Editorial Simplified: Fine-Tuning the Education Policy | GS – II


Relevance :  GS Paper II


Theme of the Article

Details about financing and institutional structures must be fleshed out.


Why has this issue cropped up?

After about four years in the making, the draft National Education Policy, 2019 is out in the public domain, with comments sought from all stakeholders till June 30.


About the draft policy

  • Drawing inputs from the T.S.R. Subramanian Committee report and the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), the K. Kasturirangan Committee has produced a document that is comprehensive, far-sighted and grounded in realities.
  • The idea that lifelong education is based on four pillars — learning to know, learning to do, learning to live together and learning to be — has inspired the committee to cover every aspect of the education sector: school, higher, vocational and adult education.
  • It also includes the whole gamut of professional education — engineering, medicine, agriculture, law, etc.
  • It explains the scientific rationale behind the policy’s prescriptions and suggests how the proposals can be translated into practice at the State and Central levels.
  • It seeks to revamp all aspects of the sector and does not shy away from suggesting brave new ideas. In school education, one such idea is to cover children of 3-18 years [instead of the present 6-14 years under the Right to Education (RTE) Act], three years under early childhood care and education (ECCE) and four years under secondary education.
  • Another innovative idea is to achieve ‘universal foundational literacy and numeracy’ through initiatives like the National Tutors Programme and the Remedial Instructional Aides Programme.
  • Introduction of school complexes, a system of modular Board Examinations to allow flexibility, setting up Special Education Zones in disadvantaged regions, recognising teachers at the heart of the system, moving teacher education into the university system, and stressing the importance of learning new languages are among the key recommendations.
  • The way ahead for higher education has also been marked by bold propositions. The aim is to double the Gross Enrolment Ratio from 25% to 50% by 2035 and make universities the hubs of research.
  • The policy recognises the crucial importance of liberal arts (it recommends setting up five Indian Institutes of Liberal Arts offering four-year courses) and the study of modern and classical languages (it recommends setting up National Institutions for Pali, Prakrit and Persian).
  • It proposes separate institutions for regulation, funding, standard setting and accreditation, a National Research Foundation, and a Rashtriya Shiksha Aayog/ National Education Commission.
  • Interestingly, vocational education, meant for 50% of the students, is sought to be integrated with school and higher education.

Challenges in implementation

  • First, what is recommended is a doubling of public funding to 6% of the GDP and increasing overall public expenditure on education to 20% from the current 10%. This is desirable but does not appear to be feasible in the near future given that most of the additional funding has to come from the States. Though innovative financing schemes have been proposed, involving the private sector, how those schemes will shape up remains to be seen.
    Second, while establishing new institutions for Pali, Prakrit and Persian appears to be a novel idea, shouldn’t the Central Institute of Indian Languages in Mysuru be strengthened and perhaps even upgraded to a university with an extended mandate to take care of these languages?
  • Third, expanding coverage under the RTE Act to include pre-school children is extremely important, but should perhaps be introduced gradually, keeping in mind the quality of infrastructure and teacher vacancies. Amendment of the Act can perhaps wait for a while.
  • Fourth, the idea of setting up the Rashtriya Shiksha Aayog under the Prime Minister and having it serviced by the MHRD is crucial in order to integrate the approaches and programmes of multiple departments. However, it is fraught with many administrative problems and possible turf battles. Bringing medical or agricultural or legal education under one umbrella is likely to be met with stiff opposition.
  • Fifth, the idea of regulation being brought under the National Higher Education Regulatory Authority, standard setting under the General Education Council and funding under the Higher Education Grants Council may require a revisit so that there is synchronisation with the current Bill for the Higher Education Commission of India. Besides, the draft policy is silent on the Institutions of Eminence and agencies like the Higher Education Funding Agency.
  • Last, language issues have to be handled sensitively in view of their emotional overtones, as witnessed recently. Protests are often made without understanding the spirit of the text. The details about financing and institutional structures should be fleshed out at the earliest, perhaps by an inter-departmental committee under the Cabinet Secretary.

Conclusion

It is time for all conscientious persons to study the report and suggest the best path forward. If the political leadership backs it, implementation of the policy will transform our nation.


Editorial Simplified: For More Inclusive Private Schools | GS – II


Relevance :  GS Paper II


Theme of the Article

Suggestions for better implementation of the Right to Education Act.


Introduction

In India, the right to education was made a fundamental right by inserting Article 21A by the Constitution (Eighty-sixth Amendment) Act, 2002. It was enabled with the subsequent enactment of the Right to Education (RTE) Act, 2009. However, its implementation has been a challenge for most States.


Similarity with ‘No child left behind’

  • The RTE Act bears many similarities to the U.S.’s No Child Left Behind Act, including school accountability, assessment standards and teacher training.
  • Like the U.S., in India too States have been given major leeway in deciding the course of implementation.

Problems Section 12 (1) (c)

  • A problem that recurs every year is mandated access to underprivileged sections of society.
  • Section 12 (1) (c) of the Act mandates all private schools (except for minority schools) to allocate 25% of their seats to economically weaker sections, i.e. those families with an income of less than ₹2 lakh a year, and other disadvantaged groups like Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and the physically challenged.
  • The State government will then reimburse these schools for students admitted under this provision, at an amount per month that is determined by the State rules.
  • The process for admission under Section 12 (1) (c) is far from perfect. This is evident in the large number of vacancies in several cities in the country.

Lessons from Tamil Nadu

  • Tamil Nadu, which has always been at the forefront of educational progress in India, has made certain strides in the implementation of Section 12 (1) (c).
  • It has widened the ambit of “disadvantaged sections” to include HIV positive children and transgenders.
  • A centralized database has been created by the State where people can access all the matriculation (State board) schools in the State which lie within 1 km of their residence.
  • Another notification has been issued by the Tamil Nadu government to bring all schools affiliated to boards other than State boards under the control of its Director of School Education for RTE implementation.

Issues to be addressed

  • One of the main concerns is the absence of several CBSE schools on the school database set up by the State. Despite the use of GIS tagging, several parents complain that the system is faulty in identifying nearby schools.
  • Financial problems continue to mar the system — many schools collect money for textbooks and uniform though this is part of the State-stipulated fees.
  • There have also been several grievances regarding the ‘1 km radius’ criterion, especially for rural residents who may not have any private schools in their vicinity. This criterion will eventually widen the rural-urban divide in educational outcomes.
  • The window for the admission process for RTE Act vacancies in private schools is very narrow. This causes many parents to miss the deadline, despite thousands of vacancies.

Way forward

  • The procedure for admission should be made through a single-point window online for all school boards, with computer kiosks to assist parents who may not be able to fill the form online.
  • A mobile application should be built with live information on the number of seats available in each school under the 25% quota.
  • An RTE compliance audit should be conducted for all schools every year by the State Education Department.
  • Any aid given to private schools must be tied to the levels of compliance achieved by the school.
  • Several schools do not adhere to the 25% quota. These schools should be penalised and derecognised if continuous violations occur.
  • Every school should declare prominently that it is RTE compliant — and the admission procedure, including deadlines, should be conspicuously displayed at the school premises.
  • On the government side of things, funds need to be released in a timely manner, so that it inspires confidence in schools to fill all the vacancies.

Conclusion

Section 12 (1) (c) of the RTE Act recognises the need for inclusion, and explicitly establishes responsibility on all stakeholders to contribute towards this goal. Consequently, private schools, which often become islands of the privileged class, will now become more inclusive. This socialisation will benefit all classes of society as we rise above our social biases to make our children not just better learners but better human beings.


Editorial Simplified: The Immediate Neighborhood | GS – II


Relevance :  GS Paper II


SAARC still has the potential to become a platform for South Asian interests and shared growth


Why has this issue cropped up?

The government has shown its commitment to its strategy of “Neighbourhood First” by inviting the leaders of neighbouring countries for the second time to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s swearing-in ceremony on May 30.


The difference from 2014

The obvious difference between Modi’s invitations to his taking office the first and second time is that in 2014 they went to the leaders of the eight-member South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), while in 2019 they went to leaders of the seven-member Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC).


BIMSTEC

BIMSTEC includes five SAARC members (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka), and Myanmar and Thailand, while leaving SAARC members Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Maldives out, due to the geographical location of the Bay of Bengal.


Significance of SAARC

  • SAARC, as an organisation, reflects the South Asian identity of the countries, historically and contemporarily.
  • This is a naturally made geographical identity.
  • Equally, there is a cultural, linguistic, religious and culinary affinity that defines South Asia.
  • Just as rivers, climatic conditions flow naturally from one South Asian country to the other, so do the films, poetry, humour, entertainment and food.
  • Since 1985 when the SAARC charter was signed, the organisation has developed common cause in several fields: agriculture, education, health, climate change, science and technology, transport and environment.
  • Each area has seen modest but sustainable growth in cooperation. For example, from 2010, when the South Asian University began in Delhi, the number of applicants for about 170 seats has more than doubled.

Failure of SAARC

SAARC’s biggest failure, however, comes from the political sphere, where mainly due to India-Pakistan tensions, heads of state have met only 18 times in 34 years; it has been five years since the last summit in Kathmandu.


SAARC Vs BIMSTEC

  • To extrapolate that BIMSTEC has replaced SAARC, or that the Modi government is in effect building the foundations of BIMSTEC over the grave of SAARC is both illogical and contrary to the founding principles of these organisations.
  • BIMSTEC is not moored in the identity of the nations that are members. It is essentially a grouping of countries situated around the Bay of Bengal, and began in 1997 (Bhutan and Nepal joined in 2004), a decade after SAARC.
  • The organisation did not even have a secretariat until 2014. While it has made some progress in technical areas, leaders of BIMSTEC nations have held summits just four times in 22 years.
  • With India’s growing frustration over cross-border terrorism emanating from Pakistan, it hopes to build more on BIMSTEC’s potential. But the organisation is unlikely to supplant SAARC.

India’s SAARC aversion

  • Terrorism emanating from Pakistan is clearly the biggest stumbling block cited by the government. PM cancelled his attendance at the last planned SAARC summit in Islamabad in 2016, after the attack on the Indian Army’s brigade headquarters in Uri. Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Bhutan followed suit.
  • Another reason is the logjam because of Pakistan’s opposition to connectivity projects such as the Motor Vehicles Agreement (MVA), energy sharing proposals and others such as the South Asia Satellite offered by India.

Is India’s aversion to SAARC justified?

  • India’s stand on terror emanating from Pakistan, doesn’t extend to other organisations such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), into which India and Pakistan were inducted in 2017.
  • Agreements have not made progress in other groupings either: the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) grouping has failed to implement the MVA due to opposition from Bhutan, and India has held up for years cross-border power-exchanges that would allow Bhutan and Nepal to freely sell electricity to third countries such as Bangladesh.

Other Hurdles in the way of SAARC

  • Some of the resistance to SAARC has to do with the organisation’s history: Bangladesh’s former military dictator Ziaur Rahman, who was known to be inimical to India, conceived it, and was suspected of trying to constrain India by tying it to its smaller and much less developed neighbours.
  • In the 1990s, when India was beginning to see its role as an economic leader and an Asian power with a claim to a permanent seat at the UN Security Council, the SAARC identity may have seemed irrelevant. Even Pakistan’s elite establishment, which often looks to West Asia, was less than enthusiastic about the SAARC grouping where India would be “big brother”.

Conclusion

In a region increasingly targeted by Chinese investment and loans, SAARC could be a common platform to demand more sustainable alternatives for development, or to oppose trade tariffs together, or to demand better terms for South Asian labour around the world. This potential has not yet been explored, nor will it be till SAARC is allowed to progress.


Gist of Editorials: Bills of Rights for the Vulnerable | GS – II


Relevance :  GS Paper II


Introduction

With the dissolution of Parliament, several crucial social bills lapsed.

The problematic social bills

  • Transgender Bill, Surrogacy Bill, and the Trafficking Bill.
  • Consultation with impacted communities was eschewed.
  • Transgender Bill did away with the right to self-determination of gender identity.
  • Surrogacy Bill excluded LGBT individuals from its ambit, imposed discriminatory age restrictions
  • Trafficking Bill criminalized begging without providing any manner of effective alternatives.

Common factors between these bills

  • Dealt with intimate subjects such as personal dignity.
  • Concerned with vulnerable and marginalized sections of society.
  • Drafted without consulting with members of the impacted communities.
  • Extended the state’s control and domination.
  • Met by widespread protests from the communities themselves.

What lies ahead?

  • Voices of those who will be directly impacted should be listened to.
  • A sustained public movement around these issues is needed.

Gist of Editorials: The Second Coming | GS – II


Relevance :  GS Paper II


Theme of the Article

The invitation list for the swearing-in signals government’s foreign policy focus.

Why has this issue cropped up?

Prime Minister has invited leaders of BIMSTEC to swearing-in ceremony.

What does this invitation indicate?

  • “neighbourhood first” policy.
  • regional preferences have shifted from SAARC to BIMSTEC
  • concern for India’s “Act East” initiative and outreach to East Asia.
  • invitation to SCO chairperson indicates commitment to Central Asian grouping
  • invitation to Prime Minister of Mauritius indicates close affinity

BIMSTEC and SCO

  • India’s engagement with both BIMSTEC and the SCO is at incipient stage.
  • BIMSTEC didn’t even have a fully working secretariat until recently.
  • BIMSTEC’s deliberations on subregional connectivity have been delayed
  • SCO is yet to demonstrate its utility for India..

Conclusion

The attendance at PM Modi’s swearing-in ceremony hints towards new avenues of India’s multilateral engagements.


Editorial Simplified: A Rocky Road for Strategic Partners | GS – II


Relevance :  GS Paper II


Theme of the Article

With decisions that adversely affect India, the Trump administration fails to distinguish friend from foe.


Why has this issue cropped up?

The Donald Trump administration’s recent actions threaten the foundation of trust and flexibility on which India-U.S. relations are premised.


Evidences of distorting Trump policies

The Trump administration’s insensitive approach towards its allies in Western Europe by denigrating the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union (EU), threatening to impose tariffs on EU goods in connection with trade disputes and Europe’s relations with Russia, and Washington’s unilateral withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal that roiled its European partners are all evidence of this policy.


Recent India- US relations

  • Earlier U.S. was actively wooing India as a strategic counterweight to China.
  • The term ‘Indo-Pacific region’ appeared prominently in the joint statement issued in June 2017.
  • Since then, it has come to replace the term ‘Asia-Pacific region’ in American foreign policy jargon.
  • In May 2018, the Pentagon changed the name of the U.S. Pacific Command to U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, emphasising not only the strategic linkage between the Indian and Pacific Oceans but also the geo-political prominence of India in the U.S.’s Asian strategy.
  • However, the Trump administration seems to have reversed course in recent months. U.S. unilateral actions on three fronts have simultaneously demonstrated what amounts to downgrading India in American strategy.
    • The announcement on April 22 by U.S. Secretary of State that Washington would not renew after May 2 the exemption that it had granted India and seven other countries regarding import of Iranian oil was one sign that American unilateralism had trumped coherent strategic thinking.
    • The second leg of this tripod is the U.S. threat to impose sanctions on India if it buys the S-400 missile defence system from Russia for which a deal had been signed in October 2018.
    • The third and latest instance of unwelcome U.S. pressure was the announcement on May 31 that, beginning June 5, India will be removed from the preferential trade programme, known as the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP), which gives developing countries easier access to the U.S. market and lowers U.S. duties on their exports.

Are above actions justified?

  • Taken together, these three decisions indicate that Washington is impervious to Indian strategic concerns and economic interests despite its earlier pronouncements that it considers India a valued “strategic partner”.
  • These decisions are part of a unilateralist syndrome that currently afflicts American foreign policy.
  • US no longer seems to discriminate between friend and foe when making important policy decisions. Such an attitude does not bode well for the future of America’s relations with its friends and allies.
  • Washington appears to have overlooked the fact that even the “indispensable nation” needs reliable friends and allies.

Conclusion

India should subtly communicate to his interlocutors that the international system is becoming progressively multipolar, thus increasing foreign policy options available to Indian policymakers.


Editorial Simplified: Realizing Grand Objectives | GS – II


Relevance :  GS Paper II


Theme of the Article

Many regional policy challenges can be addressed with three major fixes.


Introduction

While the broad directions of India’s foreign relations — with the neighborhood, Afghanistan, the U.S., China, Indo-Pacific, Russia, and Europe — have been set over the past several years, the main factors inhibiting India’s performance are ultimately domestic in nature.


Three Main Aspects

  • TRADE: Much of India’s commerce involves raw materials and low value-added goods, and is still insufficiently integrated into global supply chains..
  • DEFENCE: India has the world’s fifth largest defence budget but is also the world’s second largest arms importer. Not only does this compromise national security, it means that India cannot offer an alternative as a defence supplier to countries in its region.
  • OVERSEAS CREDIT: India’s outgoing aid budget has been relatively flat, reflecting a scepticism of grant aid from India’s own experience as a recipient. Instead, it has now started to explore other financing options.

Way forward

  • TRADE: With global trade stagnant and the World Trade Organization at a standstill, the only way for India to seize a larger share of exports is through well-negotiated preferential trade agreements. A smarter trade agenda will not only create jobs and drive reforms at home, it could become a potent strategic tool in international affairs.
  • DEFENCE: Defence indigenization will require financing for defence capital expenditure; assessments of costs, technology transfer capabilities, and export potential early in the procurement process; and fair competition between the Indian private and public sectors.
  • OVERSEAS CREDIT: Indian overseas credit has increased significantly, with over $24 billion extended primarily to South Asia, Southeast Asia, and Africa. But building on several recent steps will significantly increase the country’s delivery and regional credibility. These include better project planning, more attractive and competitive financing terms, more reliable disbursal of funds, and enhanced coordination and communication with the private sector for implementation.

Conclusion

Key policy interventions in these three areas will now be necessary for India to realise its grander objectives. Many regional policy challenges would be addressed with these three major fixes.


Editorial Simplified: Crisis Defused | GS – II


Relevance :  GS Paper II


Theme of the Article

Compulsory learning should be limited to the child’s mother tongue.


Why has this issue cropped up?

The Centre has moved quickly to defuse a potentially volatile controversy over the charge of Hindi imposition.


The Corrective Steps

  • The reference in the newly unveiled draft National Education Policy
    (NEP) to mandatory teaching of Hindi in all States was withdrawn following an outcry from political leaders in Tamil Nadu, a State that is quite sensitive to any hint of ‘Hindi imposition’ by the Centre.
  • The modified draft under the heading ‘Flexibility in the choice of languages’, has omitted references to the language that students may choose. However, the broader recommendation regarding the implementation of a three-language formula remains, something Tamil Nadu, which will not budge from its two-language formula, is averse to.

What did draft NEP say?

The gist of the original sentence in the draft NEP was that students could change one of the three languages of study in Grade 6, provided that in Hindi-speaking States they continued to study Hindi, English and one other Indian language of their choice, and those in non-Hindi-speaking States would study their regional language, besides Hindi and English.


What does the revised draft say?

The revised draft merely says students may change one or more of their three languages in Grade 6 or 7, “so long as they still demonstrate proficiency in three languages (one language at the literature level) in their modular Board examinations some time during secondary school”. It may not amount to a complete reversal , but is still important in terms of conciliatory messaging.


The historical language issue

  • Ever since the Constitution adopted Hindi as the official language, with English also as an official language for 15 years initially, there has been considerable tension between those who favour the indefinite usage of English and those who want to phase it out and give Hindi primacy.
  • In Tamil Nadu, it is seen as a creeping imposition of Hindi in subtle and not-so-subtle forms.
  • The tension has been managed based on the statesmanship behind Jawaharlal Nehru’s assurance in 1959 that English would be an associate language as long as there are States that desire it.
  • One would have thought that with the ascent of coalition politics the instinct to stoke differences based on language would die out. Unfortunately, it keeps coming up, especially in the form of imposing the three-language formula on States.

Way forward

Language is primarily a utilitarian tool. While acquisition of additional tools can indeed be beneficial, compulsory learning should be limited to one’s mother tongue and English as the language that provides access to global knowledge and as a link language within India.


Conclusion

It is time attempts to force Indians proficient in their mother tongue and English to acquire proficiency in a third are given up.


Editorial Simplified: Bills of Rights for the Vulnerable | GS – II


Relevance :  GS Paper II


Introduction

Towards the end of the previous government’s tenure, a number of controversial bills were introduced in Parliament. With the dissolution of Parliament, these bills lapsed.


The problematic social Bills

  • In the social sphere, the government introduced the Transgender Bill, the Surrogacy Bill, and the Trafficking Bill.
  • In each of the cases, the draft legislation was introduced with the aim of addressing an existing lacuna in the legal landscape.
  • However, when it came to the content of these bills, consultation with impacted communities was effectively eschewed, and the result was a set of drafts that, far from protecting rights, actively harmed them.
  • For example, the Transgender Bill did away with the fundamental and non-negotiable principle of the right to self-determination of gender identity.
  • Similarly, the Surrogacy Bill excluded LGBT individuals from its ambit, imposed discriminatory age restrictions upon men and women, and by entirely outlawing “commercial” surrogacy opened up space for underground and unreported exploitation of women.
  • The Trafficking Bill criminalised begging without providing any manner of effective alternatives and failed to distinguish between non-consensual trafficking and consensual sex work. It thus opened the door to criminalising livelihoods on the basis of what was effectively a set of narrow, moral objections.

Common factors between these Bills

  • First, each of them dealt with intimate subjects such as individuals’ decisions of what to do with their body, personal dignity and autonomy, and gender identity.
  • Second, they concerned the rights of some of the most vulnerable and marginalised members of our society.
  • Third, they were drafted without adequately consulting with, or listening to, the members of the communities who were impacted.
  • Fourth, instead of guaranteeing and securing the rights of these communities to be free from state interference, they extended the state’s control and domination.
  • And last, they were met by extensive and widespread protests from the communities themselves.

What lies ahead?

  • While the government is, of course, entitled to frame its own policies, and draft and implement legislation to enact those policies, there are certain constraints upon how it should go about that task.
  • At the minimum, the voices of those who will be directly impacted by the policy should be listened to and engaged with in good faith, and basic constitutional principles and values ought to be respected.
  • .It is to be hoped that these lacunae and shortcomings are remedied by the continuing government in power. Apart from the courts, however, this would need a sustained public movement around these issues, which can make its voice heard in the halls of power.

Gist of Editorials: The Quest for a Military Footprint | GS – II


Relevance :  GS Paper II


Theme of the Article

As Beijing races ahead in quest for a military footprint, Delhi has some catching up to do.

Introduction

India is now making its armed forces interoperable with its friends and partners in the Indian Ocean.

India’s response to China’s growing foreign military bases

  • Counter potential threats from China’s military bases
  • strengthen military partnerships with its friends and partners
  • emulate Beijing’s quest for foreign military presence

Competition for foreign Military Bases

  • As China’s economic interests spread the entire globe, it’s quest for military bases grew as well.
  • While there is no formal Pakistan “base”, the integration of Pakistan into China’s military strategy and operations has steadily advanced.
  • While Beijing is racing ahead in the search for foreign military presence, Delhi has some catching up to do.

Why India should have Military Bases

  • India’s economy is now close to $3 trillion.
  • Delhi’s security imperatives are no longer limited to its borders.

What India is doing in this Direction

  • India is now making its armed forces interoperable with its friends and partners.
  • India has signed agreements with the US and France for mutual peacetime use of military bases.