With the growing internet communication and reduced friction time between the thought and reaction, social media is burgeoning with cognitive bias. Such bias results in the increase in ethnic clashes, social vagaries, and have the capacity to bring political instability. It is a grave concern for the societal security to which countries are giving relatively less heed. One such example is this incident, happened in India. On the night of August 11, 2020, violence broke in Bengaluru’s locality, D J Halli as a result of an inflammatory post by P Naveen, nephew of legislative assembly member, R. Akhanda Srinivas Murthy of the Congress Party. The violence erupted to such an extent that the police had to fire their seldom-used guns to bring down the alarming situation. This resulted in the killing of 3 and injuring 15 civilians, while the rioters injured almost 75 police personnel. Also, there was a property loss including the damage done to the police stations and vehicles. In an unexpected turn of events, all this mayhem is alleged to be pre-planned violence! Naveen says that his account was hacked and he is unaware of the post which created such rucks. Verifying such claims is not difficult as it is the issue of law and order. Yet, there is not such a probe. Even though we have a little knowledge about the causes of violence, such incidents will probably be frequent if the social media content grows with its cognitive bias. Internet and social media create an information bubble group because of cognitive bias. They form around the available biased information. Dormant fissures within the society will be strengthened because of the cognitive bias of social media. They will likely become active fissures of society because of the increasing bias.
Social media giants, even with public policy departments, seem to neglect their role in curbing hate-speech and misinformation. The Wall Street Journal report accuses, Ms. Ankhi Das, head of public policy at Facebook India, to favor India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). It also quoted Facebook’s former chief security officer, Alex Stamos on how Facebook keeps the ruling government happy. These allegations show that Facebook is least bothered about public normalcy and social order.
In response to the Wall Street Journal report, Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information and Technology summoned Facebook representatives in India on September 2. According to a report by a national print media Indian Express, Ajit Mohan, Facebook India head, was asked to provide answers, to approximately 100 questions within a week following the meeting with the parliamentary committee. By the time of writing this article (11 September), it has been over a week and there is no media coverage and information regarding the answers to be provided. While this was happening, Derek O’Brien of Trinamool Congress, a regional party and union IT minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad penned letters to Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, alleging their biased behavior towards selective parties. It appears that even this incident is being used to gain political benefits but not to arrive at a solution.
Elsewhere, the Delhi assembly’s committee on peace and harmony found Facebook to be ‘prima facie guilty of a role in Delhi’s violence.’ After probing the WSJ report and examining the witnesses, journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and digital rights activist Nikhil Pahwa, it has decided to issue summons to Facebook representatives to record their statements. Now it appears that Facebook has to repeat its defense, on its capacity to handle the misinformation, hate-speech as it has done with the US congress. Such a defense might address the current imbroglio by ensuring an unbiased approach in controlling the miss-information and hate-speech. Yet, it appears that they would not concentrate on the fundamental concern of cognitive bias.
Dangers of Cognitive bias
The Internet is a revolution that removed all the restrictions empowering free speech. But, it appears to have pushed the hidden cognitive bias open into society. Cognitive bias is usually controlled by empowering many individuals to voice their perceptions and having a thorough investigation to respond to any action. But, today, the internet has no such provision. An individual conferred with rigid ideas about the society will most definitely get all the information confirming her ideas and pre-conceptions even though they are not true. The open social media platforms removed the delay in reaction among the public, encouraged them to react to any speech which opposes their beliefs. Such bias is not only with the people but also with the algorithms governing social media. The biased social data is being used to train the algorithms making them biased at the stage of development. Researchers at Indiana University termed it as homogeneity bias.
Albeit all the initiatives taken by the social media giants, without any legislation to govern social media, India would become a victim of confirmation bias if not, perception control. Jamie Susskind in his book, ‘Future Politics’ has established that the internet platforms over-regulated would become ripe for the state’s control over the public perception. Internet in its current form builds the narratives which only increase the confirmation bias already existing in the society. Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon has also seconded this opinion on internet technology during an interview at the Wired 25 conference in San Francisco.
What can be a probable solution?
Interestingly, the same technology of biased AI algorithms can be used to regulate the hate-speech in social media. Langdon Winner, who is one of the pioneers in Science and Technology Studies (STS) pointed out in his much-acclaimed academic text ( Autonomous Technology) that – technology seems to be the solution to the problems created by technology. In a ubiquitous era of digital technology, Journalism has to adopt AI technologies. It reduces reporter’s efforts in transcribing and other similar jobs while allowing them to get involved fact-checking and analysis. Even though the usage of AI would be one of the solutions in filtering the hate-speech, the inherent bias in the social data should be taken into account during the AI development. Even in the Media houses, reporters have to be trained in data journalism to weed out the bias.
With such technological solutions being in the sight, it is hoped that the parliamentary committee after receiving the written response its 100 questions, would move ahead and anchor themselves to take technology initiatives in reducing the hate-speech. This has to happen even after the current parliamentary committee ends its tenure on September 12. Such methods would also accommodate Social media giants. They provide an incentive to invest in developing algorithms that protect the social order rather than focusing on the ad campaigns. With the increasing interconnectedness and information bubbles, securitizing this aspect of society should be one of the top priorities of governments across the world – especially the democracies.
Demand for Investigation of COVID-19 gained momentum
Human history is full of natural disasters like Earthquakes, Floods, Fires, Vacanos, Drought, Famine, Pandemic, etc. Some of them were really huge and have been damaged a lot. The outbreak of diseases was also very common in the past, like Spanish Flu, Tuberculosis, Cholera, Ebola, SARS, Middle-East-Virus, etc. However, the most damaging in recent history is COVID-19.
According to Worldometer, the latest data reveal that Coronavirus Cases has reached :
193,422,021, and death toll touched: 4,151,655. However, these are the official data provided by each individual country to Worldometer. The actual data is much more, as some countries have limited resources and could not test their population on a bigger scale, whereas few countries hide the actual data to save face, like India. Prime Minister Modi has mishandled the Pandemic and politicized it. His extremist approach toward minorities and political opponents has worsened the situation. He is afraid, if the public comes to know the actual disasters, he may lose political popularity and have to leave the office. Unofficial sources on groud estimate the actual figures are almost ten times higher. He has taken strict measures to hide the actual data and control media on reporting facts.
Whatever the actual data, even the official data shows a big disaster. Almost all nations became the victim of it and suffered heavily. The loss of human lives and the economic loss have made the whole World think seriously.
It is time to investigate the origin of COVID-19. There are many theories, and some are part of the blame game and politics, without proper investigations and reliable evidence. The World is so much polarized that it is very difficult to believe any side of the views and blames. Under this scenario, it is the World Health Organization (WHO) responsibility to conduct a transparent investigation and reach the source of COVID-19. It is believed that the whole World may trust WHO.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian demanded on Wednesday that the United States show transparency and conduct a thorough investigation into its Fort Detrick laboratory and other biological labs overseas over the origins of COVID-19 in response to appeals from people in China and around the World. By Wednesday afternoon, an open letter published on Saturday asking the World Health Organization to probe Fort Detrick had garnered nearly 5 million signatures from Chinese netizens.
“The soaring number reflects the Chinese people’s demands and anger at some people in the US who manipulate the origin-tracing issue for political reasons,” Zhao said at a regular news briefing in Beijing.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a “cease and desist order” in July 2019 to halt research at Fort Detrick that involved dangerous organisms like the Ebola virus. The same month, a “respiratory outbreak” of unknown cause saw more than 60 residents in a Northern Virginia retirement community become ill. Later that year, Maryland, where Fort Detrick is based, witnessed a doubling of the number of residents who developed a respiratory illness related to vaping.
But the CDC never released information about the shutdown of the lab’s deadly germ research operations, citing “national security reasons”. “An investigation into Fort Detrick is long-overdue, but the US has not done it yet, so the mystery remains unsolved,” Zhao said, adding that was a question the US must answer regarding the tracing of the origins of COVID-19.
There are 630,000 of its citizens lost to the Pandemic. The US should take concrete measures to investigate the origins of the virus at home thoroughly, discover the reason for its inadequate response to the Pandemic, and punish those who should be held accountable. Especially in the initial days, the mishandling of the Pandemic by then-President Trump was a significant cause of the rapidly spreading of the virus, which must be addressed adequately. Washington remains silent whenever Fort Detrick is mentioned. It seeks to stigmatize and demonize China under the pretext of origin-tracing.
It appealed that the WHO may come forward and conduct through research and investigation in a professional, scientific, and transparent manner to satisfy the whole World.
How to eliminate Learning Poverty
Children learn more and are more likely to stay in school if they are first taught in a language that they speak and understand. Yet, an estimated 37 percent of students in low- and middle-income countries are required to learn in a different language, putting them at a significant disadvantage throughout their school life and limiting their learning potential. According to a new World Bank report Loud and Clear: Effective Language of Instruction Policies for Learning, effective language of instruction (LoI) policies are central to reducing Learning Poverty and improving other learning outcomes, equity, and inclusion.
Instruction unfolds through language – written and spoken – and children learning to read and write is foundational to learning all other academic subjects. The Loud and Clear report puts it simply: too many children are taught in a language they don’t understand, which is one of the most important reasons why many countries have very low learning levels.
Children most impacted by such policies and choices are often disadvantaged in other ways – they are in the bottom 40 percent of the socioeconomic scale and live in more remote areas. They also lack the family resources to address the effects of ineffective language policies on their learning. This contributes to higher dropout rates, repetition rates, higher Learning Poverty, and lower learning overall.
“The devastating impacts of COVID-19 on learning is placing an entire generation at risk,” says Mamta Murthi, World Bank Vice President for Human Development. “Even before the pandemic, many education systems put their students at a disadvantage by requiring children to learn in languages they do not know well – and, in far too many cases, in languages they do not know at all. Teaching children in a language they understand is essential to recover and accelerate learning, improve human capital outcomes, and build back more effective and equitable education systems.”
The new LoI report notes that when children are first taught in a language that they speak and understand, they learn more, are better placed to learn other languages, are able to learn other subjects such as math and science, are more likely to stay in school, and enjoy a school experience appropriate to their culture and local circumstances. Moreover, this lays the strongest foundation for learning in a second language later on in school. As effective LoI policies improve learning and school progression, they reduce country costs per student and, thus, enables more efficient use of public funds to enhance more access and quality of education for all children.
“The language diversity in Sub-Saharan Africa is one of its main features – while the region has 5 official languages, there are 940 minority languages spoken in Western and Central Africa and more than 1,500 in Sub-Saharan Africa, which makes education challenges even more pronounced,” says Ousmane Diagana, World Bank Regional Vice President for Western and Central Africa. “By adopting better language-of-instruction policies, countries will enable children to have a much better start in school and get on the right path to build the human capital they need to sustain long-term productivity and growth of their economies.”
The report explains that while pre-COVID-19, the world had made tremendous progress in getting children to school, the near-universal enrollment in primary education did not lead to near-universal learning. In fact, before the outbreak of the pandemic, 53 percent of children in low- and middle-income countries were living in Learning Poverty, that is, were unable to read and understand an age-appropriate text by age 10. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the figure was closer to 90 percent. Today, the unprecedented twin shocks of extended school closures and deep economic recession associated with the pandemic are threatening to make the crisis even more dire, with early estimates suggesting that Learning Poverty could rise to a record 63 percent. These poor learning outcomes are, in many cases, a reflection of inadequate language of instruction policies.
“The message is loud and clear. Children learn best when taught in a language they understand, and this offers the best foundation for learning in a second language,” stressed Jaime Saavedra, World Bank Global Director for Education. “This deep and unjust learning crisis requires action. Investments in education systems around the world will not yield significant learning improvements if students do not understand the language in which they are taught. Substantial improvements in Learning Poverty are possible by teaching children in the language they speak at home.”
The new World Bank policy approach to language of instruction is guided by 5 principles:
1. Teach children in their first language starting with Early Childhood Education and Care services through at least the first six years of primary schooling.
2. Use a student’s first language for instruction in academic subjects beyond reading and writing.
3. If students are to learn a second language in primary school, introduce it as a foreign language with an initial focus on oral language skills.
4. Continue first language instruction even after a second language becomes the principal language of instruction.
5. Continuously plan, develop, adapt, and improve the implementation of language of instruction policies, in line with country contexts and educational goals.
Of course, these language of instruction policies need to be well integrated within a larger package of policies to ensure alignment with the political commitment and the instructional coherence of the system.
This approach will guide the World Bank’s financing and advisory support for countries to provide high-quality early childhood and basic education to all their students. The World Bank is the largest source of external financing for education in developing countries – in fiscal year 2021, it broke another record and committed $5.5 billion of IBRD and IDA resources in new operations and, in addition, committed $0.8 billion of new grants with GPE financing, across a total of 60 new education projects in 45 countries.
World leaders must fully fund education in emergencies and protracted crises
During June’s UN Security Council High-Level Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict, leaders from across the world stood up to call for expanded support for education in emergencies to protect vulnerable children and youth enduring armed conflicts, climate change-related disasters, forced displacement and protracted crises.
In our collective race to leave no child behind and to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals in just nine short years, now is the time to translate these universal values and human rights into action.
The will is there. Nations across the globe, UN leaders and other key stakeholders stood up to address the horrific attacks on education happening on a daily basis and called for increased funding for organizations working to ensure crisis-affected children have access to safe, quality education.
Irish President Michael Higgins focused on education, protection and accountability in his address.
“I am sure that we can all agree that it is morally reprehensible that 1 in every 3 children living in countries affected by conflict or disaster is out of school. Schools should be protected, be a safe shelter and space for learning and development,” said Higgins. “Ireland prioritizes access to education in emergencies. We have committed to spend €250 million on global education by 2024. That is why we are launching the Girls Fund to support grassroots groups led by girls, advancing gender equality in their own communities.”
Nicolas de Rivière, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations, highlighted support from France to Education Cannot Wait, as well as the importance of protection for children caught in emergencies.
“The socio-economic consequences of the pandemic and school closures put children at greater risk: inequalities are increasing in all regions of the world. Acts of domestic violence, rape and other forms of sexual violence, and school dropout have increased,” said de Rivière. “School closures increase recruitment by armed groups as well as child labor. Here, as everywhere, girls also have specific vulnerabilities. I am thinking in particular of the risk of early and forced marriage. For its part, France will continue to play an active role and promote the universal endorsement of the Paris Principles and Commitments. In the field, we support projects that guarantee access to education in emergency situations, notably the Education Cannot Wait Fund.”
Children under attack
The number of grave violations against children rose to 19,000 in 2020 according to the UN Secretary-General’s Report on Children in Armed Conflict, released in May 2021. To put this number in context, that’s over 50 girls and boys every day that are killed or maimed, recruited and used as soldiers, abducted, sexually violated, attacked in a school or hospitals, or denied their humanitarian access to things like food and water.
The numbers are staggering. Last year, more than 8,400 children and youth were killed or maimed in ongoing wars in Afghanistan, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. Another 7,000 were recruited and used as fighters, mainly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Myanmar, Somalia and Syria. With COVID-19 straining budgets and humanitarian support for child protection, abductions rose by 90 per cent last year, while rape and other forms of sexual violence shot up 70 per cent.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres underscored the need to support the Safe Schools Declaration and the Children in Armed Conflict mandate in his address to the UN Security Council.
“We are also seeing schools and hospitals constantly attacked, looted, destroyed, or used for military purposes, with girls’ education and health facilities targeted disproportionately. As we mark the 25th anniversary of the creation of the Children in Armed Conflict mandate, its continued relevance is sadly clear and it remains a proven tool for protecting the world’s children,” said Guterres.
This is a vast human tragedy playing out across the globe. And despite efforts to support the Safe Schools Declaration, to re-imagine education during the COVID-19 pandemic and to align forces to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, we seem to be backsliding on our commitments.
Just imagine being a mother and learning that your daughter will not be coming home from school today. That she was abducted, along with 150 other students at their school in Nigeria. Imagine seeing your son, Sabir, lose his leg after being shot by armed gunmen in South Sudan. Imagine being a Rohingya girl like Janet Ara, who hid in forests, forged rivers and is now seeking a better life and opportunity through an education in the refugee camps of Bangladesh.
Imagine the trauma and terror … now imagine the opportunity.
A wake-up call
If we can come together to give every girl and boy on the planet access to a quality education, we can build a more peaceful, secure, humane and prosperous world.
Before COVID-19 hit, we calculated that at least 75 million children and youth caught in crisis and emergencies were being denied their right to an education. But with schools closed and many children at risk of never returning to the classroom, that number has jumped to around 128 million. That’s more than the total population of the United Kingdom. That’s more than the total populations of Canada, Denmark and Norway combined.
Denying these children their right to a quality education perpetuates cycles of poverty, violence, displacement and chaos.
As the United Nations global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises, Education Cannot Wait (ECW) offers a new approach to break these negative cycles for good.
This means embracing a New Way of Working that brings in actors from across all sectors – national governments, donors, development, humanitarian response and education actors, national and local civil society, the private sector and more – to break down silos and work together to deliver whole-of-child solutions for whole-of-society problems.
In doing so we are bridging the humanitarian-development-peace nexus. Through ground-breaking collective action with partners across the globe, ECW has already launched multi-year resilience programmes and first emergency responses across more than 30 countries and crisis contexts and is on track to do more.
By doing so we can replace the cycle of poverty, violence, displacement and chaos with a cycle of education, empowerment, economic development, peace and new opportunities for future generations.
Delivering on our promise for universal, equitable education
The ECW model has proven to work.
In just a few short years of operation, ECW has already provided 4.6 million crisis-affected girls and boys with access to a quality education. We’ve worked with national governments, donors, UN agencies and NGOs to reach 29.2 million girls and boys with our education in emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Bangladesh, girls like Janet Ara are returning to school, children with disabilities like Yasmina are accessing the support they need to learn, grow and thrive, and organizations like BRAC are receiving the support they need to build back better from the fires.
In Afghanistan, girls like Bibi Nahida are attending school for the first time, remote learning is helping children to continue their education during the pandemic, and female teachers are being recruited to teach biology, science and empower an entire generation of girls.
In Colombia and Ecuador, refugee children fleeing violence, hunger and poverty in Venezuela are being brought into schools, provided with laptops and cellular plans, and the psychosocial support they need to recover from the anxiety and stress of displacement.
Our call to action
An investment in education is an investment in the present and the future.
Recent analysis indicates that the likelihood of violence and conflict drops by 37% when girls and boys have equal access to education. Incomes go up by as much as 10% for each year of additional learning, while an estimated $15 to $30 trillion could be generated if every girl everywhere were able to complete 12 years of education.
We are making important headway with partners across the globe. The amount of humanitarian funding for education increased five times between 2015 and 2019 – and accounted for 5.1% of humanitarian funding in 2019.
Nevertheless, just 43.5% of humanitarian appeals for education were mobilized that same year.
That means girls like Bibi and Janet Ara may be pushed out of school, boys like Sabir might be recruited into armed groups. And children with disabilities like Yasmina will be pushed to the sidelines.
We have the will. Now it’s time to turn that will into action.
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