Tuesday, August 11, 2020

India’s New Education Policy (NEP) 2020: What it proposes for Schools

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Vanshita Banuana

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India’s New Education Policy (NEP) 2020: What it proposes for Schools


Global Views 360

Publication Date

August 11, 2020


Students sitting in a classroom

Students sitting in a classroom | Source: Yogendra Singh via Unsplash

On 30th July 2020, the Indian government’s Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) was renamed the Ministry of Education as it announced the new National Education Policy (NEP) 2020.

The National Education Policy is an in-depth framework outlining the future and development of education in India. It’s recommendations guide what the priorities and goals of educational institutions should be in the coming years. The first NEP was passed in 1968; while it gets revised occasionally, a new NEP has only been passed two times since then, in 1986 and now in 2020.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s and the government was hailed by RSS-affiliated educational organisations for the NEP as a step to connect the education with the roots of India. They reportedly had quite an influence during the drafting of NEP, even going as far as to say that “60-70 percent” of their demands have been met.

On the other hand, NEP received criticism from the opposition parties like Congress, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), and political figures in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu. The criticism was primarily for bypassing Parliamentary discussion, and its ill-fittedness in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ever-growing digital divide left in its wake in the education sector.

The NEP’s ambitious claims and propositions are divided into two broad categories: school, and higher education.

NEP at School Level

At school level, perhaps the biggest change is the move away from the 10+2 structure to a 5+3+3+4 one, signifying four stages of school education across ages 3-8 years (Foundational), 8-11 years (Preparatory), 11-14 years (Middle) and 14-18 years (Secondary). This new structure claims to be based greatly on the cognitive development of children and prioritising areas of focus through these ages.

The new structure also talks about the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE), which aims to include pre-schools and aanganwadis (government sponsored rural child care centres in India) in an effort to impart play and activity focused learning, and train aanganwadi workers to achieve the same.

However, the treatment of the aanganwadi program is already under question from the governance and child right watchdogs and activists . This program is poorly funded and workers are poorly paid which makes the promise of training the workers for implementing the NEP goals seem quite wishful. This means rural students are likely to continue to be many steps behind urban students from the ECCE i.e ‘Foundational’ stage itself.

National Assessment Centre

NEP proposes the establishment of a National Assessment Centre, PARAKH, to set norms and guidelines for evaluations across all school boards. Report-cards are also to be redesigned and include self, teacher and peer assessment. However, the details of what will entail in these, especially peer assessment, are vague and do not take into cognizance the rampant prejudice and bullying experienced by students at the hands of peers as well as teachers on bases of weight, religion, gender, caste, class, sexuality and more. Such discriminatory practices will hurt the students from marginalised communities in both disguised and explicit ways.

The 3 Language Formula

A more controversial change comes with the 3-Language Policy, which essentially asks that “wherever possible,” the regional language or mother tongue of a student be adopted as the medium of instruction “until at least Class 5, but preferably till Class 8 and beyond.”

All schools will teach three languages, of which at least two must be native to India. The draft NEP, in fact, mandated that one of these languages be Hindi; after protests against this ‘Hindi imposition’ such as by the southern state of Tamil Nadu, this provision was removed and it has supposedly been left to the state, school and student to decide which languages would be taught.

The so-called flexibility of the policy comes at the cost of uniformity. Since the colonial era, English education has served as a means of upward social mobility for castes and tribes that had historically been denied education under Brahmanical hegemony, this progress is threatened by making English ‘optional’ in any form.

There are also unaddressed and obvious scenarios of parents who migrate or get transferred to different states, parents who speak another language at home than the regional language, and children who grow up in multilingual homes, all of which are commonplace across India. How likely is it that every student in a classroom speaks the same mother tongue or is from the same region?

Promotion of Sanskrit

The NEP desires that the rich ancient languages of India be brought back to the forefront and be given more focus as languages that can be taken up by students. In this regard it shines a spotlight on Sanskrit, a classical language rooted in Hinduism which was for centuries only accessible to Brahmins and some other upper castes. The pedestal upon which Sanskrit has been placed is being seen as discriminatory towards the large population of India who either do not have historic ties to Sanskrit or were denied access to it.

While the NEP does mention other languages that have had a strong foothold in India for a long time, such as Persian and Prakrit, it notably omits mention of Urdu and seems especially driven to ‘promote’ Sanskrit.

Vocational Education

The NEP points out that a very small portion of the Indian workforce in the age group 19-24 is exposed to vocational education, and therefore recommends that it be integrated in schools and higher education in a phased manner over the next 10 years.

A focus on vocational education starting from ages as young as 14 is also questionable, since non-formal education, often valued less than degrees, might hinder the education of poor children. This may contribute to deepening the class divide in India since receiving Undergraduate or Postgraduate degrees often guarantees poverty alleviation for such students.

Additionally, vocational education will likely form a vicious cycle with the entrenched caste system in India, reinforcing each other and the inequalities therin.

It has been repeatedly asserted by experts, citizens and politicians alike that the NEP caters more to the corporate interests over the needs of underprivileged students, and has brought much uncertainty around the question of language.

It becomes vague at key points, falling back on the argument that it is only a ‘guiding document,’ which only makes its stances seem weaker, in both theory and practice.

Whether the NEP as a whole manages to turn the tide of education in favour of those who need it the most, and is able to mobilise it as a tool for progress, presently seems more fantastical than plausible.

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April 13, 2021 2:10 PM

Detecting The Ultra-High Energy Cosmic Rays With Smartphones

Smartphones have become the most commonplace objects in our daily lives. The unimaginable power that we hold in our hands is unrealized by most of us and, more importantly, untapped. Its creativity often gets misused but one can only hope that it’s fascinating abilities would be utilized. For example, did you know that the millions of phones around the globe can be connected to form a particle detector? The following article covers the CRAYFIS (Cosmic RAYs Found in Smartphones) phone-based application developed by the physicists from the University of California—Daniel Whiteson, Michael Mulhearn, and their team. CRAYFIS aims to take advantage of the large network of smartphones around the world and detect the cosmic or gamma rays bursts which enter the Earth’s atmosphere almost constantly.

What Are Cosmic Rays?

Cosmic rays are high velocity subatomic particles bombarding the Earth’s upper atmosphere continuously. Cosmic ray bursts have the highest energy compared to all forms of electro-magnetic radiation. When we say ultra-high energy particles (energy more than 1018^eV), we mean two million times more energetic than the ones that can be produced by the particle colliders on Earth.  These rays are thought to be more powerful than typical supernovae and can release trillions of times more energy than the Sun. They are also highly unpredictable as they can enter Earth’s atmosphere from any direction and the bursts can last for any period of time ranging from a few thousand seconds to several minutes.

Despite many theoretical hypotheses, the sources of these ultra-high energy cosmic rays are still a mystery to us even after many decades of their discovery. These rays were initially discovered in the 1960’s by the U.S. military when they were doing background checks for gamma rays after nuclear weapon testing. Cosmologists suggest that these bursts could be the result of super massive stars collapsing - leading to hypernova; or can be retraced to collisions of black holes with other black holes or neutron stars.

How Do We Detect Them?

When the high-energy particles collide with the Earth’s atmosphere, the air and the gas molecules cause them to break apart and create massive showers of relatively low-energy particles. Aurora borealis i.e., the Northern and the Southern lights are the lights that are emitted when these cosmic rays interact with the Earth’s magnetic field. Currently, these particles are hitting the Earth at a rate of about one per square meter per second. The showers get scattered to a radius of one or two kilometers consisting mostly of high-energy photons, electrons, positrons and muons. But the fact that these particles can hit the Earth anytime and anywhere is where the problem arises. Since the Earth has a massive area, it is not possible to place a detector everywhere and catch them at the exact moment.

Energetic charged particles known as cosmic rays hit our atmosphere, where they collide with air molecules to produce a shower of secondary particle | Source: CERN

Detecting such a shower requires a very big telescope, which logically means a network of individual particle detectors distributed over a mile or two-wide radius and connected to each other. The Pierre Auger Observatory in South America is the only such arrangement where 1,600 particle detectors have been scattered on 3,000 square kilometers of land. But the construction cost of the same was about $100 million. Yet, only a few cosmic ray particles could be detected using this arrangement. How do we spread this network around the Earth?

In addition to being cost-effective, such a setup must also be feasible. The Earth’s surface cannot possibly be dotted with particle detectors which cost huge fortunes. This is where smartphones come into the picture.

Detecting The Particles Using Smartphones

Smartphones are the most appropriate devices required to solve the problem. They have planet wide coverage, are affordable by most people and are being actively used by more than 1.5 billion users around the planet. Individually, these devices are low and inefficient; but a considerably dense network of such devices can give us a chance to detect cosmic ray showers belonging to the highest energy range.

Previous research has shown that smartphones have the capability of detecting ionizing radiation. The camera is the most sensitive part of the smartphone and is just the device required to meet our expectations. A CMOS (Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor) device is present in the camera- in which silicon photodiode pixels produce electron-hole pairs when struck by visible photons (when photons are detected by the CMOS device, it leaves traces of weakly activated pixels). The incoming rays are also laced with other noises and interference from the surroundings.  Although these devices are made to detect visible light, they still have the capability of detecting higher-energy photons and also low-ionizing particles such as the muons.

A screenshot from the app which shows the exposure time, the events- the number of particles recorded and other properties

To avoid normal light, the CRAYFIS application is to be run during nighttime with the camera facing down. As the phone processor runs the application it collects data from its surroundings using a camera as its detector element. The megapixel images (i.e., the incoming particles) are scanned at a speed of 5 to 15 frames per second, depending on the frame-processing speed of the device. Scientists expect that signals from the cosmic rays would occur rarely, i.e., around one in 500 frames. Also, there is the job of removing background data. An algorithm was created to tune the incoming particle shower by setting a threshold frequency at around 0.1 frames per second. Frames containing pixels above the threshold are stored and passed to the second stage which examines the stored frames, saving only the pixels above a second, lower threshold.

The CRAYFIS app is designed to run when the phone is not being used and when it is connected to a power source. The actual performance would be widely affected by the geometry of the smartphone’s camera and the conditions in which the data is being collected. Further, once the application is installed and is in the operating mode, no participation is required from the user, which is required to achieve wide-scale participation. When a Wifi connection is available the collected data would be uploaded to the central server so that it could be interpreted.

There is much complicated math used to trace back the information collected from the application. The most important parameters for the app are the local density of incoming particles, the detection area of the phone and the particle identification efficiency. These parameters are used to find the mean number of candidates (photons or muons) being detected. Further, the probability that a phone will detect no candidates or the probability that a phone will detect one or more candidates is given by Poisson distribution. The density of the shower is directly proportional to the incident particle energy with a distribution in x and y sensitive to the direction in which the particle came from. An Unbinned Likelihood (it is the probability of obtaining a certain data- in this case the distribution of the cosmic rays including their energy and direction, the obtained data is arranged into bins which are very, very small) analysis is used to determine the incident particle energy and direction. To eliminate background interference, a benchmark requirement has been set that at least 5 phones must detect and register a hit to be considered as a candidate.

It is impossible to express just how mind-blowing this innovation is. As the days pass, Science and Technology around us keep on surprising us and challenge us to rack our brains for more and more unique ways to deal with complex problems. The CRAYFIS app is simply beautiful and it would be a dream-come-true to the scientists if the project works out and we are able to detect these high energy, super intimidating cosmic rays with smartphones from our backyard.

Further Reading

The paper by Daniel Whiteson and team can be found here.

An exciting book “We Have No Idea” by Daniel Whiteson and cartoonist Jorge Cham can be found here.

The CRAYFIS app can be found here.

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