Daily Current Affairs : 19th January 2023

Daily Current Affairs for UPSC CSE

Topics Covered

  1. Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2022
  2. Draft proposal against Fake News
  3. Forest Advisory Committee
  4. Facts for Prelims

1 . Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2022

Context: As schools reopened after nearly two years of closure due to COVID-19, student enrolments increased to more than pre-pandemic levels but the learning gap widened for foundational skills in reading and arithmetic, reversing several years of improvement, finds the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2022, released by the NGO Pratham.

What is ASER?

  • ASER is an annual survey that aims to provide reliable estimates of children’s enrolment and basic learning levels for each district and state in India.
  • ASER has been conducted every year since 2005 in all rural districts of India.
  • It is the largest citizen-led survey in India.
  • It is also the only annual source of information on children’s learning outcomes available in India today.
  • ASER is a household-based rather than school-based survey.
  • This design enables all children to be included – those who have never been to school or have dropped out, as well as those who are in government schools, private schools, religious schools or anywhere else.

Tools and Testing

  • ASER Reading Tools – The ASER reading assessment tool consists of 4 levels: letters, words, a short paragraph (Std 1 level text), and a longer “story” (Std 2 level text). The child is marked at the highest level which she can do comfortably. 
  • ASER Maths Tool – The ASER Math tool consists of four levels: Number recognition (1-9), number recognition (11-99), two digit subtraction with borrowing, and three digit by one digit division. The child is marked at the highest level which she can do comfortably. A child who is unable to do the first level will be marked at a level called, ‘Beginner’.

Findings of the Annual Status of Education Report 2022 report

  • Enrollment – Overall increase in Enrollment Figures
    • The national-level study shows that despite school closures during the pandemic, the overall enrolment figures, which have been above 95% for the past 15 years for the 6 to 14 years age group, increased from 97.2% in 2018 to 98.4% in 2022.
    • Government schools have seen a sharp increase in children enrolled from 65.6% in 2018 to 72.9% in 2022, reversing another trend of a steady decrease in student enrolments seen since 2006, when it was at 73.4%
  • Basic Literacy Level – Reading Ability Significant dip in the abilities to read and calculate,
    • Despite the enthusiasm seen among parents and students towards schools, children’s basic literacy levels have taken a big hit, with their reading ability as compared to numeracy skills worsening much more sharply and dropping to pre-2012 levels
    • The percentage of children in Class 3 in government or private schools who were able to read at the level of Class 2 dropped from 27.3% in 2018 to 20.5% in 2022.
    • States showing a decline of more than 10 percentage points from 2018 levels include those that had higher reading levels in 2018, such as Kerala (from 52.1% in 2018 to 38.7% in 2022), Himachal Pradesh (from 47.7% to 28.4%), and Haryana (from 46.4% to 31.5%).
    • Nationally, the proportion of children enrolled in Class 5 in government or private schools who can at least read a Class 2-level text fell from 50.5% in 2018 to 42.8% in 2022.
    • The drops in basic reading ability are smaller for Class 8 students, where 69.6% of children enrolled in government or private schools who could read at least basic text in 2022 falling from 73% in 2018.
  • Arithmetic and Calculation Abilities
    • Class 3 students who were able to do at least subtract dropped from 28.2% in 2018 to 25.9% in 2022.
    • The proportion of children in Class 5 across India who can carry out division has also fallen slightly from 27.9% in 2018 to 25.6% in 2022.
    • The performance of Class 8 students in basic arithmetic is more varied. Nationally, the proportion of children who can do division has increased slightly, from 44.1% in 2018 to 44.7% in 2022. This increase is driven by improved outcomes among girls as well as among children enrolled in government schools, whereas boys and children enrolled in private schools show a decline over 2018 levels.
    • Children in Class 8 in government schools did significantly better in 2022 than in 2018 in Uttar Pradesh (from 32% to 41.8%) and Chhattisgarh (from 28% to 38.6%) but were significantly worse off in Punjab (from 58.4% to 44.5%).
  • Tution Classes –
    • The report also shows a surge in students attending tuition classes. Between 2018 and 2022, in all states, there is an increase in the proportion of children who attend tuition classes.
    • While families withdrew students from private schools to save money spent on tuition fees, they also invested in private tuition classes, which increased as the proportion of such students rose further from 26.4% in 2018 to 30.5% in 2022 in both private and government schools.
    • This may also be the reason why learning gaps are sharper in reading because students typically choose to study maths and science in tuition classes.
  • Covid Impact on Girls Education :
    • The report also lays to rest apprehensions about the pandemic forcing families to withdraw girls from schools and force them into early marriages.
    • It finds that the percentage of girls in the age group of 11-14 years who were out of school declined to 2% from 4.1%.
    • The decrease in the proportion of girls not enrolled in school is even sharper among older girls in the 15-16 years age group, which stood at 7.9% in 2022 as compared with 13.5% in 2018.

2 . Draft proposal against Fake News

Context: The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology on Tuesday proposed a draft rule that would require social media platforms to take down content that has been “fact-checked” by the Press Information Bureau’s fact check unit as false.

What is Fake News?

  • Fake news is any article or video containing untrue information disguised as a credible news source.

About the Draft rule:

  • Any piece of news that has been identified as “fake” by the fact-checking unit of the Press Information Bureau (PIB) – the Centre’s nodal agency to share news updates – will not be allowed on online intermediaries, including social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, the Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY) has said in a draft proposal.
  • Rule 3(1)(b)(v) of the amended version of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 state that platforms “shall make reasonable efforts to cause the user of its computer resource not to” post content that has been “identified as fake or false by the fact check unit at the Press Information Bureau of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting or other agency authorised by the Central Government for fact checking”.
  • The rules require all platforms acting as intermediaries between users and the Internet to ensure some due diligence while hosting content.
  • These rules apply to social media intermediaries, significant social media intermediaries (with more than five million users), and online gaming intermediaries.
  • Section 79 of the IT act grants an immunity to ‘intermediaries’ from third party information, data etc hosted by these intermediaries. The Section 2(1) (w) of the Information Technology act defines intermediary in relation to an electronic message’ person who on behalf of another person who receives, stores or transmits it or provides any service in relation to it.
  • Intermediaries include telecom service providers, internet service providers (ISPs), web hosting services, search engines, online payment sites, auction sites, marketplaces and social media platforms among others.

Concerns regarding the draft rule

  • Determination of fake news by the central government leads censorship of the free press.
  • It will give extensive powers to the PIB to force online intermediaries to take down content that the government may find problematic.
  • PIB will only end up as a mouthpiece of the Government where it is likely to censor content based on the Government’s opinion regardless of the facts.

About PIB Fact Checking

  • The Press Information Bureau (PIB)’s fact-checking unit was established in 2019 to verify news related to the government schemes and policies.
  •  It routinely flags information about the government it believes is fake or misleading, albeit rarely explaining why it has flagged a particular piece of information.

3 . Forest Advisory Committee

Context: The Forest Advisory Committee has asked the Arunachal Pradesh government to file a fresh proposal for forest diversion and the construction of the Etalin hydroelectric project (EHEP) due to non-compliance to conditions stipulated by the FAC and the overwhelming pushback against the project in the region.

What is Forest Advisory Committee?

  • Forest Advisory Committee (FAC is a statutory body of the Ministry of Environment Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) formed under the Forest Conservation Act of 1980.  
  • The functions of FAC are to consider the questions on the diversion of forest land for non-forest uses such as mining, industrial projects, townships and advises the government on the issue of granting forest clearances.
  • For forest land beyond five hectares, approval for diverting land must be given by the Central government. This is via a specially constituted committee, called the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC).
  • Committee examines whether the user agency, or those who have requested forest land, have made a convincing case for the upheaval of that specific parcel of land, whether they have a plan in place to ensure that the ensuing damage — from felling of trees in that area, denuding the local landscape — will be minimal and the said piece of land doesn’t cause damage to wildlife habitat.
  • Once the FAC is convinced and approves (or rejects a proposal), it is forwarded to the concerned State government where the land is located, who then has to ensure that provisions of the Forest Right Act, 2006, a separate Act that protects the rights of forest dwellers and tribals over their land, are complied with.
  • The FAC approval also means that the future users of the land must provide compensatory land for afforestation as well as pay the net present value (ranging between ₹10-15 lakh per hectare.)

Current issue

  • The Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) has asked for revised proposal for diversion of 1165.66 ha (including 91.331 ha underground area) of forest land for the construction of the 3,097 mw Etalin Hydroelectric Project in Dibang Valley district by M/s Etalin Hydroelectric Power Company Limited, a joint venture of the Jindal Power Limited and the Hydropower Development Corporation of Arunachal Pradesh Limited.
  • The FAC made the recommendations during a meeting it held on December 27, 2022, for which the top agenda was the deliberation and discussion of the diversion of 1165.66 hectares of forest land for construction of the 3,097 MW power plant in Dibang Valley District.
  • Furthermore, the FAC rapped the government for poor compliance in earlier approved projects that have either stalled or not begun due to opposition from different groups.
  •  The committee directed the State government to review the status of all approved projects and submit a report to the Ministry of Environment Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC).
  • The FAC also suggested the formation of a high-level empowered committee to investigate various concerns raised by large representations against the project.
  • FAC opined that the instant proposal cannot be considered in the present form and the revised proposal may be submitted for further consideration by the State Government

Why is the Etalin project controversial?

  • The Etalin project, a joint venture of the Jindal Power Limited and the Hydropower Development Corporation of Arunachal Pradesh Limited, has attracted much controversy and opposition.
  • In 2020, the National Board of Wildlife wrote that the “FAC appears to be ignoring established tenets of forest conservation and related legal issues while recommending this proposal”. The said that the ‘disastrous’ Etalin project needed to be junked.
  • The conservationists had also picked holes in the FAC’s site inspection report “bereft of details of locations within the forests visited, number of grids across an altitudinal range inspected, the status of vegetation therein, direct and indirect signs of wild animals listed in the various schedules of the Wildlife Act and overall appreciation of the ecological value of the area.
  • Underscoring the inadequacy of the Environment Impact Assessment report on Etalin, the conservationists said observations by wildlife officials were ignored. These include the threat to 25 globally endangered mammal and bird species in the area to be affected.
  • The original project proposal approved by the FAC had mentioned that operations would involve the clearing of 2.7 lakh trees in “subtropical evergreen broad-leaved forest and subtropical rainforests”.

4 . Facts for Prelims

Calling Name Presentation (CNAP) proposal

  • Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI)  released consultation paper on ’introduction of calling name presentation in telecommunication networks’, which deals with the technology required to display caller ID on mobile phones.
  • Department of Telecommunications (DoT) through a reference dated March 21, 2022, requested the Authority to provide its recommendations under section 11(1)(a) of TRAI Act, 1997 (as amended) on introducing the Calling Name Presentation (CNAP) facility in the Indian Telecommunication Network.
  • The mandatory caller ID display forms a major component of the draft Telecom Bill 2022.
  • The Centre, in this bill, has made a provision that makes it mandatory for telecom services providers to ensure that the name and identity of their subscribers are displayed while calling another individual.
  • Just as theTruecaller app displays the names of people calling, the Centre through this bill is seeking to establish a more authentic feature as part of the telecommunications network.
  • CNAP facility in telecommunication networks aims to empower subscribers to take an informed decision while receiving an incoming call, and to reduce the harassment of subscribers from unknown/ spam callers.
  • For the implementation of CNAP service in the telecommunication networks, it would be necessary that the service providers have access to a database which contains the correct name identity information of each telephone subscriber
  • India is currently the world’s second-largest telecommunications market. There were 114.55 crore wireless subscribers and 2.65 crore wireline subscribers in the country as on 30 September 2022.
  • Telecom operators and tech companies have expressed concerns over a proposal to make it mandatory for them to display caller ID or calling name presentation (CNAP) across telecommunication networks.

Spot Bellied Eagle Owl

  • The spot-bellied eagle-owl (Bubo nipalensis), also known as the forest eagle-owl is a large bird of prey with a formidable appearance.
  • It is a forest-inhabiting species.
  • The bird, usually found on large trees in thick forests
  • It is usually found in the Indian sub-continent and South-East Asian regions and are common in North India.
  • Spot Bellied Eagle Owl is a bold predatory bird, measuring 20-25 inches in length and weighing between 1.5 kg and 2 kg
  • It preys on small mammals, often small rodents such as voles and rats and lizards.
  • It is sighted for the first time in Seshachalam forest, and for the third time in Andhra Pradesh
  • The bird makes a strange scream like humans, and it is hence called the ‘Ghost of the Forest’ in India and ‘Devil Bird’ in Sri Lanka
  • It is labelled as the least concern in the IUCN red list and Appendix II of CITES

Major Non-NATO Ally status

  • Designation as MNNA entitles a country to some military and economic privileges. According to the US Department of State website, “Major Non-NATO Ally (MNNA) status is a designation under US law that provides foreign partners with certain benefits in the areas of defense trade and security cooperation… While MNNA status provides military and economic privileges, it does not entail any security commitments to the designated country.”

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