Daily Editorial Analysis for 15th January 2020

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NGO Pratham’s Annual Status of Education Reports (ASER)

Paper: II

For Prelims: Draft New Education Policy (2019).

For Mains: Development Processes and the Development Industry — the Role of NGOs, SHGs, various groups and associations, donors, charities, institutional and other stakeholders.


Context of News:

  • The latest edition of ASER(2019), released recently , directs attention to children between four and eight years of age, and suggests that India’s learning crisis could be linked to the weakness of the country’s pre-primary system
  • Since 2005, the NGO Pratham’s Annual Status of Education Reports (ASER) have shone a light on a critical failure of India’s education system: A large number of school-going children across the country are short on basic learning skills. These reports have led to debates on seminal policy interventions such as the Right to Education Act and have been catalysts for meaningful conversations on the pedagogical deficiencies of the formal school system.

Draft New Education Policy (2019):

  • Draft National Education Policy 2019: The policy aims to universalize the pre-primary education by 2025 and provide foundational literacy/numeracy for all by 2025. The Draft National Education Policy, 2019 is out in the public domain. Kasturirangan Committee has produced the policy document.
  • The report proposes an education policy, which seeks to address the challenges of: (i) access, (ii) equity, (iii) quality, (iv) affordability, and (v) accountability faced by the current education system.
  • The draft Policy provides for reforms at all levels of education from school to higher education. It seeks to increase the focus on early childhood care, reform the current exam system, strengthen teacher training, and restructure the education regulatory framework.  It also seeks to set up a National Education Commission, increase public investment in education, strengthen the use of technology and increase focus on vocational and adult education, among others.

About the Report:

  • Weak Pre -schooling:
  • More than 20 per cent of students in Standard I are less than six, ASER 2019 reveals — they should ideally be in pre-school. At the same time, 36 per cent students in Standard 1 are older than the RTE-mandated age of six. “Even within Standard I, children’s performance on cognitive, early language, early numeracy, and social and emotional learning tasks is strongly related to their age.
  • Older children do better on all tasks,” the report says. This is a significant finding and should be the starting point for a substantive debate on the ideal entry-level age to primary school. In this context, policymakers would also do well to go back to the pedagogical axiom which underlines that children between four and eight are best taught cognitive skills through play-based activities. The emphasis, as ASER 2019 emphasises, should be on “developing problem-solving faculties and building memory of children, and not content knowledge”.
  • Anganwadi foundation centre of Education Building:
  • ASER 2019 talks about leveraging the existing network of anganwadi centres to implement school readiness. The core structure of the anganwadis was developed more than 40 years ago as part of the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS).
  • Pre-school education is part of their mandate. But at the best of times, these centres do no more than implement the government’s child nutrition schemes. A number of health crises — including last year’s AES outbreak in Bihar — have bared the inadequacies of the system. A growing body of scholarly work has also shown that the anganwadi worker is poorly-paid, demoralised and lacks the autonomy to be an effective nurturer. The ASER report is alive to such shortcomings. “There is a need to expand and upgrade anganwadis to ensure that children get adequate and correct educational inputs of the kind that are not modeled after the formal school.

What is Worrisome Things?

  • The gap between policy and practice is visible in what happens inside preschools and pre-primary grades. In fact, the early years’ space (age four to eight) in India can be seen like a “see-saw”. Large numbers of young children are enrolled in anganwadis. But within the anganwadi system, early childhood education is not given the priority it needs.
  • Number of children entering private preschools and pre-primary grades. But even as the name suggests, the activities at this stage are very much like a downward extension of schooling. Therefore, for different reasons, neither the government provision nor the private delivery can adequately provide exposure to developmentally appropriate “breadth of skills” that children need at this age.
  • Private preschools that are mushrooming in urban and rural communities have increased access to preschool but are often designed to be a downward extension of schooling. Thus, they bring in school-like features into the pre-school classroom, rather than developmentally appropriate activities by age and phase.
  • Children from poor families have a double disadvantage — lack of healthcare and nutrition on one side and the absence of a supportive learning environment on the other. Although the anganwadi network across India is huge, by and large, school readiness or early childhood development and education activities have not had high priority in the ICDS system

Way Forward:

  • On the pedagogy side, a reworking of curriculum and activities is urgently needed for the entire age band from four to eight, cutting across all types of preschools and early grades regardless of whether the provision is by government institutions or by private agencies.
  • Anyone looking closely at the status of young children in India will agree with the draft NEP statement that early childhood education has the potential to be the “greatest and most powerful equaliser”. The year 2020 marks the 10th anniversary of the RTE Act. This is the best moment to focus on the youngest cohorts before and during their entry to formal schooling and ensure that 10 years later they complete secondary school as well-equipped and well-rounded citizens of India.

The long wait for empowered mayors

GS Paper II

Topic: issues and challenges pertaining to the federal structure, devolution of powers and finances up to local levels and challenges therein.

Mains: advantages and disadvantages of elected mayors in India.

What’s the News?

Metros have been deprived of empowered Mayors who can raise efficiency, productivity and liveability. Mayors in many global cities go on to lead their country, which possibly explains why they have been reduced to obscure, ceremonial figures by national parties in India.

Economic survey 2017-18:

  • It notes that a third of the population now lives in urban areas which produce three-fifths of the GDP. But India’s overflowing cities lack capacity, infrastructure and leadership.
  • The Survey acknowledges this, attributing it to the absence of a single city government in charge, and low spending on infrastructure.
  • State governments amass the large economic output from urban agglomerations, but are averse to a strong Mayoral system.

Advantages of elected mayors:

  • Government departments will feel accountable for urban services and infrastructure only under the watch of an empowered leader, who enjoys the mandate of the city’s residents.
  • A lot of time has been lost, as recalcitrant State leaders, who often have remote rural bases of support, stymie the pace of orderly urban development.
  • Lack of coherence in government is hindering better productivity, and causing losses through pollution, congestion and poor outcomes on infrastructure investments.
  • The priorities are flawed, the administration is fragmented and the capacity of city governments is low.


  • In some States, elections to urban local bodies have not been held for years, defeating the lofty goal of decentralised governance. Tamil Nadu is a prominent example.
  • In spite of the 74th Constitution Amendment Act of 1992 identifying 18 local level functions to be devolved, the average of subjects devolved in all these years is nine, and does not include the major municipal services which continue to be run by parastatal authorities that answer to State governments.
  • Newer devices used to bypass local bodies and priorities are styled as special schemes, such as urban renewal and smart cities, directly supervised by the Central government.
  • Several States are averse to directly-elected Mayors even for their biggest cities, in spite of the Mayor being deprived of any significant powers. The appointment of the executive in-charge, the Municipal Commissioner is a good example.
  • Chief Ministers see a potential threat from a charismatic and empowered Mayor with progressive policies. Some of them have used the excuse of poor performance of urban local bodies as a justification to replace direct election of Mayors with an indirect system.
  • Empowered Mayors, such as those in New York, Paris, London or even Shanghai, could steal the limelight through spectacular successes, leaving Chief Ministers and legislators with little direct connect with urban voters.


  • In the coming decade, progress on Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the UN Habitat New Urban Agenda will come under close international scrutiny.Conclusion:
  • India’s cities need a new deal, one that is focused on development. Only elected, empowered and accountable Mayors can deliver on that.

Mains question:

‘’Metros have been deprived of empowered Mayors who can raise efficiency, productivity and liveability.’’ Analyze the statement.


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