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Delivering Education through Digital Platform: A Potential way to Bridge Education Deficit in India

Swaleha Sindhi Ph.D.

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India has been successful in raising its literacy rate from 12% at the time of independence to 74% as per 2011 census, but it still lags behind the world average of 84%. Though the flagship programs like SSA (Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan) and RMSA (Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan) have definitely proved beneficial to some extent but a lot needs to be done to truly educate India.

Apart from the issues of access and affordability which keeps a significant child population at bay from school doors, India need to work upon the issue of quality of education. Further the issues of educational attainment and employability, adds to the prevailing wide differences in India in terms of economic, social and gender divide, making the situation worse. Quality of education in government schools, skewed teacher-student ratio lack of basic amenities like library, clean toilets, and playgrounds add to the drop out ratio. In such a state of affairs of education in India, the ICT (Information & Communication Technology) revolution has paved the way to introduce some breakthroughs in education sector apart from many other sectors like banking, health and the like digital education is seen as a cure to the issues of access and affordability and therefore digital India has been envisioned as an ambitious programme to transform India into a digitally empowered society and a knowledge economy. The young population in India in the last decade has become increasingly technology-driven, revealing considerable potential and readiness to imbibe and learn using digital media. Needless to mention, digital education is no longer limited to the four walls of a classroom, but has paved way for virtual classrooms, making learning attainable and providing easy access everywhere and every time. The latest trends in digital education space also include adaptive and collaborative learning where a student is engaged by practicing, experiencing, sharing things and gaining knowledge in a collaborative environment.

Government’s focus is to integrate technology in digital learning for both urban and rural areas and so it is looking at public-private-partnerships to enhance reach to rural and remote areas. With the initiatives such as e-education and e-basta (school bag), government has made it possible to impart education using technologies including smart phones, mobile apps and internet services in remote rural areas. The initiative like e-basta (school bag) is aimed at making school books accessible in digital form as e-books to be read on tablets and laptops. The digital India campaign thus, targets to provide broadband connectivity to a quarter of a million rural villages by 2019 and making Wi-Fi connections available in schools. The continuous professional development of teachers in digital teaching strategies can change the contemporary digital divide and dismal landscape in Indian Education. Further, the teaching community can collaborate to share their ideas and resources online. They can communicate with each other across the globe and collaborate with them, refine their work and give the best to their students. Such an approach of teachers would definitely enhance the practice of teaching as well as both students and teachers will have an access to vast material. There are plenty of resourceful, credible websites available on the Internet that both teachers and students can utilize. The Internet also provides a variety of knowledge and doesn’t limit students to one person’s opinion.

However, the question is; can technology alone bring a positive impact on learning? Is it capable of solving major educational problems in India? The answer is, only if we have a clear vision on how to enable technology help students learn better and teachers teach better. Therefore, there must be deliberations on finding solutions to hurdles like affordability, accessibility, mode of delivery and content. The present digital age of modern technologies require teachers to have deep subject knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge and the knowledge of new technologies applied to subject teaching (Mishra & Koehler, 2006). Digital India can only be accompanied by digital education that too at micro level. It is therefore important to take stock of what we know about the impact of digital technology on education from what we have learned till yet. The ability to deal with demands of digital era and be creative to learn and transfer knowledge in different modes especially in ICT and distance modes is of major concern today. Technology has the potential to improve learning outcomes if it is well integrated into the learning process. Therefore, schools must facilitate teachers to be innovative in classrooms, to be able to create digital tools and resources, to be able to form digital teachers club, enhance online work culture and be prepared for all kinds of assessments, e.g. the online examination. This calls for a number of stakeholders to come together and support the initiative and thereby strengthen the education sector in India. Thus, delivering education through the digital platform to children and teachers could be a potential way to bridge the education deficit.

Dr.Swaleha Sindhi is Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Administration, the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, India. Dr. Sindhi is a frequent columnist on related topics, too. She is the Vice President of Indian Ocean Comparative Education Society (IOCES). Contact: swaleha sindhi[at]gmail.com

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South Asia

This is Pakistan

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With an unprecedented progress in politico-socio-economic domains, Pakistan has a new face in the world. It has not only successfully corrected misplaced perceptions about it, but the internal and external circumstances around it have also changed, which has helped shaping Pakistan its renewed look according to changed regional and international environment. The successes at the security front has also led to the economic progress in Pakistan.

In result of Pakistan’s fight against terrorism and anti-extremism operations, it lost tens of thousands of people, including soldiers and civilians. Pakistan’s strong resolve together with sustained military operations against terrorist elements, however, brough back peace and stability in the country. According to Security Report 2019 by Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS), “Pakistan witnessed a further decline in the number of terrorist incidents and consequent casualties… terrorist attacks this year decreased by around 13 percent as compared to 2018.” The report clearly depicted a gradual decrease in terrorist attacks and casualties since 2009. In this regard, Pakistan’s National Action Plan (NAP) helped eliminating the menace of terrorism from the country. The improved security situation in the country resulted in the economic dividends in the shape of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Pakistan is also appreciated for its nuclear material safety. In its annual report, the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) – a leading United States non-proliferation watchdogdivulged that “Pakistan’s improvements in the Security and Control Measures category are significant because strengthened laws and regulations result in durable boosts in Pakistan’s score as well as provide sustainable security benefits.” While appreciating Pakistan’s further improvement in nuclear materials’ safety, Laura Kennedy, a former United States diplomat, tweeted that “one welcome bit of news reported by #NTIindex is that #Pakistan ranked as most improved in security of those countries holding nuclear materials.”

Pakistan’s fight against Corona Virus Disease (COVID-19) is used as a role model by developed countries of the world. The Government of Pakistan (GoP) revealed a PKR 1.13 trillion relief package to help to the powerless and securing industry and other organizations. The concept of ‘Smart Lockdown’ also reaped its dividends and Pakistan has come out from the dangers of this deadly virus.

On the socio-economic front, Pakistan is making progress as well. For instance, the current account deficit has reduced from US$ 20 billion to US$ 3 billion together with a significant decrease in trade and fiscal account deficits. The stalled construction of Diamer-Bhasha dam has also been approved, which will result in additional water supplies for better agricultural production. There has been increase in the rights activism i.e., Transgender Pride March, Aurat March, Climate March, and Student Solidarity March. Women sports stars of Pakistan won international medals and recognitions.For instance, 8-year-old Pakistani Taekwondo star Ayesha Ayaz won a bronze medal for Pakistan at the 7thFujairah Taekwondo Open Championship in United Arab Emirates (UAE); Hajra Khan won 3 Guinness World Records; Mahnoor Shahzad won the Annapurna International Badminton Tournament; Nida Dar became the first Pakistani woman to sign a deal with an international cricket league, Sydney Thunder; Shahida Abbasi from Hazara won one of the total two gold medals for Pakistan at the South Asian Games 2019; and Mallak Faisal Zafar won first position in the Basic Novice Girls II category at the 24th International Eiscup Innsbruck 2019. Test cricket also returned to Pakistan.

Culturally, Pakistan is projecting itself more prominently. Pakistani celebrities are mamking it to international fashion weeks – Mushk Kaleem and Alicia Khan walked the ramp for Milan Fashion Week 2019. Pakistani film Laal Kabootar won the Vancouver International South Asian Film Festival for the Best Feature Film Award. ActressMahira Khan was appointed National Goodwill Ambassador for UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, strengthening the bond between the people of Pakistan and the international community. Moreover, Mehwish Hayat was appointed ambassador to UK based international humanitarian charity, Penny Appeal.

On the entrepreneurial front, 9 Pakistanis made it to Forbes’ coveted 30 under 30 Asia list: Ahmed Rauf Essa: Founder, Telemart; Karishma Ali, President, Chitral Womens Sports Club; Laila Kasuri, Water Analyst, Global Green Growth Institute; Hanaa Lakhani, Hasan Usmani,Gia Farooqi and MoneebMian, Cofounders, Roshni Rides, Zain Ashraf, Founder, Seed Out; and Zainab Bibi, Founder, Pakistan Society for Green Energy (PSGE).

Regionally, Pakistan’s foreign policy is paying its dividends. Pakistan’s relations among Iran, Afghanistan, Sri-Lanka, Russia, United States and others has improved significantly. Overall, there is many encouraging events happening in and around Pakistan.

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South Asia

Post-Pandemic Politics

Usman Ghani

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Franklin Roosevelt has rightly put it, ‘In politics, nothing happens accidentally. If anything happens, it’s palpable that it planned this way’. Numerous features have been defining pre-pandemic world politics over the years. The current situation shows that pandemic will only reinforce largely five global fault lines that have been characterizing the global environment even in the pre-pandemic phase. Form this we can extrapolate the future course of global politics. 

The first and the obvious feature is the rising multi-polarity with power being diffused vertically and horizontally between countries and within countries because citizens become more impart by accessible cheaper technologies. Therefore, global power especially economic power continues to be redistributed while the state power also continues to be eroded by the greater influence of non-state actors both good and bad. In today’s world, no single power can achieve outcomes on its own. It can only do so in conjunction or with the cooperation of other states. Since the Second World War, this pandemic is the first global crisis in which US leadership has been absent.

Secondly, the resurgence of competition and tensions between the big powers in the global environment have come into sight. US-China confrontation has become the most consequential and geopolitical development, which is going to influence and shape the world in the coming years. It can be seen that an outbreak of trade and tech war during the pre-pandemic will continue in the future. Political tensions are also at a record high. President Donald Trump of the United States has been using hostile rhetoric against China. Because of the severe actions taken by the US, China has reached its limits and started pushing back.

Thirdly, global powers are retreating from multilateralism and a rule-based international system. The renunciation of international agreements and treaties has been witnessed over the months. The irony is that the pandemic demands greater solidarity and cooperation but quite the opposite has happened, where there is an absence of international solidarity and much less collaboration. The USA has renounced a long list of treaties including the Iranian nuclear deal, Paris Agreement on Climate Change, Intermediate Nuclear Force Agreement (INF), and recently the Open Skies agreement. It has also walked out of key multilateral institutions such as the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva and the WHO more recently.

Another feature is the rise of populist leaders who are often described as strongmen. Although it’s debatable how much they deserve the description of strong men. Populist leaders act unilaterally with impunity as well as seek to rewrite the rules of game either in the world or their region depending upon their capability to manage. They are mostly disdainful toward international norms. In South Asia, the grimmest example is Prime Minister Narendra Modi who is taking brutal and illegal actions not only in occupied Kashmir but also within India by pursuing communal politics.

Ultimately, there would be an emergence of anti-globalization sentiment due to multiple factors. The UN will be celebrating its 75th anniversary which is going to be a historic moment while American threatens to leave the World Health Organization (WHO) permanently. In this unenviable situation, the UN has been under great strain because its main agency which deals with the health crisis is under attack due to curtailment of funding by Donald Trump. Furthermore, certain leaders of the west are going to reject the existing trading regimes because they cannot compete anymore. The prevailing situation in those countries demands to remake global supply chains and they intend to reduce their dependence on China. Apart from that, plans are considered to move towards setting up local hubs of manufacture and supply.

In a nutshell, there is going to be a reversal of many aspects of globalization. Protectionism, trade wars, and to some extent travel restrictions will be a new reality. Right-wing populist leaders will use the health crisis to reinforce their policy preference for closed borders, strict immigration laws, and the ban on the free movement of labour that has been seen in recent decades. The future course of the most important bilateral relationship of our century which is between China and the United States will have a huge impact on the global economy as well as on the international order and multilateral institutions. Pandemic has further strained the relationship and resulted in trading accusations and allegations from both sides. Summarily, that has been described as the new cold war by many. The question arises whether these two global powers will arrive at modus vivendi or will there be a standoff. This has become a more enduring feature of the global landscape.

To round off the whole debate, the World is possibly at one of the history’s most unsettled periods in international relations with the atomization of the international system. This is an uncharted territory which the world has not seen before. For Pakistan, there are going to be strategic, political, and economic implications because it seeks to form good relations with both countries. Pakistan ought to understand that in the long run, its strategic future lies with China rather than the US.   

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South Asia

Prime Minister K.P. Oli of Nepal miss the opportunity

Saurav Raj Pant

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In Nepal, Prime Minister K. P.  Oli  seems to stay in power by disrespecting his party members. He doesn’t care about agreement made with his party co-leaders Prachanda  regarding  power sharing after Oli’s 2.5 years reign. He bluntly made a statement that  his party members are meeting covertly in hotels of Kathmandu to overthrow him with the assistance of India. This  resulted to the seeding of conflict within party allowing Chinese ambassador running door to door for negotiating with party leaders to reconcile. Chinese ambassador to Nepal is engaging with Nepal Communist Party(NCP) leaders to keep K. P Oli in power but India wants to overthrow him. The Prime Minister post in Nepal is now became the platform where two big powers are colliding.

Oli’s 2.5 years in office achievement is not satisfactory. The two underperforming arena are Foreign Policy & Economy.  In Foreign Policy, Nepal is facing proxy war from the US-China global confrontation heat, India’s assertiveness & defensive approach & Chinese greater engagement in Nepal comparing to past. Secondly, Nepal’s philosophical confusion whether to continue full liberal capitalism model set by Nepali Congress or follow socialism model based on the ambition of communism. Oli’s team is now surrounded by capitalist forcing them to decide in favor of them. By theory, they have to work for pro-poor(because they are communist). Secondly, capitalist lobby and party cadres aspiration smash together—every basic commodities like health, education should be free as said by cadres and capitalist see business in these sectors. Confrontation between party cadres aspiration and capitalist has made economy standstill. COVID-19 impact is bringing Nepal migrant workers back home. No one has plan to resettle them. Dependency with India is very much high. In 2017, Nepal imports from India worth US$6520 million( 64.95% of out of total imports) whereas Chinese exports to Nepal is worth of US$1267 million(12.63% out of total imports in Nepal). These two immediate neighbors exports more than 75% of commodities to Nepal making Nepal highly reliant state.

Oli instead of trimming down this dependency with India—engaged in “nationalist’ war. He is unaware about India that his Sudurpaschmin  & Karnali province youth  has a employment opportunity in India. These provinces has very low HDI comparing with countrywide index. The HDI of Sudurpaschmin is 0.478 and Karnali province is 0.469. Youths of these provinces going to India for work because of very low job prospects on Nepal. This our ground reality. Underestimating this reality, Oli rhetoric on Indian virus is more lethal than Chinese virus had damaged the bilateral relationship to very extent. Unfortunately, the impact of such damage wont’ have to bear by him but by the youth of Sudurpaschim and Karnali who are working in millions in India because we are clear Post COVID-19 Nepal won’t have tremendous job boom in these provinces. So, they are again forced to go back to their work. During their presence in various job stations of India, they may be disrespected and bullied based on the Nepal’s PM statement.

Secondly, Oli mishandling of foreign policy of Nepal—–becoming suicidal for Nepal. Nepal had long enjoyed a friendly relationships with almost every powers centers of the world. During the time of the Cold War also, Nepal had managed to deal effectively with both Russia & the US. But this time, Nepal’s reactionary foreign policy tactics fuelled by Oli had made our immediate neighbors irritated and had also welcomed the US geostrategic presence in Nepal; knowingly or unknowingly. Each neighbors are having lack of trust in current Nepali government and wants to secure their interest by “overt or covert” operation. Nepal’s Non-aligned foreign policy is seriously being challenged by Nepal’s unorganized engagement in India-China-US frontiers. We are now came across crossroads—We are dependent on India for food, Close to China for political backup & supporting communist regime and more closer to the US for financial support. This will bring us to nowhere. India and China has sense of Competition & Collaboration(2C), US-China has a global confrontation on many sense. Nepal’s closeness to India is not liked by mass public in Nepal. Nepal’s communist party ally with China is not liked by India & the US. This is where the current ball is trapped. Nepal is in complete dilemma. The Belt & Road Initiative; the signature grand strategy of China & Indo Pacific Strategy(IPS) of the US are both ideologically confronts with each other. And, Nepal wants take advantage of these two based on the fragile diplomatic capacity that Nepal has.

Inside home politics, Oli has managed to concentrate power within him. The three powerful departments are: National Investigation Department, Department of Revenue Investigation & Department of Money Laundering Investigation have brought under the Prime Minister’s office. This meaning, Intelligence department for “covert or overt” operation for his rivals and the remaining two “money” related department for “cleaning up” the money from offshore and freeing up the corruption charges for his loyal. This is dangerous. His path put us on doubt whether he wants to become new “dictator” for Nepal. Secondly, his jokes are not working anymore on public like that of pre-election period. Everyone is irritated.  Oli crack jokes even in parliament at a time when country is hard hit by COVID-19. He suggest public to have turmeric powder as a solution to COVID-19 cure—which is a laughable matter for everyone. Unfortunately, this is not proven scientifically. Next to it, Oli is critically ill. He recently had a second Kidney transplant. How to become assure such critically ill person with  the support of medicines can perform best for the country? He is even “misusing” president of Nepal to take decision in favor of himself. In recent time, President quickly approved the prorogation of the session of the parliament sent by the cabinet. This is a thinkable matter. How can institution like “President” can decide instantly without analyzing its constitutional & political challenges of the recommendation sent by the cabinet. Oli is hardly a school pass out leader and always vocal to “defame” intellectuals of Nepal. Nepali intellectuals irrespective of independent or democrats values are fade up Oli words. So, no use of criticizing such move of cabinet. 

When his party members started to dethrone him for the first time; he had used “nationalism” card to put Limpiyadhura, Kalapani & Lipulekh area— encroached land by India on Nepal’s official map resulting public applaud. But critics know this is a tactics to remain in power. When he came to power with full majority—he has everything:  Two-third majority, massive opposition support and enormous public trust on him but he failed like those other governments made within 30 years span of Nepal’s democratic life since 1990. He seriously missed the opportunity. This resulted to the Nepal’s prosperity again in deadlock phase.

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