the same time, it is not a problem with Ayurveda alone.
  • Clinical trials by universities and research counselors, thesis reports of research students keep appearing in Ayurvedic journals, however, there is certainly a need to upgrade the quality of these journals.

4.2 Lack of technological interventions in Ayurveda:

  • There is a definite need for technological interventions and medical instruments as ventilators and pulse oximeters for diseases like COVID-19.
  • It is a common misconception that Ayurveda is allergic to modern technological devices.
  • Ayurveda and alternative medicine not only relies on natural concoctions but also integrates modern medical facilities and technologies in the clinical protocols of these medicine systems.
  • However, Ayurveda also relies on the assessment of disease in an ayurvedic style which includes a focus on both the virus as well as certain baseline health parameters like diet and sleep which indicate the efficacy of treatment.

4.3 Lack of testing of Ayurvedic Medicines:

  • Ayurvedic medicines are generally not allowed anywhere to be tested in severe or critically ill situations, which could improve outcomes.
  • The modern medical world and society both need to be taken in confidence and assured that ayurvedic medicines can be tested in those conditions as well.

4.4 A highly personalized medical system:

  • Ayurveda is often considered as a highly personalized system of medicine where the treatment is customized to an individual.
  • On the other hand, Modern medicine provides for the same drugs for a given set of conditions.
  • For the strictly same set of clinical indications, same ayurvedic medicines can be prescribed too.
  • At the same time, it should be kept in mind that one-drug-fits-all notion in modern medicine itself is being challenged every day.

5. WAY FORWARD:

5.1 Integration of the two systems of medicine

  • Modern medicine is a more rational, analytic, and structured approach towards treating disease.
  • On the other hand, Ayurveda has a holistic and more intuitive approach, which takes the whole person into consideration and not just the disease.
  • While modern medicine focuses only on a cell, an organ or a disease, Ayurveda believes that whole is more important than parts and focuses on the person as a whole.
  • An integrated approach would be a win-win situation for both disciplines, would provide holistic care for the patients and wholesome disease management.

5.2 Science should not be left behind:

  • However, the principles of science and ethics should not be missed during their integration.
  • The strength of modern medicine is that it focuses very strongly on meaningful outcomes of the drug including saving lives and speedy recovery.
  • Sometimes in the name of traditional knowledge, alternative medicines are pushed through without enough research and trials. Negative results are frequently hidden.
  • Traditional medicines like modern medicine should have the humility and transparency to accept that a particular drug does not work (like hydroxychloroquine, remdesivir do not reduce mortality and the dual combination of antiviral drugs does not work).

6. CONCLUSION

Both systems of medicines, modern or traditional ultimately aims to heal individuals and save lives.

An integrated approach would be beneficial for both the systems as well as for the patients. However, a certain basic set of scientific principles must be applied to all systems of medicines.

Furthermore, the products of both the systems of medicine are frequently in the hands of commercial pharmaceutical companies who aim similar tactics to increase profit. This creates more harm than good and presents a case for de-linking the nexus between pharmaceutical companies and medicine.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

1. The Patanjali Controversy regarding claimed COVID-19 cure

  • Recently PatanjaliAyurved owned by yoga guru Baba Ramdev released an Ayurvedic medicine ‘Coronil and Swasari’ claiming favorable results in clinical trials on COVID-19 affected patients.
  • The Union Government subsequently asked PatanjaliAyurvedLimited to stop advertising the drug as a cure for COVID-19 and has sought details of the claimed 'successful trial and cure'.
  • The government has asked PatanjaliAyurved to provide details of the name and composition of the medicines that are claimed as successful in treating COVID-19. Additional details about treatment, site(s) and hospital(s) where the research study was conducted, the protocol, sample size, Institutional Ethics Committee clearance, Clinical Trials Registry-India (CTRI) registration, and results in data of the study are also being sought.

2. About AYUSH Ministry

  • AYUSH stands for Ayurveda, Yoga, Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, and Homoeopathy.
  • The Ministry of AYUSH was created on 9th November 2014
  • It aims at ensuring optimal development and propagation of AYUSH systems of health care.
  • Previously the Ministry was known as the Department of Indian System of Medicine and Homeopathy (ISM&H) and was created in March 1995.
  • It was later renamed as Department of Ayurveda, Yoga, Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy (AYUSH) in November 2003; and focused on the development of Education and Research in six systems of alternative medicine viz. Ayurveda, Yoga, and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, and Homoeopathy.
  • Benefits of AYUSH
    • AYUSH medical framework provides certain advantages over modern medical systems.
    • The AYUSH healthcare system is cheap and affordable.
    • It has comparatively lesser side effects than other conventional medical systems.
    • There are evidence of the effectiveness of the AYUSH system even in chronic cases.
    • Patients in the terminal stages of diseases have also benefitted from AYUSH medication.
    • There is a rise in lifestyle-associated diseases in India compared to communicable diseases like tuberculosis and AYUSH Medical System has proven effective in such diseases.

3. Central Council for Research in Ayurvedic Sciences (CCRAS)

  • It is an autonomous body of the Ministry of AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, and Homeopathy), Government of India.
  • It is an apex body in India for the undertaking, coordinating, formulating, developing, and promoting research on scientific lines in Ayurvedic Sciences.
  • The research activities of the Council include Medicinal Plant Research (Medico-Ethno Botanical Survey, Pharmacognosy and Tissue Culture), Drug Standardization, Pharmacological Research, Clinical Research, Literary Research & Documentation, and Tribal Health Care Research Programme.

Objectives of CCRAS:-

  • Formulate aims and patterns of research on scientific lines in Ayurvedic Sciences.
  • Undertake any research or other programs in Ayurvedic Sciences.
  • To initiate, aid, develop and coordinate scientific research in different aspects, fundamental and applied of Ayurvedic Sciences.
  • To finance inquiries and researches for the furtherance of objects of the Central Council.
  • To undertake R & D Consultancy projects and transfer of patents on drugs and processes to industry.
  • To undertake R & D projects sponsored by industries in the public/private sector.
  • To undertake international and interagency collaboration.
  • To provide technical assistance to Govt./Private agencies in matters consistent with the activities of the Council.

Source: The Hindu - https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/can-alternative-medicine-be-subject-to-modern-rigour/article31973999.ece

Centre to focus on online education

Context:

The central government has decided to distribute laptops or tablets to 40% (4.06 crore students) of all college and university students over the next five years.

Objective: To minimize social inequity in online education coming to the fore due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The government also wanted to equip all government schools with information and communication technology.

Details:

  • Around 1.5 crore students are to receive devices in the next financial year 2021-22. An average cost of Rs 15,000 has been assumed per device. The cost of making devices has been distributed among Centre and States in a 60:40 ratio.
  • As per the School Education department estimation, there is a need to spend up to Rs1 lakh per school for sanitization and quarantine measures in preparation for the safe reopening of schools.
    • The measures would include ensuring basic water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) facilities, safe drinking water, availability of alcohol sanitizer, disinfectant, cleaning material and equipment for temperature checking.
  • Funds for these measures are being provided on the basis of the number of students. for schools with over a thousand students Rs 1 lakh and Rs 25,000 for small schools with less than 100 students.
  • Funds will also be provided for awareness and community mobilization to sensitize parents, students, and local leaders. A sum of Rs 1,000 per teacher to encourage them to function as first-level counselors, providing basic information about COVID-19 and for digital/online/mobile education.
  • ICT facilities are not available for 3.1 lakh government schools above the upper primary level the government proposes a budget of Rs 55,840 crore to equip them with such facilities.

Challenges in online education in India:

  • Access to electricity:  Electricity is a must for digital education, both for powering devices and for connecting to the internet. Government’s Saubhagya scheme aims to provide electricity to households shows that almost 99.9% of homes have electricity connection. But a nationwide survey of villages conducted by the Ministry of Rural Development in 2017-’18 showed that only 16% of India’s households received one to eight hours of electricity daily, 33% received 9-12 hours, and only 47% received more than 12 hours a day.
  • Accessibility of computer: 24 % of Indians own a smartphone but only 11% of households possess any type of computer, which could include desktop computers, laptops, notebooks, tablets.
  • Internet facility: According to the 2017-’18 National Sample Survey report on education, only 24% of Indian households have an internet facility. While 66% of the population lives in villages, only a little over 15% of rural households have access to the internet. For urban households, the number is 42%.
    • Only 8% of all households with members aged between five and 24 have both a computer and an internet connection.
  • Gender Gap: As per the Internet and Mobile Association of India report, in 2019, while 67% of men had access to the internet but internet access for women was only 33%.
  • Digital infrastructure: Despite initiatives from both the governments, there has not been enough expenditure on improving the digital infrastructure for online education.
    • In fact, in 2020-’21, the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) budget for digital e-learning was reduced to Rs 469 crore from Rs 604 crore in 2019-’20.

Some government initiatives:

  • Bharat Padhe Online: It was a week-long campaign for crowdsourcing of ideas for improving the online education ecosystem of India. Students and teachers were the main target audience in the campaign.
    • Objective: To invite all the best brains in India to share suggestions/solutions directly with MHRD. It also aims to overcome the challenges of online education while promoting the available digital education platforms.
  • YUKTI Portal: It is a unique portal to monitor and record the efforts and initiatives of MHRD.
    • The portal will allow institutions to share their strategies for challenges that are there because of the situation of Covid-19.
    • A two-way communication channel will also be established under the portal. Channel will be between the Ministry of HRD and educational institutions so that the Ministry can provide the necessary support system to the institutions.

Source: The Hindu

COVID-19 and rapid development in India’s Health Infrastructure

1. CONTEXT OF THE NEWS

  • India has entered into a critical unlocking phase of in its fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • This editorial looks into the rapid infrastructure development in the health sector by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), as a part of India's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

2. THE COVID-19 BATTLE

2.1 The new phase in COVID-19 battle

  • After going through three successive lockdowns wherein the severity of restrictions was lifted successively and normalcy was restored in most of the areas, India is now in the unlocking phase.
  • Recently the Hon’ble Prime Minister talked of expanding the vision from "preventing loss of life” to “saving lives and protecting livelihoods”
  • However, for the people whose lives and livelihoods are put on hold due to the epidemic, there is a certain amount of fatigue.
  • The rising number of active COVID-19 cases is also causing a sense of worry in the general public even though the number of recoveries has taken over the number of active cases in the country.
  • The Prime Minister on April 6 warned that the battle against Covid-19 would be a long one and it would take the combined and tireless effort of the nation to emerge victorious.

2.2 Indian Response to the COVID-19 epidemic

  • The Indian government was well aware of the scale of pandemic and the economic cost to the nation in the initial days of the lockdown itself.
  • This early recognition of the gravity of the COVID-19 situation enabled the government to prepare the health care infrastructure to deal with the rising number of cases.
  • Hence, it was imperative for the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) to step up and build the foundation, protocol and infrastructure to test, track and treat cases.

23. Global Response to the COVID-19 pandemic

  • Nations throughout the world have had their own way of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic with varying degrees of success.
  • The most common element of the response by all nations who have 'flattened the curve' has been to test more and more number of people.
  • The response of ICMR too been to rapidly ramp up testing capabilities to meet the needs of the huge population of India.
  • This rapid increase in the testing capabilities of India is in accord with the vision of “saving lives and protecting livelihoods”.

3. COVID TESTING IN INDIA

3.1 Present testing capability of India

  • Today, India is testing over 200,000 everyday.
  • The ICMR has validated over 1,000 laboratories covering every district of the nation.
  • This shows a rapid development and ramping up of health infrastructure given the fact that India’s daily testing capacity was 100,000 in 555 laboratories just over a month ago.

3.2 Evolving response of the ICMR

  • The India strategy underwent iterative calibration to keep pace with the changing epidemiology and extent of infection to ensure inclusive and equitable access to testing.
  • The ICMR has coordinated and worked closely with the state governments to ramp up the development of testing laboratories to ensure the inclusiveness of thousands of economic migrants returning to rural areas.
  • The ICMR has also been in close contact with state governments to frame a strategy to monitor, investigate, and treat new cases.
  • In the quest of Atmanirbhar Bharat several Union ministries came out will meticulously crafted economic stimulus and an unlocking plan to prevent the loss of livelihood.
  • At the same time, ICMR kept on ensuring that the expertise, materials, staff, and capacity to carry out testing safely, successfully and reliably were being put in place to prevent the loss of life.

4. ATMANIRBHAR BHARAT

4.1 COVID-19 and Atmanirbhar Bharat

  • As response to the COVID-19 epidemic, the government has worked in close coordination with the domestic health care industry to make India self-sufficient in testing making ICMR’s Covid-19 programme a flag-bearer of Atmanirbhar Bharat initiative.
  • The nationwide lockdown had forced industries to shut and the industries had to face severe operational challenges related to the movement of human resources and procurement of material and machinery.
  • To deal with these challenges and enable the industry to accelerate production a task force was setup to realise the goal of Atmanirbhar Bharat.

4.2 Success stories

  • The development of swabs for Covid-19 was started domestically within six days of forming the task force. Today, three companies manufacture up to 200,000 swabs daily.
  • The production of viral transport medium (VTM) kits increased from 500,000 units per year to 500,000 units per day despite a nationwide lockdown.
  • Private players in the health sector have developed 10 million polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests and five million viral extraction kits after expedited approval from the Central Drug Standard Control Organisation.

4.3“Mission Lifeline Udan”

  • This was a combined mission of the ministry of civil aviation and their airline partnersin the government and private sector to ensure safe and timely delivery of supplies to every laboratory.
  • Under Mission Lifeline Udan, airlines carried consignments of diagnostic material developed and procured by the ICMR to laboratories across the country.
  • 150 flight operations transported and delivered 40 tonnes of testing material to even the remotest corner of India.
  • Courier companies and state governments joined hands to ensure doorstep deliveries.
  • The India Post with its wide network of countrywide operations proved to be very helpful as the network of laboratories expanded.
  • A network of 16 storage depots were developed in a phased manner to cut down transit times, logistical complications and risks of stock outs and ensure decentralised storage.

5. INDIGENOUSLYTESTING OF COVID-19

  • ICMR has encouraged the use of indigenously developed TrueNAT and CBNAAT testing protocols along with internationally accepted reverse transcription (RT)-PCR test kits.
  • TrueNAT and CBNAAT testing protocols are very cost effective and can be more easily used in rural areas where migrants are returning.

6. CONCLUSION

  • The collaborative efforts of ICMR and state and central government ministries have facilitated testing laboratory construction in the remotest corner of India.
  • The construction of 1,000 laboratories with a testing capacity of 200,000 tests per day within three months has made sure that the economic activity associated with the construction, procurement and staff for these has built an ecosystem that protects and provides livelihoods.
  • Scientific and data-driven inputs from the best minds and leading epidemiologists and scientists of India at ICMR have been also been instrumental in formulating the protocols and procedures for Unlock 1.0 to kick start the economic engine and take Indian lives and livelihood back to normalcy.
  • While our brave soldiers are securing India's territorial integrity at the borders, the warriors at ICMR are saving lives and protecting the livelihoods of those living in this territory.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Truenat TB Test

  • The Truenat TB test is a new molecular test that can diagnosis TB in one hour as well as testing for resistance to the drug rifampicin.
  • The TrueNat test has been developed by the Indian firm MolBio Diagnostics Pvt Ltd Goa. It’s development has been funded by Bigtec Labs, India.
  • This test for TB uses a sputum sample taken from each patient.
  • Only about 0.5 ml of the sample is required.
  • The test works by the rapid detection of TB bacteria using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technique.

CBNAAT (Cartridge Based Nucleic Acid Amplification Test)

  • The Genexpert test is a molecular test for TB. The Genexpert diagnoses TB by detecting the presence of TB bacteria, as well as testing for resistance to the drug Rifampicin.
  • In India Genexpertis known as the CB-NAAT
  • The test is a molecular TB test which detects the DNA in TB bacteria.
  • It uses a sputum sample and can give a result in less than 2 hours.
  • The Genexpert has been developed by the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND), who have partnered with the Cepheid corporation and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.

Source: Hindustan Times - https://www.hindustantimes.com/analysis/how-india-is-building-its-capabilities/story-iKOATWxpefLPpxUIvWb7UO.html

The World Bank education project

Context:

The World Bank has approved a project worth $500 million to improve the learning outcome and governance of government schools in six Indian states.

Background:

  • STARS builds on the partnership between India and the World Bank since 1994 for strengthening the school education system and to support the goal of providing education to all. 
  • Before STARS, the World Bank had provided assistance of over $3 billion towards this.

Details:

  • World Bank has mentioned that India has made significant strides in improving access to education across the country. 
  • In India, between 2004-05 and 2018-19, the number of children going to school increased from 219 million to 248 million.
  • However, the learning outcomes of students across all age groups remain below par.

Strengthening Teaching-Learning and Results for States Program: 

  • STARS will be implemented through the Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan, the flagship central scheme of India.

Coverage:

  • Six states Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, and Rajasthan are included in the program.
  • More than 52% of children in government-run schools in the six project states belong to vulnerable sections, such as Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and minority communities.

Significance:

  • Improve the learning assessment: The project will help improve the learning assessment systems, strengthen classroom instruction, and remediation, facilitate school-to-work transition, and strengthen governance and decentralized management.
  • Address “the ‘learning outcome’: It will also address “the ‘learning outcome’ challenge and help students better prepare for the jobs of the future.
    • India recognizes this need to significantly improve its learning outcomes to fuel future growth and meet the labor market demands. 
  • Strengthening implementation: STARS will aid India’s response by strengthening implementation at the local level, investing in teacher capacity and ensuring that no child of any background is left behind from the right to education

The World Bank:

  • It is an international organization dedicated to providing financing, advice, and research to developing nations to aid their economic advancement.
  • It was created in 1944 out of the Bretton Woods Agreement.
  • The World Bank headquartered in Washington, D.C.
  • The World Bank has two stated goals:
    • To end extreme poverty by decreasing the number of people living on less than $1.90 a day to below 3% of the world population.
    • To increase overall prosperity by increasing income growth in the bottom 40% of every country in the world.
    • World Bank aims to achieve these goals by 2030.
  • The World Bank comprises two institutions: the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), and the International Development Association (IDA). The World Bank is a component of the World Bank Group.

World Bank Group Comprises of Five organizations:

  1. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD)
  2. The International Development Association (IDA)
  3. International Finance Corporation (IFC)
  4. Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA)
  5. International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID)

Source: LiveMint

Saving the underprivileged families from starvation

1. CONTEXT OF THE NEWS

The COVID-19 pandemic lingers on and as the COVID-19 crisis deepens, the vulnerable sections of the society are exposed and threatened more than ever before.

This editorial discusses the immediate need to put money in the hands of the impoverished to support them during the pandemic by efficient and strict implementation of critical social welfare schemes of the government related to nutrition, food security and healthcare.

2. IMPACT OF COVID-19 ON CHILDREN

2.1 Children as the worst sufferers of COVID-19 pandemic

  • As the COVID-19 crisis deepens, it is flaring up into a humanitarian crisis.
  • Innocent children have been the first and worst victims of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Not only has their childhood been stolen since the pandemic surfaced, even after the pandemic subsides, its aftermath in the form of economic depression would indirectly hurt the development years of children in the next few years to come.

2.2 COVID19 and Child Labour Report

  • This report has been published by combined efforts of UNICEF (United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund) and the ILO (International Labour Organization), two agencies of the United Nations.
  • The report predicts an increase of 40 to 60 million in the number of people facing extreme poverty in this year itself.
  • The report also suggests that due to the reduction of job opportunism in the labour market for the parents, the children will be exposed to the high risk of being forced to work in exploitative and hazardous work.

2.3 ‘The Impact of COVID19 on Children’ – UN policy brief

  • The recent policy brief by the United Nation, “The Impact of COVID19 on Children”, forecasts that a dire consequence of the economic recession entailing the COVID-19 crisis would result in “hundreds of thousands of children deaths”.
  • To add to the woes, the report also underlines the possibility of underestimating the number.
  • The brief also underlines that the direct consequence of the preventive lockdown policy due to the COVID-19 crisis has been on the nutritional health of the 368.5 million schoolchildren in 143 countries.
  • Many of the schoolchildren relied on school meals as their daily source of nutrition.
  • Distance learning has been adopted by almost two-thirds of developed countries but the number is only 30% for low-income countries.
  • Scarce and scattered power supply, limited access to high-speed internet and non-affordability of electronic devices are the biggest impediments to distance learning in low-income countries.
  • This directly affects the literacy rates and the future bank of human capital.

3. SITUATION IN INDIA

The situation in India is as bad as the global scenario if not any worse. 

3.1 Lack of awareness

  • Recently a survey conducted by a foundation across 16 states with 7,000 respondents revealed that 62 per cent of households had a child at home who was less than six years old.
  • The survey also revealed a lack of knowledge about the virus.
  • A mere 26% knew to stay away from a person exhibiting coronavirus symptoms.
  • Over 50% of the household did not follow the 'wash behaviour' neglecting washing hands before feeding their babies or after cleaning their excreta.
  • This negligence puts the family and children both to the high risk of contracting the virus.
  • Though children are not severely affected by COVID-19till now, yet even a mild infection can drive the family into financial distress.

3.2 Loss of unemployment

  • The nationwide lockdown in India has had a very devastating effect on the households whose primary source of income comes from labour work, salaries, wages and commission.
  • The monthly unemployment rate shows a very sharp spike at 23.49% in May, against 8.74% in March as per the data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE).

3.3 FicusPax Pvt Ltd vs Union of India Case, 12 June 2020

  • In the FicusPax Pvt Ltd Case, the Supreme Court held that no coercive action would be taken against private firms for non-payment of wages during the lockdown.
  • This indicates bleak prospects of improvement of the condition of such households.
  • The SC also added that the employer and employee must negotiate amongst themselves issues regarding payment of wages.
  • This will only lead to more exploitation of such employees by private firms.
  • Another ill consequence of reduced and restricted sources of income and unemployment is that it will force such households to engage their children in labour.
  • A survey estimates children of 22% of households working at or outside their home
  • In this context, rural households perform bettered than urban households did.

4. FOOD INSECURITY

4.1 Food insecurity during the epidemic

  • Limited household income and availability of ration at home are directly correlated.
  • The unavailability of food will directly impact the health of children.
  • This situation has been worsened by during the lockdown due to inefficient service delivery of take-home rations (THR) and mid-day meals under the Integrated Child Development Schemes.
  • Reports show that only 17 per cent of households were able to access THR.
  • Mass shutting of schools during the lockdown period has deprived 43 per cent of households the mandated mid-day deals.
  • The picture becomes all gloomier given the fact that presently India has the highest percentage of stunted and wasted children among developing countries.
  • While 37.9% children under the age of 5 are stunted, 20.8 % of children under the age of 5 are wasted.
  • This indicates an impoverished and hunger-stricken future for our nation.

4.2 Other distresses

  • During March-April, ‘CHILDLINE 1098’ received 4.6 lakh calls displaying the dire hardships being faced by the children.
  • 30 % of the calls were related to pandemic-induced problems of shortage of food and transport.
  • Other problems included requests related to child labour, trafficking, and child abuse and child marriage.
  • As the economic slowdown deepens and becomes more severe, involuntary poverty will only increase and the number of such distress calls will only volume up.

5. CONCLUSION

  • Before the situation goes beyond control, the marginalised sections of our society needs to be protected at any cost.
  • The government and the civil society must join hands to protect underprivileged families and their children from starvation.
  • There is a very pressing and urgent need to make monetary resources available to the impoverished and vulnerable sections of the society.
  • To ensure uninterrupted delivery of food and essential social services the government must tighten the noose on implementation of its initiatives and social welfare schemes.
  • The government’s latest decision to extend the Ayushman Bharat scheme to migrant workers across states is commendable however, a lot of responsibility is left on the shoulders of the primary healthcare system.
  • Civil society can innovate and provide equal access to education to the less privileged.
  • As social ethics, the general public should show empathy and compassion to our unprivileged brothers and sisters.
  • This is not just a test of government efficiency but the whole of humanity.

Source: The Indian Express https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/coronavirus-effect-on-children-6478122/

Can online learning replace the school classroom?

1. CONTEXT OF THE NEWS

The COVID-19 epidemic in India has disrupted the education sector and there is an increasing trend in online classes.

This editorial discusses the impact and effectiveness of online learning on students.

2. THE DEBATE OVER ONLINE EARNING

  • The COVID-19 epidemic has disrupted this year’s academic calendar.
  • Schools are mass shut, classes have been suspended and exams are being cancelled all over the globe.
  • As a response to this crisis, schools have moved to online classes compelling students to use their electronic gadgets to attend lectures.
  • This move is entailed by a debate over increases screen time. It remains to be seen if the increased amount of screen time is helping students learn or impeding their progress.
  • Maharashtra has banned online classes from pre-primary to Class II.
  • Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh have banned it until Class V.
  • Let us look at the pros and cons of online learning.

3. HAS ONLINE CLASSES INCREASED SCREEN TIME FOR STUDENTS

3.1 No it has not really

  • Some are of the opinion that children have anyways been hooked to screens even before the COVID-19 crisis, in a variety of forms including television, mobile, and computers and therefore, online classes have not caused any significant increase in screen time.
  • Research shows that the average daily screen time for children is eight to nine hours.
  • A case in point is also the fact that online classes do not entirely depend on screen and they include various other activities that can be done offline.
  • Yoga classes, painting, and crafts, science experiments that require ingredients easily available in a common household, cooking, etc. are some of the 'off-screen activities' that schools are integrating with online classes.
  • Hence, the screen time is interspersed with hands-on activities to creatively engage students.
  • Cancelation of classes altogether will hamper the development of the brain of the children. In the early years of life, the brains develop every day, and hence learning every day is crucial.
  • For the development of the brain, the young minds need the right kind of simulation, which only a teacher can provide as they have provided age-appropriate stimulation.

3.2 Yes it has not

  • Some experts are of the view that online learning is not a healthy way of learning.
  • As schools are shifting to online learning, it automatically implies long periods of screen time for the child, which can be harmful.
  • Keeping implications on health aside, online learning also drives the child to loneliness and isolation.
  • Children have to learn alone without their peers and in a sense, it is 'unsupervised learning' as the role of the teacher is also restricted in online learning.
  • While parents are busy with their daily lives, and the absence of the classroom environment, such unsupervised learning will certainly affect the learning process.
  • Another noteworthy disadvantage is that many children especially those in government schools are being deprived of education during the pandemic, as they do not have access to online facilities and are missing out on the lessons.
  • Even though some families might have access to digital technology, there might not be enough devices to accommodate the personal use of all the family members.
  • Adults working from home require a personal gadget most of the day hours and hence, online learning requires a household to have several gadgets to be distributed among all the family members, which is not feasible for a large section of the Indian society. 

4. EXPOSING CHILDREN TO SCREENS AT A YOUNG AGE

  • Exposing children to screens from a young age can hamper their overall development.
  • Light-emitting from the screen might negatively affect their vision and lead to permanent eyesight problems.
  • Online learning is also a passive activity and tends to make children lethargic and dampens their cognitive skills.
  • Exposing children to screen from a tender age, using videos to placate toddlers and other such parenting methods can lead to behavioural problems.
  • Schools should keep this in mind while designing the online curriculum.
  • The lessons should be designed in such a way that the child only spends a few minutes looking at a screen.
  • This can be done by integrating different activities into the lessons.

5. GUIDELINES ON ONLINE LEARNING

  • There has been a rush to jump to online classes without thinking thoroughly about the multiple issues surrounding online learning hence the courts have asked the government to come up with regulatory instructions and guidelines for online learning (Recently the Karnataka High Court has asked for guidelines on online learning).
  • The courts wish to inquire what online classes entail, what it means, how it is going to happen and what will be its impact.
  • In this regard, The Early Childhood Association (a think tank on pre-primary education) has prepared detailed guidelines that can be followed in online learning.
  • Governments should engage such NGOs, organizations, and think tanks to come up with a comprehensive guideline such that children are not deprived of learning yet are shielded from the ill effects on long periods of screen time.
  • Unfortunately, many of the balwadis and anganwadis (government-run crèches and day-care facilities) might be located in congested areas, which may be hotspots

6. REOPENING SCHOOLS

6.1 Reopening Schools in India

  • The entire conversation revolves around technology while it should be about screen time. Watching television also counts in screen time.
  • There is a need to focus on turning schools into a safe place where education can resume.
  • Education is much more than just information or content delivered to students via screens. Most of the learning in education takes place through social interactions in a school, with peers, with the teachers.
  • Online classes shave cut short the social interactions and it could have other kinds of developmental and cognitive impacts on the child and their development. x
  • It is high time that we started to talk about how the school actually can be made a space that is safe again, for children to come back to, rather than make a complete switch to online learning.

6.2 Schools already opening abroad

  • Schools are reopening abroad, but we cannot compare that to the situation in India.
  • The schools that have opened in these countries are taking the utmost precautions like using tissue boxes for every class.
  • Students can dump their used tissues in these boxes. However, the waste generated is so huge, and it will also require to be discarded safely.
  • Indian schools lack that kind of infrastructure. In addition, it is difficult to make children sit in the classroom wearing masks, without touching it or for them not to touch other children and their masks.

6.3 Schools post COVID-19 – Way out

  • During pandemics, schools can be opened in a staggered manner, with 50% students attending every alternate day.
  • This will help avoid crowded classrooms and give schools time to clean up their premises.
  • Temperature checks of teachers, students, and non-teaching staff should become mandatory.
  • Teachers should not give students any books to carry home.
  • Social distancing should be followed strictly by teachers and students.
  • Priority should be given to opening schools for marginalized and migrant children, as they might not have access to technology.
  • There is a large section of the population that is unable to access technology and that’s a huge concern like the families of migrant labourers.
  • It still remains to be seen if children are benefitting from online learning.

7. CONCLUSION

  • If we stop online education, even the children who have access to technology will lose out. So, stopping online classes is not a solution.
  • Instead, we need to work on providing technology to disadvantaged children.
  • Some non-government organizations are already working on these issues. They are providing smartphones, electronic tablets, and teaching children to make use of technology. We need more such initiatives.
  • We need to make it possible for the students to have a safe environment in schools even during a pandemic. We need to ensure that there is no shortage of teachers.
  • Itis not just about online instruction, but also about preparing action plans to deal with students who have lost out on education because of the pandemic. A majority of the students who were unable to access technology in this pandemic may become drop-outs.

Source: The Hindu https://drive.google.com/file/d/1CKZnzknv0ktqTijVLLlP65frEpNs4_Ui/view

Global Education Monitoring Report 2020

Context:

According to the Global Education Monitoring Report 2020, The COVID-19 pandemic has posed inequalities in education systems. The report has been published by UNESCO.

Key findings:

  • The report highlighted that about 40% of low- and lower-middle-income countries have not supported learners at risk of exclusion during the COVID-19 crisis. learners include poor, linguistic minorities, and learners with disabilities.
  • During the lockdown period in April 2020, almost 91% of students around the world were out of school.
  • Distance-learning would be a good solution for education learning. Many poorer countries have opted for radio and television lessons, 55% of low-income, 73% of lower-middle-income, and 93% of upper-middle-income countries adopted for online learning platforms for primary and secondary education.
  • 17% of low and middle-income countries are planning to recruit more teachers to tackle the situation.
  • 22% to increase class time and 68% to introduce remedial classes when schools reopen.

Challenges:

  • Digital divide: The digital divide has posed limits on the Governments rely on technology because not all students and teachers have access to an adequate internet connection.
  • School closures: It interrupts support mechanisms for many disadvantaged students. Blind and deaf students are suffering because resources may not be available outside schools.
    • Children with learning disabilities or those who are on the autism spectrum may struggle with independent work in front of a computer or the disruption of daily school routines.
    • Poor students who depend on school for free meals or even free sanitary napkins have suffered.
  • Cancellation of examinations:  It may result in scoring dependent on teachers’ judgments of students instead, which could be affected by stereotypes of certain types of students.
  • Higher drop-out rates: Drop-out rates are also a concern because, during an earlier Ebola epidemic in Africa, many older girls never returned to school once the crisis was over.

United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO): 

  • It is also one of the specialized agencies of the United Nation and also a member of the United Nations Sustainable Development Group
  • Objective: To build peace through international cooperation in Education, the Sciences, and Culture.
  • Headquarter: Paris.
  • Three UNESCO members Cook Islands, Niue, and Palestine are not UN members:
  • Three UN members Israel, Liechtenstein, United States are not a member of UNESCO.

Way forward:

The Constitution of India committed to provide free and compulsory education to the children up to the age of fourteen. The right to education is the fundamental right and education is mandatory for all children of the age group 6-14 years.

The world bank report mentioned that there are more than 7,40,000 formal schools; more than 3.6 million teachers are working on a full-time basis in India. More than 175 Universities offer undergraduate and postgraduate courses and about 6000 colleges affiliated to these universities.

Currently, schools in remote areas are not technically advance to support online education. Though some government initiatives like Shagun Portal, DIKSHA, etc are playing a good role, however, some more efforts are needed.

Source: The Hindu

TRANSFORMING EDUCATION

1. Context of the News

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted all sectors of human activities and education is not any exception.

This article talks about how COVID-19 has affected the education sector in India and what step show we take going forward.

2. Lessons from COVID-19

2.1 What the COVID-19 has taught us

  • The COVID-19 has toppled the world economies, left people stranded and isolated alone, devastated education, work and travel and worst of all has caused thousands of deaths worldwide.
  • The most important lesson that the pandemic has taught us is that people, places and non-human entities and processes are intricately interconnected.
  • We have ignored these connections and relations for a long time now in most of the spheres of life, particularly economic, food systems and pedagogic setups.

2.2 Importance of educating ourselves

  • Majority of discussions in the COVID-19 times are centredaround investments in 'green economy'.
  • Green technologies, efficient and less polluting transport, work from home, e-learningto name a few. This all are noble ideas but exist only in talks and on paper and not much in substance.
  • These novel ideas of today arising from the experiences and understanding during the lockdownmay be forgotten soon after a COVID-19 vaccine is in place.
  • The green economy is a promising idea to tackle climate change, but we need to ensure that this discourse on development is continued.
  • Longlisting and transformational changes in a sustainable way of life is only possible through fundamental changes in education and educating ourselves continuously.

 

3. Transforming Education

3.1 Learning the interconnectedness

  • We must realise and teach our children at an early age about the interconnectedness of our surroundings, our lives and the planet at large. All these influence and get affected by the other equally.
  • This realization is only possible if we change the very fundamentals of education.
  • Instead of presenting each discipline of education separately and isolated we must stress on the interconnectedness and look forward to integrate them with our natural world.

3.2 Rewriting History

  • Instead of teaching history by dividing it in periods based on wars and rise and fall of mighty empires, we should also include ecological changes to the landscape and the natural surroundings as a part of the lesson.
  • Much like there was a movement in the history to revise and rewrite history from the subaltern narrative, the need of the hour is the integration of ecological perspective, connections and changes.
  • Instead of teaching only the economic aspect of the 'Drain of wealth' from India by the Britishers and its consequences on the Indian economy and working class, the curriculum should also include the ecological consequences of the British Colonialism in India.
  • For example the consequence of deforestation at unprecedented levels for railways and its effect on local population and terrain.

3.3 Expanding Geography

  • In a similar way, the pedagogy of geography should be expanded to include land and forest use.
  • We should be taught the ecological cost of development of cities and the effect of changes in land use on the physiographic features of the area and on humans.
  • We also teach the consequence of economic development and industrialisation on water bodies and seas and the effect of climate change on the coast and life of people living in the coastal areas.

 

4. Small Beginnings

4.1 Changes have begun

  • Such new learning systems will lay down a strong foundation for understanding human induced climate change, which is accelerating due to increased anthropogenic activities and release of greenhouse gases.
  • There has already been a small movementto inculcate the destructive changes that the anthropogenic activities have inflicted on the earth. This has been done particularly in the fields of literature, culture studies and history.
  • This holistic and inclusive thinking is still in its nascent phase and not mainstream.
  • For a child brought up under modern pedagogy a significant unlearning will be required to grasp these realities and interconnectedness.
  • Pedagogy and curriculum developers need to restructure and redefine materials that are used to impart knowledge.

4.2 Significant developments

  • Recently a historian attempted to describe the history of the subcontinent by looking at rain, rivers and coasts. He describes how political and economic development induced human activity managed water as a resource.
  • The role of imperialism in climate change is discussed in the book ‘The great derangement’.
  • There is a renewed interest to teach modern history incorporating ecological changes.
  • In literature, novelist and poets have already started incorporating ‘Anthropocene’ in there writings.
  • Though these developments are promising and welcome, these changes need to be deepened as well as expanded to include other subjects and disciplines as well.

 

5.Conclusion

  • The Gaia Hypothesis suggests that living organisms and the physical world they live in are in a constant complex interacting system that  maintainsequilibrium.
  • The writer suggests that COVID-19 can be looked as Gaia warning humanity and showing how fragile modern man and the structure and connections man relies upon are.
  • Unchecked development backed by policies with the motto of growth at any cost is bound to fail as one and every product in the economy has its eventual source in nature only.
  • Our education system must transform to reflect this understanding. 

 

Source

Transforming education’, The Hindu

Link - https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/transforming-education/article31900713.ece

The YUKTI 2.0 portal

Context:

Ministry of Human Resource Development has launched the ‘YUKTI 2.0’ portal. Earlier, the same ministry had launched the YUKTI (Young India combating COVID with Knowledge, Technology, and Innovation) web portal.

Objective: To help systematically assimilate technologies having commercial potential and information related to incubated startups in higher education institutions.

Features of the portal:

  • The portal intends to cover the different dimensions of COVID-19 challenges in a very holistic and comprehensive way.
  • Through this portal, the Ministry of Human Resource Development will endeavor to ensure that students, teachers, and researchers in higher educational institutions are getting appropriate support to meet the requirements needed to advance their technologies and innovations.
  •  YUKTI 2.0 is a logical extension of an earlier version of ‘YUKTI’, an initiative of MHRD, to identify ideas relevant in the COVID pandemic.

Benefits:

  • This database will provide a clear picture of the state of the innovation ecosystem of higher educational institutions.
  • This will also help the government to identify bottlenecks and formulate appropriate policies to strengthen the innovation ecosystem in the country.
  • Ministry will provide the best possible help to support creative innovations and technologies to help the society at large. This portal will prove to be a milestone towards promoting innovations and entrepreneurship culture in the higher education system and involving youth in nation-building.

YUKTI Portal:

  • It is a unique portal to monitor and record the efforts and initiatives of MHRD. 
  • Objective: To fulfill the goals of the Ministry oh Human Resource in the wake of Covid-19 to keep the academic community healthy and to enable a continuous high-quality learning environment for learners.

Features:

  • The portal will cover the initiatives and efforts of the institutions in academics, research mainly related to Covid-19 and also social initiatives by institutions, and the measures taken for the betterment of the total wellbeing of the students.
  • It will allow various institutions to share their strategies for various challenges that are there because of the unprecedented situation of Covid-19 and other future initiatives.
  • The portal will also establish a two-way communication channel between the Ministry of HRD and the institutions so that the Ministry can provide the necessary support system to the institutions.
  • The portal will help in addressing issues related to student promotion policies, placements related challenges, and the physical and mental well-being of students in COVID-19 times.

Source: PIB

Fighting a double pandemic

1. CONTEXT OF THE NEWS

The unprecedented COVID-19 crisis has led to a huge strain on the economies of the world, institutions and social welfare sectors, causing them to succumb to the pandemic. As the lockdown period extends there is a possibility of aggravation of risk in the conditions of millions who are caught in the web of domestic and gender-based violence.

This editorial explores the effect of the pandemic on gender-based and domestic violence.

2. UNDERSTANDING DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

2.1 Domestic Violence

  • Domestic violence can be defined as violent and aggressive behaviour at home and in most cases involves violent abuse of the spouse.
  • Domestic Violence is not just an act of physical violence. It is any behaviour intended to gain dominance and exert influence over the other gender.
  • Types of abuses          
    • Physical Abuse
    • Sexual Abuse
    • Emotional Abuse
    • Verbal Abuse
    • Economic Abuse
    • Control behaviour

2.2 Causes of Domestic violence

  • The aggressive attitude of men towards women due to a patriarchal mindset.
  • Poverty and lack of education also leads to an increase in domestic violence
  • Dominating or controlling behaviour.
  • Alcoholism and substance abuse can often lead to or aggravate domestic violence.

3. EFFECT OF COVID-19 ON DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

As the COVID-19 pandemic lingers, and essential lockdowns and other social safety measures are enforced, its effect are felt not only in the economic sphere of life but personal, familial and societal spheres as well.

3.1 Rise in gender-based violence amidst COVID-19

  • The COVID-19 is reported to have led to a rise in violence at homes at an alarming rate and women are at the receiving end in most of the case and the worst sufferer.
  • The lockdown has caused the victim and abuser to be locked together and consequently, the number of domestic violence incidents have shot up.
  • This has been reflected by a huge surge in number of calls to the emergency helpline.
  • The rise is anywhere in between the range of 25 – 300%.
  • There has also been a huge spike in internet searches for support for the sufferers of domestic violence.
  • The number of domestic homicides has also risen.
  • These numbers are a scathing indictment of gender biasness and subordination of women in our society.

3.2 Lessons from the past

  • Empirical evidence shows that women have been in a disadvantaged position and the worst sufferers of crises and domestic violence increases under such situations.
  • In West Africa, 60% of total deaths in the 2014 Ebola virus outbreak were women.
  • Similarly, the 2010 Canterbury earthquake in New Zealand saw a sharp rise of 53% in domestic violence.
  • This can be attributed to gender roles and evil practices that undermine the position of women like early and forced marriage, patriarchal society and limited access to health services by women.

4. WORST SUFFERERS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

While any gender can be a sufferer of domestic violence, generally women and children are the worst hit.

4.1 Effect on women:

  • The unpaid care work done by women in the household is three times compared to men.
  • Women make up 70% of the labour force in health and social care sector. This leaves women equally exposed to infections if not more.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has led to massive lockdowns and schools have been shut closed at mass levels.
  • This will lead to a further increase in the learning and education gap between the two genders and exposes many girls and young women to the evils of sexual exploitation, early marriage, early pregnancy or forced marriage.

4.2 Effect on children

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has had an adverse effect on children as well.
  • With schools shut, children are not able to report abuses to their teachers and are not able to find trusted people to confide in.

4.2 Other factors that have worsened the situation include:

  • Restriction on house visit by police and health officials
  • Violence shelters are being converted into health facilities
  • The courts of justice are also forced shut

The cumulative effect of the abovementioned conditions is that the victims find themselves trapped, hopeless and abandoned.

5. HELPING THE VICTIM

Following steps can be taken to help the victims of domestic violence.

5.1 Steeping up Health Systems

  • Provisioning of universal basic health care free of charge at the point of delivery is the most important priority.
  • Both empirical and logical evidence suggests that a weak health system and vulnerability to domestic violence are directly linked.
  • An immediate solution to address domestic and gender-based abuses is to ensure immediate and adequate access to health care by the victims of these abuses.

5.2 Ensuring Financial Independence

  • Financial independence is beyond doubt the most powerful tool for women empowerment.
  • Experience shows that when men and women are employed, their interactions are reduced and consequently the incidents of domestic violence fall down.
  • The post-COVID-19 economic strategies should emphasize on dedicated and priority funding of micro, small, and medium-sized businesses (MSMEs) and the informal sector, especially those led by women entrepreneurs.
  • Many women are in dire need of financial independence to escape the clutches of domestic violence.

5.3 Access to justice

  • While a large number of cases of domestic violence are not reported, access to justice for the reported cases is also low.
  • Innovative approaches as virtual hearing could help increase access to justice.
  • Women should also be provided with free legal aid.

5.4 Other steps include:

  • Keeping domestic violence refuge centres open during the COVID-19 epidemic.
  • Businesses, governments, organizations, NGOs etc. should join hands to provide alternate shelters to victims of domestic violence in case the violence shelter is converted into a health facility.
  • Creating employment opportunities for women through virtual meetings, seminars,
  • Inter-organizational sharing of knowledge, resource and experience should be encouraged and the best practices should be adopted.

A 2019 research entitled ‘The Economic Cost of Violence against Women and Girls: A Study of Seychelles, conducted in the pre-COVID-19 times reveals that gender-based violence leads to losses up to 4.625% of GDP. Hence, in the economic prosperity of the world, women have an equal share and cannot be left behind.

6. INDIAN EFFORTS

6.1 Steps taken

  • The National Commission for Women (NCW) recorded more than a two-fold increase in cases of domestic violence and sexual assault in the first week following the lockdown in India.
  • The National Commission for Women (NCW) also recorded a threefold rise in police apathy towards crimes where women are the victim.
  • To tackle such challenges, The National Commission for Women (NCW) launched a helpline number where the victims of domestic assault could seek help through instant message services (WhatsApp) instead of calling or emailing.

6.2 What more can be done?

  • Raising awareness for the crime against women and disseminating information to put and end to the evil.
  • The society should encourage and inculcate equal sharing of domestic responsibility.
  • Women should not be devoid of affordable and comprehensive access to healthcare facilities including maternity service and abortions.

7. CONCLUSION

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an atmosphere of uncertainty, unemployment, food insecurity and a combination of this may create inadequacy in men.

These actors will aggravate the gender-specific tensions in household and women will bear the brunt.

Lack of access to friends, family, confidante, counsellors and support organizations is going to further deteriorate the situation.

All members of society should join hands in making the household feel safe and secure to both, women and children who are the worst sufferers of domestic abuse.

Source The Hindu: https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/fighting-a-double-pandemic/article31884170.ece

Need for transforming India’s Mental Healthcare System

1. CONTEXT OF THE NEWS

Recently, the tragic and unfortunate suicide of a Bollywood actor has brought discussions around mental health in the spotlight in the country.

This article explores the possibilities to invest and transform into India’s Mental Healthcare System.

2. MENTAL HEALTH CONSEQUENCE OF COVID-19

The mental health consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic can be seen as an interplay of two acts, namely ‘Pandemic of Fear’ and ‘Deaths of despair’.  Let us understand them:

2.1 Pandemic of Fear

  • According to the writer, beginning in March this year, after the COVID-19 epidemic in India, this is the consequence of the uncertainties surrounding our lives today.
  • The fear of catching COVID-19 infection and anxiety over the rising number of cases despite a stringent lockdown add to the fear.
  • The irritability in waiting for life to get back to pre-COVID-19 times and the uncertainty over economic prospects of oneself and the nation has added up to the existing anxiety.
  • Spread of fake new, lack of faith in the media, and journalism has intensified the condition culminating with the above conditions, into that of hopelessness, anxiety, fearfulness, and sleeplessness.
  • While a rational mind would give the above-mentioned explanations to the reality surrounding us, for someone who is already coping with mental health difficulties, the COVID-19 experience could be more than overwhelming.

2.2 Deaths of despair

  • This is the second and more troublesome act and threatens to morph a more sinister pandemic in the coming months.
  • The term, ‘deaths of despair’ was coined Angus Deaton, recipient of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Economic Science, and refers to the reduction in the life expectancy of working-age Americans following the economic recession in 2008.
  • The major cause of these deaths was suicide and substance use related mortality.
  • The growing inequality, the worsening positions of labour, the deep polarization of society, and bleak prospects for the future only made the situation worse and might have driven the suicides and substance use.

2.3 India’s Position

  • In all probability, the economic recession India will be incomparably greater that USA.
  • In addition to the many ills of the American society existing in India, India also has to look after the colossal number of absolutely impoverished people and a fragmented, disordered, and limited mental healthcare system.
  • To put things into perspective, even before the pandemic, the mental healthcare system in India could hardly cover more than 10% of the population.

3. SITUATION OF INDIA’S MENTAL HEALTH

A 2011 World Health Organisation-sponsored study found that 36% of Indians suffered from a Major Depressive Episode (MDE) within their lifetime. It indicated that India has the most number of people in the world who suffer from some form of depression at some point in their lives.

3.1 Mental Health before that pandemic

  • Even before the pandemic, issues related to mental health were a major contributor to the burden of illness in India.
  • One-third of all female and a quarter of all male suicide deaths in the world occur in India.
  • Most of the mental illness and related death goes unnoticed from the public forums. Celebrity suicides and testimonies garner attention because mental illness is the only plausible explanation for people who are so privileged.
  • However, it is the poor, dispossessed, impoverished, and marginalized who bear the greatest burden of mental health problems.
  • The plight of the disadvantaged section has historically been dismissed as a natural extension of their socio-economic conditions and it is this vast section of our population that will be disproportionately affected by the economic recession.

3.2 Facts and numbers

  • A countrywide National Institute of Mental Health & Neurosciences (Nimhans) study in 2016 showed that at least 13.7 percent of India’s general population suffers from a variety of mental illnesses and 10.6 percent of this requires immediate intervention.
  • The report estimated that nearly 150 million Indians are in a need of active medical intervention.

3.3 How COVID-19 has worsened the state of India’s mental health?

  • The lockdown experience in the middle of a global pandemic has been overwhelming for some people and has sparked anxiety, nervousness, paranoia, stress, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), besides panic attacks.
  • The recommended practice of self-isolation and social distancing has further complicated the situation.
  • Loneliness - While social distancing definitely curbs the spread of coronavirus, but it might also bog down a person mentally leading to loneliness and triggering a depressive episode.
  • Anxiety - While the pandemic looming upon us is enough to catch anxiety by itself. The worry of contracting the infection or accidentally infecting the near and dear ones and waiting for normalcy to return can accentuate anxiety.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) - The fear of pandemic may drive people to continuously wash hands to get rid of the germs or continuously clean the house. The fear of getting germs and contracting infections added with widespread of negative information can lead to paranoia and being overwhelmed.

4. THE PROBLEMS

4.1 Telemedicine Platforms

  • There has been a flourishing of initiatives to tackle the rising tide of mental health problems.
  • Telemedicine platforms are the most notable development in this regard.
  • These telemedicine platforms rely heavily on mental health specialist providers who are already very scarce in number and are often unaffordable.

4.2 The Digital Divide

  • While telemedicine therapy and telephone counseling can be an effective means to cover a large number of population, the problem is compounded with the digital divide in India.
  • Low digital literacy and inadequate internet connectivity hamper the prospects of telemedicine therapy in small corners of the country.
  • These initiatives nonetheless are a welcome step for demonstration of the feasibility of remote delivery and the value of psychological therapies, which have always played second fiddle to medication.

4.3 Huge treatment gap

  • The treatment gap for all mental health disorders with an exception of Epilepsy is more than sixty percent.
  • There is a huge economic burden of mental disorders. Families have to spend nearly Rs 1,000-1,500 a month mainly for treatment and to access care.
  • Despite being ill for more than 12 months, 80 percent of people suffering from mental disorders do not receive any treatment due to the stigma attached with mental disorders.
  • One of the major cause of low outreach is Poor implementation of programmes under the national mental health programme.
  • Mental health occupies a very low priority in the public health agenda.
  • The health information system itself does not prioritise mental health.
  • Not only is there a paucity of mental health specialists, the institutional care in India, too, but has also been found to be limited.
  • The researchers suggest that mental health financing needs to be streamlined.
  • Interrupted drug supply to treat mental illness is also an alarming cause.

5. SEEKING A SOLUTION

5.1 Rising on innovations

  • Frugal innovations ingeniously pioneered and developed by Indian scientists and practitioners hold great promise for a country of our size, diversity, and resources.
  • At the helm of these innovations is the deployment of community health workers, who with appropriate training and supervision effectively deliver psychosocial interventions for conditions ranging from autism and depression to drinking problems and psychoses
  • Brief psychological treatment for depression developed by one of the leading innovators in the country is now being implemented in developed nations like the US and Canada.
  • Forging partnerships with state governments in India to scale up psychosocial interventions through community health workers is the obvious next step for these innovators.
  • This will also allow us to reimagine the model of delivering mental health care even in the most under-resourced communities of the country.

5.2 The Government should step up

  • India was one of the first countries to develop a national mental health programme in the early 1980s.
  • There was no proper study to understand the spread and estimate of mental illness in the state at that time.
  • Today, nearly 70 percent of the meager mental health spending goes to mental institutions.
  • India needs to invest more at the primary level for a wide-spread reach.
  • This will also result in early detection and reduce the need of expensive hospital care.

6. HOW TO MANAGE MENTAL HEALTH

The human mind is a complex and complicated organ. Since our experiences are very intimately intertwined with our unique personal life stories, relationships, and preferences, there is no one-size-fits-all prescription for managing mental health.

6.1 Assessing one’s own mental health

Having said that, there are some general principles that one might take into consideration.

  • Giving equal acknowledgment and attention to mental health as one gives to physical health.
  • Talk about the situation with one’s confidant. ‘It’s ok to talk’, is a slogan propagating the same idea. Talking and sharing about mental health is not an effective way to feel better but also the most effective strategy to reduce the stigmatization of mental health in the country.
  • Do something for others. Empathy is a strong human emotion. It has been scientifically shown that caregiving, and community service make your life more rewarding and longer.
  • Remind oneself that we are all in the same boat. We are buffeted by the same rough seas and surrounded by the same clouds of uncertainty, we are in this together. Even if some of us travel in yachts, the overwhelming majority of us will safely reach the shore.
  • This too shall pass – Like every other pandemic in the history of the world, this epochal event too shall pass