October 2019

Daily Current Affairs (15-10-19)

NOBEL PRIZE IN ECONOMICS 2019

Related Topics: Awards & Honours, Economics

News

  • The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has decided to award the 2019 Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel (Nobel Prize in Economics), to Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo, and Michael Kremer “for their experimental approach to alleviating global poverty”.
  • While Banerjee and Dr. Duflo are both affiliated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr. Kremer is with Harvard University.
  • Banerjee and Dr. Duflo, who are married to each other, have had a long history of conducting research together, often collaborating with Dr. Kremer as well.
  • The three will equally share the prize money of 9 million Swedish krona (about $916,798 and ₹6.53 crore).

Award Winning Work

  • 2019 Nobel Prize for economics has been given to three economists whose focus has been on framing policies by first measuring the outcomes of alternative interventions on randomly chosen samples from the target population.
  • Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer have all worked on using this method to argue that randomised controlled trials (RCTs) can lead to better poverty reduction interventions.

Work in Education

  • Michael Kremer began using RCTs in the form of experimental field trials in the mid-1990s in rural western Kenya to understand the impact of interventions on learning outcomes.
  • The idea was to understand which interventions – free meals, free textbooks, deworming children or financial incentives for teachers – worked better.
  • A large number of schools were randomly chosen and divided into different groups which were then provided with the different resources.
  • Schools in one group would be given free books, while another group got free meals.
  • Kremer found that free meals and free books did not have any significant impact on learning outcomes.
  • Textbooks had some positive impact but that was limited to the best students.
  • He concluded that the education system in Kenya needed large scale reforms instead of input interventions at the level of individual schools.
  • This was because the curriculum, according to Kremer, focussed excessively on the strongest students.
  • When Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo built on Kremer’s experiments in India, they also found themselves criticising the Indian education system on similar grounds.
  • In the government schools that they conducted their RCTs in, they found that the focus of teachers was on the best students and the incentives to improve the learning outcomes of average students were very few.
  • According to them, the focus in schools is on ‘finishing’ the syllabus.
  • As an outcome of that focus, teachers shy away from techniques that would improve learning outcomes for the average child as this would be a distraction in the way of finishing the syllabus.

Work in Healthcare

  • Some of Kremer’s best-known work is on vaccinations and deworming.
  • During a study on deworming in Kenya, he found that even a very small change in price could have a large effect on demand for deworming pills.
  • Banerjee and Duflo have also worked on vaccinations in India, particularly on how to deal with the absence of staff members at various primary health centres.
  • They conducted an RCT in rural Rajasthan, for instance, which found that when services such as mobile vaccination clinics and primary health centres were more reliable, parents were slightly more likely to get their children immunised.
  • If the reliability also came with a small incentive – such as one meal being provided – parents were far more likely to make sure their children were vaccinated.

[Source: The Hindu, The Print]

 

FASTags TO WORK AS AADHAAR TO TRACK VEHICLES

Related Topics: Digital India, Transportation Sector

News

  • Union Minister Nitin Gadkari called FASTags (a device to make automatic payments at toll booths), the equivalent of Aadhaar for vehicles, which will allow the government to track their movement across the country.
  • Tracking of the vehicle will be useful for the Ministry of Home Affairs as there will be a record of a vehicle’s movement.
  • Union Minister appealed to all States to adopt the technology so that the entire system can come under the National Toll Collection Programme of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways.
  • The government has already announced that FASTags will be mandatory for all vehicles at all National Highways from December 1, 2019.

What is FASTag?

  • A FASTag uses Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology to make cashless payments through a prepaid account linked to it.
  • The tag is fixed to the windscreen of a vehicle and an RFID antenna in the canopy of the toll gate scans the QR code and the tag identification number, following which the boom barrier lifts to allow a vehicle to pass through it without the need for a vehicle to stop.
  • A FASTag is linked to a bank account.
  • When a vehicle passes through a toll, an SMS with date, time and place of transaction will be sent to the owner of the vehicle.
  • The master data of all transactions will be with the concessionaire of the toll booth concerned, along with the bank with which the owner has registered the FASTag and the National Payments Corporation of India.
  • FASTags are likely to reduce the nation’s GDP loss by bringing down loss of fuel while waiting at toll plazas.
  • FASTags are acceptable across 490 National Highways out of the total 527.
  • These can also be used at nearly 39 State Highways.
[Source: The Hindu]

 

NATIONAL BLINDNESS AND VISUAL IMPAIRMENT SURVEY OF INDIA (2015-19)

Related Topics: Reports & Surveys, Public Health

News

According to the National Blindness and Visual Impairment Survey of India (2015-19), cataract is the principal cause of blindness for people above 50 years in India.

About the Survey

  • The survey was conducted by Dr Rajendra Prasad Centre for Opthalmic Sciences, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi for Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
  • The survey was conducted in 31 districts of 24 states and the results were extrapolated for the entire country.

Key Highlights of the Survey

  • Cataract is the cause for 66.2% cases of blindness, 80.7% cases of severe visual impairment, and 70.2% cases of moderate visual impairment in the age group.
  • Blindness is more pronounced among illiterate (3.23%) than literates (0.43%) and more prevalent in the rural population (2.14%) than urban (1.80%).
  • Approximately 93% of cases of blindness and 96.2% visual impairment cases in this age group (people above 50 years) were avoidable and of all the avoidable causes, more than half were treatable.
  • Bijnor in Uttar Pradesh has the highest population suffering from blindness (3.67 per cent) and visual impairment (21.82 per cent).
  • The coverage of cataract surgery among blinds was 93.2 per cent in men and 91.9 per cent in women aged above 50.
  • Around 40 per cent of cataract surgeries were performed in government facilities, while the rest took place in private or non-profit facilities.
  • Cost was the biggest barrier in accessing a cataract surgery. It was the reason for 22.1 per cent blindness cases and lack of awareness was behind 18.4 per cent cases, who did not feel any need of the surgery.

[Source: The Hindu, Down to Earth]

 

FACTS OF THE DAY

NCERT’s FIRST-EVER PRESCHOOL CURRICULUM

According to NCERT’s first-ever preschool curriculum, children between the ages of three and six years should begin their educational journey in their own mother tongues, learn through play and not be subjected to tests of any kind. Noting that teaching through a child’s mother tongue or home language is internationally recognised as most appropriate in the early years, the NCERT guidelines also acknowledge the challenge of language diversity in India. In case there are more than one language as mother tongue, teachers may allow as many languages as are in the classroom to be used for expression with gradually exposing the child to school language. The guidelines emphasise that pre-schools — defined as all schools which teach children between the ages of three and six — must avoid early formal instruction. It stipulates that children should be assessed individually through informal and systematic observations of their play and activities. The purpose of evaluation at the pre-school stage is not to label a child as ‘pass’ or ‘fail’. Instead, assessment should provide direction for learning new skills and focus on the child’s strengths rather than deficits

INDIA’S FIRST PRIVATE TRAIN VIOLATED RAILWAY TARIFF LAW

The country’s first private train, Tejas has contravened the Railways Act, 1989, since the Central government is the competent authority to decide on tariff and not the IRCTC. The much-publicised train service flagged off on the Lucknow-Delhi-Lucknow corridor on October 4, 2019 charges a higher fare than the existing Shatabdi Express and other trains on the same route. The Indian Railways had entrusted IRCTC, its commercial tourism and catering arm, with the task of operating two premium trains using the fully air-conditioned rakes of the semi-high speed Tejas Express. The second private train will soon be run on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad-Mumbai sector.

SISTER MARIAM THRESIA

Sister Mariam Thresia, founder of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Family, was declared a saint by Pope Francis at a grand ceremony at the Vatican City. The nun, who hailed from Puthenchira in Thrissur district, was canonised along with English Cardinal John Henry Newman, Swiss laywoman Marguerite Bays, Brazilian nun Dulce Lopes, and Italian nun Giuseppina Vannini. With the canonisation of Mariam Thresia, the Syro Malabar Church in Kerala now has four saints. Others are Sister Alphonsa, Father Kuriakose Elias Chavara, and Sister Euphrasia.

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