The draft National Education Policy (NEP) 2019 recommends a restructuring of school years and the curriculum, in a wide-ranging manner. If properly implemented, many of the suggested changes may help education. These include flexibility and wider scope at the secondary level, space for moral reasoning, reemphasis on the true spirit of the three language formula, a focus on the core concepts and key ideas in subjects, vocational courses, and also a focus of assessment on understanding.
However, the draft NEP also recommends much that may have just the opposite effect. These are, for example, 15 subjects/courses at the upper primary level, three languages in early childhood education, and confusing statements on a number of curricular issues. The curriculum the draft NEP suggests at the upper primary level has started looking like a laundry list, perhaps because of a lack of a coherent vision and the curricular thinking it adopts.
The policy envisions an “India centred education system that contributes directly to transforming our nation sustainably into an equitable and vibrant knowledge society”. The proclaimed “India centred-ness” of education is limited to recommendations on Indian languages and a mention of Indian knowledge systems. The operational vision is that of a “knowledge society”, almost entirely contained in UNESCO-preached ‘21st century skills’. The democratic ideal is neither mentioned nor used in articulating the aims of education or curricular recommendation, though democratic values are mentioned in the list of key “skills” that are to be integrated in subjects.
The vision of a knowledge society directly leads to the objectives of curricular transformation “in order to minimize rote learning and instead encourage holistic development and 21st century skills such as critical thinking, creativity, scientific temper, communication, collaboration, multilingualism, problem solving, ethics, social responsibility, and digital literacy”. The most important and educationally worthwhile term is “skill” and everything has to fit in within that; even ethics and social responsibility.
Shaping an individual
“The goal”, according to the draft policy, “will be to create holistic and complete individuals equipped with key 21st century skills”. This makes it quite clear what the definition of “holistic and complete individuals” means. After a host of curricular recommendations which includes new subjects/courses comes another statement which may sound like an articulation of curricular objectives or aims of education. Under the heading “Curricular integration of essential subjects and skills”, it says: “certain subjects and skills should be learned by all students in order to become good, successful, innovative, adaptable, and productive human beings in today’s rapidlychanging world. In addition to proficiency in languages, these skills include: scientific temper; sense of aesthetics and art; languages; communication; ethical reasoning; digital literacy; knowledge of India; and knowledge of critical issues facing local communities, States, the country, and the world”.
The broad goals are to send out “good, successful, innovative, adaptable, and productive human beings”; not a critical, democratic citizen who may want to change the situation rather than adapting to it. The list of eight “skills” (sic) is supposed to “create” such individuals. And to enable such an aim, it is no wonder that everything is a “skill” which includes among others a “sense of aesthetics”, “ethical reasoning”, “compassion” and “curiosity”. The phrase “Evidence-based and scientific thinking” is used together everywhere implying that there can be “scientific thinking” which is not evidence based. The policy assumes that “evidence-based and scientific thinking... will lead naturally to rational, ethical, and compassionate individuals”. I wonder how “evidence based” this claim itself happens to be. How scientific thinking will develop “compassion” is beyond one’s understanding.
Further, it is interesting that “evidence-based and scientific thinking” is supposed to help create an ethical, rational, and compassionate individual but not a “logical and problem solving” individual as they are listed separately as “skills”. I wonder what part of logical and problem-solving abilities remain outside evidence-based, scientific and rational thinking.
The comments made above may be seen as a case of nit-picking by some. However, a policy document is read and interpreted at many levels and influences educational discourse. A document which places much emphasis on clarity of understanding and critical thinking cannot itself afford to fail in meeting the same standards.
Shoddiness of thinking at the national level does not encourage hope of proper interpretation and implementation of the policy. This is already reflected in some policy recommendations. Here are a few such examples.
The draft NEP rightly criticizes private pre-schools for being a downward extension of primary school and of there being formal teaching in them. But it goes on to recommend preparing children for primary by prescribing learning the alphabets of and reading in three languages (for 3-6-year olds). All this in the name of “enhanced (sic) language learning abilities” of young children. Further the draft policy mistakes “language acquisition when children are immersed in more than one languages” with a “language teaching” situation where immersion is impossible in three languages. It then extends it unjustifiably to a learning of three scripts. It prescribes teaching script and reading in three languages to three-year-old children, but writing is supposed to be taught to six-year-old children. It also wants to introduce “some textbooks” only at age eight. One wonders why there is a three year gap between teaching reading and writing. If script and reading are already taught, then why withhold textbooks till age eight?
Here is another example of similar and confused thinking. The draft policy stipulates that the “mandated contents in the curriculum will be reduced… to its core, focussing on key concepts and essential ideas”. This is to “yield more space for discussion and nuanced understanding, analysis, and application of key concepts”. But it goes on to block more than the space vacated by prescribing six new laundry-list subjects/courses in addition to the existing eight.
Some of these new courses such as “critical issues” and “moral reasoning” can be taught in a much better way in a revised curriculum of social studies as the context for both is society. Social studies needs more space in the upper primary curriculum. The subject has to be taught in such a manner that it connects with society and can be a very good way of introducing critical issues and moral thinking. Abstract moral reasoning is likely to have the same fate as so-called “moral science” that is taught in many schools. Similarly, “Indian classical language” and “Indian languages” can constitute a single rich subject rather than being split into two courses.
Identifying key concepts and essential ideas are a matter of rational curricular decision making; not listing ideas as they come to one’s mind. The absence of discussion on socio-political life seems to be another casualty in the emphasis on a knowledge society and 21st century skills. Social studies seems to be missing entirely as it has been mentioned once and then left out of the entire discussion on curriculum.
In the end, the vision of the draft NEP rests on UNESCO declarations and reports rather than the Indian Constitution and development of democracy in this country; this in spite of wanting to make education India-centred. Thus, in the suggested curriculum changes, socio-political life is almost invisible.
All this goes to show that the draft NEP 2019 itself lacks the very abilities it emphasizes, namely critical thinking and deeper understanding. It is a badly written document which hides behind a plethora of terms that are halfunderstood and clubbed under the overarching master concept of “skill”. In short, the policy lacks depth and loses focus of the richness of secular democratic ideals by aiming for 21st century skills.
On July 7, Iran announced that it would begin enriching uranium above a concentration of 3.67% permitted under the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), reached by Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) on July 14, 2015.
This followed its July 1 announcement that it had breached the limit of the 300 kg of enriched uranium stockpile that was allowed by the JCPOA. It appears Iran’s patience is wearing out.
These steps come in the wake of increasing tensions between the U.S. and Iran following the shooting down of an unmanned U.S. drone over the Strait of Hormuz in June. The circumstances surrounding this event and the locale of the downing are contested. However, it led to the U.S. President, Donald Trump, first ordering a retaliatory strike on Iran and then rescinding it at the last minute. It is possible that had this strike taken place it would have become the first act in a major military confrontation between the U.S. and Iran.
The mayhem could have spread to the entire West Asian region with Iran attacking strategic American, Saudi and Emirati targets around the Gulf and attempting to block the Strait of Hormuz in an effort to choke off the supply of Gulf oil to the international market. Further, Iranian allies in Lebanon, Iraq and Syria might have launched attacks against American troop concentrations as well as against U.S. ally Israel, thus inviting further American and Israeli counter-retaliation and dragging the U.S. into its third major war in the region.
The downward spiral in U.S.-Iran relations started with Mr. Trump’s decision (announced in May 2018) to withdraw from the JCPOA against the advice of the U.S.’s European allies France, Germany, and the U.K. that are parties to the deal. The Trump administration followed it up with the re-imposition of stringent economic sanctions against Iran that were being gradually dismantled following the 2015 nuclear deal. These included sanctions against foreign companies doing business with Iran and against countries buying Iranian oil.
List of demands
Finally, the U.S. announced in April this year that it would not extend waivers granted earlier to eight countries (China, India, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, Italy and Greece) which had been the largest importers of Iranian oil. This decision was aimed at totally choking off the export of Iranian oil — the primary foreign exchange earner for Tehran — in order to bring Iran to its knees and force it to accept American demands spelt out by U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo. These included further curbs on Iran’s nuclear programme including total stoppage of uranium enrichment even at low levels permitted by the JCPOA and monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Further, Mr. Pompeo demanded that Iran stop all support to Hezbollah and Hamas which the U.S. considers to be “terrorist” groups, permit the disarming of Shia militias in Iraq, and stop aiding Houthis in Yemen fighting Saudi and Emirati forces in that country. Above all, Mr. Pompeo demanded that Iran end building of ballistic missiles and halt further launching or development of nuclear-capable missile systems.
All these demands went far beyond the limits placed on Iran by the JCPOA and most were unrelated to Iran’s nuclear programme. Iran’s government rejected these demands while still keeping the door open for negotiations, hoping against hope to draw the U.S. back into the nuclear deal. However, persisting and escalating moves by the U.S. during the past year now seem to have made it impossible for Tehran to simultaneously maintain the contradictory position of resisting American demands while continuing to comply with restrictions imposed on its nuclear programme by the JCPOA.
The stance of Iran’s Hassan Rouhani government became increasingly untenable in the light of recent American actions. The latter provided the hardline opposition in Iran, composed of right-wing factions and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the opportunity to attack the government for conforming to an agreement that had been rejected by the U.S. and that had provided no economic relief to the Iranian people, the primary selling point in favour of the JCPOA. Moreover, the Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whose support for the JCPOA was crucial, has for all practical purposes withdrawn his endorsement of the agreement in turn leaving the duo of President Rouhani and Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif without any protective political cover.
Therefore, the Iranian government, in order to maintain its standing with the populace, has been left with no option but to undertake tit-for-tat measures, further heightening the political temperature in the Persian Gulf. This has turned the U.S.-Iran standoff into a game of chicken in which either one of the parties to the game blinks and concedes victory to the other or a “crash” becomes inevitable. The American-Iranian confrontation seems to be inexorably heading towards the latter outcome. If taken to its logical conclusion this scenario can turn out to be catastrophic for the entire West Asian region as well as for the international economy. Oil supplies from the Persian Gulf are likely to be greatly reduced if not totally eliminated sending oil prices sky-rocketing, especially threatening the vulnerable economies of the global South.
India on Friday abstained at the vote for extending the mandate of an important UN official who reports on violence and discrimination against sexual minorities.
India’s abstention at the resolution for term-renewal of the Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva drew criticism from activists, especially since it came after the Supreme Court struck down Section 377 and decriminalised the LGBTQ community.
The resolution received support from most member countries at the Human Rights Council but India, Angola, Burkina Faso, Cameron, Congo, Hungary, Togo and Senegal abstained during the final voting. Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, China, Bangladesh, Bahrain, Qatar and Somalia opposed the resolution. Earlier, India had abstained during the 2016 vote on the appointment of the Independent Expert. The current Independent Expert is Victor Madrigal Borlioz of Costa Rica.
Activists pointed out that though India abstained, they were surprised to see that the Indian delegation had supported some amendments brought by countries that opposed the work of the Independent Expert. They chose Nepal and Philippines for supporting the resolution which was about opposing violence against the LGBTQ persons, which is essentially a form of gender violence.
The Resolution numbered L10 Rev 1 granted an extension of three years to the Independent Expert to carry on reporting on incidents of violence against the LGBTQ community all over the world.
Anshula Kant is World Bank MD and CFO
The World Bank Group on Friday announced that Anshula Kant, an Indian national, had been appointed its next MD and CFO.
Ms. Kant will be the first woman CFO of the bank.
“Anshula brings more than 35 years of expertise in finance, banking, and innovative use of technology through her work as CFO of the State Bank of India,” World Bank Group president David Malpass said via a statement.
“She’s excelled at an array of leadership challenges including risk, treasury, funding, regulatory compliance and operations.”
She will be responsible for financial and risk management and report to Mr. Malpass. She holds an Honours degree in Economics from Lady Shri Ram College and is a post-graduate in Economics from the Delhi School of Economics.
Grim situation Jayakwadi dam in Aurangabad district, which serves irrigation purposes in the Marathwada region, has hit the below dead stock water level, according to the State government’s water resource department. Yogesh Londhe