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Bangladesh’s response to right to education in Covid-19

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Image credit: Shehab Uddin/World Bank

Covid-19 pandemic, being the ‘new normal’ we have to live with, has brought to a fruition that we have no other way around but to cope ourselves, and our state apparatus with it. The educational sector is no exception to that as states around the world are in search for a viable solution to deliver education to their students amidst the contagion of corona virus. Thus far, the task has been a tough one, especially for the countries like Bangladesh that lack an infrastructure capable of adopting the new normal.

Right to Education in Bangladesh and its International Obligation

Conjecture based conclusion about Bangladesh’s education policy amidst covid-19 is easy to reach. But it takes a deeper look into the matter to make the best judgment of a situation.  Bangladesh, with its limited resources, is pragmatically dealing with the Covid-19 crisis. However, based on some misleading headlines, one of the commentators gave a posture that long before easing the lockdown, the Government had already decided to lock the education sector down until September without even considering the probable prospective situations. To rejoin, these remarks flew from a partial consideration of the news that they referred to and raises a doubt as to if they had read the entire news. As far as the news goes, it states very clearly,Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina today said all educational institutions will remain closed till September if situation caused by the coronavirus outbreak does not improve.”   

The implications are crystal clear and leave no scope to argue that the decision was made with the assumption that educational institutions are a second priority, or that it would not be re-opened gradually considering the demands of the situation. Moreover, Further news suggests that following the situation, Govt decided to keep the educational institutions closed till august 6.Hence, the posture is a farce on its face, and being based on too tenuous a fact to assume anything, loses its glare at the very first instance.

As far as international obligations are concern, Bangladesh, a state party to the ICESCR, has an obligation to ‘respect, protect and fulfil’ human rights. The obligation to fulfil requires States, when an individual or group is unable, to realize the right themselves by the available means at their disposal. At the same time, the Constitution of Bangladesh, in its Part II, made ESC rights judicially unenforceable. Said that, it should also be remembered that  Bangladesh, being not a signatory to the Optional Protocol to the ICESCR, the instrument that closed the gap between civil and political rights and ESC rights, all that the existence of such an optional protocol means for it is that there is a complementary understanding of such international obligations. Therefore, it could be assumed that the obligations under that treaty are quite soft in comparison to countries which are signatory to that.

Compliance with the right to Education during Covid-19

In deciding if existing educational policies of Bangladesh are in compliance with its international obligations during the Covid-19 time, it should be kept in mind that the measures taken to address Covid-19 are temporary measures and they are not here to stay for eternity. But if the query involves the issue of accessibility, recent history of the development of the education sector in Bangladesh deserves some sole discussions. With regard to the literacy, Bangladesh, being the youngest nation of the South Asia has outdone many of its neighbors with a 73.91% literacy rate. To reckon, the literacy rate jumped from 46.46% to a staggering 74% in just last eleven years, inconsiderate of which, any jumping on to the conclusion that the existing policies are not in compliance to bridge the gap with Bangladesh’s international obligations would be as crippling as it could be.

ICESCR puts an unconditional obligation upon states to make primary education compulsory and free to all. The components of this ‘right to education’ as envisaged by the ICESCR committee consists of accessibility, availability, acceptability and adaptability. It also cues state parties to agree that their education policies shall be directed towards the aims and objectives identified in CRC.As to the questions put as to accessibility, it is submitted that Bangladesh opted to provide education to its primary and secondary level students via a state run television channel. The Government has not assigned any other private TV channels considering that they require extra subscription. Whereas both in the cities and villages all households having a television have access to the state-run television channel. Conversely in many regions of India, the state government chose to broadcast lessons through private network. Bangladesh’s initiative to dedicate an entire state-run TV channel for the educational purpose is therefore a thing to brag about.

Wary about the numbers of children benefitting from the pre-recorded broadcast due to unavailability of television is a serious concern for the country to deal with. Getting a complete data about the current situation is quite next to impossible. UNICEF conducted a survey which opines that 50.6% of the household owned a TV set in 2019. Interestingly, an eight years old,2012’s survey by UNICEF provides quite the same picture. Now, coming to the Govt’s data, According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, 22.9% of Bangladeshi households would hold a TV in Bangladesh back in 2004. The same percentage got almost doubled and reached to 44.44% in 2014, just in ten years. If we consider this growth rate with the rapid GDP growth rate of Bangladesh, the percentage of households having a television set should be around 70% in 2020, which is a staggering amount considering the unique and complex joint family system of this country. So, due to joint family framework of life, repeated telecast of the broadcast and the pre-recorded lessons being regularly uploaded in a Government initiated YouTube Channel, the percentages of benefitted students would be much higher than the percentages of households having a television set.

During the covid-19 time, providing physical access to education as proposed by many would not be a feasible policy to fit in a country which is best known for its four-figure population density. Even the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended that school closure can reduce the infection rate by 30-50% at the peak of an epidemic, considering which as of 11 June 2020, 129 countries in the world have declared country wide closure of educational institutions. In these circumstances, stretching an ad nauseam debate on the same would only fuel a ‘right to life’ vs. ‘right to education’ conflict.

Domestic Enforcement of right to education in Bangladesh & Separation of Power concerns

It cannot be denied as a fact that having compartmentalized the human rights, there is no scope to enforce the ESC rights in Bangladesh. The latest innovative instrument that the judiciary introduced here is ‘Negative Enforcement’ (vide, 39 CLC (AD) (2017)). On this issue, the Govt is acting  completely within its constitutional obligations, for it has not yet interfered into the decision of the non-government schools, private and some public universities to conduct classes.

True that Bangladesh as a country lacks enough resources to judicially enforce ESC rights, but to reiterate, that is what its constitution envisages. Judges being selected are no people’s representative to enforce Fundamental Principles of State Policy (FPSP), or to decide which ESC right should be given primacy (vide excerpts of the debate of constitutional assembly of Bangladesh in  69 DLR(AD) (2017) 63). Like most of the modern democracies out there, under its constitutional model, it is upon the legislators to decide on policy matters or policy hierarchy. Judges wielding their pen over legislators with regard to matters like FPSP is nothing but an encroachment of the concept of ‘separation of powers’, and alien to its existing Constitutional philosophy.

‘Less Government expenditure on education’ argument is surely a timely one, yet it should also be reminded that allocation to the education in 2019 was the largest allocation ever made to the education sector, and comparatively less expenditure on the education sector is mostly because of the government’s aim to fill up the infrastructure deficits accumulated before its coming into power. Still, the argument is cogent enough to deserve a glance of everyone, including the government officials.

Concluding Remarks and Ways Ahead

‘Necessity is the mother of invention’, and currently, every country is looking for innovations that best suit the unprecedented necessities. Governments are trying to find innovative ways so that education reaches to students in every corner of the country.. The priority is to implement the measures with highest potentials and restrict the system loss to the minimum. But a concrete solution to an evolving situation bears repercussions of its own. In Sierra Leone, during the Ebola outbreak, education programs were broadcast over the radio with listeners able to call in with questions at the end of each session. As per the peculiarity of a society, even an old-fashioned, almost abandoned technology named ‘radio’ could be a game changer for its cheap price, wide coverage and availability as already used by Kenya during Covid-19 crisis. In addition to the methods in place, Bangladeshi Government may adopt and consider similar policies with high potential and sheer limitations that best suit the interest of the future generations.

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South Asia

Promoting Projects and Practices in Community Health in India

Prof. Pankaj Jha

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Street scene in India, August 2020. © UNICEF/Vinay Panjwani

One of the most populated countries in the world, India has been facing problems with regard to well-being of its citizens while sustaining their developmental needs. The need for better health facilities, and developing antidotes for new kinds of pathogens and viruses have made the task more challenging. The respective governments, pharma companies, and testing labs are trying to develop safe trial mechanisms and developing safeguards for protecting the lives of vulnerable sections of society. Within India, the community health programme involves the non-governmental sector, healthcare professionals, economics aspects and social interaction through people and voluntary workers. While the health ecosystem exists, the problem has been finance, support and critical knowledge repository. India did well to address issues such as polio vaccination and creating community awareness for regular medication against tuberculosis. There is a mounting impact of chronic diseases in economic and social sectors, need for quality health services in the wake of changing demographics, and increasing life expectancy have made matters more complex.

In terms of understanding the requirements for building better resilient and health-conscious societies, it is important that the vaccines, lifesaving drugs, and medicines should be developed with certain generalised regulations which can improve the health of the society and address problems faced by people living across regions. While India is a subcontinent comprising of all geographical features, it is also a cauldron of different ethnic communities, and physical features which provides exceptional opportunities for testing and developing medicines which can cater to different physical and pathological profiles of people. Within India, one can find people with different levels of immunity. As the eating and food habits have been different, there is higher incidence of diabetes, hyper tension and cardio diseases in a cross-section of people. It has also been seen that people who are above 40-70 years of age have been more vulnerable to pandemics, and other communicable diseases. A sizeable mortality profile of people suggests that.

In this context it becomes very important that medicines which should be developed should have a better shelf life and give results which can be corroborated with testing facility, with a cross-section of people. The results have usually varied with regard to people with different eating habits and also nutrition factor. Pandemics such as COVID-19 have brought to the fore that India has better resistance mechanisms which has helped in relatively less mortality rate when these people have been infected with COVID-19. The duration of sickness because of COVID -19 has varied from five days to more than three weeks. In such certain times, it has been found that because of lack of any effective medicine or any sure shot diagnostic mechanisms the treatment has prolonged and the recovery has been slow. In terms of legal and other regulatory mechanisms, it has been found that most of the clinical trials which are done in India enroll the vulnerable  and poor people and human trials are conducted. There is a grey area of medical compensation and addressing post-tests complications from legal point of view.

For India it has become imperative to develop projects and conduct feasibility studies through government mechanisms rather than through medical companies. While projects have been undertaken to study different kind of diseases that school children and adults will be facing in the next two decades, it has been found that most of the complications will be related to teeth, eyesight, anxiety and mental well-being. However, in the case of pandemics and community health programmes it has been encouraging signs that initiatives such as creating awareness with regard to AIDS, mental well-being, depression and anxiety disorders have been fruitful and rewarding with institutionalising counselling and telephone helplines. Most of the programs have been done and supported by NGOs as well as a few voluntary organisations.

The projects and programmes which can be initiated in India should address core issues. Firstly, the incidence of non-curable diseases, depression, immunity disorders, other issues related to community transmission, and the development of proper safeguards and awareness with regard to pandemics and life-threatening diseases. Secondly, the COVID-19 has opened a Pandora’s box with regard to the incidence of diseases which impact community, and thereby also affect government health budget. Lastly, it is necessary that India will have to create medical soldiers and inform voluntary workers so that the community transmission and community health well-being should be addressed on a priority level.

As the COVID vaccine is in different trial stages, many countries are looking for testing facility in India and also conduct human trials, as legal structure in medicinal trials is still in infancy. India needs to address the issue of IPR on developing vaccines and medical history should be addressed jointly as it has been found that many western countries have been purchasing medical history of the patients living in developing Asia, providing vaccines through great testing mechanisms and subsequently using copyright laws to deny cheap medicines to the larger community.

 In this regard it is important that India should conduct research on immunity vectors of its population and develop generic drugs which can help in protecting communities from most transmissions. It is also pertinent to note that in terms of the temperature variance across India it provides unique testing opportunities in different conditions. However, there is a need for a holistic approach and therefore it is important that training and sensitisation of the personnel working in this field is of paramount importance. Initiatives related to preventive and therapeutic services is critical. Also, looking for quick alternatives would save the lives of personnel.

Just like any emergency, there is a need for rapid action medical force which can provide immediate assistance and better cognitive abilities track critical illnesses and the reasons thereof. It has been seen in the case of midwifery and associated postnatal diseases that it has worked wonders with a better equipped and knowledgeable person existing in each society for better assistance and awareness.

The critical importance of voluntary workers is that with sufficient technical assistance (which might come from government and state units) gives them confidence and also strengthens their application of knowledge for better informed public health practices and policies. Technical assistance and quick action through centralised control centre has to create the first line of defence in case of a pandemic. 

The institutes which have been working in this field are Public Health Foundation of India, Indian Institutes of Public Health and All India Institute of Hygiene & Public Health, which have been disseminating information through online workshops, seminars, and social media. They have created affiliates and sister agencies working in the field all across India. Networking of public health institutions in medical education need to address issues such as environmental health and countering new kind of diseases which are dominating.

This clearly highlights the fact there is a need for understanding pandemics, developing awareness among communities about public health, and stress on hygienic environment, conducting long term  research on emerging diseases and promoting research in tropical medicine.

India need to allocate separate fund for public health initiatives and promote exchange of medical workers with third world countries for better understanding the nuances of medical and health research. In fact, in most of the think tank meetings, public health and awareness is not listed as topics whenever Track II dialogues are held. There is also a need for better practices in public health, education, and developing health demonstration projects, barefoot nurses and doctors, strengthening an eco-system of education, training, and scholarship. Developing traditional medicine and making it easily accessible should be the bulwark against diseases. Restructuring Community Medicine/ Preventive and Social Medicine colleges which impart this kind of education in developing countries is required as the number is relatively less. Across developing world scholarship in community medicine and hospital administration is low and needs structural financial support. The data collection and diagnostics apparatus need micro management to create better response chain. COVID-19 has provided the reason for public health to be taken as a national initiative.

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South Asia

Sino-India Himalayan Chess Game: Breakthrough or Stalemate?

Vineet Malik

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The continuous geopolitical blame game between India and China hasn’t witnessed any positive development with respect to either sides pulling back their respective troops, dragging the recent skirmish even further till winter.

In 45 years, India for the first time has witnessed a conflict-like situation vis-a vis China which witnessed the martyrdom of 20 troops on June 15thand rounds of shot firing in the LAC where the Indian Foreign Affairs Ministry confirmed about the PLA first initiating the firing ,after which the two sides have constantly held each other responsible for increased tensions whereas India has tremendously shown goodwill, hopefulness and looking at many factors to keep the ties stable. The year 2020 was supposed to be the 70th Anniversary of Sino-India Cultural ties where unfortunately, the celebrations were overshadowed with this recent border mishap.

The Himalayan Chess- Game

The Chinese Foreign Ministry’s scepticism on the territorial claims and debate on Aksai Chin are not new, which has its roots to the abrogation of article 370, the recently changed rule declaring Ladakh as an integral portion of the Indian Union was unfavourable to the Chinese side, reiterating about India getting into a strategic misadventure by violating their own territorial sovereignty and national interest and the former justifying on those and trying to flex its muscles in the Pangong Tso, Galwan Valley, Gogra, Kongka La, Depsang.

Border infrastructure is becoming a new method for these two aspiring Asian powers to assert their economic cum political interests with respect to further claiming of territories leading to the road towards being victorious, where the Indian side has further increased its focus viewing the strategic ramifications in the neighbourhood .by providing 8 bridge infrastructure projects each  in Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh , which India requires to ensure easy connectivity in harsher terrains, promote tourism, distance reduction in order to reduce time for movement of goods to ensure welfare and safety for troops and natives residing in high terrains which again China suspiciously looked at in its counter statement, blatantly opposing any infrastructure in disputed boundary.

Notable defence experts, Victor Gao and Prem Shankhar Jha, opined that China is aiming at a strategic bargain and believe that this move of the Indian side developing infrastructure in Ladakh could be a counter to the Chinese G219 highway , covering a distance of 179 km connecting Xinjiang and Tibet which is in close proximity with Daulat Beg Oldi, where a 450 metre bridge over the Shlyok river was constructed last year which was only accessible by air before the construction of this project .

Amidst this prolonged crisis, 7 rounds of the India China Military Commander Meetings were held on a frequent basis at the Line Of Actual Control, in order to maintain tranquillity, peace, further enhancement of mutual understandings and deterrence to reduce the chances of an armed conflict, nevertheless there has been no proper agreement and the troops aren’t stepping out from their current positions either side.

Also, even the recent Moscow visits of Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Foreign Minister, Mr. S Jaishankar in September for meeting their respective counterparts, haven’t been completely fruitful where they have also held discussions on showing respect towards each other on territorial claims and not cause these ties to deteriorate towards an upper trend which means that no country wants to compromise on its territorial claims and any change in status quo, which has led to unprecedented uncertainty in the relations as of now.

CCP Apprehensions of an Alliance

Chinese scholar, Fu Xiaoqiang , in his article, stated about India creating unnecessary tensions in the border leading to further straining of relations which are motivated by selfish political agendas. He also felt that India is being persuaded by the US to join an alliance like structure such as the Quadrilateral Initiative and set preferences with respect to choosing friendships with countries such as Japan and Australia, which have a common perception likewise India, regarding China as a potential competitor in the region.

Currently, China is fearing any conflict or alliance like structure with respect to its role in spreading the pandemic for which it was hiding its strategy, due to which these justifications are being used by Xi Jinping to protect his own image in the masses so that no crisis or dissent arises which could put the Communist Party’s survival and reputation at stake at a time where he is being questioned about the corruption and internal party pressure. There is a reason behind why China is involved in scapegoating on this conflict to show an innocent and a positive image by blaming Indian politicians using nationalism to mobilise the public, narrating their growth story, ideology, rich historical as well as cultural heritage, where the same goes for the dragon’s promotion of their nationalism  as well.

Alliances are important for India but they will take time to come in support if any mishap takes place in the neighbourhood, keeping India under uncertainty with regards to its strategic autonomy, it was following for many decades.  These alliances can be useful only to deter an enemy organising territorial strikes and put the latter on check creating some amount of fear and introspection.

Recently, steps have been undertaken by the Indian government to ban Chinese products and apps due to surveillance plus information threats in security. It is looking towards making itself self-reliant (aatmanirbhar) to reduce any more dependence on countries which have their own interests which could change anytime, if it doesn’t suit them which could be seen through India’s past experiences, where the same mistakes can’t be repeated again like 1962 or 1975, at a time when the multipolar world is moving towards Asian multi-polarity where China is currently at an edge.

Concluding Points

The Chinese feel that the ball is in India’s game to choose between the have’s or have not’s while looking at the opportunity costs involved .The dragon is basically assessing the elephant’s capability and coping strategies in the winter, leading the standoff to be extended even further for which it is crucial for India to enhance its capacity in order to build up on its equipment, give support to the troops and further focus towards economic development in the borders.

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Immediate broad-based Reforms needed in the Political system of Pakistan

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Image source: Pakistan PM’s website

Opposition parties have launched a comprehensive campaign to de-seat the PTI Government by its grand show of power on 16 October 29020 at Gujranwala. All major opposition parties attended the Jalsa, and opposition leaders delivered speeches, criticizing the PTI government and even the military.

In a democratic country, it is common practice for that opposition to criticize the ruling party. Pakistan, with no exception, has a long history of agitations, protests, strikes, criticizing, rallies, blames on the ruling party, from opposition parties. Even PTI also played a very aggressive role as the opposition party in 2014, against the Government of PML-N. It was the longest Dharna in the history of Pakistan, and the first time protesters entered into Parliament house, PTV, Pak. Secretariate and sensitive areas, etc.

But the current behavior of opposition since 16 October is even more severe and blame on Pakistan Military is rather unacceptable. However, PTI ministers are also giving irresponsible statements. The ruling party must maintain political temperature under control. The opposition wanted to create chaos and confrontation, but the ruling party should mild-down the conflicts and manage the situation to complete its tenure. Either the ruling party’s ministers, spokespersons, advisors are unaware of consequences or lacking the understanding of the real issue.

Till this moment, the masses of Pakistan are not convinced with the narrative projected by the opposition parties, but neither happy with the ruling party. The common man is concerned with the issue he faces daily – inflation, price-hike, jobs, health care, education, social justice, and welfare. The ruling party failed to deliver, and the common man kept suffering.

Indeed, the masses do not love opposition, but neither the ruling party. It is their sufferings, which might help the opposition to convince them to stand the Government.

The majority of people are still admiring PM Imran Khan and believe that he is honest and a man of integrity. Yet, he failed to recover the economy or provide any relief to the common man. He was unable to recover to looted money from corrupt politicians of past governments. He also failed to punish the national criminals too. However, the people of Pakistan acknowledges his contribution toward foreign policy, Kashmir issue, and International relations, where Pakistan’s narrative was projected appropriately and improved the county’s image.

The people of Pakistan think that all wrongdoings by the ruling party are due to his wrong cabinet,  nothing to do with PM Imran Khan himself. His economic team, imported and landed by helicopter, are failed to revive the national economy. Although the oil prices in the international market have dropped to record low levels, even minus yet, Pakistan could not improve its economy. Even due to the Pandemic, Global Financial Institutions have extended a helping hand, yet, Pakistan could not improve its economy. The Sugar crisis or Wheat crises are traced back to the ruling elite, and responsible is sitting on the right and left side of PM.

The intellectuals of the nations think that PM Imran Khan might be a pious person. Still, he is responsible for selecting his team – consisting of foreign nationals, dual nationals, elect-ables, corrupts, and incompetents ministers and advisors. It was his choice, and he could have refused to take anyone into his team if he was not satisfied fully. If there were some pressures from certain quarters, he should stand against such pressure. He should have judged the person before admitted into his team. He knows the importance of merit, and he has announced on several occasions the importance of merit. Even though if he misjudged anyone and admitted into his team, but it is never too late; as soon as he understands the person and found unsatisfactory, he can change immediately.

The country is passing through a very critical era, the geopolitics are changing too rapidly, challenges are enormous, and time is too short. Pakistan can not afford the luxury of any mistake anymore. The nation needs unity, the right policies, appropriate reforms, legislations, merit, and consistent hard-work. Attention may not be diverted and struggle with a clear focus and pre-set goals. Divide, intolerance, extremism, corruption, incompetency are the curse for a nation, must be averted.

Although PM Imran Khan is a visionary leader and has all the leadership qualities to lead the nation, but alone may not be able to achieve anything. A strong team, equipped with knowledge, wisdom, patriotism, honesty, and integrity, needs the time. Reforms based on proven successful experience, addressing the futuristic issues are required urgently. The nation has the potential to revive its past glories.

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