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Editorials/Opinions Analysis For UPSC 06 February 2024

  1. Potential of technology to transform the education landscape.
  2. Strategy to mitigate Air Pollution


Context:

The recent Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) report, 2023 discussed the potential of technology to transform the education landscape.

Relevance:

GS II: Education

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Impact of smartphones on learning
  2. Integration of technology into learning
  3. Critical view of Indian education system
  4. Role of Teacher
  5. Learning happens in an ecosystem:
  6. Way forward
  7. Conclusion

Impact of smartphones on learning:

  • Key findings of the ASER report, 2023:
    • One of the main aspect discussed by the recent Beyond Basics ASER (2023) report was the potential of technology to transform the education landscape.
  • As per the findings of the report, households owning a smart phone has gone up from a mere 36% in 2018 to 74% in 2022.
  • It also found that 94.7% of young men and 89.9% of young women could use a smartphone.
  • Advantages:
    • There was marginal gender difference in ability to access smart phones.
    • As inferred from the above data, widespread ownership of smartphones coupled with cheap availability of data not only presents a huge challenge but also provides an opportunity for education of a kind that is not offered in schools and colleges.
  • Disadvantages:
    • However, some sections of the education community viewed the above analysis with scepticism referring to the impact of online education during the Covid lockdown.
    • Significant learning loss was reported during the lockdown.
    • Huge disparities were found between the rich and the poor, the well-connected and the poorly-connected areas.

Integration of technology into learning:

  • The technology must be positioned in the learning process in such a way that children must be able to use technology for day-to-day learning, gain an edge on leaning new concepts and access information.
  • The teacher’s/facilitator’s pedagogic skill in leveraging technology in the classroom and how it is integrated into the teaching-learning process also plays a significant role in this regard.
  • Role of Artificial Intelligence:
    • Few experts forecasts that artificial intelligence would someday make education not only more accessible but also tailored to the needs of each learner.
    • The use of AI can move the present education system to a different paradigm of learning.
    • As per the discussions on Generalised AI from the recently concluded Davos Economic Forum, access to smartphones and cheap data is seen as a game changer in India, flattening hierarchies inherent in educational institutions and processes.

Critical view of Indian education system:

  • As per the critics, the Indian education continues to be about certification through examinations and accessing employment.
  • The education system is still bogged down with rote learning and an examination system that privileges memorisation over understanding or deep learning.
  • Currently, the education technology has mirrored the textbooks.
  • With few exceptions, our education system is still far from developing software that is truly interactive and enables a student to start at her/his level and move at her/his own pace.
  • The Twin Challenge:
    • India faces the twin challenge of poor learning outcomes and unemployability of those who complete a desired level of education.
    • Knowledge and skill in basic language/mathematics/science remains very low which is a huge challenge to the education system.
  • In the last decade or two there have been so many examples of smart classrooms to computer assisted learning.
  • However, these “smart” tools did not alter the landscape. It was found that the assessment is skewed in favour of rote learning and reproducing. Both, the students and teachers look for resources that further this objective.

Role of Teacher:

  • At the primary and upper-primary level the importance of the teacher as facilitator is critical.
    • As children get older, they may be able to use technology on their own, and that too up to a point.
    • Valuable feedback of online education during the Covid lockdown revealed that children could not focus and attention span was cited as a big problem.
    •  Teachers complained that they did not have access to the teaching-learning materials suitable for online education and textbook-based rote learning made the process tedious for both teachers and children.

Learning happens in an ecosystem:

  • The process of learning cannot be viewed only about transfer of information. It has a lot to do with developing the ability to learn to learn.
  • A lot of learning happens in schools and colleges. Students connect with peers and with teachers, followed by their interactions with the family and the community.
  • Access to educated mentors, reading material, library and internet—further influences learning and acquiring ‘knowledge’.
  • Thus, technology must not be viewed discretely, it is embedded in ecosystem.

Way forward:

  • Access to and participation in educational processes does not guarantee employment or skills to navigate a rapidly changing economy and society from a position of strength.
  • There is a need for a workable strategy to address the challenges and imbibe the opportunities present in technology and education.
  • We need to simultaneously address challenges faced in using technology for different age groups/levels of education as well as different socio-economic situations.

Conclusion:

The education system in India is still focussed on getting degrees/certification and finding jobs. As long as education is viewed in this narrow prism, it is difficult to imagine a different kind of education, one that opens minds, spurs creativity to prepare for a fast-changing world. Considering the rapid pace of development, the issue of technology and education cannot be posed as an either-or dichotomy. It is valuable and should not be dismissed.  

However, technology is not a panacea to solve all problems related to school/college education, continuing education and re-skilling. Thus, the need of the hour is to look for a refined and a balanced strategy.



Context:

Air pollution is a serious environmental challenge and the policymaking for air pollution control is also contingent on the political will behind solving it.

Relevance:

GS3- Environment- Pollution and Conservation

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Need for political will to address air pollution:
  2. Combating Air pollution is a policy challenge:
  3. Supreme Court as an apolitical and scientific ombudsman:
  4. Conclusion

Need for political will to address air pollution:

Political narratives that follow air pollution:

  • A policy process in mitigating the problem of deteriorating air quality must be ideally guided by the facts and figures.
    • However, in reality, they often encapsulated within the bigger political narratives.
    • Example:
      • The recent politicizing of the issue across the NCR with different stakes by regional ruling parties has rekindled the need to have guidance from an apolitical, scientific ombudsman.
    • While there is clear evidence that the bursting of firecrackers contributes to the worsening of air pollution, two distinct camps (political) exist debating the degree of contribution of crackers to air pollution.
      • The motivation for the latter is often rooted in religious beliefs associated with bursting firecrackers, emphasising the need to be mindful of the social and cultural realities influencing societal challenges like air pollution in the IGP.

A case study of Punjab-Haryana:

  • The recent remarks that toss Haryana against Punjab, solely due to its proximity, are symbolic of how political narratives can supersede the scientific facts and logical understanding of the problem and slow the pace of mitigation.
    • As per the data, there is a clear indication that the incidents of stubble burning in Punjab far surpass those in Haryana.
    • According to ISRO, Punjab had roughly ten times and fourteen times the incidents of stubble burning in Haryana in 2021 and 2022, respectively.
    • Studies have demonstrated that winds play a crucial role in carrying particles from biomass burning in Punjab to Delhi and beyond.
    • Misconstruing of facts has often resulted in poorly formed regulations and failure to create robust measures to curtail stubble fires in the state of Punjab.
    • Efforts like setting up bio-energy plants that use of stubble to the adoption bio-decomposer technology, no proposed solution has abated the issue.  
    •  Attention is often diverted from the incapacity or lack of willingness to execute data-backed interventions with adequate implementation support. This is a recurring trend seen in various administrations that have assumed power in recent years.

Combating Air pollution is a policy challenge:

  • The efforts to combat air pollution are a complex challenge that creates multiple challenges to the policy makers.
  • Involvement of multiple stakeholders:
    • The problem of air pollution have evolved from being purely natural science challenge to a social science challenge. Thus, it requires a deep understanding of the multiple stakeholders involved.
    • Air pollution policy decisions must also account for their impact on different stakeholders while ensuring consensus across groups.
    • Example: the exemption of women in a scheme like Odd-Even is tricky
  • Resource constraints:
    • Several state governments face resource crunch and hence determining the appropriate time for action is important.
    • Example: The stringent emergency measures issued by the Delhi Government after air quality concentrations become threatening,
  • Decision making:
    • The selection of measures lies in identifying the optimal point for the state to intervene in the entire process.
    • This critical decision influences the policies pursued and the evidence required to convince decision-makers.

Supreme Court as an apolitical and scientific ombudsman:

  • The air pollution strains the delicate balance of India’s federal and electoral democracy.
  • The  Supreme Court emerges as a champion safeguarding the rights of the people.
  • It offers a semblance of objectivity and urgency in addressing this challenge.
  • It not only acknowledges a research-backed understanding of air pollution sources but also categorically reprimands state governments for blame games, calls out policy efforts and issues orders for immediate actions.

Conclusion:

The presence of narratives surrounding a critical policy challenge is inevitable. But, what makes the issue complex is that policymakers often get deeply entangled in these narratives, ignoring the challenge, which is dangerous. It not only stalls the adoption of corrective measures, but also diverts public attention from the actual issue. Air pollution, being a seasonal nature creates conducive conditions for the proliferation of such narratives. Each stakeholder often looks for those who can defend their interests in a tangled web of conflicting interests. Hence, addressing air pollution is a complex challenge that requires a multifaceted approach, and political will plays a major role.


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