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Daily Current Affairs 23.08.2022 (‘Kerala Savari’, India’s first online taxi service as a public option, ‘Tomato flu’ detected among children in India, says Lancet, Loan defaulters, entities under probe need NOC to invest overseas, The road to China’s 20th Party Congress, Factoring in the risk, Not centres of learning yet)

Daily Current Affairs 23.08.2022 (‘Kerala Savari’, India’s first online taxi service as a public option, ‘Tomato flu’ detected among children in India, says Lancet, Loan defaulters, entities under probe need NOC to invest overseas, The road to China’s 20th Party Congress, Factoring in the risk, Not centres of learning yet)

1.Kerala Savari’, India’s first online taxi service as a public option

Why is the Kerala government launching its own app-based taxi service? How is it different from existing private players?

Kerala has soft launched ‘Kerala Savari’, to ensure decent service to passengers along with fair remuneration to auto-taxi workers. It is operated by the Motor Workers Welfare Board under the aegis of the Labour Department.

Kerala Savari only charges an 8% service charge in addition to the rate set by the government. Of the 8% service charge, 6% will go to the technical partner, and the remaining 2% will go to the implementation of this scheme and for providing promotional incentives to passengers and drivers.

 Kerala Savari is a safe and reliable online service for women, children, and senior citizens. A police clearance certificate is mandatory for drivers joining the scheme apart from the required proper training.

Dhinesh Kallungal

The story so far: Kerala has soft launched ‘Kerala Savari’, the country’s first online taxi service owned by a State government, to ensure fair and decent service to passengers along with fair remuneration to auto-taxi workers. Operated by the Motor Workers Welfare Board under the aegis of the Labour Department, the Kerala Savari ensures safe travel for the public at ‘government approved fares’ without any ‘surge pricing’. The ‘Kerala Savari’ app would be made available to the public on online platforms shortly as it is under the scrutiny of Google now.

Why has the State government decided to launch this initiative?

The alleged unfair trade practices and violation of consumer rights by private app-based cab aggregators have come as a major concern for governments. Recently, the Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) had issued notices to cab aggregators Ola and Uber for unfair trade practices and violation of consumer rights. Passengers often complain about the deficiency in services including charging exorbitant fares during peak hours, unprofessional behaviour from the part of drivers, lack of proper response from customer support, and undue levy of cancellation charges despite the cab driver refusing to accept the ride booked by the passenger etc.

It is against this backdrop that the Kerala government has decided to come up with an app-based platform to offer auto-taxi service for the public. As private companies are purely focusing on profit making, the government-controlled online taxi service is a service-oriented scheme — a win-win situation for both passengers and taxi-auto drivers and owners.

What are the main attractions of ‘Kerala Savari’?

Private cab aggregators used to make a killing with surge pricing during peak hours or in the event of rains. The passengers were often forced to pay through their nose during these critical times. But there will be no fluctuation in fares on Kerala Savari irrespective of day or night or rain.

When private app-based taxi companies increase the charges for services up to two to three times during emergencies, neither passengers nor workers benefit from it. But Kerala Savari only charges an 8% service charge in addition to the rate set by the government, whereas the private cab aggregators charge up to 20 to 30% service charge. The taxi owner will get the approved fare on ‘Kerala Savari,’ while cab owners working for private online companies would often get a fare which is below the government-approved rate.

Furthermore, of the 8% service charge collected from passengers, 6% will go to the technical partner, and the remaining 2% will go to the implementation of this scheme and for providing promotional incentives to passengers and drivers. The government will not be benefiting from this scheme. For instance, if the passenger travelled a distance fixed for ₹100, the total fare would be ₹108 including service charge. The car owner will get ₹100 and the remaining ₹8 would be used for running the facility and for providing promotional incentives to passengers and drivers. In the case of online private cab aggregators, the car owner used to get below the rate of ₹100 although he covered a distance fixed for the same fare band. In addition, they would charge more than 20% service charge.

What are the security-related features of ‘Kerala Savari’?

One of the major issues that arise with app-based taxi services is that of the security of passengers. Kerala Savari is claimed as a safe and reliable online service for women, children, and senior citizens. This consideration has been given importance in app designing and driver registration. A police clearance certificate is mandatory for drivers joining the scheme apart from the required proper training.

A panic button system has been introduced in the app. This button can be pressed in the event of a car accident or in cases of any other danger. One can do it completely privately. If the driver presses the panic button the passenger will not be alarmed and the same goes for when the passenger presses the panic button. When one presses the button, there is an option to select the Police, Fire Force, and Motor Vehicle Department numbers. If you are in such a dangerous situation that you cannot select any option, press the button for a few seconds and you will be directly connected to the police control room.

It has also been decided to install GPS in vehicles at a subsidised rate. This will be implemented in a phased manner. A 24-hour call centre has been prepared for this purpose. A state-of-the-art call centre is functioning at the district office of the Motor Workers Welfare Board. The call centre works in such a way that all service-related issues can be resolved immediately.

Will the new government initiative end the monopoly of private cab aggregators?

Kerala has over five lakh autorickshaws and one lakh cabs. The State government plans to bring all auto-taxi workers engaged in the sector under the new platform. Since smartphone literacy is high in Kerala, the State is hopeful of bringing them under the scheme in a short span of time. In addition, the Kerala government has also decided to provide fuel, insurance, and tyre subsidies for vehicle owners in the future and has already initiated talks with major companies in this regard. After the evaluation of the first phase of the project in Thiruvananthapuram, it will be extended to the entire State in a phased manner. Kerala Savari is expected to reach Kollam, Ernakulam, Thrissur, Kozhikode, and Kannur municipal limits within a month.

2. ‘Tomato flu’ detected among children in India, says Lancet

Cases reported in Kerala, T.N. and Odisha; precautions taken to check spread

A new infection dubbed tomato flu, or tomato fever, has been detected in India mostly among children younger than five, according to a report in the Lancet Respiratory Journal.

The “non-life-threatening” virus was first identified in Kollam district of Kerala on May 6. As of July 26, more than 82 children younger than five had been reported with the infection by government hospitals in Kerala, the report published in the August 17 issue of the journal said.

It further said that this endemic viral illness triggered an alert in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

Additionally, 26 children (aged one to nine) were reported with the infection in Odisha. “To date, apart from Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Odisha, no other region in India has been affected by the virus. However, precautionary measures are being taken by the Kerala Health Department to monitor the spread of the viral infection and prevent its spread in other parts of India,” the report noted.

Primary symptoms

The primary symptoms of tomato flu are similar to those of chikungunya, which include high fever, rashes, and intense pain in the joints. As with other viral infections, further symptoms include fatigue, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, dehydration, swelling of joints, body aches, and common influenza-like symptoms, which are similar to those manifested in dengue.

As tomato flu is similar to chikungunya and dengue as well as hand, foot, and mouth disease, the treatment is also similar — isolation, rest, plenty of fluids, and hot water sponge for the relief of irritation and rashes. Supportive therapy of paracetamol for fever and body ache and other symptomatic treatments may be required.

Similar to other types of influenza, tomato flu is very contagious and children are at an increased risk of exposure as viral infections are common in this age group and the spread is likely to be through close contact, the report noted

Young children are also prone to this infection through the use of nappies, touching unclean surfaces, and putting things directly into the mouth.

Given the similarities to hand, foot, and mouth disease, if the outbreak of tomato flu in children is not controlled and prevented, the transmission might lead to serious consequences by spreading in adults as well, the report said.

“The ‘tomato flu’ is caused by Coxsackie virus A 16. It belongs to Enterovirus family. Hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD) is a frequent febrile rash illness of childhood caused by enteroviruses (EV): Coxsackie A16 (CA16), EV A71, Coxsackie A6, Coxsackie B and Echo viruses,” said Dr. Suresh Kumar Panuganti, paediatrician, Yashoda Hospitals, Hyderabad.

Tomato Flu:

  • Tomato flu is a viral disease, which causes red rashes, skin irritation, and dehydration.
  • The fever is affecting children below the age of five in Kerala.
  • The flu that gets its name because of the red blister it causes.
  • Around 80 children have so far been infected with the Tomato flu.
  • There is no confirmation yet on whether the Tomato Fever is a viral fever or is an after-effect of chikungunya or dengue fever. 
  • Symptoms of Tomato flu:
    • The main symptoms include high fever, rashes, and skin irritation. Hand and leg skin colour can change with rising blisters.
    • Children might also experience abdominal cramps, body aches, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhoea.
  • Treatment of Tomato flu:
    • If a child shows symptoms, they should be taken directly to a doctor.
    • Children are advised to be kept hydrated.
    • If infected, the child must avoid scratching the blisters and maintain cleanliness and hygiene.

Preventive measures:

  • Contact doctor immediately
  • Do not scratch the blisters
  • Stay hydrated by drinking boiled water.
  • Maintain proper hygiene.
  • Avoid close contact with the infected person.
  • Use warm water for bathing
  • Take proper rest to avoid its long-lasting effect

3. Loan defaulters, entities under probe need NOC to invest overseas

‘New norms to ease doing business’

The government notified new norms for overseas investments by Indians on Monday that are aimed at making it easier for domestic corporates to invest abroad, while making it tougher for loan defaulters and others being probed by investigative agencies and regulators to shift funds out of the country.

The Overseas Investment Rules and Regulations, notified under the Foreign Exchange Management Act, will be administered by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), and shall subsume all existing norms pertaining to overseas investments as well as acquisition and transfer of immovable property outside India.

‘No-go sectors’

No Indian resident shall be allowed to make investments into foreign entities that are engaged in real estate activity, gambling in any form; and, dealing with financial products linked to the Indian rupee would require the central bank’s specific approval.

To make it difficult for bank defaulters and fraudsters to acquire assets abroad, often as a precursor to leaving the country, the new rules mandate they secure a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from their lender, or concerned regulators and investigative agencies before making any ‘financial commitment’.

This NOC shall be mandatory for any person who has a bank account classified as a non-performing asset, or is labelled a wilful defaulter by any bank, or is under the investigation by a financial service regulator, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) or the Central Board of Investigation (CBI).

‘60-day timeline’

The rules, framed in consultation with the central bank, provide that if lender banks or the concerned regulatory body or investigative agency fail to furnish the NOC within 60 days of receiving an application, it may be presumed that they have no objection to the proposed transaction.

“In view of the evolving needs of businesses in India in an increasingly integrated global market, there is need of Indian corporates to be part of global value chain. The revised regulatory framework for overseas investment provides for simplification of the existing framework for overseas investment and has been aligned with the current business and economic dynamics,” the Finance Ministry said.

“Clarity on Overseas Direct Investment and Overseas Portfolio Investment has been brought in and various overseas investment related transactions that were earlier under approval route are now under automatic route, significantly enhancing Ease of Doing Business,” the Ministry added.

Foreign Exchange Management Act, 1999

  • The legal framework for the administration of foreign exchange transactions in India is provided by the Foreign Exchange Management Act, 1999.
  • Under the FEMA, which came into force with effect from 1st June 2000, all transactions involving foreign exchange have been classified either as capital or current account transactions.
  • Current Account Transactions:
  • All transactions undertaken by a resident that do not alter his / her assets or liabilities, including contingent liabilities, outside India are current account transactions.

Example: payment in connection with foreign trade, expenses in connection with foreign travel, education etc.

  • Capital Account Transactions:
  • It includes those transactions which are undertaken by a resident of India such that his/her assets or liabilities outside India are altered (either increased or decreased).

Example: investment in foreign securities, acquisition of immovable property outside India etc.

  • Resident Indians:
  • A ‘person resident in India’ is defined in Section 2(v) of FEMA, 1999 as:
  • Barring few exceptions, a person residing in India for more than 182 days during the course of the preceding financial year.
  • Any person or body corporate registered or incorporated in India.
  • An office, branch or agency in India owned or controlled by a person resident outside India.
  • An office, branch or agency outside India owned or controlled by a person resident in India.

Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002

  • It forms the core of the legal framework put in place by India to combat Money Laundering.
  • The provisions of this act are applicable to all financial institutions, banks (Including RBI), mutual funds, insurance companies, and their financial intermediaries.
  • PMLA (Amendment) Act, 2012:
  • Adds the concept of ‘reporting entity’ which would include a banking company, financial institution, intermediary etc.
  • PMLA, 2002 levied a fine up to Rs 5 lakh, but the amendment act has removed this upper limit.
  • It has provided for provisional attachment and confiscation of property of any person involved in such activities.

4. Editorial-1: The road to China’s 20th Party Congress

The Party Congress is significant as it is being held at a time when China sees the period as one of ‘great disorder’

The 20th Chinese Communist Party (CPC) Congress is scheduled to take place later this year. Unlike the kinds of situations that at times prevailed on the eve of some of the previous Party Congress events, no unforeseen events are anticipated. This is a reflection of President Xi Jinping’s tight control over both the party and the state apparatus. As of now, it seems a foregone conclusion that Mr. Xi will continue as the Party General Secretary for an unprecedented third term.

Nevertheless, the 20th Party Congress is significant for the reason that it is being held at a time when China, for its part, sees the period as one of ‘great disorder’. Also, after decades of spectacular economic growth, China is currently seeing a significant economic downturn, even if its economy is still doing better than most other world economies. Inexplicable as it may seem, the impression that China gives today is that it is being shackled by antagonistic forces.

China’s world view

The main difference between 2012, when Mr. Xi became the Party General Secretary for the first time, and 2022, when he is almost certain to be anointed for a third term, is how China’s world view has altered. In the external realm today, the Chinese leadership believes that the United Nations has become dysfunctional and is no longer able to maintain global peace. Global economic cooperation and stability, China avers, has broken down irreparably. The post-World War II consensus on almost all matters has ceased.

Internally also, there has been a shift, with greater importance being attached to ideological training to withstand ‘inimical forces’. The objective apparently is to ensure total loyalty to Mr. Xi. Party control over not only the armed forces, but all wings of the public security system and apparatus has been tightened. Defending “political security” is now the priority.

Coinciding with this is an upsurge in nationalism. This is based on China’s purported concern that the ‘threat of containment’ of China has increased, and unity within is crucial. Furthermore, this is critical for China to escalate its aggressive manoeuvres, especially in the Indo-Pacific region. Much of this is already evident to an extent, with China flaunting its ‘escalation domination matrix’ in terms of nuclear weapons and new forms of hybrid warfare at one level and highlighting its advanced manufacturing techniques at another. China’s $15 trillion economy and strong military, and the rapidly closing gap relating to state-of-the-art weaponry, can be expected to fuel the determination of the Party Congress to withstand any kind of challenge, specifically to China’s supremacy in the region in which it is situated.

Possible outcomes

What appears almost certain is that the Party Congress will put its seal on Mr. Xi’s current assertive foreign policy initiatives. The imbroglio over the recent visits to Taiwan of the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, and a U.S. delegation subsequently is expected to intensify China’s hawkish posture on the issue of Taiwan. In all likelihood, this will receive the approval of the Party Congress. The Party Congress is also expected to give Mr. Xi a fresh mandate to defeat all future attempts to detach Taiwan from mainland China, if need be, through the use of military force.

Simultaneously, the Party Congress can be expected to give Mr. Xi the authority and a fresh mandate to defeat all current U.S.-led manoeuvres in the Asia Pacific, which are seen as aimed at weakening China. Growing distrust of the West, approximating to a near breakdown in relations, as also the portrayal of the U.S. and its allies as existential or near existential enemies are also likely outcomes emanating from the Congress.

Of equal, if not greater, significance is that the 20th Party Congress is likely to bury for all time Deng Xiaoping’s approach of keeping a low profile until the opportune moment. Based on a belief that, given the relative decline of the West in several spheres, including the economic and military spheres, this is the opportune moment, the Party Congress may give Mr. Xi the authority to go to extreme lengths to achieve its goal of paramountcy in global affairs.

Simultaneously, the Party Congress might also find this an opportune time to shore up the CPC’s domestic legitimacy, by claiming that China under Mr. Xi has been able to overcome a variety of problems, including the COVID-19 pandemic and all attempts by the West to undermine China’s power and potential. In all likelihood, the People’s Liberation Army will get a further boost, with the Party Congress endorsing its centrality in regard to many of the developments taking place.

Also apparent on the eve of the Party Congress is the extent of opaqueness seen in China’s intentions today. Little clarity is available as to its long-term or even medium-term objectives. Two recent initiatives by China — the Global Development Initiative (GDI) and the Global Security Initiative (GSI) — reflect this. The GDI, coming almost nine years after the highly touted Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), merely contains a broad range of aspirations. Unlike the BRI, which witnessed a spate of infrastructure building across the globe, the GDI is, for the present, being touted as a ‘manifestation of China’s wisdom’. The objective behind GSI appears even more ambiguous, even as Mr. Xi continues to proclaim that security remains a precondition for development. No elaboration of what this means is forthcoming.

The Congress could also see a series of initiatives in other directions. One clue regarding this is Mr. Xi’s recent call for ‘self-reliance’. This is a possible hint that China proposes to gradually distance itself from certain countries with which it had maintained close economic relations till now, viz., the U.S., Europe and Japan, emphasising in its place ‘self-reliance’ and trumpeting its ‘singularity’ as regards strategic and advanced technologies. As it is, China has made very significant advances in emerging domains such as cyber, space, and artificial intelligence which are expected to help it dominate the emerging globalised era. In certain areas such as solar, China already claims to have a stranglehold over both the technology and the raw material to sustain any such move. An endorsement by the Party Congress to do this would enable China to steer clear of countries such as the U.S. positing the excuse that it would free China from the vagaries of so-called ‘free world’.

Some concerns

The Party Congress could, however, witness a discussion on certain ideological issues, which continue to be debated in certain quarters but are yet to find a resolution. The presumption ‘growing rich is not evil’ has undergone a change under Mr. Xi, who is a firm believer in Communist orthodoxy, and it would be interesting to see how the Party Congress reacts to this. A string of harsh measures taken to curtail the activities of China’s leading technology leaders, followed by a downturn in the economy, is already heating up the debate on ideological principles and policy in China today. It hinges on the exact stage of Marxist development in China, so crucial to Communist theology per se. None of this is, however, likely to rock the boat at the Party Congress.

The one imponderable that many experts advert to, especially those in the West, is the impact of the uncertain state of the Chinese economy. Most people agree that continuity of the CPC leadership in recent decades owed much to the consistent performance and progression of the Chinese economy. The Chinese economy today is performing well below what it had achieved in the recent past. While the 2020s have provided a set of challenges for almost all countries across the globe, in China the political fallout of a slowing down of the economy has the potential to create upheavals in the higher echelons of the Chinese leadership. Also, recovery could become more difficult in the climate of repression that exists in China today.

Whether concerns about the present situation and of China possibly falling behind in the next stage of global development with serious consequences for its future will adversely affect Mr. Xi and the present line-up of CPC leaders can be debated. But it appears highly unlikely that it would seriously undermine Mr. Xi’s leadership at this time. Most certainly, Mr. Xi is unlikely to face the kind of travails that Zhao Ziyang, who was General Secretary of the CPC during 1987 to 1989, had to contend with. Zhao was purged politically and was under house arrest as he lost favour with the paramount leader Deng.

Notwithstanding what has been stated here, there are still many imponderables present. The shape the 20th Party Congress may take cannot, hence, be safely predicted. While Mr. Xi’s place in history is assured, whether he will eclipse Mao Zedong as the ‘Great Helmsman’ is uncertain.

5. Editorial-2: Factoring in the risk

Development of mountain areas over the years has upset the ecological balance

Monsoon rainfall over India is 8% more than what is usual for this time of the year. While this might bode well for agriculture in some regions, it also means floods and concentrated downpours with devastating consequences. At least 25 people were killed over the weekend as torrential rains triggered flash floods and landslips in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. Several arterial roads were blocked by debris, as currents washed away bridges and vehicles. The toll was higher in Himachal Pradesh with 21 killed and 12 injured. At least six are missing due to chaos following the downpour. Mandi, Kangra and Chamba were the worst-affected districts in the State. While death and damage to property are the surface manifestation of these rains, there are a range of secondary effects with long-term downstream impact. Schools and transport facilities, for instance, are immediately put out of action, leading to loss of productive hours. Cattle and saplings are left to perish, which in turn destroys livelihoods, debilitates family finances and strains the finances of the state exchequer. The monsoon compresses around 75% of India’s annual rainfall into four months and unevenly waters the country’s highly diverse terrain. It is, therefore, inevitable that some spots are far more vulnerable and bear a disproportionate impact of climate fury. A recent report released by Himachal Pradesh’s Department of Environment, Science and Technology underlines that mountain areas are highly vulnerable to natural disasters, where development over the years has compounded the problem by upsetting the ecological balance of various physical processes.

While hill States such as Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand have certain unique challenges, the threats from the vagaries of climate are not unique to them. Monsoon rain patterns are being disrupted leading to a rise in cloudburst-like events as well as a rise in the frequency of high-energy cyclones and droughts. One strategy adopted by the government has been to improve the system of early warning forecasts. The India Meteorological Department now provides fortnightly, weekly and even three-hourly weather forecasts to districts. Within these are integrated warnings about flash floods and lightning. Not all of these are accurate and often, they are not provided early enough for authorities to prepare themselves. In recent years, improvements in early warnings for incoming cyclones have helped state agencies evacuate and rehabilitate the most vulnerable, but such success has not been observed for floods. While the inherent risks of infrastructure development in hills and unstable terrain is well understood, these are often elided by authorities in the name of balancing the demands of the people for better infrastructure and services. The increased risk and cost to such projects and infrastructure should be factored in when they are tendered out by the government, and scientific advice regarding development ought to be strictly adhered to.

6. Editorial-3: Not centres of learning yet

The Anganwadi scheme, designed to support children under six, is yet to fulfil its potential 

As we come to India@75, the Anganwadi system, part of the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) of the government which serves over 30 million children in the age group of 3-6 in 1.3 million centres across the country, should have been a triumph.

The ICDS scheme is designed to support all children under six with their health, nutrition, and education needs — done right, this would make India a leader in the next 25 years in early childhood education and deliver our delayed demographic dividend. However, while across India over 70% of children are enrolled in Anganwadis, they are plagued by low attendance — parents simply do not perceive Anganwadi centres as centres of learning.

Role of parents

Parents’ perceptions of Anganwadis are shaped by how the system views them. In ICDS reports, parents are routinely addressed as “beneficiaries” — passive recipients of ration, immunisation camps, and lately, education. But this is not how parents view themselves or their children. Education for them is a gateway to meeting their aspirations, and a pathway to social mobility so that their children can have opportunities they missed out on. Enrolment rates for primary school reaching over 90% are a direct consequence of the link in parents’ minds that education leads to opportunities for a better life. 

However, the education ecosystem, including the early childhood care & education (ECCE)/ Anganwadi system, is not willing to speak parents’ language. Those of us in the ECCE space often claim to know what parents should want for their children better than they know themselves. But it is not a Sisyphean task to understand what parents want — we simply need to ask them. In surveys that we have conducted repeatedly with rural and urban parents of 3-6 year old children, over 80% of parents consistently tell us that their kids’ best pathway for social mobility through education is via learning English (speaking and writing) and math skills. This is what they look for when they enrol and send their children to a learning centre.

Anganwadi systems, with the best of intentions, do not fulfil parents’ demands. The ECCE curricula for different States instead focus on local language-driven, and play-based pedagogy recommended by leading educators in India for this age group. They prescribe free and guided play-based, activity-based learning, facilitated by a skilled educator — without much thought given to how parents might perceive learning of this sort. No wonder then that when asked about what they thought about the importance of play, a parent told us, “Your kids should study, and ours should play?”

Low attendance in Anganwadis is a tragedy for India’s children’s development. According to experts, the ideal preschool has a skilled facilitator who ensures that children spend most of their time in free and guided play. It includes exploring and manipulating their physical environments to develop early language, early numeracy, socio-emotional, executive function, and motor skills — at a rate of neuronal activity that they will never get back once they get older. The best Anganwadis in many States do look a lot like this. Staffed by Anganwadi workers with roots in play-based pedagogy, attending the Anganwadi for the prescribed two hours a day helps children build critical skills by playing with inexpensive, locally made, indestructible toys in a group setting. 

However, by ignoring or belittling parents’ aspirations and demands (with the best of intentions), we have pushed parents to vote with their feet and leave the Anganwadi system. They are sending their children to the opposite of Anganwadi classrooms — to private preschools that are downward extensions of primary school. Here the 3-, 4-, and 5-year-old children sit in neat rows, practicing joyless, rote-based learning and memorisation of letters and numbers to the exclusion of all else. Over 7 million children in India attend these age-inappropriate private preschools that focus on rote learning from the earliest ages.

Importance of language

To support our children best, we have to start by not patronising parents and ignoring their powerful, expressed needs for English language skills, writing, and maths. We must meet parents in the middle to have any chance of impact at scale in the short term. This can be done in easy ways — exposing children to the English language at an early age in an age appropriate, non-intimidating way — while recognising that the language spoken at home is the best way to reach fluency in any other language.

Giving children a pencil to scribble for a few minutes a day, of course without making them write letters and numbers endlessly, is a great way to support fine motor skills and later writing. Exhibiting the wonder of maths through fun activities like estimation, comparison, sorting, and seriation could help reduce the fear and paralysis of maths that gets in their way of succeeding in STEM in later years. Why not ‘catch them young’ and impart the idea that maths is fun, easy, and omnipresent to the youngest children? Studies have shown that feeling like one is a part of the ‘maths community’ greatly aids reducing this fear, which changes numeracy outcomes later in life.

Anganwadi centres can follow regular daily schedules that balance time spent on self-directed free play and teacher-led activities focused on developing cognitive, literacy and numeracy skills. They can also conduct regular Shiksha Choupals (parent – teacher meetings) to showcase the learning happening in the Anganwadi to the parent community to bolster their trust in this institution. Additionally, regular messages can be shared with the parents to equip them on the nature of engagement expected from them to maintain the momentum of what is learnt at school. 

However, changing ECCE curricula to make room for parents’ mindsets in the short term does not mean that we accept mindsets or perceptions as a given in the long term — especially as they relate to genuinely unproductive practices like rote-based, memorisation-heavy learning at the early ages. We have sufficient empirical evidence of mindset change from education’s own “School Chalen Hum” to the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan campaign, that we can change minds and behaviours with sustained action and mass campaigns. A mass campaign for awareness of age appropriate ECCE that brings parents in as stakeholders, is crucial in the next five years — our youngest children, and their developing brains, deserve no less. 

As the nation celebrates the joyous occasion of India@75, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has iterated that the spirit of Azaadi ka Amrit Mahotsav is establishing ‘jan-bhagidari’ (participation of citizenry) for activating India 2.0. In the ECCE ecosystem, we need to embrace the power of ‘abhibhavaak-bhagidari’ (participation of parents) to activate Anganwadi 2.0. 

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