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The impact on education

Access to education

26-05-2014

Dawn

WHAT must it feel like to have armed men burst into your classroom and tell you that what you’re studying is forbidden under Sharia? How much worse is that feeling than the realisation that your state is unable — or unwilling —- to keep you safe from such intimidation while you pursue your education?

Sadly, students in Panjgur, Balochistan, have had to answer these questions in recent weeks following threats and attacks against private and co-educational schools and English learning centres. The Tanzeem-ul-Islam-ul-Furqan, a previously unknown group, has been circulating written threats against schools with female students and teachers, warning against “vulgar, Western” education. The group has also targeted van and taxi drivers who transport girls to school. To make sure the point was well taken, the group on May 14 shot at and burnt a van on a school run.

The extremist assault against education is not a new phenomenon in Pakistan — more than 600,000 students are believed to be out of school in KP because of militancy in recent years.

Just last month, the provincial assembly debated the extent to which militancy had impacted education provision in KP. The education department claimed 160 primary and secondary schools in the province, including 13 in Peshawar, remained closed owing to the activities of militant groups. Others contested the figures, saying they were as high as 385 closed schools, including 295 for girls. The numbers are likely much higher, and do not account for the dozens of schools that have been destroyed through bomb attacks by militants since the mid-2000s.

The situation in Panjgur has invited comparisons with the activities of the Boko Haram in Nigeria, currently in the international media spotlight following the kidnapping of over 200 school girls.


Closure of schools in Panjgur will give more room to madressahs.


It has also highlighted how militant groups are able to take advantage of the poor security situation in Balochistan, exploiting the uncertain environment to serve their own ideological agendas despite the significant military and paramilitary presence in the province. And it has once again raised troubling questions about the capacity and willingness of the government and state security forces to push back against militancy.

The school closures have no doubt taken a psychological toll on Panjgur’s population, making the future imposition of obscurantist ideas on a historically moderate society easier. But it is worth highlighting the more cynical motives behind the militants’ focus on schools. The closure of private, co-ed and English-language schools is likely to create greater space for madressahs, and by extension, more support for militant activities.

Recent intelligence reports from Islamabad have reiterated the connection between madressahs and violent extremist groups. Not only do madressahs provide new recruits and attract funds that are often diverted to militancy, they also play an important networking role, helping militant groups connect with each other. There are reportedly already 2,500 registered and 10,000 unregistered madressahs in the province.

In this context, the rise of the Furqan group brings credence to recent claims that state security forces are giving increasing leeway to extremist groups in Balochistan in the hopes that religious ideology might trump growing nationalist sentiments.

There is no shortage of reasons why the government should eradicate militancy, but its impact on education is certainly among the more compelling ones. Protests in Panjgur against government inefficacy in the face of the militant threats are an important reminder that ours is still an aspirational society, one that seeks progress and opportunity. The failure to check the impact of militancy on education will lead to the unnecessary loss of a generation.

(Admittedly, the poor state of education in Pakistan is not only a fallout of the security environment — it is well-known that the state does not consider education to be a priority. Think of interior Sindh, where the incidence of extremist militancy remains low, but where every seventh school is a ‘ghost school’.)

The negative outcomes of militancy’s chilling effects on education cannot be understated: democracy cannot function without the contributions of a literate population equipped for civic participation and critical thought. Without receiving an education, Pakistanis will also lack the skills needed to contribute to the globalised economy and thereby reap the demographic dividend. The chances of international employment for Pakistanis will also decline, dealing a blow to an economy that relies so heavily on foreign remittances. Moreover, the fact that schools in KP and Balochistan have been harder hit could fuel further inter-provincial tensions as the discrepancies in development indicators with other provinces widen.

As such, in addition to its more obvious toll in the form of loss of lives, militancy can put indirect pressures on the polity, and is likely to do so, unless checked.

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In Chinese Schools, Disabled Get Shortchanged

Access to education

18-05-2015

The New York Times

BEIJING — Mike, 13, lives on the outskirts of Beijing. He is gifted: He plays the piano by ear and, most afternoons, practices singing Italian opera. Yet Mike, whose family has requested that his Chinese name not be used, may never be able to go to university, or even high school, because he is almost completely blind.

Now in junior high, he has no special assistance in class and has to navigate the curriculum by himself. It takes him hours to take exams, trying to see the tests with what little vision he has in one eye. Because of his handicap, he receives no grades. With no grades, he is practically shut out from higher education.

“We are still trying to find a way for him,” said Mike’s mother, who requested anonymity to avoid further discrimination against her son. “Maybe he can go abroad or study art, but it seems there is no way for him to have access to higher education in China.”

China has approximately 85 million people with disabilities, according to the United Nations. Experts in the field, including professors of special education, human-rights officials and lawyers representing the disabled, say that the Chinese government, despite some progress, is not doing enough to ensure that people with disabilities have equitable access to higher education — or really any education at all.

At the end of 2012, more than 90,000 disabled children had no access to schooling, according to the China Disabled Persons’ Federation, a quasi- government organization. Between 2008 and 2012, only 35,000 disabled people were enrolled in mainstream higher-education institutions, the organization said. To put that in context, nearly seven million people graduated from college in China in 2013 alone.

“Higher-education discrimination is the tip of the iceberg,” said Maya Wang, a Hong Kong-based researcher with Human Rights Watch. “A lot of students with disabilities face discrimination at the lower levels.”

A 2013 Human Rights Watch report noted that in 2008 the Chinese government ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities, which calls for inclusive education at all levels. Still, the report said, the central government in Beijing “has no clear and consistent strategy to achieve that goal.”

Instead, the government has poured billions of dollars into developing a separate special-education system, from primary-school level to college, for the disabled. These special schools, however, sometimes lack trained teachers, are far from the homes of students, and prevent students from ever crossing back into mainstream education, Human Rights Watch said. The two systems “exist in parallel and rarely interact,” the report said.

Within the special system, students who are blind or deaf are often shunted into vocational schools or colleges that offer training in music, painting, or massage therapy — jobs deemed appropriate for the disabled.

“These options are based stereotypically on what people with disabilities might be good at doing,” said Ms. Wang, of Human Rights Watch. “There are very limited choices, and if they do want to try mainstream education, they face very high barriers.”

Xi Fang, now 40, is an example. Ms Xi, who is deaf, works for a small nonprofit in Shanghai that makes hearing aids. When she was young, she could not pass exams to enter high school, so she quit her studies and worked in a bicycle factory and then for a textile manufacturer. She says that any textbooks she had were much simpler than the standard texts. A local government organization for disabled people told her that the only option she had was to work in a factory that made cheap reproductions of paintings. “If I could hear, I would have wanted to be a doctor,” Ms. Xi said.

To enroll in a university, Human Rights Watch said, all students must take a physical exam in which they must disclose any disabilities. The results of the medical tests are sent directly to universities. In addition, the government has issued a number of guidelines that advise universities on types of disabilities that would render a student unable to complete studies independently. Human Rights Watch says this sends “a clear signal to universities that they can discriminate in admissions on the basis of students’ physical or mental attributes or disabilities.”

There is also a dearth of teachers trained to teach students with physical or learning disabilities, according to Deng Meng, a professor in the Institute of Special Education at Beijing Normal University, one of a handful of Chinese universities that offer special education as a field of study. Professor Deng said the reason was simple: Many college students viewed the field as a career dead end. “We are very much lacking teachers to teach students with disabilities, even in special schools, not to mention regular schools,” he said. “Special education departments at universities, we lack trained teachers too.”

The professor said that learning disabilities were still not widely recognized and that assessment protocols for learning disabilities were virtually nonexistent. Some private schools have been set up for such students, but otherwise few resources are available.

“We don’t even know who these students are and what problems they have, and we don’t have the instruments to even analyze what learning disabilities they have,” he said. “There is a long way to go. We have just begun the journey.”

Many Chinese laws include language calling for equal treatment of people with disabilities, including equal access to education. Legal experts, however, say that too often this is empty rhetoric with no teeth, no clear meaning and no means of enforcement.

The laws “look nice, but they only contain big and empty words,” said Huang Rui, a lawyer who helps people with disabilities fight for educational access. “No laws ban disabled students from being enrolled in college, but college administrators give tacit consent that people who are blind or deaf or who have other disabilities cannot go to university.”

Still, Mr. Huang said the situation appeared to be slowly improving. He himself is physically disabled but was able to obtain a law degree.

In April, China’s Education Ministry offered guidance on how to provide the gaokao, the college-entrance examination, in Braille or electronic form to accommodate the blind. Human Rights Watch called this an “important breakthrough.”

The ministry also announced plans to ensure that at least 90 percent of children with visual, hearing, and intellectual disabilities receive primary- and middle-school education by the end of 2016. The plan calls for more investment in infrastructure, teacher training, and curriculum reform. For higher education, the plan calls for universities and colleges to create better conditions for disabled students and to not refuse admission because of disabilities.

The Education Ministry declined interview requests for this article.

Han Yongmei, a director in the department of education and employment of the China Disabled Persons’ Federation, which works with the Education Ministry, said the national environment for students with disabilities was getting better. “Laws and regulations are improving, but they take time to implement,” she said. “Considering our situation in China, I think we are doing well.”

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The kidnapped Nigerian girls show that religious conservatives hate education

Access to education, Girl Child Education

02-05-2014

The Guardian

No girl should be a hero for getting an education. But for many girls around the world, walking through the schoolhouse doors isn’t a right or an assumption: it’s a victory over conservative fanatics – some of whom carry guns.

The latest story of girls violently denied an education comes out of Nigeria, and is particularly horrific: more than 300 schoolgirls, abducted at gunpoint by a militant religious fundamentalist group opposed to Western education and intent on bringing terror to their country. There are reports that the girls were forced (or sold) into marriages, raped and taken to other countries.

International outrage has been slow to build, but it’s coming now – the story has been covered extensively in the media, and girls’ education proponent and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Malala Yousafzai spoke out against the abductions. Nigerians are marching in the streets demanding the girls be brought home alive. #BringBackOurGirls is trending on Twitter.

On the surface, these kidnappings follow a theme we’ve seen across the globe: religious extremists don’t want to see girls getting the kind of education that will allow them to enter the workforce, because they correctly understand that education sets girls on a path to economic independence and self-reliance. Education also makes girls (and women) less dependent on men, less subservient to authority and less acquiescent to the social and religious strictures that don’t serve girls’ overall interests – educated women are more likely to refuse practices like female genital cutting, for instance, better able to resist domestic violence, and less tolerant of discrimination at home and in society.

Boko Haram, the Nigerian Muslim militant group linked to al-Qaida that allegedly carried out this latest kidnapping, adopted a name meaning, “Western education is sinful.” There’s no question that the schoolgirls were targeted precisely because they were in school.

But it’s also a mistake to assume that these abductions are just about keeping girls from school. The Nigerian kidnappings are also about power and the simple incoherency of cyclical violence. And the response is indeed about gender, but not through the usual lens: the slow build to media attention illustrates the ease with which so many of us view white girls as inherently vulnerable but have a harder time imagining black girls the same way – and black boys an ocean away don’t even register.

In February, Boko Haram militants murdered 59 schoolboys. They separated the boys from the girls, telling the girls to abandon school and get married before sending them home, and then slaughtered the boys. That killing spree was just one in dozens of attacks on schools, houses of worship and random civilians.

It’s laudable that both the international media and social media users on platforms such as Twitter and Facebook are finally paying attention to a group that has murdered thousands of Nigerians. And it’s understandable that the kidnapping of schoolgirls was the catalyst – the sheer number of girls kidnapped coupled with the fact that they’re children should have us collectively frothing with outrage. But we should have gotten there sooner.

“When these things happen again and again, you get inured to them quickly; it becomes one giant cycle of madness,” Nigerian journalist Tolu Ogunlesi told me. “But I’ve never seen this kind of outrage before. It does seem like for the first time in a long time, people are deeply disturbed by what’s happened.”

Foreign governments, journalists and activists have an opportunity here to push back on a bloody, oppressive force wreaking havoc across Nigeria. Nigerian writers and activists have sounded the alarm about the totality of the horrors committed by Boko Haram – and they’re pressuring their government to act. Those of us who live in the United States and Europe can do the same and demand that our leaders offer assistance, support and, crucially, technology to help track the girls down.

But any opportunity to assist with the larger problems facing Nigeria will be lost if the push begins and ends with the kidnapped girls.

“My fear is that this will become another Kony 2012 where the context and the nuance gets lost,” Tolu Ogunlesitold me, referring to the viral social media campaign centered on Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony. “Hopefully the girls are all going to be safe and fine. But even if they get back home, it’s still far from the end.”

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Govt school seeds its best in ‘cloud’

Access to education, Online Education

16-04-2014

The Times of India

NEW DELHI: In a tiny room in a south Delhi government school, runs another school “in the cloud”.

There are computers here in place of textbooks; a flat-screen television in place of a blackboard and a “granny” from Canada instead of a teacher who, in a bizarre reversal of roles, sits at the back taking notes while the ‘students’ Skype.

The Delhi school in the Cloud is run from the premises of a formal school but constitutes an experiment which questions the fundamental principles of formal schooling.

“The assumption is that kids need to be lectured,” explains psychologist Ritu Dangwal who’s been collaborating with scientist and educator Sugata Mitra from the “hole-in-the-wall” experiment days. “But Prof Mitra has demonstrated that kids can learn on their own. Also, these kids have never been heard before,” Dangwal added.

The more technical term for the School in the Cloud is “self-organizing learning environment” (SOLE) and the concept originated with Sugata Mitra’s “hole-in-the-wall” experiment in the late 90s.

The Delhi laboratory has three computers with internet connection and a television. Students gather for hourlong sessions with the “granny” – a volunteer who’s willing to help initiate and steer discussions with the group.

On Tuesday, a batch of seventh-graders introduce themselves to the 52-year-old Ron Grypma from Vancouver, and also tell him about their siblings and their favourite food – Khushbu says “cauliflower” and her teacher, Rekha Mishra, promptly goes into a giggling fit.

In turn, they learn that Grympa has three kids, his best friend is a lawyer called Cosmas from Netherlands, and that Netherlands is in Europe. If that doesn’t seem much of an achievement, consider this.

By the end of their first hourlong session, a group that has never handled computers figure out how to type in their responses, shift back to full-screen when the window is accidentally minimized and re-establish connection when it snaps mid-conversation. Dangwal gets up twice to help, but each time the girls fix it before she can get to the laptop.

“I think the children didn’t have much exposure to computers before,” says Grypma, once the session is over. “I found what Prof Mitra is doing very intriguing,” he says, “I heard his speech and read his research papers.” Grypma himself is working on a master’s degree in education technology.

The senior secondary school which houses the Delhi SOLE has a regular roll-strength of over 2,000, nearly all coming from the neighbouring slums.

The SOLE sessions are planned in a way they don’t interfere with the school’s regular schedule or require participants – each Class (VI-VIII) has three groups of 15. The school principal and teachers selected the candidates to attend these sessions following an equally informal method.

They went by “questions answered smartly”, “a little bit of academic excellence” and that least scientific of all indicators – “the light in their eyes.”

However, an initial reading and comprehension test had been conducted, says Dangwal, and the participants will be tested on their “aspiration and confidence” every four months. “This is part of a research study that will continue for three years,” she adds.

But this education is practically contraband, smuggled in “clandestinely” as the principal puts it. Government permission for this project is yet to be obtained. As the ‘file’ traversed government departments, the principal launched the lab anyway arguing that if she didn’t, she’d “always regret it”.

“Now, with technology, a child’s mind should gallop,” she says, “But most of them come to school like blinkered horses.” Computer labs were introduced but there’s no maintenance of these. She says she’s “past the stage” of fearing the government’s disapproval. “If they question, I’ll just say sorry.”

(Name of teacher changed to conceal identity)

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‘We aim to bridge the gap between technology and education in India’

Access to education, Online Education

14-04-2014

Financial Express

With more and more students going online for study material, publishing industry is on the verge of a digital revolution. In this interview, Nizam Ahmed, founder & CEO, StudyeBuddy Online Services, tells FE’s Abhishek Chakraborty that setting up StudyeBuddy, an educational eBookstore, was a logical step for them. Excerpts:

What was the reason to come up with StudyeBuddy?

I have witnessed vast changes in the publishing industry, owing to digital revolution. Visiting global book fairs and interacting with the world outside, I realised digital technology has taken education by storm. The US is the pioneer and now other developed and developing countries are following suit. I did not see any reason why India should be lagging behind, especially when it constitutes world’s second-largest internet population. There are not many eBooks available on a single platform in India. It was high time we bridged the gap between technology and education in India. Thus, StudyeBuddy was the next logical step we could take after DiTech, my first company.

To what extent will such an initiative solve issues pertaining to academic needs of students?

In this fast-paced world, everybody wants instant gratification. Students are no different. Their basic homework starts with Google. But they lose a lot of time while googling different sites/links for different subjects and publishers. StudyeBuddy attempts to solve that problem by providing all sorts of education-related books for all subjects from K-12 to college and professional level, sourced from both international and national publishers on a single platform. They can also share and discuss notes with other students in the Buddy Book Club (a section in our portal) and watch education-related webinars for more exposure. Apart from highlighting important points, adding notes, searching keywords, audio-visual learning, students can also read their books whenever and wherever they want without worrying about the internet connection. This will help students keep their focus intact while studying. In cultural studies, they call it “McDonaldization” of education that focuses on more and more efficiency in transferring of knowledge to students.

Which are the top publishers that have signed up with you?

Currently, we have 51 publishers on board, both national and international. Springer, Thieme, Casemate, Ashgate, Usborne, Jaypee Medical are some big names. Publishers like Elsevier, Pearson, McGraw Hill, Cambridge University Press, Sage are in the pipeline.

Which are the most sought after books in your store?

Titles for medical, international business schools and management are very much in demand currently.

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The Effects of School Vouchers on College Enrollment: Experimental Evidence from New York City

Access to education, Vouchers

Matthew M. Chingos and Paul E. Peterson

The Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings | Harvard’s Program on Education Policy Governance

August 2012

Abstract: Most research on educational interventions, including school vouchers, focuses on impacts on short-term outcomes such as students’ scores on standardized tests. Few studies are able to track longer-term outcomes, and even fewer are able to do so in the context of a randomized experiment. In the first study using a randomized experiment to measure the impact of school vouchers on college enrollment, we examine the college-going behavior through 2011 of students who participated in a voucher experiment as elementary school students in the late 1990s. We find no overall impacts on college enrollments but we do find large, statistically significant positive impacts on the college going of African American students who participated in the study. Our estimates indicate that using a voucher to attend private school increased the overall college enrollment rate among African Americans by 24 percent.

The full paper can be accessed here.

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Election the Best Time to Ask for More Money in Education

Access to education, Primary Education, Secondary Education

16-03-2014

The New Indian Express

In one of my articles during 2013, I had qualified myself as a selfish academic and requested the finance minister for more budgetary allocations for education. I now rebrand myself as an academic activist. It needs reasonable activism than prolonged patience for education to get its due. The Annual School Education Reports (ASER), the gross neglect of higher education reflected in the battle for power between UGC and AICTE, curtailed research grants in the name of fiscal discipline, etc. are pointers calling for a tectonic shift in the thought process of policymakers. The fundamental unit in the education value chain is school education. Let us begin there first.

The ASER and PISA reports on the status of Indian school education are reduced to innocuous annual rituals—the media reports, policymakers react, readers read and the nation forgets in the noise generated by the high-decibel chest-thumpers who at the drop of the hat claim that Right to Education (RTE) as the sarva roga nivarana (cure for all diseases) for school education. RTE has definitely increased enrolment and UNESCO compliments India for that. But has it increased enlightenment? Indian school education system needs, in Clay Christensen’s words, “disruptive action”. Here are some disruptive ideas that need sustained and genuine activism from concerned stakeholders.

Government schools despite receiving the largest proportion from budget allocations are still struggling. Why should students attending government schools be victims of systemic inefficiency? They certainly deserve good education considering the salaries teachers get or they be provided with alternate pathways for private school education. The ongoing teacher recruitment and disproportionately huge salaries or the RTE rhetoric is certainly not the right solution. There are two quick solutions.

Using my good friend Prof. R Vaidyanathan’s analogy, educational loans in India must follow the housing loan policy—not in the interest rates or repayment terms, but in the extent of coverage. A housing loan covers the entire house, beginning from foundation to terrace. There is no housing loan for a new house meant only for the first or second floor. Unfortunately, educational loans in India are only for the first and second floors. Not for the foundation. The gap between the costs of government and private school education is definitely huge. While higher education is important for a country’s economic progress, isn’t school education also equally, if not more, important? The Government of India is careful in ensuring that no student is deprived of higher education (public or private) for want of finances. In similar measure, no student must be deprived of private school education for want of finance and hence must have access to interest-free bank loans for school education. Such interest-waiver is definitely not a burden to the government but an investment for India’ future.

ASER reports are time and again critical of the poor teacher attendance and the resultant student output in government schools. The Government of India must announce a zero income tax for all school teachers (public and private) and such income tax waivers must be linked with teacher performance. Teacher performance shall be measured by a fool-proof mechanism that tests four critical parameters—student output, self-development, contribution to school and contribution to community. A teacher who satisfies all the four dimensions shall be eligible for full income tax waiver and this system needs to be administered diligently.

When corporate India asked for more, UPA (I & II) gave them a waiver of over Rs 35,00,000 crore (Government of India’s foregone revenue). It’s asking time now. I have asked. Will other academic activists join me?

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Online education tutorials make great strides in India

Access to education, Online Education

16-03-2014

The National

NEW DELHI // When Balaji Thirumalai and Pady Srinivasan started their online tutorial website last year, they named it Clay6, referring to the six great unsolved mathematical problems as defined by the Clay Mathematics Institute.

In its own way, Clay6 is grappling with a great unsolved problem as well. India’s schools are filled to bursting with students, but there is an alarming deficit of quality teachers.

“You’ll have cases where a teacher is handling a single class of 50 or 60 people, and in the next period, she’ll go and tackle another class that is just as big,” said Mr Thirumalai, a former computer hardware engineer. “So the teachers never have the bandwidth to deal individually with students and their progress.”

Clay6, based in Chennai, is one of a slew of Indian internet firms that have emerged over the past five years to tackle this problem. In a country where education is extremely competitive, the market is a massive and growing one.

Between 2008 and 2011, according to an estimate by the consulting firm Grant Thornton, the after-school tuition industry grew from US$5 billion (Dh18.4bn) to $6.36bn. In the 12th grade alone, around 3.6 million students across India are looking for an extra edge, and Mr Thirumalai estimates that this number will grow to 8 million by 2020.

The market even stretches outside India, to countries such as the UAE where many private schools follow the Indian government’s Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) curriculum.

MeritNation, which claims to be India’s largest education portal, has 6.5 million registered students across nine countries.

“I think 85 to 90 per cent of all CBSE students in the UAE are enrolled in MeritNation,” Pavan Chauhan, one of the portal’s co-founders, told The National. “More and more kids in India are coming online now as well. They have broadband connections at home. This is why the market is growing as fast as it is.”

The firms work in different ways. MeritNation provides study material for grades one to 12, based on the CBSE syllabus or other curriculums. For 4,000-5,000 rupees (Dh240-300), a student gets access to a year’s worth of lessons, in all subjects. MeritNation provides videos, interactive activities, revision notes, and practice exam papers.

Another company, Everonn, offers live classes where students can interact with subject experts in real time. MathGuru, which focuses exclusively on mathematical concepts, hosts videos of an instructor solving algebra and geometry problems.

Clay6, on the other hand, works by tying up with individual schools, providing periodic assessments to students based on their teacher’s pace and course of instruction.

“As soon as the teacher finishes a chapter, say, the student will have to log on and do a 30-minute test on its contents,” Mr Thirumalai said. “Our software figures out where the student is falling short, and provides that feedback to her teacher.”

A school pays approximately 1,000 rupees per student per year for the service.

“So this way, teachers can measure how every one of their students is doing on a regular basis,” Mr Thirumalai added. “Students gain confidence. Teachers get an extra tool.”

The feedback they have received so far, he said, has been encouraging.

Srikanth Narasimhan, whose son is in grade 12, was grateful for Clay6’s tracking of his progress.

The website “clearly shows your areas of strengths and helps you focus on the areas which require improvement”, he said.

Convincing parents and schools to regard these online services as an ally, however, is not always easy.

Mr Chauhan recounted how, in MeritNation’s first year of operations, in 2009, parents would grumble that their children were already on the internet too much, and that they did not want to add to their time online.

“We had to persuade them that the internet is here to stay, and that they may as well use it to improve their children’s education,” he said.

Teachers sometimes look upon these services as an encroachment on their turf, or as an accusation that they are not doing their job well. Kalyani Gupta, a middle school science teacher in New Delhi, also contended that education portals were placing yet another layer of work and assessments on already burdened students.

“Our energies should really be focused on getting more and better teachers into schools, so that students can get more out of their classroom experience,” Ms Gupta said. “These portals may be useful at times, but they don’t do much to address the real problems.”

Mr Chauhan agreed that websites such as MeritNation could never replace the teacher-student relationship.

“The stuff that a school does, we can never do,” he said. “But we’re looking to be complementary to a school, not to compete with it.”

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India among 30 countries where ‘education’ attacked most often: Study

Access to education

12-03-2014

The Times of India

NEW DELHI: About 140 schools were attacked by militants in the period 2009—2012 – a number high enough to put India in a list of the top 30 countries where education – teachers, institutions, students – has been the target of violence. Education Under Attack 2014, “a global study of threats or deliberate use of force against students, teachers, academics, education trade union members and government officials” was released recently.

The 30 countries have been divided into three categories: countries with a 1,000 or more attacks are “very heavily affected”, the ones that have seen between 500 and 999 attacks from 2009 to early 2013 are “heavily affected” and those with less than 500 attacks are “other affected.” India belongs to the third category along with several south Asian countries – Thailand, Myanmar, Indonesia, The Philippines. Afghanistan and Pakistan are both in the “very heavily affected” category with the Pakistani Taliban alone attacked over 830 schools. The same group, in 2012, attacked school girl Malala Yousafzai whose miraculous survival and subsequent campaign inspired the report. The previous two editions of Education Under Attack – 2007 and 2010 – were both by UNESCO. This one, covering over four years, is by the group Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA).

“Most attacks on education occurred in states affected by a long-running insurgency led by Maoist and other left-wing armed groups – also referred to as ‘Naxalites’,” says the report of the situation in India.

“Jharkhand, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, and Orissa were among the states most affected by the conflict in 2008,” says the report adding that the number of attacks “peaked” in 2009 and has “declined steeply” since. It cites a Home Ministry report from 2011 which stated there were 71 schools attacks in 2009, 39 in 2010 and 27 in 2011 across Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Maharashtra and Jharkhand. Only 12 incidents were reported in 2012. A 2013 Save the Children commissioned study – Caught In Crossfire: Children and education in regions affected by civil strife – covering Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha, had reported in detail on the state of schools in districts with high Maoist activity. However, Maoists weren’t the only agents of violence – the GCPEA report also mentions attacks on Christian institutions by Hindu and Muslim extremists. In the final count – covering incidents reported by human rights groups and the media – “at least 13 teachers, one catering staff member and four students were killed from 2009 to 2012. At least 73 teachers and 11 students were injured. Seven teachers were abducted, five of whom were subsequently found dead, and at least two students were kidnapped.”

The GCPEA study “examines threats and deliberate use of force against students, teachers, academics, education trade union members, government officials, aid workers and other education staff and attacks on schools, universities and other education buildings carried out for political, military, ideological, sectarian, ethnic or religious reasons in 2009-2013.” It examines, in particular, use of education infrastructure by armed groups or national armed forces which it says is “one of the key factors that can lead to attacks on education.” Of India, it says “there was widespread use of schools as barracks or bases by government forces, mostly in the east of the country.”

Factfile:

1. Attacks on education was reported in at least 70 countries.

2. The 30 countries are: Afghanistan, Bahrain, Central African Republic (CAR), Colombia, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel/Palestine, Kenya, Libya, Mali, Mexico, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, the Russian Federation, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, Yemen and Zimbabwe.

3. In 24 of the 30 countries, armed non-state groups and/or state armed forces used schools as bases, barracks, weapons caches, detention centers and even torture chambers… These occupations lasted for weeks, months or, in some cases, years.

4. In 28 of the 30 countries, higher education facilities and/or students and staff were attacked or institutions were used for military purposes. Attacks damaged or destroyed university and college buildings in 17 of the 30 countries.

5. The six “very heavily affected” ones are: Afghanistan, Colombia, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan and Syria.

6. In many countries, individual students, teachers, academics and other education staff were murdered, abducted, threatened with violence, or illegally detained or imprisoned, and in some cases tortured.

7. In some countries, children were captured en route to and from school or taken from their classrooms and recruited as soldiers.

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Building a sustainable economy through education in Asia-Pacific region

Access to education, School Choice, Vouchers

02-03-2014

DNA

The Asia-Pacific region in which India is situated has inherent riches in natural resources such as the oil banks in the Gulf counties, export strength of China, intellectual capital of India, and the research, development and production of the Pacific islands. This area has a projection of 7.5 per cent economic growth compared to 2.6 per cent of USA and 1.7 per cent of the European region.

In contradiction, the Asia-Pacific region also accounts for 60 per cent workers in the vulnerable economy, 422 million under the $2-a-day earning mark and 73 per cent of the world’s working poor. Overall, the worker output is still about one sixth of the level of America or the European Union. In addition to the widespread poverty and low productivity, there is persistent inequality between men and women; women earn less than men and are largely in unskilled and informal sectors; there is no social protection for the physically and mentally challenged and old people; no protection against occupational accidents, injuries and against child labour.

What is needed is an inclusive, balanced and sustainable plan in the coming decades for which education is a fundamental tool.

Skill and knowledge are the two driving forces for the economic and social development of any country. Countries with higher skills adapt better to challenges in the working arena. It has also been seen that during the economic downturn, countries with strong skill focus, like Korea, were more insulated than other parts of the world.

Besides the national policy of skill education, the idea of vocationalisation of secondary education was mooted in order to provide young adults with options to choose from, with an aim to improving individual employability. Since 1988, background work in this area with regards to building the curricula, teachers training and NGO funding has been going on. Reported 765 crores have already been spent in creating facilities for ten thousand students.

Vocational learning has always been considered tertiary education, and does not fall in the traditional definition of higher education. Concentrating on the age old apprenticeship style of learning, vocational studies include variety of subjects such as trade, craft, programmes that are technical in nature and are related to engineering, accountancy, nursing, medicine, architecture and pharmacy.

Going beyond vocationalisation of higher education the national policy of skill development aims at providing inclusive opportunities to men, women, rural, urban, organic, inorganic, traditional and contemporary.

Offering modular courses in open architecture of short term duration, its funding is through skill vouchers given to the candidates and it focuses on funding the institutions imparting training after the course is completed. Nearly 23,800 establishments are imparting education to around 2.58 lakh apprentices. Within the next 5 years, over 1 lakh establishments are expected to train over 1 lakh apprentices.

Several organisations such as the Centre for Rural Technology, Society for Rural Industrialisation (SRI) and the flagship National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) besides the Prime Minister’s National Council on Skill Development are all involved in the implementation of such courses.

There is also a focus on improving women participation by nearly 30 per cent by overcoming barriers and facilitating participation, though hostels for women, scholarships, transport, loans and making available newer and contemporary fields like emerging technological services available to women, besides the traditional training in  health, construction and agriculture sectors.

NSDC has already trained nearly 90 thousand people, 80 per cent of whom are employed. With an annual budget outlay of Rs 1000 crores, it has doubled its capacity and enrolment since 2009 and has a target of training nearly 500 million by 2022.

If education is about employability, in order to sustain economic growth and to beat the widespread and rampant poverty, skill development seems to be the last word in achieving sustainability.

Manjula pooja shroff
The writer is  an entrepreneur and educationist

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