Indian Express 04th March 2020

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1)What test is done for coronavirus? Are private laboratories equipped?

The first test that samples of all suspected patients are sent for is the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. If that is positive, the sample is sent to the National Institute of Virology in Pune, which is the only government laboratory currently doing genome sequencing, for final confirmation.

Can masks contain the coronavirus infection?

Masks are effective in containing the spread of infection. Any person with a history of travel to affected areas or of contact with infected persons, and showing symptoms of the disease, should use a mask. It is also important for medical staff to use masks.

For the general population, it is not essential to use masks at the current moment. In fact, masks come with their own hazards. For a person with an existing medical condition, wearing a mask may inadvertently complicate the situation. Many experts have noted that people may wear a mask incorrectly, and they can increase the risk of infection by touching their face more often.

Coronavirus in India: Are hand sanitisers effective?

They are, provided they are alcohol-based and the alcohol content is more than 60%. The US Centers for Disease Control “recommends washing hands with soap and water whenever possible because hand-washing reduces the amounts of all types of germs and chemicals on hands. But if soap and water are not available, using a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol can help you avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others.”

Hand-washing, though, remains the first and best step, preferably with warm water.

2)Our teacher education system must be aligned to global standards :

The learning crisis is evident in the fact that almost half of the children in grade 5 in rural India cannot solve a simple two-digit subtraction problem, while 67 per cent of children in grade 8 in public schools score less than 50 per cent in competency-based assessments in mathematics.

On the one hand, India is dealing with a scenario of significant teacher vacancies, which are to the tune of almost 60-70 per cent in some states. In fact, there are over one lakh single-teacher schools present across the country.

But, on the other hand, there are 17,000-odd Teacher Education Institutes (TEIs) that are responsible for preparing teachers through programmes such as the Bachelor of Education (B.Ed), and Diploma in Elementary Education (D.El.Ed).

Not only are these TEIs generating a surplus supply of teachers, they are also producing poor-quality teachers.

The National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) and its four regional committees (north, south, east and west), established by statute, are responsible for teacher education in India. However, the Act assigns disproportionate power to the regional committees which grant programme affiliation while the Council has been rendered toothless.

Perverted incentives, widespread corruption and commercialisation have resulted in a massive proliferation of sub-standard TEIs.

Any reform initiative must be built on credible data. Till date, there is no accurate real-time database of the number and details of teacher education institutes, students enrolled and programmes offered. Such data could be used to create a comprehensive plan for the sector, devising the optimal number of TEIs, their regional spread and programme-wise intake.

Beyond optimising numbers, an accurate system of assessment and accreditation must be developed to ensure high-quality teacher education. The National Accreditation and Assessment Council (NAAC), responsible for quality-standards in higher education, has only covered 30 per cent of all institutes since its establishment back in 1994.

Finally, reforms must be driven by administrative will and executed through a well-established governance mechanism, clearly establishing ownership and accountability for set work streams across multiple agencies.

The draft National Education Policy presents a ray of hope. Its vision to restore integrity and credibility to the teacher education system needs to be translated into effective action.

India is estimated to have the largest workforce within the next decade. This means that a population bulge is on the cusp of entering the higher education ecosystem now. The pressing need of the hour is to focus on providing the best quality teacher education to those who aspire to build the future of this country.

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