Wednesday February 19, 2020
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Let’s reform our education system, starting with the teachers

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By Harshmeet Singh

The fact that India’s education system needs reforms has never been a subject of debate. While some point out at the inadequate education budget, others blame a non-existent infrastructure in government run schools. However, very few talk about the single biggest factor that influences the student outcomes more than anything else – teachers.

While teaching is a highly respected and revered profession throughout the world, it doesn’t quite command the same admiration in India. Except the teachers employed in coaching centers for competitive exams, teachers in general are lowly paid. Apart from the dismal pay cheques, a number of other factors including no safety of tenures and no incentives further aggravate their situation.

According to a World Bank report, about 25% of the teachers in India skip school each day. Additionally, only half the teachers engage in teaching! While these numbers seem gloomy, they fail to highlight the exceptional effort put in by some teachers who are making a real difference to the lives to their kids.

A number of reports cite lack of teacher accountability as a reason for the teacher’s disinterested attitude towards the students’ learning. And ever since the ‘no-fail till class 8th’ rule was applied in schools, even the slightest of teacher accountability has evaporated. With no incentives on offer, motivating the teachers to give their best in the classroom every single day is a big problem. One of the primary reasons behind such lack of motivation is that there are very few teachers in India who actually wanted to be teachers. Most of them chose teaching since it seems like a safe and non rigorous option having fewer working hours than most other professions. What they dodn’t realize was that as teachers, they will impact the country’s future much more than any other profession.

It is high time that passionate teachers enter our education system. This can be ensured by offering attractive perks so that the best talent of the country looks at teaching as a suitable option.

The exam conducted to fill in the vacancies for teachers only has a written test. This implies that your skills of delivering a lecture or understanding the child’s psychology do not matter at all if you wish to become a teacher in India.

While jobs such as Bank PO and an assistant in a desk job at a ministry require personality tests, there is no personality test for recruitment of teachers! This speaks a ton about how much importance we lay on the quality of teachers in our government schools.

But all the blame can’t be solely put on the teachers. Teachers in government schools do not get paid for months. A 6 month lag in their salaries is a common phenomenon. And this trend is visible in almost all the states. On top of that, the teachers are expected to perform all the administrative paper work (which is a lot in government schools) in the school hours itself, consequently eating up all the teaching hours!

I once attended a seminar where the speaker, trying to encourage the teachers attending the seminar, said that the external conditions like infrastructure don’t matter, and all that matters is the will to teach and the will to study. While almost everyone nodded in affirmation, I could never digest it. Imagine 2 kids, with one sitting in an AC classroom and the other sitting in a makeshift room covered by metal sheets at the top with no fan. Who would have a better concentration to study? Would you rather write your exam dripping in sweat or in a comfortable room? The fact is that external factors such as infrastructure play a crucial role in the child’s learning. Most of the government-run schools in the country lack the very basic infrastructure such as a roof to cover the classroom, adequate number of table and chairs, fan, lights and more. Unless these issues are fixed, it would be unfair to expect the teachers to suddenly raise the learning levels of students. India currently stands at 143rd in the world in the rankings of countries’ spending on education as a fraction of their GDP. Unless this number improves, a drastic improvement in infrastructure can’t be expected.

Teachers are the creators of a country’s destiny. Unless they are nurtured and pushed the way they should be, it is difficult to imagine our education system taking a turn for the better.

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World Bank Issues its First ‘Green Loan’ For Environmental Businesses in Vietnam

World Bank Issues 'Green Loan' to Vietnam for the first time ever.

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Vietnam
Most Vietnamese worry about air pollution, but it's cited most highly as a concern in Hanoi, which is closer to the polluting factories of southern China. VOA

A division of the World Bank has just made its first so-called “green loan” to a bank in Vietnam, meant for businesses to help with environmental problems in a nation that has one of the world’s highest emissions rates relative to its economy.   Vietnam has a fast growing economy but also has a fast growing pollution problem.

The loan package of $212.5 million to VPBank was announced this month under the Green Loan Principles, a voluntary set of international guidelines to make loans for eco-friendly projects, such as to promote solar power or biodiversity.

In explaining why it packaged the loan, the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) said that Vietnam is the most “carbon intensive” nation in the Asia Pacific region, after China and Mongolia. Carbon intensity measures how much carbon dioxide a nation emits for every dollar of gross domestic product (GDP) it generates. In other words Vietnam’s economy costs a lot of greenhouse gas, and the IFC hopes loans like this one can help reduce the pollutants.

Vietnam
A man withdraws money from an ATM at a branch of Vietnam Prosperity Joint Stock Commercial Bank (VPBank) in Hanoi. VOA

This meets a “strategic objective of increasing financing for climate-smart initiatives to boost environmentally sustainable development in emerging markets with high potential of greenhouse gas emissions reduction such as Vietnam,” Rosy Khanna, the IFC financial institutions group director for Asia Pacific, said.

She said there is “high interest” among investors to provide a “source of capital while helping the country tackle climate change at the same time.”

Climate problems mean Vietnam has a business opportunity that the IFC values at $753 billion for investors looking to tackle them.

The Southeast Asian nation has one of the highest GDP growth rates in the world but that growth is causing worry about the potential impact on the environment. Vietnamese citizens are increasingly worried about everything from the plastic rubbish that is ending up in the ocean, to the toxic chemicals that could be polluting their food and water supply. Khanna said Vietnam has a lot of potential to reduce emissions, but the reason emissions are so high is that the nation is increasingly generating electricity through coal, the dirtiest source of energy.

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Property developers are building enclosed communities in Vietnam where sustainability is part of the design, from motion-detecting lights to pollution warning systems. VOA

VPBank, officially known as the Vietnam Prosperity Joint Stock Commercial Bank, said it would use the loan to invest in alternatives.“

This is also an opportunity to help VPBank make positive contributions to national objectives by providing financial solutions to the segment of corporate customers investing in eco-friendly projects, such as renewable energy, national energy security, energy efficiency, green buildings, green transport, [and] waste treatment,” the bank said in a press release.

The IFC has also collaborated with businesses to facilitate green finance in other developing nations such as Costa Rica, Egypt, India, Mexico, and Ukraine.

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It said the loans in Vietnam would likely be used for green infrastructure, in addition to energy projects, particularly involving small or medium size businesses.

VPBank has committed to setting up a management system to ensure accountability for the green loan, allowing it to record and monitor the types of green projects the loan finances, as well as allowing for third party verification. (VOA)