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NEP 2020 holistic and progressive, says Ashish Chaturvedi of School Diary

“NEP 2020 is a holistic and progressive educational plan that will go a long way in building a robust India,” says Ashish Chaturvedi, founder of School Diary and uFony, in an interview with The Education Post Online

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“The digital divide is a real problem when it comes to online education,” says Ashish Chaturvedi, founder of School Diary. “However, the good news is that India has seen tremendous rise in smartphone adoption over last few years. Coupled with the fact that Indians enjoy the lowest data rates (Rs/GB) and access to good 4G networks, makes the digital divide a little less stark.”

In an interview with The Education Post Online, Ashish speaks on India’s new education policy, Covid-19, online education, and more. Here are the excerpts.

What’s your take on National Education Policy (in particular on School education)?

The New Education Policy, modified after a long hiatus of over 34 years, looks like a wholesome package to me! The two most striking aspects of the NEP 2020, for me however, are the redesigning of content to accommodate just the core essentials, thus encouraging understanding based learning, and the renewed focus on foundational literacy and numeracy among young children.

The Covid-19 pandemic created an existential crisis for k12 education as schools were suddenly forced to shut down in March 2020

Both of these, I feel, are vital in bringing about a paradigm shift in the quality of Indian education. Another key feature that the NEP 2020 has addressed, is the elimination of the decisive Board Exams and replacing it with a more structured variant of two examinations – the main and the improvement exam.

For years now, the dreaded Board examination has been a source of anxiety and fear among students and parents alike, as the future career prospects of a student depended on it. By replacing this with a more flexible option and introducing modular format of examination (Less content coverage per test), have together made the NEP 2020 a holistic and progressive educational policy that will go a long way in building a robust India.

The impact of Covid-19 on school education, and how technology is filling the gap?

The Covid-19 pandemic created an existential crisis for k12 education as schools were suddenly forced to shut down in March 2020. Everyone hoped that situation would return to normal in a few weeks and at most, sessions in April would be lost, which could be made up for through the year. However, as the pandemic spread, it became increasingly clear that physical classrooms would not be feasible for the foreseeable future, dealing a killer blow to the continuity of education.

On the flip side, children are spending a lot of time online. Be it for attending school classes, dance, music or art sessions, watching online movies, playing games or talking to their friends

Further, the disruption in education and the widespread economic slowdown led more blows to the revenue generation for schools, as more and more parents were feeling the impact of the slowdown. Parents became hesitant to pay full fees and demanded waivers and discounts, given that classes were not being conducted.

Going forward, the attention is likely to shift to online examinations as it is clear that physical classrooms may not be functional this year

The absence of traditional means of fee collection, like on premise cheque /cash collection, and ongoing expenses in the form of staff salaries, premise management and basic operational costs, with marginal savings on electricity & other sundry expenses, added to the cash crunch. Under such circumstances, technology adoption was the only answer to survive.

Overnight, virtual classrooms become a norm rather than an exception. Digital content creation and delivery took center stage. Parents and student engagement became critical. And online fee collection became a norm. Tools like Zoom, Google meet, and School Diary® Virtual Classroom gained prominence. Parent engagement apps delivering key communications & content/homework gained traction while online payments and reconciliation eventually enabled schools to collect fees online, a must for survival.

Going forward, the attention is likely to shift to online examinations as it is clear that physical classrooms may not be functional this year. So assessments and proctoring will take center stage. Here again technology will come to the rescue and help schools conduct smooth online exams. 

On the flip side, children are spending a lot of time online. Be it for attending school classes, dance, music or art sessions, watching online movies, playing games or talking to their friends. Kids need ways to digitally detox. I feel here again the technology can come to rescue and offer avenues where parents can buy curated non academic books, STEM toys, self-assemble electronic kits etc. that the kids can spend their time on.

Do you think India’s digital divide is a cause for concern when online education is on the surge?

The digital divide is a real problem. However, the good news is that India has seen tremendous rise in smartphone adoption over last few years. Coupled with the fact that Indians enjoy the lowest data rates (Rs/GB) and access to good 4G networks, makes the digital divide a little less stark.

Different schools are using technology in different ways. In cities, where smartphones are rampant and bandwidth is good, we see teachers conducting online classes smoothly. In towns and rural areas, we see teachers recording short tutorials and/or curating good content from internet and sharing it with students over School Diary or other such platforms.

I am confident that this divide will reduce drastically going forward as our networks migrate to 5G, smartphones get cheaper and ubiquitous and more and more schools realize the edge that tech platforms bring to their operations.

Could you tell what inspired you to start School Diary and the impact of the platform on children?

Well, it’s serendipitous how I conceived School Diary. We had launched our first product in 2012, a contextual communication platform, and by 2014 it wasn’t scaling as we expected. During that time, one day I was dropping my elder son to the bus stop and I discovered that he had to carry a chart paper and few stationary items for a class activity that day. The teacher may have sent a note in his diary few days ago but we missed it and were unaware about it. I felt completely disconnected with what was happening at his school.

On the other hand, my wife was a teacher at that time and she was struggling to communicate with parents, as she didn’t want to share her number with everyone and there was no other easy way. It dawned upon me then, that our communication platform could actually be a very useful tool for the school.

I took the idea to my son’s school and offered them free usage to explore the benefits.  They used it for a few months and loved it and eventually became our first paying customer. At that time it became clear that teacher-parent communication and engagement was a major problem begging to be solved. Back then, smartphones were not ubiquitous and we faced a lot of challenges to break the barriers to digital adoption.

But thanks to the smart-phone revolution that followed, we could crack several problems that schools faced and could scale our solution to 200,000+ parents across 10+ countries. I can proudly share that the adoption of our platform improves the overall parent and teacher engagement eventually leading to impressive performance improvement in children.

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Teachers and Parents as Role Models for Students – Why Actions must replace just theory

School wasn’t just a platform for learning (nor it is even today) but was a place that students looked forward to going every day, with cheer

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The moment a question during a lecture or discussion on Role Models is asked, especially to school students, answers of different types crop up, possibly based on their thought process and the traits they hold close to their heart.

We have been promoting the idea of Role Models in life, to make sure, at least for practical purposes, that students think of or emulate someone for whom they have a high level of regard or respect in life and also those that align with their own frame of mind.

He or she could be anyone-from sportsperson to businessman, from scientist to movie star.

One of the striking aspects these days is that the number which quotes the names of teachers or parents is diminishing. This is in contrast to the earlier times when both teachers and parents were among the favourites to be considered as Role Models.

So, a Ronaldo, a Mohanlal, Dr.APJ or a Bill Gates are more common answers.

What then, has been the reason for a change?

Predominantly and predictably, technology has played a major role in this change and so have social media. EASY access to information and the glorification of many characters including celebrities from various fields through umpteen channels and other platforms has possibly been one of the reasons. Added to this are the marketing campaigns, brand endorsements, stage shows, writeups and so on and so forth, available just by sliding a finger on hand held devices.

An essay on, say, Prof. C.V Raman or Srinivasa Ramanujan was an arduous task then, that required flipping through books or pages of printed matter. We had to depend on teachers or parents to get more information about them. We looked up to them for inputs thus forming a different impression about their level of awareness. The same could be done with effortless ease today, thanks to anything and everything that is available online or in the Cloud.

While we had relatively fewer modes of entertainment then- the cinema, or a restaurant, park or an outing or social visits and of course much more of play- teachers and parents gave us frequent doses of knowledge by mixing them with classes or through bedtime stories and during the ‘family time’.

There was much for us to learn from them as the time spent together was qualitative in nature and openness was obvious.

We saw in many or most of our teachers, a value that could be hardly substituted by anything else and looked forward to their sessions as they taught from the heart and not from the books alone. They were assumed to be power houses of knowledge and looking back, I for sure, on a personal note, could say that without a second thought.

Value Education which is separated today, was an integral part of their lesson plan, be it Hindi or Mathematics. Their experience, passion, commitment and their roles as mentors played a significant part in this change among students, not to forget THE FREEDOM THAT PARENTS GAVE TEACHERS IN DECIDING AND EXECUTING WHATEVER WAS BEFITTING. Even the mention of parents being called to the school was enough to send chills down the spines of students.

School wasn’t just a platform for learning (nor it is even today) but was a place that students looked forward to going every day, with cheer. It was a like a get together to learn life skills along with lessons, most of which aren’t very different today either. Naturality was evident as technology or gadgets weren’t the topics of discussion, nor were Facebook or Instagram posts or likes. Friends laughed their heart out through the common things. There was much fun and play. Teachers had absolute control.

At home, both parents weren’t working. As children, we knew that money never came easily as it does today. Pocket money couldn’t be dreamt of, leave alone heard about. We saw the struggles of parents; we didn’t dare question them. We didn’t have the luxury of selection of many things, but were happy about what they chose or bought for us.  Somewhere, we had this feeling that there were pairs of eyes constantly watching and guiding us, wherever we went.

There was an invisible guideline on what we were supposed to do

Connection was real, not virtual. Lack of time was never discussed. There was better communication, more time for each other and together. An impact was created, gradually.

There was an invisible guideline on what we were supposed to do.

Times have changed, they have to. A new world driven by technology is already visible. Sadly, there is also cut throat competition that is mostly unhealthy and thus follows a mad rush to be on top, just academically, more than anything else. Money has lost value and spending for more than what is required has gone up. A majority of children has the impression that parents have enough with them. Parents too go beyond means to provide the perceptible best for their children.

On the contrary, what has to be more evident is the foundation that existed earlier, one that was strong morally and ethically, without more of monetary considerations. Learning the hard way was natural for most of the students themselves.

While a majority of the current generation of teachers and parents is definitely knowledgeable and is tech savvy, it would have this rather sensitive and difficult task of making an impact on a student community that is only just short of gadget addiction, in keeping with the times. Elders too seem to be as affected by this, as their children.

Also to be understood is that the pressure on parents and teachers today is more than what it used to be long back, in the wake of a massive shift- culturally, economically, technologically and emotionally.

Practicing what is preached, supporting and guiding children to explore themselves, nurturing their talents and leading by example could put parents back on track to be their ideal Role Models.

Teachers on the other hand need to empathize with children, lift the ordinary ones to the higher slots, create a level playing field and an equal opportunity environment for all of them to get exposed, without bias. Most importantly passion needs to be a key ingredient of their sessions than just the rush to cover the portions.

This, on paper, may not seem to be missing, though reality is in stark contrast to hearsay.

While I am not under rating the present-day teachers vis-à-vis those of yore, it would take more effort and commitment, to be followed as a Role Model because the impact has to be felt amidst challenges, most of which were absent then or were of a different manageable nature.

It is possible and would lead to a better society driven by values and positivity.

While at school and at home, we have all heard of the adage, “Where there is a will, there is a way”.

For those who put this across to children, making it a reality wouldn’t be a tough ask if backed by systematic action.

May we have more of them.

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We need to do better in preventing diseases: Dr. Avinash Gupta

We need to do better in preventing diseases. We need to cut back on paperwork and time spent on administrative work

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“We practice the best form of medicine which is modern and scientific and evidence-based. At the same time, we should not forget our traditional medicine and adopt the good things from our ancestors. After all, Charak and Susruta are fathers of medicine and surgery,” says eminent cardiologist Avinash Gupta, in an interview with Khusboo Agrahari for Education Post. Avinash Gupta is a practicing cardiologist in Lakewood, New Jersey since 1994. He owns his own medical practice where both he and his wife, Dr. Geeta Gupta (Internist) practice

Tell us something about your successful journey as an Indian practicing cardiologist in the United States of America with more than four decades of experience?

From landing at JFK airport, NY 34 years ago to where I am today has been a long journey indeed. Hard work, determination, and single-mindedness is the key to success in America. While studying for qualifying examinations, one has to do menial jobs to survive. Then we have to do training for years to specialize and subspecialize, struggle to establish one’s practice, and get ahead in life. One has to constantly study and keep up to date and keep up the skills. There is accountability and you have to be on your toes all the time.

What do you believe to be some of the most pressing health issues today?

In my opinion, PREVENTING diseases is the single most pressing health issue. While we spend a majority of health care dollars during the last few months or years of a person’s life, we do not even spend a fraction of that while they are young, in taking care of their risk factors. I always tell my patients, I want to prevent heart attacks and strokes, not treat them when they happen.

How do you practice empathy and compassion in the workplace?

I never forget what I had to go through to get where I am today. I also always put myself in other people’s shoes. Remember to treat people the way you want to be treated.

Doctors are everyday heroes. Tell us about your skills to face the challenges both medical and personal?

Caring for the sick and elderly takes special skills. You have to be a people person. You have to be caring and compassionate.

Being the President of Bihar Jharkhand Association of North America ( BJANA) kindly tell us more about its role in shaping the Indian Society overseas?

BJANA has been serving people in the U. S. and India since 1976. The organization has been working at the grassroots in healthcare, education, disaster relief (Covid pandemic), and on various socio-economic issues. It has done exceptional work in promoting the cultural heritage of India. It is an honour and privilege to have led BJANA, especially during the pandemic. We have united our diaspora and have brought them on a single platform. We have been constantly helping each other as a family.

How do you see the US’s healthcare system given your high understanding of medical sciences as a practicing cardiologist for the last forty years? How is it different from the Indian system?

As I said earlier, there is accountability. Everyone is treated with respect and an explanation is given, all questions are answered. Almost everyone has health insurance. The government provides health insurance for those above 65, those below the poverty line, and those who are disabled or on dialysis. We provide the best cardiac care in the world although it is expensive. India is a vast country and there is a lot of disparity between health care in urban vs rural, big cities vs small towns, rich vs poor. We have to do a lot more to fill up these gaps. Mobile health clinics and telemedicine may be a way to reach remote areas. We should build the infrastructure and provide amenities to doctors who want to work in rural areas.

Covid-19 challenge in front of the world is unprecedented and historic. The entire nation was looking forward to the medical fraternity with hope. In this regard sir I would like you to share one such positive story from your experience.?

When the pandemic struck, we were at the forefront of spreading awareness, education, prevention of covid, distributed masks, sanitizers, arranged for covid testing, sent hot meals to all health care workers at local hospitals. When the government called upon us to help vaccinate the public, we have been volunteering every weekend for the last 3 months to vaccinate thousands of public. We have vowed to continue this effort till every resident in our county is vaccinated and we return to normal. The worst experience was people dying of Covid at hospitals and family members were not allowed at the bedside to say goodbye.

The young doctors have the knowledge but no experience. It is up to us, the older generation to guide and mentor them which is a huge responsibility

As a top practicing doctor what are your suggestions with a focus on healthcare quality improvement highlighting the flaws and problems in our current system and areas where we need to do better?

We need to do better in preventing diseases. We need to cut back on paperwork and time spent on administrative work. Doctors should be in charge of running health care, not bureaucrats.

What is your piece of advice to all young dynamic aspiring doctors on understanding the intricacies of the health care system?

The young doctors have the knowledge but no experience. It is up to us, the older generation to guide and mentor them which is a huge responsibility. I tell my students, “When it comes to learning an art whose end is saving of human lives, any neglect to make ourselves thorough masters of it, becomes a crime”

Medicine is still indeed very special, seeks a deeply profound and wise understanding of your fellow human beings. Could you please share some magical moments from your life when you realized being a doctor is truly a blessed profession?

Actually, this happens every day when a patient gets better and says doctor you saved my life. The challenge is not to get carried away because we are just doing our jobs. We are in a profession where unfortunately we cannot have good outcomes all the time. We have to take the good with the bad. The patients also should take some responsibility for their health.

What are your thoughts on the traditional medicine system supported by the huge volume of our religious scriptures, literature, and records of the theoretical concepts and practical skills others pass down from generation to generation through ancient teachings.?

We practice the best form of medicine which is modern and scientific and evidence-based. At the same time, we should not forget our traditional medicine and adopt the good things from them. After all, Charak and Susruta are fathers of medicine and surgery.

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Perseverance Rover: It’s Mission Objective, Scientific Gear and Lifesource

This mission is truly a bridge between humanity’s aspirations and culmination of a long awaited dream to place the first humans on another world

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The Perseverance mission (officially known in NASA as Mars 2020) is the latest since the Curiosity rover that landed at the Gale Crater on Mars in 2013. The Perseverance rover is in a sense, an extension of Curiosity, but it’s to probe specific questions about Mars – to examine organic content on Mars to see if ancient microbial life possibly existed, to understand the climate on Mars and determine if hospitable conditions did exist in the past, and to demonstrate the artificial synthesis of oxygen using the
atmospheric carbon dioxide on Mars.

The mission got traction in India after, Dr. Swati Mohan, who was the most visible face at the Mission Control at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) at Pasadena, California, shared updates about the rover’s entry, descent and landing on Mars with the rest of her team and the world. The whole landing phase of the mission was viewed by at least 21 million people on YouTube and many more on their television sets. Her Indian ancestry, bought her media attention, appearing on interviews with national television
channels. She was the Guidance and Controls Operations Lead of the Perseverance mission.

The Perseverance rover weighs about 1025 kilograms and is the heaviest ever sent to Mars, with its size comparable to a Tesla Model X

Her role was to ensure the rover was properly oriented prior to the beginning of the entry, descent and landing stage of the mission. JPL, where she works, is the technology arm of NASA and is in charge of the
creation of rockets and robots including the Mars rovers, and played a key role during the Apollo missions. On 30 th July, 2020, amidst the rampaging COVID pandemic, the Atlas V rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida hurtling into space for over 201 days. On 18 th February 2021, after an intense entry and descent phase, Perseverance landing was recorded and broadcasted by NASA to the rest of the world.

Tracks from the rover’s first drive (darker marks in the foreground) and an area scoured by the Mars 2020 mission’s descent stage rockets (lighter-colored area in the middle ground). Courtesy: mars.nasa.gov/

SOME FACTS ON PERSEVERANCE:

The Perseverance rover weighs about 1025 kilograms and is the heaviest ever sent to Mars, with its size comparable to a Tesla Model X. The rover’s top speed is about 0.014 kmph with the rover covering about 100 meters per day. That’s miniscule for a robot, but the whole point is that the rover is not a car in anyways. Unlike a car, the rover uses a radioactive source to power its instruments on board and drive its wheels. The rover wasn’t built to drive long distances. It’s supposed to perform scientific analysis on its environment, including its surface and atmosphere.

SCIENTIFIC EQUIPMENT AND SYNTHESIZING OXYGEN ON THE SURFACE

Perseverance has over seven instruments – SHERLOC, MOXIE, PIXL, RIMFAX, Mastcam-Z, SuperCam and MEDA. The Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment (abbreviated MOXIE) will test oxygen production capabilities on Mars, functioning like a tree – breathing in the carbon dioxide (that comprises over 96% of the Martian atmosphere) and breathe out oxygen (which is just 0.13% on Mars without artificial production). This
instrument can reduce the logistics for future humans by having them not carry a liquid oxygen propellant with them.

The MOXIE device will create oxygen gas from carbon dioxide, producing carbon monoxide as a by-product. Later this oxygen is tested for purity and then released into the Martian atmosphere.

Other instruments on board include the SuperCam, that performs imaging and analysis of the chemical composition of the soil, and looks for organic matter from a distance. The Radar Imager for Mars’ Subsurface Experiment (RIMFAX) is a ground penetration radar that will help model the structure just below the surface. The Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry (PIXL) will help to detect chemical elements on the surface using an x-ray spectrometer.

The MOXIE device will create oxygen gas from carbon dioxide, producing carbon monoxide as a by-product. Later this oxygen is tested for purity and then released into the Martian atmosphere

Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA) will measure the temperature, pressure, wind speed, relative humidity and size and shape of the dust particles. The MastCam provides panoramic images of Mars. Perseverance’s most prominent feature perhaps is its extendable robotic arm, at the end of which is the “turret” that can drill into rock samples and consists of a few of the mentioned scientific instruments to perform analysis, similar to how a geologist would perform their duties on earth.

PERSEVERANCE’S HEART AND LIFE SOURCE

Perseverance rover draws its power from the MMRTG, unlike its predecessors like Spirit and Opportunity that relied on solar energy. An MMRTG, abbreviation for the Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator, utilizes radiation from nuclear decay of a plutonium-238 sample weighting 4.5 kilograms. A thermocouple will then set up a temperature-dependent voltage from this radiation to run the electronics aboard. The MMRTG provides a peak power of 110 W but then this power supply will
decrease steadily due to nuclear decay. However, the plutonium sample will last long enough and function adequately past its designed mission life span. The rover has two extra rechargeable lithium ion batteries to perform activities that require further power.

INGENUITY – A LATEST INNOVATION, AND FIRST OF CONTROLLED FLIGHT ON MARS

It’s an impressive engineering marvel that requires some talent, dedication and smart work went into this project since being announced in December 2012, at the American Geophysical Union. It isn’t just the rover that has gone in as part of project Mars 2020, but a small helicopter aboard Perseverance. The helicopter will serve as a technology demonstration for future airborne missions on Mars. The helicopter, aptly named Ingenuity, will commence flight test in April 2021. The helicopter will hover for
90 seconds and then recharge with its onboard solar panels. This will be the first time that controlled flight has ever been performed on another planetary body, that too with an extremely thin atmosphere
(having a pressure of only 0.095 psi, compared to earth’s pressure at sea level of about 14 psi). It has taken true ingenuity for the engineers to build this machine.

WHAT’S THE FUTURE AND WHAT’S EXPECTED OUT OF MARS 2020

This mission is truly a bridge between humanity’s aspirations and culmination of a long awaited dream to place the first humans on another world. Scientists and engineers will need all the data they want,
because although Mars may be a dead planet, it had an interesting history. Scientists are positive about the existence of flowing liquid water on the surface billions of years ago, and even had a stable atmosphere. But we just don’t know how it all went, and why it went. These fundamental questions
become relevant to us as humans to identify the necessary conditions needed to harbor life on other planets other than our own.

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