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Renegotiate Sino-Indian border lines

An explosive situation is building up on the Sino-Indian border in the north-east. If not handled with tact and diplomacy, it could precipitate another (after 1962) Sino-Indian border war which will destabilise the Indian economy and expose the vulnerabilities of the Indian Army. Although invested with courage, determination and a esprit de corps, the latter is at a disadvantage because of endemic corruption in armaments and equipment procurement. 

In this connection it’s important to note that Indian troops are not dug in to defend our claimed territory but to protect the territory of our ally the Kingdom of Bhutan on the India-China-Bhutan trijunction. Apart from depriving Bhutan of its traditional grazing pastures, Chinese occupation of the Doklam plateau will enable it to dominate the 27-km Siliguri Corridor or ‘Chicken’s Neck’ which connects mainland India to the seven sister states of the north-east. Therefore, it’s of vital importance that the status quo is maintained in the Doklam plateau. However quite clearly, the way out of this impasse is not through force of arms but serious parleys between India and China. 

Although it’s not politically correct in the current jingoistic climate to say so, the Sino-Indian border dispute which covers a large swathe of territory from Kashmir in the north-west to Arunachal Pradesh in the north-east, should have been patiently negotiated in the past half century. The British who ruled India for almost two centuries and dominated China for as long, had a notorious reputation for recklessly drawing and imposing arbitrary international boundary lines. 

In the immediate aftermath of independence when Sino-Indian friendship was at its apogee, there was a great opportunity to negotiate and redraw the China-India border in a spirit of mutual give and take. But for inexplicable reasons India’s first prime and foreign minister Jawaharlal Nehru failed and neglected to renegotiate border lines. In the end his foolhardy ‘forward policy’ under which Indian troops were commanded to occupy Chinese claimed territory resulted in the India-China war of 1962 in which the People’s Liberation Army overran the forward outposts of the ill-equipped Indian Army and swept towards the Assam plains before calling a voluntary ceasefire and retreating north of Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh. And to this day there’s no officially demarcated border between India and China over a 4,500 km swathe of territory, but only a line of control. This is a shameful failure of Indian diplomacy, which is costing the nation a huge annual defence expenditure of Rs.2.74 lakh crore which the country can ill afford. 

In the circumstances, there’s no alternative for both countries which have lived peacefully with each other for several millennia but to re-negotiate the entire border mile by mile in a mutual spirit of give and take. It will be a painstaking business, but there’s no alternative. 

Necessary reintroduction of exams

Union human resource development (HRD) minister Prakash Javadekar’s recent statement in Parliament that the ministry is finalising an Amendment Bill to the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (aka RTE) Act, 2009 to detain children in primary classes, has significant implications for K-12 education. Currently s.16 of the RTE Act mandates automatic promotion of all in-school children until class VIII. The proposed amendment to the Act will permit detention of students in classes V and VIII. Earlier last November, the HRD ministry had reintroduced the class X board exam — made optional by the Congress-led UPA government — in the country’s 18,417 schools affiliated with the CBSE from the current academic year.

While the intention behind making the class X CBSE exam optional and enacting s.16 — sparing young children exam stress and the humiliation of detention — was admirable, it has resulted in rising student absenteeism, negligent teaching and falling learning outcomes. According to a committee headed by former Haryana education minister Geeta Bukkal, representatives of over 20 state governments proposed cancellation of s.16 on the ground that it has adversely affected the quality of students entering secondary education. Similarly the TSR Subramanian Committee’s Report on the National Policy on Education 2016 also recommended detention of students who don’t make the cut for promotion after class V. Indeed there’s emerging evidence that the no-detention provision has depressed learning outcomes in primary schools countrywide. According to the Annual Status of Education Report 2016, the percentage of class V children in rural India who can read class II texts dropped from 52.8 percent in 2009 to 47.8 percent in 2016. Worse, the percentage of class III children in rural primaries who can do simple subtraction sums fell from 33.2 percent in 2010 to a mere 20.2 percent in 2016.

Consequently, a large number of under-prepared children are entering high school (class IX), putting pressure on teachers and institutional managements to dilute academic and assessment standards in secondary and higher education. Admittedly, though a non-stressful learning environment and assessment system is necessary for the holistic development of children, the national interest demands periodic critical stage exams now that the continuous and comprehensive evaluation (CCE) system has proved a disastrous failure.

Although taxing for children, the BJP government’s decision to repeal s.16 of the RTE Act is a necessary initiative to address the hitherto fudged issue of consistently declining student learning outcomes in primary education. However, while in the short-term re-introduction of exams in primary school has become necessary to raise teaching-learning standards in India’s 1.5 million schools, upgradation and stabilisation of the school system requires urgent reform of teacher education to ensure that in the long term the less stressful CCE is re-introduced in India’s primary classrooms. 

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