The Dubai Health Authority (DHA) has begun a brand-new policy dedicated to promoting safer, healthier environments for school pupils throughout the capital. The plans, confirmed by Dr Manal Al Taryam, CEO of the DHA’s Primary Healthcare Sector, are closely aligned with the Dubai Health Strategy 2016-2021 and the UAE National Health Agenda Vision 2021. The latter is targeting a reduction of childhood obesity from 14.4% to 12% during the next three years.
The policy follows long-standing complaints by the DHA and doctors across Dubai regarding the lack of healthy food on offer for pupils. The implementation of less junk food in school canteens should go together with the significant increase in the number of vegetarian restaurants throughout UAE, making fresh, healthy food more accessible to families every day. For example, Deliveroo.ae now works with vegetarian takeaways who are passionate about delivering flavoursome and delicious dishes throughout Dubai, without any kind of health compromise.
The UAE has the 16th highest rate of diabetes worldwide, with more than a third (38%) of all Type 2 diabetics expected to develop diabetic retinopathy, an eye condition which can lead to permanent loss of sight. The new policy will see the launch of 12 programmes relevant to private schools across the emirate, targeting disease prevention, early detection of conditions and teaching students the benefits of leading a healthier lifestyle.
Schools will be asked to help pupils reach the daily target of five portions of fresh vegetables and fruit, as well as increase the length and breadth of their physical education lessons to 150 minutes per pupil each week. The DHA is targeting a closer alignment with schools by developing a database and an integrated health information system through HASANA, documenting pupils’ data, schools’ health services accreditations and unifying school infrastructure.
Dr Al Taryam said at the launch of the new policy insisted a “holistic school health environment” was essential to “protect” the long-term health and interests of the next generation and “bring out the best in them”. He added that the policy had been designed in collaboration “with various governmental authorities” to create a “truly comprehensive school health policy”.
Last year, Dr Shadi Hani Tabba, a consultant paediatric endocrinologist at Dubai Diabetes Centre claimed a considerable number of his younger patients had resorted to consuming fast food “every day”. Re-educating the benefits of fresh, healthy food is a huge task, but something that must happen “across society” according to Dr Shadi Hani Tabba.
Diet issues have been found in some pre-school children as young as three and four, with a study of toddlers in Al Ain suggesting minimal nutritional awareness or commitment from pupils’ parents. Worryingly, many of the parents of the children involved in the study were unconcerned by the weight of their kids, with some even considering a slightly overweight child to be a sign of their family’s prosperity. For the new school health policy to prove successful for all Emirati children, it will require significant buy-in from parents as well as school staff to demonstrate the importance of leading a healthier, more active lifestyle.
The Union government has appointed a Committee, headed by K Kasturirangan, to work on a New Education Policy. The Committee is yet to submit its recommendations. Meanwhile, the government is contemplating to replace the six-decade old University Grants Commission (UGC) — a regulating authority that failed to check the rot in Higher Education. Prakash Javadekar, HRD Minister, intends to pilot the Higher Education Commission of India (Repeal of UGC Act) Bill in this monsoon session of Parliament, commencing from July 18.
The Bill proposes to delink funding of educational institutions from the regulating body, HRD Ministry itself taking over the responsibility, as the Higher Education Secretary R Subramanyam put it, “the UGC remains preoccupied with disbursing funds to institutes and is unable to concentrate on other key areas such as mentoring institutes, focusing on research to be undertaken and other quality measures.” To placate the apprehensions of the academics, a subsequent press release of the Ministry has assured, “if there is a successor system to the current grant-giving role of the UGC, the same will be operated in the most unbiased and impartial manner.” Some other proposals, inter alia, include (a) universities to get authorisation from the Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) before awarding degrees; (b) the HECI to focus on promoting academic excellence and maintaining standards; and (c) closing down fake and sub-standard institutions. Education in general and higher education, in particular, requires fundamental reforms, not cosmetic changes.
First, it is important to raise the standard of schools, run by Panchayat Institutes and Municipal bodies, to the level of Kendriya Vidyalayas. The policy of teaching in mother tongue has altered the very thrust of education. The three language formula is not observed, neglecting the official languages — Hindi and English. It is not a question of preserving regional languages. The regional languages are promoting linguistic chauvinism, resulting in communication barrier. A student from Tamil Nadu, studying in Tamil medium, cannot communicate with a student from UP, studying in Hindi, and vice versa. The students are paying the price for this short sighted policy of States. The teaching in mother tongue has practically immobilised them, affecting their higher studies and job opportunities. Besides, most of the government schools do not have basic amenities and infrastructure. This is aggravated by mass absenteeism of teachers, due to corruption and ineffective supervision and control. How redundant is education could be gauged from a recent recruitment of police constables in Maharashtra. For some 1100 police vacancies, over 2 lakh applicants, including doctors, engineers, MBAs and lawyers, have applied. Arup Patnaik, former Mumbai Police Commissioner says, “The problem with qualified youth from rural areas is that they are unable to communicate in English and hence are unable to bag jobs in the private sector…it is a sad reflection of our times…” A crash course for English language should be made mandatory at the first year of College, exclusively for the students from vernacular medium, to improve their reading, speaking and writing skills. Unless the quality of primary and secondary education is improved, the products of our colleges and universities will not be able to gain productive employment.
Second, our education system encourages rote learning with emphasises only on marks. There is a need to de-emphasise on rote learning and encourage critical thinking. Make the teaching and learning a matter of joy and happiness. The school curriculum should be overhauled to imbibe human values like truth, righteous conduct, gender equality and democratic principles of equality, tolerance and respect for dissent and diversity. As S Radhakrishnan, one of the finest teachers the modern world has seen, said, “The values of human life must come from two sources: parents and teachers. They are the makers of an evolved society.” The School is an important agent of socialisation.
Third, privatisation has made the education unaffordable to the poor and marginalised. It has resulted in commercialisation and profiting the managements. More than 60% students in Higher Education are studying in private institutions. There is mushrooming of engineering colleges, having no infrastructure and qualified teachers, with 50% seats going vacant. The teachers in private unaided institutions do not enjoy the protection of service conditions. They are paid a pittance, seriously affecting the quality of teaching. While cutting grants to educational institutions, the government is promoting contractual appointment of teachers, making the teaching profession exploitative and unattractive. The privatisation should be confined to certain professional courses. The bulk of students in Arts, Science and Commerce streams cannot afford private education.
Fourth, revisit the policy of admission. Education is an instrument of social mobility. Therefore, quality education must be accessible to all. The Article 30 of the Constitution gives religious and linguistic minorities “the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.” This makes the minority institutions to reserve 50% seats to the members of their community, changing the character of educational institutions, making them non-liberal and exclusive centres of learning. Why not open admission to all students, banning admission based on religion, caste and language, except for SC and ST? This does not amount to denying the minorities the right to establish and administer educational institutions.
Fifth, depoliticise the educational institutions. The appointments of top functionaries of institutions should be made on merit basis, not on regional and caste considerations. Today, most of the appointments in universities and academic bodies are made on the ideological basis, eroding the academic autonomy and the freedom to explore ideas and knowledge. As Prof Arun Kumar says, “those not catering to the markets would be marginalised and the generation of the socially relevant knowledge would decline.” Educational institutions need freedom from political controls, if they have to excel and perform to their full potential. Allahabad University was once known as the Oxford of the East. Banaras Hindu University and Shanti Niketan were compared to Gurukuls. Delhi University was renowned for its classicism and Jawaharlal Nehru University for its progressive values. They flourished as premier public institutions because of autonomy.
And no regulating authority will be able to ensure quality and maintain standards unless its Head and his team enjoy freedom of action and have the courage to enforce the norms and take punitive action against the erring institutions without fear or favour. (IANS)