Character-building just cannot be envisioned in isolation unless linked to culture. The NEP respects Gandhi’s vision of young Indians
Policies are formulated on the strong foundation of the outcomes of incisive analysis of past experiences coupled with futuristic vision that could respond to emerging issues, concerns and aspirations. Gandhiji consistently articulated the India of his dreams and his concerns about the impediments ahead. These are evident in the seven social sins he published in the Young India of October 22,1925. These are: politics without principles, wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, commerce without morality, science without humanity and worship without sacrifice.
No policy, the one on education included, can ignore the contemporary severity of these sins. It could also be witnessed in the seven tensions identified in the report to UNESCO of the International Commission on Education for the 21st century— also known as the Delores Commission Report. These are the tensions between global and local, universal and individual, tradition and modernity, long-term and short term considerations, the need for competition and concern for opportunity, extraordinary expansion of knowledge and the human being’s capacity to assimilate, and finally, the conflict between the spiritual and the material. One could, in the present context, reformulate them but it would be perilous to neglect any of these. The “sins” are taking stronger roots while the “tensions” are disturbing human habitation and systems that are already under severe strains and pressures as consequences of declining moral, ethical and humanistic considerations.
An incisive scrutiny of the National Education Policy (NEP 2020) would indicate the extent to which both the sins and tensions need to be responded to, as is essential to prepare human beings imbued with character, commitment and concern. It acknowledges the guiding light it derived from the “rich heritage of ancient and eternal Indian knowledge and thought.” The pursuit of knowledge, wisdom and truth is considered the highest goal of human life. The NEP mentions, “The aim of education in ancient India was not just the acquisition of knowledge as preparation for life in this world, or life beyond schooling, but for the complete realisation and liberation of the Soul. World class institutions in India, such as Takshashila, Nalanda, Vikramshila and Vallabhi, set the highest standards of multi-disciplinary teaching and research and hosted scholars and students from across backgrounds and countries.” The ancient Indian system of education valued the pursuit of knowledge with the sole objective of utilising it for the welfare of humanity: “Let all be happy, let all be healthy; let all see good around and let none suffer pain of any kind.” Could there be a better comprehension of the essential unity of human beings as one family? And in a family, differences and diversities are accepted and respected. This is what the NEP has imbibed in word and spirit. It recalls how the products of ancient Indian education system strived tirelessly to make seminal contributions in diverse fields of knowledge, including mathematics, astronomy, metallurgy, surgery, health, architecture, engineering, ship building, navigation, yoga, fine arts and so much more. Every Indian student – inheritor of this great legacy – must be made familiar with it and accept the responsibility to enhance it further through excellence in his chosen area of activity and expertise. Each one of them is an inheritor of the legacy of luminaries like Charak, Susruta, Aryabhata, Bhaskaracharya, Brahmagupta, Nagarjuna, Gautama, Maitreyi, Gargi and Thiruvalluvur.
Once the NEP 2020 is implemented appropriately, no Indian shall remain “delinked from India.” Every learner would be exposed to modern knowledge that would be given to him/her in institutions following the most modern pedagogy, and with due emphasis on critical thinking, creativity and innovations. It would aim at developing a student’s full human potential. Higher education, the NEP-2020 acknowledges, must aim to develop good, thoughtful, well rounded and creative individuals. Obviously, the school education would take note of these aspects in the most sensitive years. Recommendations on multi-disciplinary universities, robust autonomy, revamping of curriculum and pedagogy, reforms in governance of higher education Institutions (HEIs), creation of National Research Foundation (NRF) and National Educational Technology Forum (NETF) would be positive additions to the quality and contemporary relevance of the future model of Indian education.
India could finally turn into an international education hub and certainly attract attention of the corresponding international institutions. The proposed changes in structure, flexibility, autonomy, pedagogy, multi-dimensionality, assessment procedures, including transfer of credit systems, would remove several agonising technicalities. The availability of internationally relevant curricula in the history, heritage and culture of India, as also modern subject areas, could attract a sizeable number of foreign students, helping us achieve the goal of “internationalisation at home.” Some well-thought out suggestions like opening of foreign campuses by established Indian institutions and permitting top international universities to operate in India would effectively put Indian education firmly on the international podium, with dignity, credibility and expectations. Shared courses with reputed international institutions could pave the way for a much-needed morale boosting and encourage our young to compete with and excel among foreign students. One has to be cautious about certain aspects though. Global credibility and recognition would require certain minimum levels of infrastructure and facilities which, sadly enough, are still missing in a large number of education institutions across the board. The NEP 2020 assures availability of all of these: “Every classroom shall have access to the latest educational technology that enables better learning experiences.” There can be no compromise on the professionally acceptable teacher-taught ratio. This raises several related requirements. Quality just cannot be raised by engaging guest teachers, teachers on lecture-based payments, para teachers and keeping more than a million posts of school teachers vacant for decades together! In HEIs, the quality of products, research and innovations would be greatly impeded if there are 40-60 per cent vacant academic positions. The NEP 2020 boldly acknowledges this concern and articulates: “The teacher must be at the centre of the fundamental reforms in the education system. The new education policy must help re-establish teachers, at all levels, as the most respected and essential members of our society, because they truly shape our next generation of citizens. It must do everything to empower teachers and help them do their job as effectively as possible.” Expressing serious concern on the quality of teacher education, the recommendation is to replace by 2030 all of the present one-year school teacher preparation programmes by four-year integrated teacher education programmes. It may be worthwhile to recall that the four-year integrated teacher preparation programmes began in the four institutions of the NCERT in 1964-64, and the products were indeed far ahead of others in their professional performance in schools and teacher education institutions. Unfortunately, the module was not replicated.
In higher education, the policy acknowledges the “criticality, quality and engagement” of the faculty. It also accepts that “faculty motivation” remains far lower than the desired level. Several steps have been listed to attract “the best, motivated, and capable faculty in the HEIs.” The right-teacher-student ratio, access to education technology, freedom to design their own curricular and pedagogical approaches, incentives like appropriate rewards, promotions, recognition and movement into institutional leadership are included in the list.
In his book of 1932, Remakers of Mankind, Carl Washburne writes that when asked, “What is your goal in education when India obtains self-rule?”, Gandhi answered, “Character-building. I would try to develop courage, strength, virtue, the ability to forget oneself in working towards great aims. This is more important than literacy; academic learning is only a means to this great end.” Character formation was the strength of the traditional Indian system of knowledge quest that included creation, generation, utilisation and transfer of knowledge to generations ahead. With all the experiences gained globally in varying contexts and approaches, it is now accepted globally that education in every country must be rooted to culture and committed to progress. Character-building just cannot be envisioned in isolation unless linked to culture. No culture would flourish in isolation and our youth can become global citizens only when they are made well aware and conversant with their own culture before being introduced to others. India painfully suffered as the transplanted system deliberately kept young “educated” Indians away from getting familiar with the nuances of their own culture; they were systematically indoctrinated in the “superiority of the Western culture.” This was very comprehensively articulated by Gandhiji in the Young India of September 1,1921, “It is my firm opinion that no culture has a treasure so rich as ours. We have not known it, we have been made even to depreciate its value. We have almost ceased to live it.” Let us hope that the proposed educational reforms would prepare young people with credentials, and they would be looking after the masses. Education must lead to human dignity for one and all.
(The author works in education and social cohesion)
Left unchecked, drug-resistant bacteria due to antibiotic pollution have the potential to unleash a much larger and deadlier pandemic
There was a time when antibiotic resistance in human beings and animal pathogens was not common. But today, multi-drug resistant bacteria have become fairly commonplace, posing a major challenge to our healthcare providers and increasing human fatality rates. Scientific evidence is suggestive of the fact that antibiotic resistance genes and antibiotics in the environment are playing a major role in perpetuating a new health crisis. Some of the major sources are waste from large-scale animal farms, waste water from antibiotic manufacturing firms and refuse from hospitals. Manure, or compost especially, is a worrying source of this antibiotic contamination. With no standardisation or mandatory testing of the end product, the largely locally-produced manure and compost products that are used on a large-scale are replete with antibiotic residues and resistant bacteria.
As COVID-19 rages on, the probability of large-scale drug resistant infections suddenly seems very possible. According to the publication, Review on Antimicrobial Resistance, 7,00,000 people die each year globally due to resistant infections and this figure is only set to grow in the coming days. It further estimates that by 2050, a whopping 10 million lives would be at risk globally due to resistant strains of infections that would progressively weaken the immune system to such a level that the human body would find it difficult to defend itself against even small diseases such as urinary tract infections. This is because human bodies will become colonised by these harmful bacteria. Antibiotics also provide a selection pressure for environmental bacteria to maintain antibiotic resistance mechanisms.
Thankfully, there is an increasing awareness the world over concerning the spike in the presence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the environment. In the US, urban river bodies and river bed sediments in cities like Baltimore are already showing heightened levels of antibiotics. Following this, the city municipal councils, in association with the environment authorities in the US, are taking extraordinary measures to contain the pollution in local water bodies. India must look at the global developments and immediately undertake initiatives to understand the depth of antibiotic pollution in its own environment. This is critical because antibiotic pollution-triggered superbug infections are already wrecking havoc, with nearly 60,000 newborns dying each year in the country due to them.
To stem the proliferation of antibiotic pollution, India will need to list all the potential contamination and breeding hotspots. According to studies, antibiotic pollution is the highest in wastewater treatment plants, as this is the place where bacteria from the environment meets with human pathogenic ones, leading to the genesis of new and virulent strains. Apart from this, India, apart from China, happens to be the world’s largest manufacturer of antibiotics and is known to discharge high levels of these waste effluents into the air and the water. This contamination has been happening for decades in the country and is understood to be the epicentre of the birth of superbug infections that are resistant to all known medication.
Albeit a little too late, the authorities in the country have woken up to the threat posed by this, especially through river bodies. A draft Bill issued in January seeks to limit the concentration levels of antibiotic waste released by manufacturing units into the environment in order to ensure that the risk to human health is minimised. Though it is late in coming, this development has immediately caught the attention of the international research community specialising in antibiotic pollution of the environment. The Department of Antibiotic Resistance Research at the Gothenburg University called the Indian Government’s draft Bill a “great leap forward” to contain the problem.
Though a welcome step in the right direction, the draft Bill still has a long way to go. The Government must initiate stringent crackdown on pharma units engaged in manufacturing antibiotics to regularly reveal the scale, quality and limit of their effluent discharge into the surrounding environment such as water bodies. Additionally, the information must also reflect on the official web portals of the said companies so that international and national clients are aware of the environmental accountability of the firm and transparency of data. Measures such as these will coerce these companies into following environmental and human health norms or be labelled as polluters and pay heavy fines.
Left unchecked, drug-resistant bacteria due to antibiotic pollution have the potential to unleash a much larger and deadlier pandemic. The consequences need to be understood and counter measures taken rapidly to avoid this eventuality.
(The writer is an environmental journalist)
As of now, the Rajasthan Board Secondary Education, RBSE is yet to announce any final decision with regards to holding of Rajasthan 5th and 8th Class Board Exam 2021 this year. With no announcement, fate of nearly 25 lakh students who are due to appear for the Board Exam lies in balance.
No Official Update
Typically, by November-end, the Board begins the basic preparation for holding of Board Exams for Class 5 and 8 students. The first step in this process is filling of the application form. However, as of now the Board has not announced any details about the application process and filling of the application forms for Class 5 and 8 Rajasthan Board Exam 2021. As the registration process has also not been started yet, many students and their parents are now concerned about the board exam and if it will be held on time.
Reduced / Updated Syllabus Not Released Yet
Along with details about the Class 8 and Class 5 Board Exams of Rajasthan Board, the Education Department is yet to release the updated syllabus for the same. In this regard, the Department of Elementary Education has asked the Education Minister for guidance. Soon after a confirmation from the minister, the updated syllabus will be released for Rajasthan Class 5 and Class 8 Board Exams 2021.
Delhi University has commenced the classes for first-year undergraduate students. The classes are being conducted in the virtual mode (Online) for the students due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The new academic session for the freshers began after a delay of close to four months due to the colleges and universities being shut since March 2020.
The university conducted the admissions for the students in the online mode for roughly 68,000 of the total 70,000 undergraduate seats offered across the colleges affiliated to the university with five cutoffs which were released.
Admissions conducted online
The admission process including the document verification process was conducted online in view of the pandemic and lockdown situation. With respect to the remaining seats, the university was supposed to release a special cut-off list however the admission process has been deferred due to some of the university officials testing positive for the virus.
Freshers have shared a completely different experience of the first day of college amidst the current situation. The students have stated that usually, the students receive a grand welcome on their first day but now the situation has changed and the whole event has been conducted online.
Some of the colleges conducted an online orientation session for the students which was live-streamed. Students have shared their different experiences of beginning the session online although some pointed out missing the excitement of the first day of college. The colleges which conducted the orientation session online include Miranda House, Hindu College, St. Stephens College, Shri Ram College of Commerce, Ramjas College, and many more.
While conducting the online orientation, the colleges laid emphasis on the impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of the students. The first-year students were also introduced to the college counselors lining up online sessions with them for the students.
The Delhi University Students Union which earlier conducted a welcome drive for the freshers has also planned an online interactive session and events for the academic year.
Akshit Dahiya, President DUSU, while speaking about the orientation stated that since the students cannot come to college the students union will reach out to them. Unlike the previous years, the students will be welcomed by the union with online events wherein the students can also participate.
Bihar NEET Counselling Merit List 2020: As per the latest update, the BCECEB has officially released the Bihar UGMAC Merit List 2020 today. Medical aspirants seeking admission to MBBS and BDS courses can now check their merit position for state-quota of NEET 2020 counselling online by visiting website bceceboard.bihar.gov.in. As an alternative to the long route of checking merit list via the official website, candidates can also click on the direct link placed below, which will take them directly to the PDF file containing the Bihar UGMAC 2020 Merit List
Click on the link below to check the list:
As per the latest update, ICAI has released an official notification about change of exam centres for the CA November 2020 exams. Candidates who are due to appear for the entrance exam are advised to go through the official notice which is available on website i.e. icai.org. Candidates can also click on the link provided below, which will take them to the official notice from where they can get the necessary updates about the exam.
Click On the Link to Get Full Details:- https://resource.cdn.icai.org/61862exam171120.pdf
Address to 30 Exam Centres Changed
As per the official notice released on 17th November, the institute has confirmed that it has changed address of over 30 exam centres to a new venue. In line with the information provided in the notice, the institute has changed the address for a few exam centres completely while for few other exam centres the exam centre addresses have undergone minor changes. The detailed notice linked above provides the complete detail about the same.
Admit Cards to remain Valid
While the addresses for over 30 exam centres have been changed by the ICAI, the institute has also announced that the exam hall tickets issued by it earlier for the November 2020 exam will remain valid for the same without any changes. Apart from the change in the address for few exam centres, all the other details provided in the CA November 2020 exam admit card will remain unchanged. As per the official schedule released earlier, the CA November 2020 exam is scheduled to be held from 21st November to 14th December 2020.
The ICAI CA Foundation, Intermediate and Final Examinations will be conducted as per schedule. The institution wrote on Twitter to make the clarification after reports if the examinations were making the rounds on social. Media. In its official statement, the ICAI has stated that examinations scheduled to begin from November 21, 2020, will be conducted as per schedule. The institute in its statement has also asked the candidates to concentrate on the examinations and not be misled by any kind of false information which are being provided. The institute has also retained the students to refer to the official website only for information regarding the examinations and other announcements.
The ICAI CA Foundation, Intermediate and Final exams are scheduled to be conducted from November 21 to December 15, 2020. The examination will be conducted by following all the instructions and guidelines since the exams are being conducted amidst the pandemic. The institute has assured the safety of the students and staff at the exam centres during the exam centres along with taking all the necessary precautionary measures keeping in mind the COVID-19 pandemic.
ICAI CA Admit Card
ICAI has also released the CA Foundation, Intermediate and Final Examination admit card on the official website. Students appearing for the examinations are advised to visit the official website to download the admit card of the examinations, the ICAI CA examination admit card will include details such as the name and roll number of the students, the name of the examination, examination centre name and address, reporting time to the CA examinations, examination duration and the instructions to be followed by the students.
Candidates appearing for the exams are advised to read through the instructions provided for appearing for the exams.
The global energy system has been undergoing a transition that is unprecedented in pace and scale. However, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, what was to be a crucial year in the global climate discourse has now become one of many socially-distant events and webinars. In a bold move, China’s President Xi Jinping announced his commitment to enhance the country’s nationally-determined contribution (NDC) and lower peak CO2 emissions before 2030, as well as the plan to reach carbon neutrality before 2060. Early estimates by the Climate Action Tracker suggest that if China were to submit a carbon neutrality pledge, it would lower warming projections by around 0.2-0.3°C. This announcement clearly signals that climate action is a strong national agenda for Beijing. With both China and the European Union shifting towards a zero-carbon narrative, India is in the spotlight now as one of the largest emitters in the world. The nation is currently on track to significantly overachieve its NDC targets, both on emissions’ intensity (a 30-35 per cent reduction by 2030 on the 2005 levels) and on non-fossil fuel electricity generation (40 per cent non-fossil fuel generating capacity by 2030).
While India is already considered a climate leader in the area of renewable energy growth and electricity sector decarbonisation, the country must turn its attention to industrial decarbonisation. A strong argument can be made that this would be crucial to not only achieving the Paris Agreement goals but also for Indian businesses to remain globally competitive. India and Sweden led the transition track at the UN Climate Action Summit in September 2019 and were entrusted with creating stronger commitments from the industry to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. Recently, industries comprising “hard to abate” sectors, like aluminium and cement, mentioned that they have already initiated action towards enhancing energy efficiency and increasing the share of renewable power in their overall mix. They are also undertaking carbon sequestration, maximising energy efficiency, adopting renewable technologies across the supply chain and embracing best practices of resource-efficiency and circular economy. However, these advancements are likely to face significant constraints in the form of technological capacity, governmental support and investment hurdles in taking up a decarbonisation pathway. Nonetheless, such initiatives can go a long way in boosting confidence of the sector and are crucial for helping India fulfil its climate action goals.
The global climate change and development narrative has highlighted the need to have development pathways that are resilient, green and sustainable. A decarbonisation pathway for industries can fulfil the twin objectives of sustained, inclusive economic growth while mitigating climate change. Decarbonisation as an industry-led approach within the sector would have co-benefits in the form of bringing India closer to fulfilling Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), such as on Industries (SDG 9), Decent Growth (SDG 8), Energy (SDG 7) and Climate Action (SDG 13). By upscaling their “green” ambitions in the value chains, processes, infrastructure and partnerships, industries would contribute to the growth of decarbonised backward and forward linkages, enhance their sustainable development capacities and create a green growth paradigm for India. An integrated strategy encapsulating environmental, social and economic necessities would require collaboration between policy-makers and industries, with the former supporting and encouraging businesses through stable and green financing incentives and the latter contributing to nationwide growth through innovation and enhanced technical knowledge. The long-term impact of this kind of an informed industry-led approach, covering climate action and sustainable development, would lead to a positive ripple effect in multiple sectors. It would enable India to undergo a large-scale, comprehensive upgradation on poverty (SDG 1), sanitation (SDG 6), resource management and conservation (SDG 6, 12), skill-building (SDG 4) and amplify technical and financial efficacies through capacity-building (SDG 17). While the world is grappling with a pandemic, it has become quite clear that there is a need to sustain global momentum on climate action.
At the 75th Session of the UNGA, India highlighted the need for reforms at the UN for responding to challenges of the 21st century. Climate change and the subsequent shift towards a greener, circular economy are of utmost relevance here and require multilateral agencies to support developing countries in addressing these challenges through inclusive participation, coordination and support. Climate change puts the responsibility for a collated response on all the stakeholders, cross-cutting various sectors. Industries, catering to a diverse pool of economic activities, will have a pioneering role here. The UNGA and the New York Climate Week discourses have demonstrated a strong willingness by industries to act on addressing climate change. This momentum towards decarbonisation must be enforced and harboured through partnerships and support.
(Sastry and Raj are Research Associates, TERI)
Use it to produce fuel, textiles, electricity, raw materials and have more natural end-products with a significantly smaller environmental impact
An average of 50 million tonnes of agro-biomass such as rice straw are set on fire every year in Uttar Pradesh (UP), Punjab and Haryana, contributing significantly to the air pollution woes of these States as well as the national Capital. Data released by the Central Government revealed that in September, the concentration of poisonous PM2. 5 particles in a cubic metre of air averaged at 47.64 micrograms, 17 per cent higher from the same month last year. In places like Haryana and Faridabad, the average Air Quality Index (AQI) ranged from 203 to 245 and the AQI of Delhi ranged from 234 to 269, which is “poor.” Frighteningly, this is almost twice the “safe” level prescribed by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Much has been debated about this pollution problem and some solutions have been proffered. A very practical remedy that can not only do away with the practice of crop-burning but improve the livelihoods of farmers is using agricultural waste to produce valuable products and growing alternate crops that provide both ample food and substantial biomass.
Why agricultural waste isn’t really waste? Agro-residues and woody biomass can be used to manufacture high-value products that can replace fossil-based and other environmentally detrimental raw materials. Biomass is fractionated in refineries to its main components — lignin, cellulose and hemicellulose, with high yields and purity. These fractions can be used to replace fossil-derived raw materials in many industrial and consumer sectors. Hemicellulose, for instance, can be used in the manufacture of food ingredients, while lignin finds applications in construction materials. Cellulose, meanwhile, has many uses in the textiles industry. All these facts, especially the last one, are highly significant as they give farmers an additional avenue for income generation while also meeting a national need.
Instead of burning straw and other agricultural waste on their fields, farmers can sell them as raw material for producing textile fibres.The production of cotton usually requires huge amounts of water and pesticides. If, however, a cotton field was replaced with wheat, and 30 per cent of the resultant wheat straw was used for manufacturing textile fibre, we would get the same amount of fibre as from the cotton crop but with substantially less water usage. At the same time, the wheat produced in the field would help in meeting the food requirement of the region.
Raw material for sustainable clothing and sustainable fashion: Agricultural waste can be used to produce highly sustainable textile fibre, as was demonstrated at the Textile Exchange Sustainability Conference in Vancouver in October 2019, where the world’s first clothing made from wheat straw was introduced. Encouragingly, there is a growing demand for sustainable textiles around the world as well as in India. Apparel stores and even fashion shows have begun hosting events with sustainability as one of the themes. This is just as well for studies suggest that it takes up to 2,700 litres of water to produce the amount of cotton needed to make a single T-shirt.
In view of the water crisis that looms on the horizon of most countries of the world, sustainable apparel made out of biomass must be viewed not as a passing fad but as a future necessity. India has an abundant labour supply, a strong domestic market, and well-established capacities for spinning, weaving and apparel-making. Simply by growing the right crops and by using biomass “waste” as raw material for its textiles, the country can reduce imports significantly and play a dominant role in the global market for apparel and fashion.
An environment-friendly source of fuel and power in the future: Rice, as the staple food in many parts of India, is one of the most widely-grown crops in the country. However, after the rice grains have been separated from the stalks, the rest of the plant — a sizeable part — is usually discarded. This “waste” can instead be used to produce biofuels. There is also potential for making ethanol from rice straw. Ethanol-blended petrol can reduce emissions from sectors such as heavy-duty vehicles, aviation and shipping. The National Policy on Biofuels has, in fact, set a target of 10 per cent ethanol blending with vehicle fuel by the year 2022 and 20 per cent by 2030. Bamboo is yet another crop that can provide ample biomass while, at the same time, improve rural livelihoods. Like in the biorefinery in Assam, bamboo can be used to produce bioethanol, biochemicals and even excess electricity. The idea is to use biomass to produce fuel, textiles, electricity, raw materials for industries and have more natural end-products with less resource usage and significantly smaller environmental impact. With a bit of foresight and the willingness to work towards sustainability for all, we could see significantly higher usage of biomass in the years ahead. It will play an important part in our journey towards achieving carbon neutrality and reducing the use of non-renewable resources.
(The writer heads a clean energy company)
Limiting learning to theory and skipping practical applications hinder the learning process of students. A hybrid template is needed
Every year, there are nearly 37.4 million enrolments in higher educational institutions in the country. This reflects the student density in India and also the expanding horizons of the education sector, which has been growing at a rapid pace every year. However, the sudden “Covid shock” created a tremendous negative impact. As a result of the outbreak and the danger it posed to human lives, universities and colleges had to be shut down and their syllabus curtailed. That was until the sector decided to initiate a revolution instead. Making a conscious choice to grow even in the time of crisis, it reinvented its approach and pedagogy and decided to digitise several fundamental processes, which were core to its functioning. The education process reforms seen in India and globally, too, in the COVID-19 era are a perfect example of how necessity is indeed the mother of invention. However, getting back to “normal” is a long way off and in the current scenario, higher education institutions in India are facing two major challenges.
Operational challenges: Maintenance of staff, faculty and infrastructure is becoming difficult as fee payments have been pushed ahead. Expensive infrastructure and expert faculty members make up a substantial part of the expenses for most higher education institutions. Due to the impact of late payments and the unexpected changes in schedules, universities are struggling to cover costs. Across the nation, institutions are facing issues with cash flow as are families, faced with major salary cuts or job losses in a crumbling economy.
Another challenge comes from the parents and students, who are unable to accept the ways and tools of online classes and find it difficult to adjust to the new methods of pedagogy. Besides, the fear surrounding classes in brick and mortar classrooms, even with social distancing norms in place, is widely prevalent and does not seem to be a viable solution for the moment.
Poor network in far-flung areas: Geography, too, becomes another hurdle as far as acceptance of the “new normal” is concerned. Numerous students residing in remote areas do not have a proper mobile network or alternative means for having a seamless digital experience. For example, a student who lives with his family near the suburbs of Kolkata faces regular network problems due to which his classes get disrupted and his learning gets compromised. Similarly, there is a lack of cyber connectivity even in cities like Jaipur. Students from tier-II and tier-III cities have to struggle a lot due to connectivity issues and often use dongles to be able to study online. That has its own challenges.
Earlier, students had to attend five or six classes a day but now this has been curtailed due to online education. Plus, given the lack of blackboards at home, which are used by most teachers to demonstrate practical models of application, the faculty finds it difficult to explain problems and share solutions. And even if teachers research and share findings with the students online, they cannot be assured of student participation as they cannot monitor them remotely.
Absence of peer to peer learning: Learning goes far beyond classroom education and also involves inter-personal engagement with fellow students. Extra-curricular learning has been known to provide a significant impetus to overall personality development. Peer to peer learning, which is a major source of new skills and knowledge in higher institutions, has been majorly compromised by distancing norms. Apart from this, there are tremendous problems being faced by design and engineering students as they can learn through simulations but are now sadly devoid of real experiences.
Limiting learning to theory and skipping practical applications hinder the learning process of students. The psychological and mental challenges that will result from prolonged isolation and lack of interaction for many students is another factor that needs to be addressed. Many institutions will need to create in-house expertise for the same.
The way forward: What is the solution to the challenges that the education sector is facing? While institutes struggle to provide an integrated and holistic learning experience to students, they need a blueprint to bring back a certain level of “normalcy” in the sector.
There is a need for Government intervention at this point. Even though it is doing its best to bring the outbreak under control, it will be a while before the pandemic goes away. Even then, fear and doubts will exist for a long time to come. Which is why there is an urgent need to create a plan for students and higher education institutions in order to sustain and increase the pace of growth of the sector in the coming days. Additionally, the nature of teaching should be such that it does not compromise on learning outcomes, particularly in courses which require laboratory practicals, case studies or group activity. These, too, merit some portions of the courses to be conducted in normal ways as opposed to online.
(The writer is Vice-Chancellor, JK Lakshmipat University, Jaipur)
Enacting laws sans assessment only leads to diverting attention from long-term comprehensive solutions to short-term myopic interventions
A legislation on air quality management in the Delhi-National Capital Region (NCR) is perhaps an idea whose time has come. With the Supreme Court hot on its heels on the issue of air pollution, the Central Government has taken a holistic view of the matter. A new law will seek to put a permanent statutory body in place with participants from the affected States of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh (UP) and, of course, Delhi to reduce air pollution in contiguous areas. Delhi’s air quality has been in the “very poor” category and is predicted to remain so till the end of winter. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s satellite imagery also showed a very dense cluster of fires in Punjab, Haryana and nearby regions. Air pollution in urban areas arises from multiple sources, which may vary with location and developmental activities. Anthropogenic activities, such as rampant industrialisation, exploitation and overconsumption of natural resources and the ever-growing population size, are major contributors to air pollution.
The Delhi-NCR region bears the brunt of farmland fires that contribute heavily to the annual air pollution crisis. Dense smoke billows from smouldering paddy fields, which are set on fire to prepare the ground for sowing the next crop. The smoke rises and settles over vast swathes of north and north-west India. Coupled with local emissions and dust, it has in recent years turned cities into what the apex court once described as “gas chambers.”
According to data compiled by the Union Agriculture Ministry, Punjab accounted for 82 per cent of the stubble burning cases, besides Haryana and UP, between October 1and 23. This contributed heavily to the foul air choking Delhi-NCR.
In a recent order, the top court had ordered the deployment of the National Cadet Corps, National Service Scheme and Bharat Scouts and Guides for assisting in the monitoring of crop residue burning in the fields of Punjab, Haryana, UP and Delhi-NCR, saying all it wants is that the “people can breathe fresh air without any pollution.”
The law intends to address the issue of multiplicity of authorities that hampers coordinated action, though it has to address State jurisdictions involved in implementing steps. There are enough laws to deal with the situation, experts feel, saying multiplicity of institutions and overlapping laws may end up creating even more confusion and friction.
Both the Centre and the States have enough powers under the existing laws and more than any new legislation, there has to be actual action on pollution sources while implementing existing rules and regulations effectively, say experts.
As of now, the Central Government has been using its powers under Section 5 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 in order to issue directions to control pollution. Both the State and Centre have enough powers under existing laws — the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 and the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 — to take preventive and remedial measures to deal with air pollution. In case the Centre intends to enact a law regulating farming practice, it will have to ensure that it does not encroach upon the domain reserved for the State. Agriculture is a State subject while the environment is in the Concurrent List. In case it directly impacts agricultural practices, it is likely to face both social opposition as well as legal challenges, say environmental experts, who rue that the Supreme Court, Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA), the National Green Tribunal (NGT), the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs) may not be that clear as to what needs to be done. They say that if the Government is keen on resolving the issue, it must undertake a thorough review of the various laws and institutions in order to look at their efficacy and utility.
Enacting laws or issuing directions without any assessment and consultation only ends up as a way to divert attention from long-term comprehensive solutions to short-term myopic interventions.
“The problem lies in the fact that political will is missing when it comes to implementation. Having said that, it will be a welcome step if there is a specific provision to deal with crop residue burning at the national level. It should not be left alone as a problem in Punjab and Haryana only. Satellite images from central and southern India show the extent of crop waste burning in these parts as well, which have an impact on local climate resilience,” says Polash Mukerjee, Air Quality Researcher.
There is no dearth of power under the law, the question is of adherence, says Anumita Roy Chowdhury, Executive Director, Centre for Science and Environment.
The moot question, according to former counsel for the CPCB in the Supreme Court Vijay Panjwani, is what action the Centre can take if the State fails to follow the directions?
A report by Beijing-based policy think tank, Bluetech Clean Air Alliance (BCAA), released in June 2019, had said that China faced a similar problem and the Chinese Government started to show strong political commitment in tackling the issue from the highest levels, which is widely considered to be a key factor for the success of such measures. “Political commitments from the State Governments are also required to ensure they are transformed into solid actions. Effective air quality management requires science-based policy-making, analysing scientific assessments, data monitoring, emissions inventory, air quality modelling, source apportionment studies and transport planning. China’s lessons showed that significant investments and efforts that have no foundation in science are made in vain, with no impact on air quality improvement,” says the report.
Despite US President Donald Trump’s jibe about India’s “filthy air”, Delhi did record a drop of 25 per cent in PM-10 levels and a 19 per cent fall in PM-2.5 in 2019, as compared with 2016. But neither the pace of decline of these two key air pollutants, nor the existing target under the National Clean Air Programme are likely to be enough to make the city breathe easily even by 2024, going by the national ambient air quality standards. Air quality management is the need of the hour and must be undertaken at all cost.
(The writer is Technical Associate, Forest Survey of India, Dehradun)