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Daily Category  (Human Resources)

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 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) provide 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 universalisation 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 age of three due to the present practical issues with anganwadis and preschools.

4.2 Issues with 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 universalisation

  • The committee members of the NEP were clear that the policy should ensure 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 ensure 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 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 happen 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 neighbourhood and primary schools become feeder schools for the high school.
  • This ensure 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 an 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 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 a 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)

  • A disadvantage is historical and social.
  • Clubbing everyone under a single SEDG and shying away from using words as ‘Dalit’ or ‘minority’ denies the acknowledgment of the issue.
  • Ii is because of this that many experts feel that the broad categorisation 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 focus 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.
    • 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 privatization of education to tuitions and coaching institute.
  • 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, the curriculum moves hand in hand with technology upgrades and industry requirements.
  • Education in India focuses on memorisation of facts and figures, while education in foreign countries impart 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.

Should the government go easy on the telecom sector?

1. CONTEXT OF THE NEWS

The telecom sector in India has been doing well with the number of subscribers growing at a tremendous rate. However, after years of accelerated growth, the tele-density is under strain.

Some telecom entities are under an existential crisis because of cruel competition in the sector and the government demanding unpaid dues.

However, at the same time, variety of investors are looking forward to invest in the sector as well. This shows that the sector is still lucrative and the players in the sector are hopeful of the prospects of good returns.

The editorial discusses about the future of the telecom sector in India.

2. FALLING CONSUMER DEMAND

2.1 Falling Tele-density in India

  • Tele-density in India has been increasing since the early 2000s, after India moved away from upfront licence fee payments to a pay-as-you-go regime in 1999.
  • Tele-density is the number of telephone connections for every hundred individuals living within an area.
  • Over the time, subscribers have issued multiple SIM card due to many reasons.
  • The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has itself said that the actual number of subscribers in India are 30% lower than popularly talked about.
  • The huge number of surrendered SIM cards is due the effect of the COVID-19 where large-scale movement of migrant labour and increasing joblessness has led to surrender of many SIM cards.

2.2 Worrisome numbers

  • Some experts point out that instead of urban tele-density, mobile broadband reach is the worrying aspect.
  • Statistics show that India has 656 million mobile broadband subscribers compared to a meagre 19 million fixed broadband subscribers.
  • The mobile broadband has risen up by 200 million over the last year. This is a sign of further growth but still a large ground needs to be covered.
  • The state of fixed broadband is another worrisome aspect.
  • India has 35 million fixed line subscribers and only 19 million broadband subscribers.
  • Today the country is headed towards the cyberspace including practices like work from home, long-distance education, tele-medicine etc.
  • These services rely completely on connectivity and therefore a reliable fixed line broadband network is imperative which is currently pathetic in India.
  • Furthermore, BSNL, a public sector operator with nationwide reach has only around 21 million subscribers in wireless broadband, which 3% of the total.
  • These are worrisome numbers.

3. ADJUSTED GROSS REVENUES (AGR) IMBROGLIO

3.1 Adjusted Gross Revenues (AGR)

  • AGR is comprised of the regulatory fees broadly categorised into two areas.
    • The first is the licence fee consisting of 5% universal service obligation fee (USOF) plus 3% as licence fee which when combined leads to 8%.
    • Second comes the spectrum usage charges that range from 1% for 2,300 MHz up to 7-8%, depending upon whether the telecoms are holding liberalised spectrum or unliberalised spectrum.
  • These are huge numbers to the tune of about 15% of the AGR as regulatory fees for the government and reflects a flawed policy.
  • In most countries, the licence fee including USOF is usually below 3%.
  • Some experts are also of the view that since spectrum is auctioned, it makes no sense for the government to levy a spectrum usage charge since it does not depreciate or requires management.
  • The SC has taken only the executive order in consideration stating that the companies have to pay the stated AGR.
  • Presently, the only way out is the Department of Telecommunication deciding to cancel or revise the AGR due, excluding the penalty.

3.2 Flaws in the AGR imbroglio

  • The entire case of the AGR imbroglio arises out of acceptance of a faulty definition of AGR by the industry while migrating from a fixed licence fee to the variable license fee regime.
  • The government is demanding penal interest from telecom operators, which is tantamount to term them as wilful defaulters, which they are clearly not.
  • The case had been going on for the last 15-16 years and the government has calculated the interest according to the number of years. However, the telecom operators are not unilaterally responsible for the delay.
  • Therefore, it is a big flaw in the AGR to calculate interest during the said period.

3.3 Future steps

  • Following steps should be taken by the government and the industry to solve the the current crisis:
    • the government is taxing the industry’s success in perpetuity at 33% and should be revised by the government
    • this does not leave much profit with the industry for investibles like broadband, fixed line etc.
    • the industry should take efforts to make a case for reducing the 33% tax by ensuring the government of a minimum revenue
    • the industry and the government together could discuss the possibility of revenue neutralisation

4. AVERAGE REVENUE PER USER (ARPU)

4.1 ARPU bound to rise

  • Many experts suggest that if the health of the telecom sector in India is to improve, the ARPU is bound to rise.
  • India is presently ranked 49th in the mobile broadband data plans according to the ITU’s ICT price basket study.
  • For an average data plan consisting of 1.5 GB per month, ARPU in India is at about $4.75 per month adjusted to purchasing power parity, which is very low compared to the global average of $8.45 for the same figures.
  • Therefore, the ARPU is bound to go up.

4.2 How can the ARPU be increased?

  • Many believe that there is not much scope for the ARPU to rise up.
  • Experts suggest the following strategies to realise a high ARPU:
    • increasing ARPU based on content generated
    • creating larger ecosystem by telecoms evolving from the role of connectivity and bandwidth providers to the role of solution providers
    • Telecoms can tie up with business in 5G and IoT to realise more avenues for revenue than the retail sector.
  • The retail consumer in the Indian market is not likely to go to a high end therefore, the ARPPU have to be compensated by  additional value-added services for business consumers

4.3 Realising true tariff

  • In India, the data usage per subscriber per month has grown 43 times in the last three years from 0.235 GB in September 2016 to 10 GB presently.
  • Today, about 60% of the long distance calls both internal and external are being done on Internet or broadband connectivity and the number of switch calls are decreasing, hence, there should be reasonable numbers for data charging.
  • Therefore, there is a need to rebalance tariff by realising a better tariff on the data vis-a-vis voice.
  • Studies should be conducted on the migration of revenue from conventional switched business to the
  • The regulator should then look into the tariffs for both data and voice Internet business and based on the study, the regulators should revise the tariffs for both data and voice.

5. THE COMING 5G ERA

5.1 Are Indian telecoms ready for 5G?

  • For the migration from 1G to 2G the operators were in full control and realising revenue for both.
  • With 3G and 4G the Internet companies began to provide over-the-top services
  • We have moved from 1G to 2G1G to 2G, for both of which the operators were in full control and realising revenue.
  • With 3G and 4G, we have seen Internet companies providing over-the-top services, and have appropriated much value and relegated telecoms to normal bandwidth providers.
  • However, 5G is going to be very different.

5.2 Different 5G

  • 5G is not only about connectivity and high speed.
  • It requires the creation of an ecosystem for instance, in healthcare, 5g would be an ecosystem of telecom operators, healthcare providers, hospitals, governments, system integrators that provide Internet of Things and machine-to-machine communication.
  • To provide high bandwidth-intensive applications to the end users, a spectrum is needed and India is poor is allocating spectrum.

5.3 Issues with spectrum

  • While the auction methodology is appropriate for affordability of the spectrum, there are other issues with spectrum in India.
    • Despite consolidation, India does not have enough spectrum for operators.
    • Operators need adequate spectrum to provide low latency, high coverage, highly reliable communication services.
    • Allocations for Specific spectrum bands are pending due to various reasons.
    • Setting up of high reserve price based on the winning bid price of the previous auction, which in not followed anywhere else.
    • The high price puts off operators.

5.4 Way ahead

  • The present count of 5G consumers is around 100 million worldwide with 80% in China.
  • Presently, there are three technologies in the process of being standardised, that of Huawei-ZTE, Nokia and Ericsson making it Chinese versus Europeans.
  • Because of the sanctions, the telecoms are waiting to choose the technology.
  • Telecoms are looking for a 5G technology that is interoperable.
  • The 5G issue is also marred by various debates, like use E and V bands for dense urban areas including debate on health hazards as well.
  • There is also a debate surrounding use of a mix of fibre and Wi-Fi hotspots and using satellites.
  • We should wait for the 5G auction and educate the government on the same.

6. CONCLUSION

India’s a 650 million mobile broadband subscriber base is a huge potential base and Internet firms ranging from AT&T to Facebook and Google would like to invest in Indian telecoms.

The present movement of the Indian telecom sector indicates the possibility of a two-three player market.

Worldwide, there are examples of only three or four operators in specific areas, therefore the situation is not bad as long as the operators are equipped to compete.

However, the present trend in the Indian telecom sector is towards the emergence of a monopoly, which will not be beneficial for the consumer.

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 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.

2.3 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 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 development of testing laboratories to ensure inclusiveness of thousands of economic migrants returning to rural areas.
  • The ICMR has also been in close contact with state governments to frame strategy to monitor, investigate and treat new cases.
  • In the quest of Atmanirbhar Bharat several Union ministries came out will meticulouslycrafted 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 depotswere 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, has facilitated in testing laboratory construction in the remotest corner of India.
  • The construction of 1,000 laboratories with testing capacity of 200,000 tests per daywithin 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 the 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.

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 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 households had a child at home who was less than six years old.
  • The survey also revealed the 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-19 till 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 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 the 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 become 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 % 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 need to be protected atany 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.
  • The civil society can innovate and provide equal access to education to the less privileged.
  • As a social ethics, the general public should show empathy and compassion to our unprivileged brothers and sisters.
  • This is not just a test of government’s efficiency but the whole humanity.

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

  • Aggressive attitude of men towards women due to a patriarchal mindset.
  • Poverty and lack of education also leads to 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 VOCID-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.
  • During the 2014 Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa, 60% of the total deaths were women.
  • 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, a 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 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 emphasise 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 the 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 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 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.

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 the discussions around mental health in the spotlight in the country.

This article explores the possibilities to invest and transform in 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 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 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, deep polarisation 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 Positon

  • 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 marginalised 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 per cent of India’s general population suffers from a variety of mental illnesses and 10.6 per cent 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 accidently 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 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 counselling 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 per cent.
  • 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 per cent of people suffering from mental disorders do not received 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, has 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 innovation ingeniously pioneered and developed by Indian scientists and practitioners holds great promise for a country of our size, diversity and resources.
  • At the helm of these innovations is 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
  • A brief psychological treatment for depression developed by one the leading innovators in the country is now being implemented in developed nations like the US and Canada.
  • Forging partnership 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 meagre mental health spending goes to mental institutions.
  • India needs to invest more at 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-fit-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 stigmatization of mental health in the country.
  • Do something for others. Empathy is a strong human emotion. It has been scientifically shown Imagethat care giving, and community service makes 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 and life goes on.
  • And lastly and most importantly, if one’s distress is persistent and comes in way of daily life activities, one must not shy away from seeking professional help.

6.2 Taking care of the near and dear ones

‘According to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, one must look out for signs of mental health issues in their near and dear ones. These include

  • changes in sleep patterns
  • difficulty in sleeping and concentrating
  • Worsening of health problems.

7. CONCLUSION

  • This is a historic opportunity to invest in and transform India’s mental health care system.
  • We need financial investment but at the same time, we need to invest it wisely, guided by the best science.
  • Mental health care must embrace the diversity of experiences and strategies, which work, well beyond the narrow confines of traditional biomedicine with its emphasis on “doctors, diagnoses and drugs”.
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.

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.

 

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

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

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

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

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/

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

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 Imageand life goes on.
  • And lastly and most importantly, if one’s distress is persistent and comes in way of daily life activities, one must not shy away from seeking professional help.

6.2 Taking care of the near and dear ones

‘According to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, one must look out for signs of mental health issues in their near and dear ones. These include

  • changes in sleep patterns
  • difficulty in sleeping and concentrating
  • Worsening of health problems.

7. CONCLUSION

  • This is a historic opportunity to invest in and transform India’s mental health care system.
  • We need financial investment but at the same time, we need to invest it wisely, guided by the best science.
  • Mental health care must embrace the diversity of experiences and strategies, which work, well beyond the narrow confines of traditional biomedicine with its emphasis on “doctors, diagnoses and drugs”.

Source: The Indian Express: https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/sushant-singh-rajput-mental-health-depression-vikram-patel-6467051/