Tag Archives: Sustainable Development

Ecological Services, Ecological Economics: Looking at the Sustainable Development Agenda

DEVIKA SINGH

All of the seventeen SDGs have a common underlying factor – they are all dependent on natural resources. This importance finally given to the environment and natural resources comes a little late. The complete dependence of human existence on the environment and natural resources is reflected in the SDG Agenda, which places natural resources as the underlying driving factor behind all seventeen goals. The importance thus denoted to our natural environment is ‘too little too late’. The SDGs build up on the Millennium Development Goals, which also had a commendable agenda and targets set, few of which were actually met. Between 2000-2015, due to the haphazard management and implementation of the MDGs, the situation actually worsened in some areas.

An Ecological Economics Perspective

The SDGs, picking up and dusting off the failures of the MDGs reorient their agenda to urgently address the most pressing and inescapable issues. The Agenda is focused on action on climate change, sustainable production, growth and consumption so that the environment, which is our provider, is not sucked dry before the next generation of people come along. The SDGs also work on the principle that sustainable development is the responsibility of all – the developed, the developing and the least developed. While making provisions to encourage financial support from the developed to the developing, the planning and implementation of sustainable and environment friendly policies, strategies and action plans falls entirely on each individual nation. The coming of the SDGs finally marks the realisation amongst leaders of the world that the whole world is connected and must be seen as a single unit, for environmentally destructive policies or actions in one corner of the world don’t remain isolated in that corner. Their consequences spread to every other corner in a ripple effect. An earthquake with its epicentre in Indonesia can cause a tsunami of destructive proportions off the coast of India. Increasing greenhouse and carbon emissions in North America can cause the Himalayan glaciers to melt at an unprecedented rate, causing floods in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. Right now, there is no proper predictability mechanism which can tell us the boundaries of and the effects a person or community’s actions can have on others. The SDGs thus finally acknowledge the fact that human existence and human action is not in isolation, but has a deep impact on other humans, other living beings, and the environment. The SDG Agenda thus works with addressing environmental concerns as the broad base sphere, intrinsically linked with social needs and economic activity (as opposed to all other agendas before this).

At the apex of this pyramid, or right at the centre of this functionality, and intrinsic to its proper and successful functioning is the basis of global partnerships, global exchange of resources – be it technology, knowledge, financial, etc. Goal 17, the final goal, aims at revitalising global partnerships for sustainable development.

The problem of climate change and environmental concerns remains a wicked problem as the trade-off appears to be between that of exclusive development and growth vs. inclusive development and environmental sustainability, between efficiency and equity. However, most policies and growth plans fail to give due credence to the value of ecological services. Ecosystem services range from providing basic life support necessary for survival, such as, the provision of fresh water on/below the ground, oxygen in the atmosphere, climate control for the planet, the regulation of water by forests, stratospheric ozone shield, etc. The value of these services is infinite, but the price attached to them is zero. Ecosystem services also contribute to the economy – sourcing of raw materials and energy from nature, basic needs (water, fuel, fiber, fodder, sanitation, waste treatment) and livelihoods (agriculture, mini industries, crafts), food and medicines, removal of waste, environmental balance. Ecosystem services also contribute to the economy through adventure sports and recreation, eco-tourism, jewellery, etc.

Quantifying Ecological Services

In 2000, the Rural Industries Research and Development Corp, Govt. of Australia estimated the annual value of pollination to be US $ 1.3 Billion. It is noteworthy that 35% of human food comes from plants pollinated by wild pollinators. The Ecological Society of America estimated the price of pollination in the USA to be $ 5.7 – 8.3 Billion and the value of crops to be $ 24 Billion. In 2000, the replacement of chemical pesticides (would save money and lives) was valued at US $ 54 Billion per annum, and this does not include the health costs saved. Forty percent of pharmaceuticals are derived from natural products, and in 2003, the sales of pharmaceuticals were valued at US $ 480 Billion. In 1999, the global value of ecological services was estimated at US $ 33 Trillion (with the range being from US $ 16 – 54 Trillion). This estimation was done by eighteen international economists from the US, Netherlands and Argentina (published by Nature). The global GDP for 1999 was approximately US $ 20 Trillion. The estimation of the value of the ecological services was taken by accounting for the value of coastal zones, open ocean, wetlands, forests, lakes/rivers and other miscellaneous. This doesn’t even cover the entire range of services provided by our ecosystem.

The Shift in Perspective

The ratification of the SDGs marks the acceptance of, if only in a limited manner, a shift in thinking. This shift is at the level of surveying, quantification and qualification of data, policy planning and strategizing and dissemination of that knowledge. This shift can be portrayed through the flowcharts below.

In conventional efforts to quantify and evaluate economic activity, the modelling and quantification took into account only the human social and economic interventions, entirely ignoring and disregarding the provision of valuable services by nature and the environment. This method of quantification is an indicator of the nature of production and consumption, as being entirely heedless of the environment which makes that activity possible. The chart below shows a shift inthis view. The shift is an inclusive one, where economic activity can’t be seen independent of the ecosystem services that provide and sustain that activity.

“A natural area will receive protection only if the value a society assigns to services provided in its natural state is higher than the value the society assigns to converting it to a more direct human use”

-Wright Environmental Science

In this approach of ecological economics, it is essential to develop local and specific indicators and targets with regard to the broader goals of the SDGs. A universal norm will not be effective and cannot account for the extremely diverse and intricately specific provisions and requirements of a country like India.

LOOKING AT INDIA

The effects of industrialisation, urbanisation and climate change are felt all the more strongly in India through fluctuations in the monsoon patterns, hotter longer summers, colder shorter winters, water stress, droughts and floods occurring simultaneously in different parts of the country. In a country which is largely dependent on the monsoon for its agricultural production and activities, these shifts have a large social, economic and political impact on the nation as a whole. The NITI Aayog is the coordinating agency for SDG Agenda in India. Since India is a diverse country with specific needs and a limited resource base, the preliminary role of the NITI Aayog is to coordinate data collection between the MoSPI and other nodal Ministries such as MoEFCC, DST and others. The coordination also extends to the Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CSS), including the ‘core of the core’, ’core’ and ‘optional’ schemes being implemented by the State Governments. This includes the State Action Plan on Climate Change (SAPCCs) that each state has to develop based on its regional and local conditions and requirements. The Niti Aayog has presently collaborated with RIS and other organisations such as WWF to hold National Consultations with the concerned Ministries on forming targets and indicators. This is a collaborative effort on part of Niti Aayog to remove the Ministerial and Departmental silos and bring a more cohesive framework for the sustainable growth agenda. Ecosystem services are a combination of natural resource and human effort, and thus, the human social and economic domain forms an integral part of the calculation of ecosystem services.

In the model shown below, ecosystem services are placed between natural and human systems. It identifies the benefits for people following from goods and services delivered by ecosystems while separating the benefits and values. It clearly indicates that ecosystem services stem from ecological structures and processes and from their functions within ecosystems. The quantification and modelling of ecosystem services is challenging. “In assessing trade-offs between alternative uses of ecosystems, the total bundle of ecosystem services provided by different conversion and management states should be included. Economic assessment should be spatially and temporally explicit at scales meaningful for policy formation or interventions, inherently acknowledging that both ecological functioning and economic values are contextual, anthropocentric, individual-based and time specific.”

There is a very delicate balance between different services produced within an ecosystem, the inter-relations between all of them and the degree of these inter-relations interact in a complex manner. Therefore, there is a trade-off between a single ecosystem service provision and other ecosystem services. This tradeoff is illustrated by Braat and Brink (2208) in the graph.

As the figure illustrates, with increasing degradation of the ecosystem (low biodiversity), the regulatory services gradually drop. These include water, air, climate, etc. Similarly, recreational and cultural services (tourism, etc.) also decline with a degrading biodiversity. Recreation benefits can be optimised in ecosystems with light use as these also provide a basic degree of accessibility and infrastructure. With regard to provisioning services, such as agriculture, gross output is maximised through intensive land use while net output will be lower.

An Expert Panel from the GoI in 2013 valued the Nation’s forests at US $ 1.6 Trillion. Mangroves in Gujarat, in 2007, were valued at INR 7,700 crores (Hirway, I., & Goswami, S., 2007), and Gujarat is one of the weaker mangrove belts in the country. The urban and rural unit value of vultures is at INR 6.9 and 5.8 Lakhs respectively (IUCN Study) and the value of six tiger reserves in India is placed at INR 1,49,900 crores (IIFT, Bhopal, 2015). The following map shows the increase/decrease in forest cover between 2009 and 2011 in India. As per the India State of Forest Report, 2011, released by the Forest Survey of India (FSI) on February 7, 2011, India’s total forest cover is now at 6,92,027 sq km. There has been a loss of 367 sq km of forest cover between 2009-2011.

The Way Forward

The biggest challenges that presents itself within the Indian context are the lack of indicators and gaps in defining relevant indicators, major gaps in data, lack of statistical data, ministerial and departmental silos, lack of financial resources, lack of political will and corruption. Another roadblock that presents itself is the gap in technical skills required for data analytics and research. While the government has issued innumerable schemes, yojanas and programmes, there are no frameworks for monitoring, progress, accountability and ownership. This results in a large paper trail with nothing to show on ground. The work required to achieve the SDGs is huge, and on all scales, and it requires effort from all levels of government. In order to move forward progressively, a basic requirement is the five ‘C’s – Coherence, Convention, Coordination, Capital and Convergence. This is across Departments, Ministries, organisations and local, state and the central government. Policy making and implementation needs to be approached in a holistic inter-sectoral manner by seeing the dependencies of each aspect of human life – social and economic, as dependent on each other and largely on the environment. One cannot be addressed in isolation, and even if it is, it will not stand the test of time even in the short term. For sustainable growth, development, production and consumption, and most importantly a healthy and productive environment, for these to reach our future generations; a cohesive, inclusive, convergent and sustainable policy that is followed through is of the essence.

(Devika Singh is pursuing the Master’s Programme in Public Policy at National Law School of India University. She can be reached at devikasingh@nls.ac.in)

References

SNRD Asia: https://snrd-asia.org/joint-task-force-sustainable-development-goals-is-on-the-move/

As presented by Dr. Ashok Khosla in ’Ecosystem Services and Sustainable Development: Economic Implications of SDG 15’ during the National SDG consultation at WWF – Delhi on February 8th, 2017

http://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/indias-forest-cover-declines-35917

Featured Image Source: Source: http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2015/10/on-world-statistics-day-un-flags-importance-of-reliable-data-to-achieve-new-development-agenda/#prettyPhoto

 

Development of Social Welfare Policies: A means to address Group Inequality in India

DEVIKA SINGH

A BRIEF ANALYSIS OF THE DEVELOPMENT DEBATE

The Development debate gained momentum as a post world war necessity. ‘Development’ emerged as a new tool for addressing the problem of poverty which was exacerbated in the years following the second world war. Harry S. Truman’s Presidential inaugural speech in 1949 marks the acknowledgement of the post-world war political turmoil. His Four Point programme was announced as a technical assistance programme towards the economic development and political stabilisation of developing countries. The United States of America thus marked the beginning of the development discourse. A combination of institutions and policies were set up to primarily address economic development. The division of the world into the first world and third world nations, the developed and the under-developed meant these policies were the attempt of developed nations to raise the status of the under-developed to that of their own. Institutions like the IMF and World Bank changed the power equations at a global level from that of coloniser and colonised to that of developed and underdeveloped, and thus began the shift from colonialism to neocolonialism.

The development discourse has since then gone on to include concepts of social justice, human development, human rights and well-being. The UNDP was set up in 1965 to promote equitable growth and democratic governance in under-developed countries. By the late 90s, it went on to include within its purview crises prevention and recovery, environment and ecology (sustainable development, sustainable livelihoods and the Millennium Development Goals), Human Development (Human Development Index), HIV/AIDS and Innovative Partnerships.

The early 2000s saw an increasing focus on the role of the State as a ‘duty-bearer’ to its citizens (Johnson 1999; Kabeer 2005; Jayal 2013). This translated to an increasing interest in the functions of public policy and that of the State in the development process as not limited to merely economic and financial development but bringing in social justice, HDI, well-being (UNDP 2010; McGregor and Summer 2010), equity, happiness, quality of life (Frey 2008), etc. However, it is the disappointment from the lack of actual ground level accomplishment of any of the goals and policies set in place by these institutions that have shaped an interest in public policy and the development processes of the last five to six decades. It was clear that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) would not be reached by 2015, neither at the aggregate level nor when disaggregated by vulnerable communities or fragile districts – with the exception of a few countries (IEG 2011). The consequences of globalisation, a fragile world economy, the protracted financial crisis, intensified food insecurity, poverty and malnutrition, crises in health and education systems all raise perturbing questions regarding this new world over-reliance on ‘the market’ and all point to a desperate need for the injection of the Human Rights discourse into that of development and growth. These circumstances have also brought in the questioning of lower-income countries leading to the generation of a new macroeconomic consensus, also termed as the Post-Washington approach (Koehler and Chopra 2014). This new model is based on the need to create and sustain demand, maintain employment and support inclusive economic growth.

SOCIAL POLICY IN THE INDIAN CONTEXT

India, as one of the prominent members of the United Nations, played an active role in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1947-48) and became a signatory to the UNDP in 2000. The period from the early 2000s marks a focus on social policies designed to address poverty and deliver welfare at the levels of programming and design, structural changes and implementation. Indian society being extremely heterogeneous could not and cannot follow the policy structures of homogeneous developed nations. Development policies in India in the period from 2003-14 thus took the shape of social policies, reflecting the influence of social conditions on the economic potential of the populace. The Constitution of India had been framed keeping this in mind, and a transformative interpretation of the constitutional mandate directs the State to view the social policy as inseparable from economic policy. The duty of the State in these policies marks the intersectionality of poverty, rights, social policy and governance. This increasing role of State duty in welfare and social policy also marks a shift in approach from that of ‘welfare’ to that of ‘rights’.

A reference to the Indian Constitution and amendments made points to the addition of these social rights. For instance, Article 21A (April 2010) The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, making elementary education the fundamental right of children aged six to fourteen years. Articles 15, 19, 85, 87, 174, 176, 341, 342, 372 and 376 and the insertion of articles 31A and 31B, Schedule 9 (18 June 1951) added special provisions for the advancement of socially and educationally Backward Classes, the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes. It fully secured the constitutional validity of zamindari abolition laws and placed reasonable restriction on the freedom of speech. A new constitutional device, Schedule 9, was introduced to protect laws contrary to the Constitutionally guaranteed Fundamental Rights. Amendment to Schedule 9 (31 August 1994) enabled continuance of 69 percent reservation in Tamil Nadu by including the relevant Tamil Nadu Act under 9th Schedule of the Constitution. Article16 (June 1995) – technical amendment to protect reservation to SC/ST employees in promotions. Article 335 (September 2000) permits the relaxation of qualifying marks and other criteria in reservation in promotion for SC / ST candidates. Amendment to Schedule 8 (January 2004) included Bodo, Dogri, Santali and Maithali as official languages. While these are Constitutional innovations, a number of social policy innovations have created a dynamic shift in the social set up in India. The post-independence state-led, industry-led development focus failed to address and even reach seventy-five percent of the workforce – the workforce engaged in the informal and agricultural sectors. The shift in State policy towards that of a neoliberal market-based economy furthered the economic gap between the formal and informal and agrarian sectors. Up until recently, all successive governments since the 90’s implemented the same policies, continuing with the same measures. In Engendering Social Security and Protection, Sen (2011) speaks of the ongoing inadequacy of basic human development in India, characterised by very low public spending on education and health, that necessitates the continuity of this condition of gross inequity. It is only over the last decade that the Indian policy context speaks of ‘social protection’. The years since 2004 have witnessed increasing legislation at the National level addressing the right to work, right to education, right to health and food security.

The Right to Information Act (RTI, 2004) is the game changer that underpins most of the social policies following this period. It is the first Act which marks the shift from a welfare-based approach to a ‘rights’ based approach. The National Common Minimum Programme (NCMP) of the Congress-led UPA coalition government followed suit in 2004, stressing the need to address India’s large poor population. This was based largely on the principles of preserving, protecting and promoting social harmony, to ensure economic growth and the generation of employment with the assurance of livelihood, enhancing the welfare, well-being and livelihood of farmers, empowering women socially, economically and politically (particularly those in the unorganised and informal sectors), the provision of equal opportunity for the Scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, OBCs and religious minorities in the areas of education and employment, etc. These principles address groups facing oppression and suppression for centuries on end, having to deal with a highly unequal social, economic and political set up. The question of women, Dalits, caste groups, class groups, workforce groups and rural-urban segregation is beginning to be addressed at the political and policy level. The interface of activists, politicians, bureaucrats and civil society members brought in a string of other important legislations such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA 2005), the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 and the National Food Security Act (NFSA 2013), all of which arose from a similar ‘rights’ based agenda. The National Rural Health Mission (NRHM 2005) focussed on bringing quality healthcare to the rural areas, the poor, women and children. It aimed to improve accessibility and quality of healthcare provided. The Janani Suraksha Yojana, a part of the NRHM was a safe motherhood intervention aimed at reducing maternal and neonatal mortality in poor and pregnant women (Government of India, 2005). The Right to Education Act (RTE 2009) brought in a compulsory elementary education of children in the age group of 6-14 years. The Direct Benefit Transfers (DBT) scheme brought in cash transfers to girl children (along with several other social policies for women and children) to fund educational scholarships, as pensions for the elderly, destitute and widows, for people with disabilities, health related transfers like the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana, the Unique Identification ID or Aadhar made electronic cash transfer systems accessible to the masses. The Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM 2005-06) was based on a combination of the Common Minimum Programme, the MDGs and the need for mission-led initiatives.

The Indian policy context, like all other South Asian nations, is a complicated and diverse field, symbolising the complexity of the contradicting and conflicting ground reality of the multitudes of groups living together. The groups living together in this context are based on deep social biases which are entrenched making the social reality a very difficult one to get out of in spite of policy intervention. The role taken on by the Indian State while largely that of Rights-based Development Welfare State raises concerns of the financial feasibility of a nation still struggling to develop economically to spend so much of tax money on making basic provisions accessible to a large majority of the population. However, the desperate need for State based social policy cannot be side-lined in their context. This need is felt on a regional scale (South Asian region) as is represented in the table below highlights the commonality in social protection policies adopted in this region.

Screenshot (9)

Source: Development and Welfare Policy in South Asia: Gabriele Koehler and Deepta Chopra

The complexity of the intersectionality of women’s oppression along with caste based, class based and work based biases makes the functioning of each policy passed a tentative affair, creating the need for constant and dynamic revision of the policies passed. The question of implementation and factors contributing to the failure of implementation such as structural problems and systemic failures such as corruption and lack of political will raise the complexity of the context of social protection to higher levels. In conclusion, policies of development and welfare in the Indian context cannot be restricted to the role of the State merely passing legislations,  Schemes or Yojanas, but necessitates the dynamic intermingling of multiple social groups and state mechanisms to bring about any success in intervention.

REFERENCES


[Feature Image sourced from: http://www.livemint.com/Opinion/7sYuSbU9ygwJ5FakaNCjBM/Choosing-the-right-development-paradigm-for-India.html]

Frey, B. (2008) Happiness: A Revolution in Economics, Cambridge, MA/London: The MIT Press

GoI. (2005) Government of India, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, National Rural Health Mission: Mission document (2005-2012), available at http://indiagovernmenance.gov.in/files/ Mission_Document_NRHM.pdf.

IEG (2011) IEG Annual Report 2011: Results and Performance of the World Bank Group, Washington, DC: Independent Evaluation Group

Johnson, C. (1999) ‘The Developmental Welfare State: Odyssey of a Concept’, in M. Woo-Cumings (ed.) The Developmental State, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, pp. 32-60

Jayal, N.G. (2013) Citizenship and its Discontents: An Indian History, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press

Kabeer, N. (ed.) (2005) Inclusive Citizenship, Meanings and Expressions. Volume 1 of Claiming Citizenship, Rights, Participation and Accountability, London: Zed Books

Koehler, G. and Chopra, D. (2014) Development and Welfare Policy in South AsiaMcGregor, J.A. and Sumner, A. (2010) ‘Beyond Business as Usual: What might 3D well-being

contribute to MDG Momentum?’, IDS Bulletin, The MDGs and Beyond 41(1), pp. 104-112
Sen, G. (2011) Engendering Social Security and Protection: The Case of Asia, International Policy

Analysis, Berlin: Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung

UNDP. (2010) Human Development Report, The Real Wealth of Nations: Pathways to Human Development, New York: UNDP

(Devika is pursuing Master’s Programme in Public Policy at the National Law School of India University. She can be reached at devikasingh@nls.ac.in)

Policy Brief | Literacy Without Learning

Sakshi Mehra

 

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Executive Summary

India has made significant progress in boosting school enrolment rates and increasing access to primary education as evident from the fact that enrollments have reached 96 percent since 2009 and 56 percent of new students enrolled between 2007 and 2009 have been girls. However the same has not reflected positively in dropout rates and levels of learning. Nationally 29 percent of children drop out before completing five years of primary school. Increase in school enrolment is not translating into higher learning outcomes and cognitive skills as measured by several studies.  

Reasons to be Worried

  • Annual Survey of Educational Research (ASER 2013) found that only 54 percent of class V children were able to do simple 2 digit subtraction.

  • In 2005, 50 per cent of children in Grade V were unable to read a simple Grade II level text. The number is virtually unchanged 10 years later in 2014.

policybriefloknitiTable 1: Grade 9 completion rates of children by their reading levels at age 8-11
Source: IHDS data for 2004-5 and 2011-12.

Policy Options

India’s education system has many challenges at all levels, but all of them will fail if children don’t emerge from their early years of school reading fluently. The current discourse on education reforms have been discussing the following alternatives

  • There is an active national debate to scrap the No Detention Policy (NDP), a policy that prohibits failing children in classes 1 to 8. It is believed that in the absence of a proper regulatory framework, this has unfortunately led to ‘no learning’ in many cases.
  • Another approach involves a detailed look at the financing structure of school development plans. Currently, all budgetary plans are made using DISE (District Information System for Education) data, which has no component for learning outcomes. A specific amount that can be used as a learning grant should be given to the states, which should be linked to clearly determine learning goals. School committees based on learning outcome plans should take expenditure decisions regarding this grant.
  •  I believe we need to look at investing our time and resources in an approach that is neither too myopic and shortsighted, nor so broad and long-term that the millions already in school remain excluded from its benefits. In this context, we must begin from correcting the deficiencies in the classroom. It has already been established by researchers over the past decade that the teacher is the most influential factor for achieving quality education. Unfortunately, despite Teachers’ salaries accounting for 90 percent of education expenditure, One in four government primary school teachers are absent and only one in two is actually teaching.

Influencing learning outcomes by improving the teacher’s performance may further be adopted in two different ways: –

  1. Financial incentives and sanctions for teacher motivation: It is the intangible factors such as enthusiasm and passion that are likely to account for a majority of the variation in value added by the teacher and students’ learning outcomes. Evaluation of teachers based on their contribution to students’ achievement or their true value addition should be made the basis for financial rewards and promotion decisions. Performance based incentives could prove to be an effective way to keep the teachers motivated and deliver optimally. A UNICEF paper on teacher absenteeism in India also talks about the scope to effectively enforce sanctions on erring teachers. (Saihjee 2011) Guarantee of a salary, accompanied by weak sanctions actually creates an incentive to be absent. Thus, addressing the moral hazard problem will provide a solution to the problem of academic underperformance.
  2.  A Teacher empowerment program: This approach delves into the root causes of underperformance of teachers by addressing the hindrances to perform to potential. Thus, empowering the teacher through institutional changes for a more conducive teaching environment is the key. The program aims to place power in their hands and facilitate its responsible use. Of all these options, I recommend that teacher empowerment be pursued.

Why Teacher Empowerment?

It has already been established by researchers over the past decade that the teacher is the most influential factor for achieving quality education. Addressing teacher motivation through sanctions or financial incentives will not be as effective as desired as proven in several studies.

A study by National Bureau Of Economic Research conducted on New York City Public Schools suggests that there is no evidence that teacher incentives increase student performance. (G. Fryer, Jr, 2011) Similar studies conducted in the Indian States reveal the same trend. If anything, this may adversely affect learning levels by increasing stress levels on teachers and students, encourage a narrowed curriculum of teaching to the test and propel student exclusion. Despite the opportunity and incentive to be absent, the fact that 3 out of every 4 teachers opts to be present indicates that there is clearly more to the issue than merely a “free-rider” problem. Thus, the root problem does not stem from the teacher’s motivation level, but from the lack of institutional support that is necessary for the teacher to perform to his or her potential and these are what need to be fixed so as to empower the teacher to deliver better in the classroom.

Scrapping the no detention policy is likely to be counter-productive by increasing the chances of early dropouts.  Moreover, the decline in learning levels is erroneously being attributed to this policy, whereas data from 2005 to 2010 (before implementation of RTE that introduced NDP) shows the same poor results.

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What Needs to be done?

An insight into the following challenges substantiates the need for institutional changes for a more conducive learning environment that enhances teacher performance and thus reiterates the need for a teacher empowerment program.

  • A study by Sipahimalani-Rao highlights unauthorised leave in Government schools is actually a mere 3-4 percent of total teacher absenteeism as against an inflated projected figure of 24-25 per cent (Priyam 2015). The latter per cent is because teachers are sent on formal chores outside the school during working hours. These non-teaching tasks include management of mid-day meals, organising construction work in the school, maintaining data and so on. During elections, government schoolteachers are posted as booth-level officers on voting days, and they have to prepare, check and maintain electoral rolls prior to voting. Distraction from core responsibilities of teaching could not be more obvious.

Action item: Raising the amount of time teachers spend on the core job needs serious attention and a minimum benchmark for the same must be clearly demarcated.

  • To exacerbate the problem, there are huge teacher shortages (Rajasthan has close to 20percent single-teacher schools) and this further overburdens the teachers.

Action item: Filling the staffing gaps should be made a priority.

  • Despite 16,000 teacher training institutes, the passing rates of the 2015 Teacher eligibility Test (TET) was a mere 17 percent, which is an alarming indication of the underperformance of the teacher education system. The 2012 Justice Verma Commission has made remarks including lack of training in training institutes and exam results being manipulated (MHRD 2011) Low-cost private schools barely spend anything on teacher training.

Action items:

Making teacher training institutes more accountable

Teacher unions need to act as institutions of value to produce well-informed teachers with an enhanced capacity for consensual action for the common good.

Teachers also must be given special training to deal with the diversity amongst students, especially students from underprivileged backgrounds as social class also impacts learning abilities. 21 per cent of children from economically stronger backgrounds who could not read or recognise letters in the age group of 8-11 managed to complete Grade 9 as against 7 per cent of their counterparts belonging to economically weaker and poorer sections

  • A significant number of Indian teachers, especially government teachers are expected to miraculously teach in multi-grade classrooms in remote locations with few amenities. This is a clear Violation of the 1986 Policy Operation Blackboard norms, which mandates at least one teacher for each class/section and at least one room for each class.

Action item: Strict adherence to Operation Blackboard norms, of at least one teacher for each class/section and at least one room for each class. Pupil-Teacher Ratio (PTR) of 40:1 and 35:1 at primary and upper primary level respectively, as prescribed in the RTE, should be enforced.

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(Sakshi Mehra is a graduate student of Master of Public Policy in the National Law School of India University. She can be reached at sakshimehra@nls.ac.in)

Sources

Paper by Aarti Saihjee, Education Specialist, New York UNICEF-Penn Learning Programme on Social Norms July 2011

Teacher Incentives and Student Achievement: Evidence from New York City Public Schools Roland G. Fryer, Jr. Harvard University and NBER, November 2011

Manisha Priyam 2015 Contested Politics of Educational Reform in India: Aligning Opportunities with Interests: Oxford University Press

Justice Verma Commission on Teacher Education, Volume 3, 2012

 

Featured image source: http://www.un.org/en/index.html

 

Unlimited Growth on a Finite Planet

Vivek Raj Anand

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Background

Aurelio Peccei, an Italian scholar and industrialist, looked at the contemporary national crisis of the 20th century as symptoms of a larger insidious global crisis. He founded the Club of Rome, a virtual think tank —consisting of scientists, educators, humanists, and businessmen who were concerned with global issues— in 1968. Peccei believed that the new problems faced by humanity could not be categorised solely as economic, ecological, social or security problems. Rather, each problem is multi-faceted, where all the aspects are interconnected and interacting amongst themselves. It is the design of these interconnections and patterns of interactions that determine the nature of such dynamic global problems. Furthermore, cause-effect relationships inherent in such problems are counter-intuitive in nature, as the human mind has not gathered requisite intuition for understanding complex systems. Human intuition is trained to work in the context of simple systems; however, complex systems like Earth do not behave in the same way. Dynamic correlations between various subsystems determine the behaviour of complex systems.

System Dynamics is the science that studies interconnections between complex systems and Peccei wanted a system dynamics based scientific simulation model to forecast the future of humanity and planet earth. Dennis Meadows, a professor at MIT Sloan School of Management, took up the project of constructing a simulation model, with funds coming from Volkswagen Foundation.

The team worked on the hypothesis that unlimited growth —propelled by population, industrialisation, pollution, food production and non-renewable resource utilization— is not sustainable because of the limited physical endowment of planet earth. The outcome of this project has been described in this book “Limits to Growth”.

Exponential Growth

Modern economics presume that despite the peaks and troughs of business cycles, economies would always continue to grow in the long term. This book rebuts the aforesaid presumption of perpetual growth and ascribes the reason to the finiteness of Earth’s physical resources, which would eventually exhaust due to exponential growth in material demand. While authors acknowledge the diminishing marginal utility of material consumption —only after having met the threshold limit necessary for ensuring the basic well-being, the argument presented by the unrestrained growth is not on ethical or ideological grounds.  

The book explains the concept of exponential function in a rather lucid and non-mathematical manner, and provides an intuitive understanding of reasons behind the exponential growth in population and industrial output through the use of “feedback loops”. The study group observed the dominance of positive feedback loops in all the studied variables – population, industrial output, pollution, food production and non-renewable resource utilisation.

Further, the book juxtaposes exponential growth in aforesaid variables with a decline of finite physical resources of the planet, so as to ascertain the overshoot[1] and cross point. Those physical resources determine the carrying capacity of the planet, and are hence the ‘Limits to growth’.

Scenarios

The mandate of the research was not to make a doomsday prediction. Rather, it was a mathematical modelling exercise whereby endogenous variables like population growth, industrial output, pollution, food production and non-renewable resources were iterated so as to project different future scenarios of the world. The iterations of these variables represent different growth trajectories adopted by world economies, and hence it was left to mankind to choose a particular trajectory. The team developed twelve such scenarios, which included the collapse scenarios and the equilibrium ones.

The book concluded that human ecological footprint, if unchecked, would grow beyond the carrying capacity of globe i.e. what planet can provide on a sustainable basis. In the long run, it is impossible that humanity can use more physical resources and generate more emissions every year than what nature is capable of supplying and absorbing in a sustainable manner. As demand can never overshoot supply, the human ecological footprint will eventually decline either through “managed decline” or through “collapse” to sustainable levels. An example of managed decline would be limiting the annual catch of fish to a sustainable limit through legislation. An example of the latter would be the elimination of fishing communities because there are no more fish left in water bodies. The authors also argued that while market, technology and government are capable of making positive interventions, such interventions would only defer the crisis and not solve the problem, as long as there is no check on exponential growth. Hence, the cross and overshoot will still happen, but only at a later date.

Standard run. The model was tested under various assumptions, beginning with the “standard run”. Standard run assumes business as usual conditions as it existed in 1972, i.e. in the next one hundred years, there will be no significant changes in the nature of growth in the five variables. Not too surprisingly, the model projected disaster long before the end of the twenty-first century because of complete exhaustion of resources (Refer Figure 1).

figure1

Figure 1 Standard Run – Business as usual – Resource exhaustion

Succeeding runs These were made with more favourable assumptions, but all indicated collapse within a hundred years.

Stable model or Equilibrium. The study group wanted their proposed model to be self-sustaining —sustainable without sudden and uncontrollable collapse— and at the same time capable of satisfying the basic material requirements of the world. Authors called such a state as ‘Equilibrium’, a state where population and capital are stable,  and the forces tending to increase or decrease them are in a carefully controlled balance. This is possible when birth rate equals the death rate and capital investment rate equals the depreciation rate. Now, this equilibrium —i.e stable population and capital— can be at high or low levels of population and capital. Authors say that the level of capital and population, and the ratio of the two, should be set in accordance with the values of society. They may be deliberately revised and slowly adjusted as the advance of technology creates new options. (Refer Figure 2).

figure2

Figure 2 Sustainable development or Equilibrium Scenarios

Authors claim that this equilibrium does not refer to the stagnation of an economy; rather, it is dynamic in nature. Within stable population and capital, corporations could expand or fail, local population could increase or decrease. Services provided by a constant stock of capital would continue to increase due to technological advances. Besides that, human activities that do not require a large flow of irreplaceable resources or cause severe environmental degradation might continue to grow indefinitely. In fact those pursuits which are most desirable and satisfying like education, art, music, religion, basic scientific research, athletics and social interaction could flourish. This could be made possible through an increase in leisure. Such increase in leisure can be made possible only through improvement in production methods using technology. This increased leisure time could be devoted to any activity that is relatively non-consuming and non-polluting.

Readability and Limitations

The book has been suitably written so that general public can understand a rather complex subject matter of system dynamics based simulation model. Mathematical concepts like exponential growth, compounding effect, etc. have been explained in an intuitive manner. However, readers who do not have exposure to mathematical modelling will face difficulty in understanding the scenarios developed by the team.

The book can be critiqued on multiple accounts, more specifically on its assumptions and simplifications made in the model.  Authors themselves acknowledge that there are many imperfections in the model, and the same can always be improved upon. However, all those critical comments belong to a single genre, which is the limitation of any modelling exercise conducted in social sciences. No model can truly predict the future that is related to human actions or inactions. Furthermore, history has always advanced through lurching discontinuities, most of them were utterly unpredictable and hence they are not programmable.

Conclusion

The book has significant policy implications, especially for problems that are global in nature. It also exhibits the power of data analytics and computer simulation in making objective future projections. No model can fully represent the complexity of a society that consists of human beings who are invariably guided by bounded rationality and whose response is extremely dynamic. Moreover, no mathematical model can factor in all the tangible and intangible variables that determine human actions or inactions. However, the world model developed by Dennis Meadows’ team was successful in providing a heads-up to an ensuing crisis if business as usual continues. Such a heads up is all the more important for phenomenon related to complex systems with high time-constants as it warrants forthwith action. The book projects a crisis that is a necessary —but certainly not sufficient— condition for inspiring policy actions.

[1] Overshoot refers to going too far i.e. going beyond the limits. For instance, if too many trees are cut every year, the forests will ultimately vanish despite natural regrowth phenomenon.

 

(Vivek Raj Anand is a graduate student of Master of Public Policy in the National Law School of India University. He can be reached at vivekrajanand@nls.ac.in)