Current Affairs ONLY (Daily Editorials Analysis, Date: 10th July 2018)

EDITORIALS

1. Living in uncertain times

2. The measure of tests: on JEE, NEET


1. Living in uncertain times

CONTEXT:

India needs strategic cohesion, and Government-Opposition dialogue is vital for this.

Why In News:

  • Given the uncertain times we live in, nothing can be taken for granted. Much of the world seems to be in a state of bewildering confusion.
  • Across the spectrum, people appear euphoric, angry, fearful or confused. Many do not even want to think of what lies ahead.
  • Therein, perhaps, lurks the biggest danger. Not wanting to understand what is taking place has its own perils.

 

IMPORTANT POINTS:

  • Age of disruption:
  • Disruption is the dominant sentiment today. It is leading to major political upheavals. It has resulted in escalating levels of violence. Technology is the biggest disruptor of all.
  • Many large firms are being challenged by start-ups. Artificial Intelligence is threatening everything that we are aware of. This breeds uncertainty, apart from confusion.
  • Russia’s Vladimir Putin is pitted against almost the entire Western world, and is being blamed for an array of human rights violations. Several regions of Asia are akin to powder kegs waiting to blow up.
  • Afghanistan is rocked almost daily by terror attacks by the Taliban, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, or the Islamic State.
  • West Asia is embroiled in several wars. Syria is the worst-affected and has almost ceased to be a state.
  • Tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia have intensified. Tensions between Israel and the Muslim world have peaked.
  • The war launched by the Saudi Arabia-led alliance of Arab States against Yemen is turning into a war without end.
  • In South Asia, even tiny countries like the Maldives are challenging bigger neighbours like India.
  • Europe may not be convulsed with the same degree of violence, but political uncertainty is the prevailing order.
  • Germany, which appeared the most stable of European countries till recently, is in deep crisis politically and Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government hangs by the proverbial thread.
  • In France, despite President Emmanuel Macron’s reassuring presence, strong undercurrents of political disruption are evident. A fluid political situation prevails across much of southern Europe.

 Stable dictatorships

  • Under President Xi Jinping, China, for instance, is making steady progress, despite the occasional dip in economic forecasts. The party remains in tight control of affairs.
  • Russia is, again, not constrained by contrarian pulls and pressures. It has entered into a strategic relationship with China, is seeking to consolidate its influence in Eurasia, and has been able to stand up to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the West. Its economy is also on the mend.
  • Other dictatorial regimes, such as Turkey, are proving more resilient than democratic regimes across the world, and better able to manage turmoil within and outside their borders.
  • Germany’s plight today is largely due to Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and coalition partner, the Christian Social Union, pulling in different directions. Such trends are a common occurrence today.
  • In the U.K., for instance, the Conservative and Labour parties face serious internal divisions. In the U.S., both Republicans and Democrats appear in poor shape. Political parties in France are hardly better situated. What all this presages for the future of democracies is a matter of conjecture.
  • In the U.K., for instance, the Conservative and Labour parties face serious internal divisions. In the U.S., both Republicans and Democrats appear in poor shape. Political parties in France are hardly better situated. What all this presages for the future of democracies is a matter of conjecture.
  • Indian democracy, unfortunately, is not an exception. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) currently projects an image of a strong centralised party. Most other parties are riven by internal dissensions. Yet, the BJP has been unable to ensure the smooth functioning of Parliament. The BJP’s inability, despite its brute majority in the Lok Sabha, to ‘manage’ a determined Opposition is a serious chink in its armour.

 Friction in ties

  • Without this, it will be difficult for the nation at large to discern why India-U.S. relations, after more than a decade and half of steady improvement, seem to be slowing down.
  • It was only early this year that U.S. President Donald Trump had announced suspension of military aid to Pakistan, and pointed an accusing finger at it for backing terror. All of a sudden, whether due to U.S. imperatives in Afghanistan, or some other reason, there are signs of renewed engagement between Pakistan and the U.S.
  • This cannot but adversely impact India’s position in the region. Simultaneously, the U.S. has of late taken to upbraiding India on trade issues, lecturing it on reducing military ties with Russia, and insisting that it abide by U.S. sanctions on Iran. It also peremptorily postponed the 2+2 dialogue.
  • Without a serious debate in Parliament, it would be difficult for the government to reach a consensus on how to deal with this situation.
  • This applies in equal measure to the state of India’s relations with China. Despite the Wuhan summit, our relations with China remain equivocal. There has been no give by China on contentious issues such as the border. The Doklam stand-off has yet to be resolved.
  • A debate in Parliament would be even more critical to understand where our relations with Russia stand today. On the surface, India-Russia relations remain unaffected, but there are enough signs that the nature of the relationship has undergone a change, even though defence ties may be unaffected.
  • If the U.S. continues to insist that India resile from its commitment to buy the Triumf missile defence systems from Russia, we will have a first-rate crisis on our hands.
  • India needs a national consensus to tide over the crisis and withstand U.S. pressure, since succumbing to it would be detrimental to our claims to ‘strategic autonomy’.
  • Some of the policy imperatives of recent years, including possibly the current transactional nature of India’s foreign policy, may well need to be reformulated, given the present state of affairs. This cannot happen without a detailed debate in Parliament.
  • The time has, hence, come for the government to seek out the Opposition to debate some of these issues inside Parliament, so that foreign policy, at least, remains on an even keel and is not buffeted by the cross-winds of adversarial party politics in the country.

 


2. The measure of tests: on JEE, NEET

CONTEXT:

Allowing students to take JEE and NEET twice a year is logical

Why In News:

  • In an ideal system, admission to higher education courses would be based on assessment of aptitude and suitability, and a testing process that is transparent, accessible and fair.
  • India’s policymakers have struggled to create a credible national admissions apparatus for professional degree programmes that accommodates the diversity and plurality of the country.
  • The two-level Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) for admission to technological institutes such as the IITs, NITs and IIITs, and the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) for undergraduate medical courses are steps in this direction — although much work remains to be done to make them accessible, especially for rural students who suffer from various handicaps, not the least of which is a shaky school education system.
  • Viewed against this background, the decision of the Centre to form a National Testing Agency to conduct these and some other examinations is a progressive move.

 

IMPORTANT NEWS:

  • A professional agency would look at nothing other than the suitability of the candidate to pursue a particular programme. Of course, there will be those that contend that the better-run States could have their own agencies perform the same task, but the expertise of a national agency is preferable.
  • The objective of aptitude testing in a populous country should be to enable mobility, and access to courses offered in any State.
  • Peer-reviewed standards and curbs on commercialisation can help expand higher education.
  • In the case of medical courses, a common test such as NEET should make it possible to attend any of about 350 medical colleges, of which 175 are run by private entities.
  • The idea of multiple opportunities to take a test in a single year, which the Centre has now adopted for JEE (Main) and NEET, is not really new, and is familiar to students entering universities abroad, particularly those in the United States.
  • In fact, the Ashok Misra committee set up by the Human Resource Development Ministry to review the JEE three years ago recommended that an online aptitude test be offered two or more times a year.
  • The move to make both JEE (Main) and NEET available twice a year is consistent with that advice.
  • However, a computer-based test should not turn into a barrier for students from rural backgrounds, and impose additional expenditure on candidates for preparation, travel to a testing centre and so on.
  • The reservations about online testing on such grounds should be overcome with good planning and allocation of sufficient funds.
  • Equally important is the issue of regulation of coaching institutes — a sector worth about 24,000 crore a year, according to the Ashok Misra panel — in order to ensure that the changes do not result in further exploitation of students.
  • Ultimately, any process of reform at the level of entrance examinations can be meaningful only if the school education system is revamped, and learning outcomes are improved.

 

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