Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Post Office—its evolution from an institution of ‘communication’ to a ‘financial’ institution

The Post Office of India has evolved from an institution of ‘communication’ in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to an important ‘financial’ institution of the early twenty-first century.  To understand this dramatic change in functionality of an institution identified with its traditional role of delivering letters and parcels requires an understanding of postal and financial history and above all migration history. This is because the Post Office has been the most important financial institution for millions of migrant workers over the past century. The 7 billion postal money orders (MOs) issued over 130 years since 1880 largely represent the remittances sent by migrants in India and overseas to their families back home.

An article from The IndianEconomic and Social History Review traces the evolution of these key postal financial services—MOs and small savings—over the past 130 years. It highlights the role played by the Indian Post Office in fostering financial inclusion in the twentieth century and how P OSBs eventually emerged in 1882 to extend banking facilities in the ‘interior of districts. The discussion on MOs provides the first history of internal and international migrants’ remittances in modern India. Finally, it illustrates how a banking habit was cultivated among the unbanked rural masses of the subcontinent.

In 2013, India Post (the new name of the Post Office of India) generated 60 per cent of its revenues from financial services offered through the largest postal network in the world consisting of over 154,000 offices, 90 per cent of which were located in rural areas. Faced with stiff competition from electronic communication technologies that challenge ordinary mail services, India Post followed the global trend of postal institutions re-positioning themselves as financial institutions and approached the Reserve Bank of India for a banking license that would enable it to offer more financial services.

While the Post Office has, as this article argues, played an important role in enhancing financial inclusion and development in modern India, this contribution is surprisingly unknown or unacknowledged. This is because the literature on the financial history of modern India has largely focused on lenders, such as, commercial banks and moneylenders. Thus, it argues that the financial history of modern India remains incomplete without integrating the Post Office as a key institutional actor.


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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Gender Contests in the Delhi Metro

An exclusive reserved coach for women in every Delhi Metro train was introduced from 2 October 2010 onwards. Children up to 12 years, accompanied by women passengers, were also allowed to travel in the reserved coach. This initiative of the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) was in response to an increase in the number of women passengers and the significant number of reported cases of sexual harassment.

Indian Journal of Gender Studies
This article suggests that while the shift from having some seats reserved for women in all coaches to the reservation of an entire coach for women in the Metro resolves some of the concerns about women’s safety in the public transport, it also generates new issues. In so far as such reservation is seen as ‘partitioning’ a scarce public resource, that is, space in public transport, along lines of gender, it invites a range of responses from men and women who use this mode of transport and creates new arenas of palpable tension. Significantly, such a move has increased and brought into the open misogyny and hostility towards women, which confirms fears regarding the long-term efficacy of such measures in rendering public spaces more conducive for women.

An article from the Indian Journal of Gender Studies argues that new sites for contestation and reaffirmation of gender relations and ideologies have opened up in the Delhi Metro with coaches reserved for women. First, consequent to the reservation, new ‘liminal’ spaces have arisen in the trains that are sites of gendered confrontations. For example, the passages between the reserved and general coaches as well as the entries and exits to the women’s coach are now spaces with heightened potential for gendered contestations. Second, there are perceptions and interpretations of reservation for women in the Metro as a form of exclusion. Men, whether young, old or disabled, who travel in the coach reserved for women, are a prime example of those who may generally or sporadically feel excluded from space in public transport. However, women who might travel in the general coaches may also feel very unwelcome in what have now been unofficially recast as ‘men’s coaches’. These ‘people out of place’ invite, participate in or are forced into, gendered confrontations, contestations and reaffirmations.

The article presents interesting responses to a semi-structured questionnaire administered to men and women who use the Delhi Metro and also presents small selection of blogs written by men and women passengers to highlight some aspects of this argument. Although there are no easy answers available in this article but has been able to make a case for the need for continuous engagement with the gendered implications of reservation policies in public spaces.

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Friday, December 18, 2015

How do rankings help in improving school accountability and raising standards!

Concern about the poor quality of school education has increased in the recent past, as a number of tests of learning achievement by government, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and the private sector have made visible the low cognitive skills among Indian children.

India is increasingly moving towards more evidence-based education policy making, which is why it has invested in the District Information System on Education (DISE) for elementary schools, and more recently in the Secondary Education Management Information System (SEMIS) for secondary schools—which are collectively called the Universal DISE or uDISE. However, these data systems fall short of collecting and presenting information on student performance in externally assessed examinations; for example, SEMIS does not capture the board examination results of schools. Moreover, neither the national exam boards (CBSE and ICSE) nor the state exam boards make public the exam results aggregated for each school.

An article from the Contemporary Education Dialogue suggests how school rankings within a city can enable parents to see how different schools perform within their own locality in the city, thus helping them to make informed school choices. Academic performance-based rankings in different subjects can also help a school to see the subject-wise performance of its students vis- à-vis the students of other schools, thus enabling a principal to strengthen the teaching of those subjects in which its ranked position is significantly lower than in other subjects.


While some teacher unions have tended to oppose school rankings, this article shows that the governments of many countries have nevertheless chosen to persist with publishing school rankings and have refined the rankings by using ‘value-added’ measures of achievement—in the belief that throwing this information open to the public increases the school competition and enhances the teacher effort and accountability via parental information, choice and scrutiny.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

How a Giant like Nokia Fell!

It was the undisputed monarch of the global mobile telephone market till 2008 when the Finnish phone maker’s vice-like grip on the market was slowly yet surely prised open by a raft of competitors. Google’s open handset alliance kick-started the Android revolution, which subsequently turned the marketplace topsy-turvy. ‘We don’t see this as a threat. We are the ones with real phones, real phone platforms and a wealth of volume built up over years.’ That was the reaction from Nokia in 2007. Nokia perceived threats from existing players at that time like iPhone and Blackberry but not from those that did not even exist.

However, since 2009 its market share declined as a result of the growing use of touch-screen smartphones from other competitors principally the iPhone, by Apple, and devices running on Android, an open source operating system (OS) created by Internet search engine Google in which Nokia did not show enough interest or make attempt to take advantage of.

Stephen Elop, who was appointed CEO of the company in September 2010, soon found out that he stood at an inflection point of the company’s fortunes. Nokia was beset by decline in market share, financial losses and was strapped for cash flow. Because of its fuddy-duddy image the market was increasingly tending to confine Nokia to one of the great brands of the past. Just as Nokia had run the mobile phone businesses of rivals such as Ericsson and Motorola into the ground, it faced the death threat from corporate giants Apple and Google in the West and Samsung and HTC in the East. 

To meet this challenge Elop set in motion a series of initiatives, which included partnership with Microsoft to launch Windows-based smartphones, 1 new mid-range Asha series of feature phones,2 dual-SIM card phones,3 downsizing, delayering, launching Android-based smartphones as well as moving manufacturing to low-cost Asian locations. These steps, Elop thought, would initiate the process to revive the company and take it back to its past glory. Following the replacement of the Symbian system, Nokia’s smartphone sales figures, which had previously increased, collapsed dramatically. From the beginning of 2011 until 2013, Nokia fell from its position as the world’s largest smartphone manufacturers. By 2012–2013 its contribution to Finland’s GDP fell to about minus 0.2 per cent.

Nokia faced this sorry state of affairs because of its flawed approach when it was at its peak during mid-2000s. Instead of visualizing the future and investing in emerging technologies it splurged its resources on non-productive activities. 

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Thursday, December 10, 2015

What is an Education for Sustainable Development Supposed to Achieve— A Question of What, How and Why

Education for Sustainable Development involves a comprehensive approach to educational reform. It extends beyond the boundaries of individual school subjects and requires the attention of teachers, educational administrators, planners and curriculum agencies. Integrating the objectives, concepts and learning experiences of Education for Sustainable Development into syllabuses and teaching programmes is an important part of such reform.
-UNESCO

In order to achieve sustainability in society, the role of education has been found to be of central importance. Theoretically, ESD can be integrated into all appropriate disciplines. Every single discipline can provide perspective, values and skills that together constitute a holistic ESD.

An article from the Journal of Education for Sustainable Development discusses what an education for sustainable development is supposed to achieve and how teachers can help students to develop skills that might be needed in order to support a sustainable future. Even as international organizations, states and governments advocate a change of the educational system to educate for sustainable development, the change remains at a rhetorical level. If one wants to change the society and education, one of the cornerstones to start with is the education and training of already qualified teachers and teacher educators. This requires a change both in education and in teacher education. If sustainable development is not integrated in teacher education, how will new teachers be able to teach sustainable development?

Paradoxically, in Agenda 21 (United Nation’s (UN) document on Sustainable Development), the greatest attention is placed on education, which is considered as a key for a sustainable future, while it is education as it exists today that to some extent contributes to the untenable situation the society is considered to be in. To educate for sustainable development, we must first bring about radical changes in the education system. Education is an opportunity for change towards sustainability, but the stakes are high and are based on systems thinking and understanding of sustainable development and its different dimensions and aspects. 

A deeper understanding and a focus on education are needed instead of only deploying courses in sustainable development and then consider it integrated. Sustainable education requires a change in our current mindset, the purpose of education should be shifted from preparation for economic life to a broader education for a sustainable society, sustainable ecology and sustainable economy


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