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1.On rural India’s health systems (The Hindu)

2.Limitations of standardized tests (Live Mint)

3.Having a minimum wage law is a mistake (Live Mint)

1.On rural India’s health systems (The Hindu) 

Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of how the healthcare needs in rural India remains unmet. (GS paper III)

Overview

  • India’s existing health infrastructure is just not enough to cater to the growing demand. While the private sector dominates healthcare delivery across the country, a majority of the population living below the poverty line (BPL) continue to rely on the under-financed and short-staffed public sector for its healthcare needs, as a result of which their healthcare needs remain unmet.
  • Recently after the reports emerged of the death of several children over a short period, the frail nature of rural India’s health systems and the extraordinary patient load on a few referral hospitals have become even more evident. The majority of healthcare professionals happen to be concentrated around urban areas where consumers have higher paying power, leaving rural areas underserved.

Initiatives

  • The Union Budget 2017–18 includes measures to boost rural development, infrastructure and macroeconomic stability, and although the health budget has been increased 27%, allocations could have been matched more holistically with the government’s ambitions, particularly when considering adjustment against inflation and new health-program announcements.
  • The ministry of health and family welfare launched several new computer and mobile-phone based e-health and m-health initiatives on World Health Day in 2016. These include the Swastha Bharat mobile application for information on diseases, symptoms, treatment, health alerts and tips; ANMOL-ANM online tablet application for health workers, e-RaktKosh (a blood-bank management information system) and India Fights Dengue.
  • Individual states are adopting technology to support health-insurance schemes. For instance, Remedinet Technology (India’s first completely electronic cashless health insurance claims processing network) has been signed on as the technology partner for the Karnataka Government’s recently announced cashless health insurance schemes.

Deprived rural health infrastructure

  • According to the the Comptroller and Auditor General’s report on reproductive and child health under the National Rural Health Mission 2016, in the several states there is inability to absorb the funds allocated, shortage of staff at primary health centres (PHCs), community health centres (CHCs) and district hospitals, lack of essential medicines, broken-down equipment and unfilled doctor vacancies.
  • Basic facilities in the form of health sub-centres, PHCs and CHCs met only half the need in Bihar, Jharkhand, Sikkim, Uttarakhand and West Bengal, putting pressure on a handful of referral institutions such as the Gorakhpur hospital in UP.
  • The Centre has set ambitious health goals for 2020 and is in the process of deciding the financial outlay for various targets under the National Health Mission, including reduction of the infant mortality rate to 30 per 1,000 live births, from the recent estimate of 40.
  • However, this will require sustained investment and monitoring, and ensuring that the prescribed standard of access to a health facility with the requisite medical and nursing resources within a 3-km radius is achieved on priority.

Way ahead

  • India’s existing healthcare infrastructure is just not enough to meet the needs of the population. Though the central and state governments offer universal healthcare services and free treatment and essential drugs at government hospitals but the hospitals are understaffed and under-financed, forcing patients to visit private medical practitioners and hospitals.
  • Thus it is imperative for the government to recognise the limitations of a market-led mechanism, as the NITI Aayog has pointed out in its action agenda for 2020, in providing for a pure public good such as health. We need to move to a single- payer system with cost controls that make efficient strategic purchase of health care from private and public facilities possible.

Question–  According to you what are the needs of rural healthcare systems in order to meet the health standards in rural areas?

 

2.Limitations of standardized tests (Live Mint)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue how testing in our education system is not serving the students in their learning.(GS paper II)

Overview

  • India’s GDP continues to grow at one of the highest rates worldwide but the rate of job creation lags far behind economic requirements. One of the prime reason is our crippled education policies.
  • According to the examination system, the most intelligent get top scores, while the dimwits get the low ones. They are a test of memory and while memory is an important asset, there are other equally significant qualities that go unaccounted. Combine the limited real usefulness of tests with high stakes, and we have the perfect recipe for dysfunctionality that has afflicted our education system for decades, each child being judged to have passed or failed, based on tests.

Assessment of testing system

  • Testing cannot assess all the capacities, in fact it may not be able to assess the most important ones. This is why testing is often used as a preliminary “shortlisting” tool, followed by other methods of assessment such as group discussions and interviews and the evaluation of past work.
  • Very little of the testing in our education system serves the student or in their learning. It is mostly used to compare, to rank students, and to offer or deny further opportunities. Such testing pretends to be objective, but is rarely so. Every one of us who has experienced such testing is acutely aware of its severe limitations and the stress it produces. We will never depend solely or primarily on them for important decisions. Still, the testing of children seems unstoppable.
  • One of the most egregious tortures that children goes through with various kinds of college entrance processes, almost all of these are dependent on testing to select for admission or the results of “board exams”. The test-trauma that afflicts the life of children of this age is well-known. Unfortunately, it is also equally well-entrenched in our society. So, by widespread social sanction, while we know the severe limitations of standardized testing, we will use it to make one of the most important decisions in the lives of all our children and let our children suffer now and consequently.
  • The perversity of this test system becomes even clearer when one realizes that the responsibility of the education system is to make sure each child learns to his or her potential. It is not to label them, declaring some as failures.

Steps taken

  • The first big step to change this test-tyranny was taken by the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act or Right to Education Act (RTE). The RTE abolished examinations and the related policy of failing children and detaining them in the same grade, up to class VIII. Testing was replaced by the much better Continuous Comprehensive Evaluation system (CCE).
  • CCE assesses student progress in multiple ways and uses the feedback in the teaching-learning process. It gives a continuous progress record and specific inputs for improving learning. Research evidence across the world suggests that such methods, called formative assessments, tend to improve student learning, they also inform the teacher what students needs to do to improve their teaching. For once, our education system attempted to turn away from testing that just labelled the child to serve external interests, to assessment that could give useful information to the teacher and student.
  • But there have been demands to abolish CCE and the no-detention policy (NDP), this will lead to the RTE to amendments to enable the reintroduction of examinations in elementary schools (up to class VIII)) and the scrapping of the NDP. If implemented, this takes our educational system a few steps back.

Way ahead

  • The willing to return to testing and labelling of children will damage their education and the costs inflicted on the nation’s future are there to stay.
  • According to one of the member of erstwhile planning commission “If we fail to harness the demographic dividend not only we will be squandering an opportunity which comes into a nation’s life only once, but we would also be facing a significant risk of this so-called demographic dividend turning into a demographic nightmare”.

Question– Do you think that teaching pedagogy in India is responsive to modern demands? Where does testing sits in this regard?

 

3.Having a minimum wage law is a mistake (Live Mint) 

Synoptic line: It throws light on the proposes Code on Wages Bill. (GS paper II)

Overview

  • Despite high GDP growth in India there has been indication of lower employment elasticities prevailing in the economy and increasing gap between the labour force and the employment. In other words, employment elasticity with respect to GDP is declining in India.
  • According to the joint study of ASSOCHAM -Thought Arbitrage, India’s labour force will expand by 160-170 million in 2020, depends on various factors which includes population growth rate, labour force participation, education enrolment at higher levels etc.
  • The Union Cabinet has recently approved the new wage code bill which will ensure to make minimum wages a statutory right for all citizens, a minimum wage across all sectors by integrating four labour related laws. The proposed legislation is expected to benefit over 4 crore employees across the country. Once it is passed, the states cannot set a minimum wage lower than the one set by the Central government.

Proposed Code on Wages Bill

  • The Labour Code on Wages Bill will consolidate the Minimum Wages Act, 1948; the Payment of Wages Act, 1936; the Payment of Bonus Act, 1965; and the Equal Remuneration Act, 1976.
  • The Code on Wages Bill also seeks to empower the Centre to set a minimum wage across sectors, and states will have to maintain that. However, states will be able to provide higher minimum wage in their jurisdiction than fixed by the central government since labour is in the concurrent list.
  • The labour bill, marking the first major initiative of this government in amalgamating labour laws thereby significantly improving the ease of doing business as well as ensuring universal minimum wage to all, will now be laid in Parliament in the ongoing monsoon session. The proposed legislation is expected to benefit over 4 crore employees.

Downward side

  • Economic theory suggests that a price floor, such as a minimum wage, which mandates how low a price can be set, always results in excess supply of that good or service. Several studies conducted across the world corroborate this key insight and show that minimum wages actually lead to higher unemployment in the economy.
  • The proposed wage code Bill is the first serious venture in labour law reform by the current government. However, the amalgamation of the complex and convoluted labour laws, which is always a step in the right direction, got unfortunately tangled up with a universal minimum wage. This is bound to have negative consequences for employees, businesses and the economy in general.
  • Nobel Prize winning economist George Stigler concludes that a minimum wage does not satisfy its original intentions elimination of poverty and will tend to increase unemployment and reduce family income.
  • According to the study of National Bureau of Economic Research paper shows that a minimum wage increase from $11 to $13 in Washington has resulted in a 9% decrease in the number of hours worked in low-wage jobs. While in the time when India is facing job losses and the rate of creation of new jobs is a serious concern, a higher minimum wage will only worsen the situation.
  • The recognition that a universal minimum wage across India and across different sectors does not work and proposes that the minimum wage set can be augmented based on the skill required, the arduousness of the work assigned to the worker, geographical location of the place of work and other factors which the appropriate government considers necessary. The fixing of the wages and revisions henceforth will be done by setting up “any number of committees and sub-committees” as deemed necessary by the government.
  • The Economic theory and evidence also suggest that a price control of any sort will lead to the creation or expansion of the underground or black market. In the labour market, this would mean that companies will prefer to hire contractual labour or keep a majority of their workforce in the informal sector so as to avoid paying the new minimum wage.
  • Though the Bill does mention that the new national minimum wage is applicable to both the organized as well as the unorganized sector. However, implementation of minimum wages for the unorganized sector has always been problematic and the Bill does not specify any details of how it proposes to fix the implementation gaps. And also it is appreciable that the Bill recognizes differences in geographical locations and nature of work, but allowing for such variations on a case-by-case basis can lead to lobbying.

Way ahead

  • Though the proposed hike in minimum wages is an obvious attempt on the part of the government to be seen as pro-poor and employee-friendly. But there is need to focus on easing labour laws, facilitating formalization of the economy, and focus on reducing regulatory hurdles for businesses.
  • The analysis of research paper goes against the stated objectives of the government and the popular narrative that it is shaping regarding job creation, formalization of the economy, and increasing the ease of doing business.

Question–  Throw light on the shortcomings of the proposed minimum wages for workers? What should be the approach apart it?