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IASbaba’s Daily Current Affairs 3rd Aug, 2017

  • August 3, 2017
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IASbaba's Daily Current Affairs Analysis, IASbaba's Daily Current Affairs Aug 2017, IASbaba's Daily News Analysis, National, Science and Technology, UPSC
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IASbaba’s Daily Current Affairs – 3rd Aug 2017

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NATIONAL

TOPIC: General Studies 2

  • Issues relating to development and management of Social sector or Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.

Reforming the Teacher Education(TE) system

In news:

The business of teacher education is set for a clean-up. The blueprint has been released by the apex regulator, the National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE). It promises drastic action against errant institutions—nearly 3,000 teacher education colleges may be barred from admitting fresh students from the next academic year. Simultaneously, by January next year, NCTE will put out a ranking of the top 100 teacher training institutes.

Background:

  • To fulfil the national commitment to education for all, India began a massive expansion of its schooling system in the late 1980s and early 1990s. This demanded a proportionate increase in the number of teachers. The National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) was established, in 1993 by an Act of Parliament, “with a view to achieving planned and coordinated development of the teacher education system”.
  • It is the all-powerful regulatory body for the teacher education system in the country, consisting of the Teacher Education Institutions (TEIs) that run bachelor of education (BEd) and diploma in education (DEd) programmes to prepare teachers, and masters in education (MEd) programmes to prepare teacher educators.
  • From the mid-1960s to 1993, the number of TEIs in India went up from about 1,200 to about 1,500. After the NCTE was set up, the number of TEIs exploded, to about 16,000 (over 90% private) by 2011. This did increase the supply of teachers.

The NCTE has been a colossal failure:

  • From 1993 to 2011, the NCTE presided over the development of what is perhaps the weakest teacher education system in any large country in the world.
  • The institutional architecture, the curricular approach, and the key operational aspects such as faculty quality, are not only bereft of imagination and sound educational basis, but are designed to serve the consolidation of power of the NCTE.
  • This power was then actively used to drive a system of graft where college licences were sold, with not even a modicum of consideration for even the most basic matters, such as whether the college being approved actually has faculty or not, or whether classes are conducted or not.
  • 75% of the TEIs are completely dysfunctional and corrupt. The other 25% are not corrupt, but the quality of the majority of them is very indifferent. Certainly, there are a few outstanding TEIs in the country, but these exceptions are few.
  • There is no empirical study available on the extent of such corruption. Those who sell (or buy) degrees without even conducting classes don’t cooperate with researchers.

Need of reviewing the TE system:

  • This weak and corrupt TE system is at the core of India’s problems in school education. Till we fix this, all efforts at improving the quality of our schooling is like tinkering with the skin, while an aggressive cancer corrodes the body everywhere inside.
  • A reformed system for teacher education colleges will help in improving the overall quality of schooling in India. India needs to focus on an output-driven education model rather than input-based system to improve quality.
  • Besides, the ranking of teacher education colleges also will help motivate these institutions to better their standing and enjoy the subsequent benefit of better brand value and students’ faith.
  • The focus on learning outcomes and teachers’ training are key because with automation, many jobs, especially the assembly-line kind of jobs, will be of less demand. Unless the school sector improves, it will be tough to find enough efficient workers in future.
  • The government believes that the step is essential to curb the growth of poor quality institutions and bring about transparency in teacher training.

Half-hearted steps taken in past:

  • The qualification rate of 2-8%, through the Teacher Eligibility Tests started a few years ago in an effort to insulate the schools from the devastating effects of this system, correspond to these estimates. Only those who qualify can become teachers in public schools. But this is like a small water purification plant when the whole river is poisoned, with millions living along the river.
  • In 2011, the Supreme Court (SC) established a high-powered commission with the late Justice J.S. Verma as the chairperson to review the TE system. The commission’s recommendations were accepted by the Union ministry of human resource development (MHRD), which is the ministry governing NCTE. The commission suggested a complete overhaul of the TE system, including its regulatory, institutional and educational aspects. The implementation of the recommendations never happened.

Complete and methodical overhaul of the TE system:

NCTE is hitting the reset on the grading system, with less emphasis on physical assets. Now on, physical assets will get just 10% weightage, 20% weight will go to academic assets, 30% to teacher transactions and 40% to students’ learning outcome. Currently, there is no weightage on learning outcomes for approval or accreditation of such institutions, and it is solely driven by physical infrastructure.

Challenges:

  • The majority of dysfunctional TEIs are owned by people with significant political and financial capital, the TE mafia.
  • Taking on this mafia requires doggedly energetic execution and political will.
  • The campaign has just begun, it can get thwarted by many forces. They are already facing resistance and attack from multiple quarters.

Conclusion:

We are on the cusp of what may be a critical period in India’s teacher education history. The MHRD and NCTE are now doing something that most of us had only hoped for. They have begun a complete and methodical overhaul of the TE system, from its regulatory to its educational aspects. This requires capability and alignment of the people within MHRD and NCTE, and it requires steely resolve and political will.
The MHRD and NCTE need public support. All citizens of this country bothered about the future of education, should align behind this effort, and stay steadfast till we have a new teacher education system.

Connecting dots:

  • A complete and methodical overhaul of Teacher Education (TE) system is in process. Discuss the steps being taken by MHRD and NCTE. Analyze the importance of such steps and also discuss the challenges the government may face in implementing the changes effectively.

SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

TOPIC: General Studies 3

  • Science and Technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life Achievements of Indians in science & technology; indigenization of technology and developing new technology.

Artificial Intelligence: Who is right- Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg?

In news:

The recent exchanges between tech billionaires Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg has turned into a public squabble about artificial intelligence in which Musk described the Facebook CEO’s knowledge of the field as “limited”. While Musk believes that the potential dangers are not so imaginary, and that there should be a move to regulate AI, Zuckerberg wrote- “One reason I’m so optimistic about AI is that improvements in basic research improve systems across so many different fields — from diagnosing diseases to keep us healthy, to improving self-driving cars to keep us safe, and from showing you better content in News Feed to delivering you more relevant search results.”

What is artificial intelligence (AI)?

Artificial Intelligence comes from computer systems that have been programmed to — or have learnt to — do tasks that would otherwise require human intelligence. Many apps and software are already making mundane work easier by doing a certain part of it for us, based on acquired intelligence. Companies like Uber are working on cars that travel from point to point, negotiating hurdles on the way and taking decisions on their own to ensure the journey is event-less.

Why is there so much discussion in science and tech circles about it?
While the full evolution of AI can open up a world of incredible possibilities, a fear many scientists have had is of computers beginning to gradually start doing things differently from the way in which a human programmer would do them. The worst nightmare in this scenario is of the creation of a new-age Frankenstein’s monster, a super-intelligent entity that is beyond human control.

Applications of AI:

  • Research shows AI can help identify diseases much better, faster, and be a boon to medical research. Artificial Intelligence finds extensive and significant application in the medical science. Robots can perform complex surgeries with precision, record the huge amount of information that can be used for individualised treatments, evolved research works etc.
  • Self-driven cars are already here — in fact, Elon Musk’s Tesla cars have an “Auto-Pilot” mode, which is fully self-driven.
  • Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Samsung, all are relying on AI in some form in their products. There is little doubt that sooner or later, discussions about its impact on humanity will move to public, legislative and policy making fora.
  • Developing countries like India can creatively use the technology to find unique solutions for problems related to sanitation, education, agriculture etc. AI can make things easier by weather predictions and can efficiently help in disaster management. The use of automation in the banking sector has already received positive reviews.
  • Other than efficiency, machines have advantages over negative effects of human emotions as well. They can take more rational and logical decisions than those based on various human sentiments.

Apprehensions about AI:

  • In 2014, Musk had tweeted: “We need to be super careful with AI. Potentially more dangerous than nukes.”
  • In February 2017, Musk reiterated the need for humans to become cyborgs — through a “merger of biological intelligence and machine intelligence” — to keep up with the robots that would soon take away a huge number of jobs. He said- Governments couldn’t afford to wait until “a whole bunch of bad things happen”, because AI represents “a fundamental risk to the existence of civilisation”, Musk said.
  • In an AMA (Ask Me Anything) session on Reddit earlier this year, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates said that in a few years, AI would be “strong enough to warrant concern”.
  • Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking had told the BBC in 2014 that “the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race”.

Concerns

  • One of the major concerns is the possibility of human beings losing out on employment opportunities due to machines’ ability to perform the same tasks more efficiently. Automation has already rendered a huge number of people jobless all around the world. Robots and AI are taking away middle-class, manufacturing jobs in the not-so-distant future is a very real prospect that will have to be addressed by governments sooner than they probably think.
  • Then there’s the question of removing racial/class/gender bias from AI-driven programmes — Microsoft was forced to shut down its chatbot Tay within 16 hours of launching it in March 2016 after Tay quickly learnt, and tweeted offensive material.
  • Along with the human sentiments, basic human values like morality and ethics would not exist in a machine dominated world. Such a society can lose out on factors like belongingness, warmth, brotherhood etc.
  • Another major concern is about difficulties in regulation of machines in the human society. For example how can the self driven cars that crash be held accountable for their actions?

Facebook shut down its AI programme this week?

Facebook shut down one of its AI programmes, apparently because things “went out of control” with two chatbots that had started to talk to each other in language humans could not understand. The reason Facebook shut the programme, however, was not runaway AI — rather, it was only that the programme could not have brought any benefits to the company. The problem was that the language they created to negotiate made sense to them, but could not be understood by humans.

Does AI really pose an existential threat to humanity?

It is important to understand that most research is still in the machine learning stage — which entails teaching these deep neural networks (which mimic the human brain) something over and over again, depending on the task. For example, to ensure a programme or machine can recognise images and identify them correctly, the machine learning exercise would involve showing this network millions and millions of images, until it can identify them correctly.

Conclusion:

There are endless possibilities for the application of artificial intelligence but the ethical and moral concern emanating from it cannot be brushed aside. The recent debate needs to find its way to the larger public discourse where all the stakeholders of the society can discuss and understand the possibilities that AI as a scientific innovation holds. AI is a complex subject; it would be simplistic to look at it as all bad or all good.

Machines cannot mimic the human brain’s ability to think uniquely and come up with new solutions to problems every time. In future this human ability to make sense of novel situations and experiences would help in regulating AI.  To preserve the significant values of humanity, a regulated application of the new technology is needed.

Connecting the dots:

  • The recent debate between Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg has brought the concerns associated with Artificial Intelligence into limelight. Discuss what are these concerns and what should be the way forward.
  • Artificial Intelligence has huge applications in almost every aspect of society especially in country like India. However, the apprehension associate with the technology cannot be simply sidelined. We need to take a cautious approach while we travel this path. Analyze.

Also read: Artificial Intelligence: Solving human and social development challenges

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