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Developing a Research Orientation

Through countless sit-ins on student presentations, the one thing that is clearly apparent, and that is an absence of research orientation amongst most students. While students score well in their technical papers, their unease in writing their dissertations at the bachelor’s level and master’s level is clearly visible. This results in an inability to produce a critical mass of researchers that can make a mark.

“Unfortunately, research at universities in India does not measure up to world standards. We do not have the critical mass of researchers to script technology revolutions or to exploit them fast.”

The author goes on to say:-

“I find our productive researchers are 17 times fewer than in the United States and seven times fewer than in China. We rank 12th in research productivity, whereas America ranks first and China second. It is hard to point out a world-changing science/technology idea that has emerged from India in the last 60 years.”

Aggarwal, V. (2018, April 30). Research-innovation in technology: Where does India stand in a winner-takes-all market? Retrieved May 21, 2022, from Scroll.in: https://scroll.in/article/874907/research-innovation-in-technology-where-does-india-stand-in-a-winner-takes-all-market

Despite the inclusion of dissertation requirement in Masters’ and Bachelors’ courses, the quality of most of these theses’ are suspect. It is no wonder that New Education Policy released in 2020 flagged the issue of “lesser emphasis on research at most universities and colleges, and lack of competitive peer reviewed research funding across disciplines”

Going back to my graduation and post-graduation years, our course syllabii did not incorporate a Research Methodology course at the Master’s level in Economics. Statistics and Econometrics was taught only through a textbook way with no practical orientation. Teaching of research methodology even in M.Phil courses was fairly sub-optimal. There were no computer labs and absolutely no access to statistical software. There was only minimal access to some physical journals. As a result, we faced a much higher learning curve to learn and apply research methodology.

In the last 2 decades, things have drastically changed. Most decent size institutions will have access to labs, but the access to licensed statistical software, electronic databases is still limited. The focus on research methods has no-doubt increased but that may have not have translated into quality not withstanding the increase in quantity of dissertations. There are of course far more publishing opportunities for students to showcase their research, but far more investment in the overall research aptitude, analytical abilities and communication skills is needed for them to disseminate their research findings.

What is required is a good research ecosystem which requires not only research methodology capacitation but also investment in research oriented mentoring, collaborations, technology, and infrastructure. Most of all it needs proclivity of time and interest by the researcher.

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Employment Constraints Faced by Covid Graduates

Covid graduates, this is obviously not part of the English language lexicon but for the lack of a better word has been used to describe all those who graduated during the covid era. As per a study done in a specific university in the United States, the covid impact led to 13% of students delaying graduation, 40% losing a job/internship/job offer and most important 29% of the graduates expected to earn less at the age of 35. [1]

University closures affected peer and faculty interactions, access to learning spaces, lab facilities, libraries, funding support, extra-curricular activities and definitely inhibited almost all kinds of learning and networking opportunities. This would have an impact on their learning outcomes and their job readiness quotients as well. On top of all this the shrinking job market would have further added to their anxiety and emotional stress levels.

Students studying in India too reported a stressed job market as employment avenues dwindled. Some experts even talked of it taking years for the employment market to reach pre-covid levels. [2]. Another study found that students graduating in 2021 would be less employable than those students graduating in 2020. [3]

However a complete full-fledged study on students actual experience of the employment constraints faced post their graduation either in the academic year 2019-20 or the academic year 2020-21 has not been conducted. Therefore Citizen Ecofinalytics decided to reach across to students to actually gain an understanding of how they stand in terms of their employment experience as compared to a similar batch that passed in 2018-19.

The survey precisely takes 8 minutes to do and consists of mostly closed-ended questions. The questions that form part of the construct of employment constraints were designed post a formative study conducted by current students. Most important, results from the study will clearly reveal the extent of difficulties faced by graduates. The survey only address employment constraints and is targeted at only those who graduated during 2019-20 and 2020-21 and who intended to pursue employment post their course completion.

Link of the questionnaire:

https://forms.gle/t1y5cGgd3k8vKhHB8

  1. Aucejo, E. M., French, J., Ugalde Araya, M. P., & Zafar, B. (2020). The impact of COVID-19 on student experiences and expectations: Evidence from a survey. Journal of public economics191, 104271. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpubeco.2020.104271

2. India: COVID dashes career hopes for young graduates, https://www.dw.com/en/india-covid-dashes-career-hopes-for-young-graduates/a-58263612

3. India’s graduating students will find less jobs in 2021, says survey, https://www.business-standard.com/article/economy-policy/india-s-graduating-students-will-find-less-jobs-in-2021-says-survey-121021900062_1.html

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Have Resident Welfare Associations’ (RWA) Instituted Best Practices for Residents Safety against Covid-19?

Note: Scroll to the end of the article to take the survey to evaluate the best practices measures taken by your RWA to facilitate safety of Society against Covid-19

Whoever thought that Covid -preparedness of RWAs of societies could ever become an important research topic. The pandemic has managed to expose the long simmering voices of discontent over the functioning of RWAs and their utter unpreparedness in dealing with umpteen residential issues. The jury is out whether the RWAs are utterly inept or whether it is the residents that are unrealistic in their expectations without necessarily focusing on their roles and responsibilities as residents. The reality in most probability would be somewhere in between.

The one thing for sure is that RWA managements require a much closer look by policy makers because it has multiple layers of impact on quality of urban living. Unfortunately, policy makers have largely tended to ignore the large number of multi-dimensional miniature cities within large cities preferring to let RWAs along with the local area administration deal with their inherent and recurrent squabbles.

This neglect became extremely costly when “the Pandemic” descended on to the cities and the administration turned to the RWAs to help implement the lockdown which tried within its means to rise to the occasion. When the rules were strict, it was relatively easy going since it was pretty much about nothing and no one either coming or going out of the gates. There were some minor relaxations to ensure the business of daily life and survival, but manageable for the RWA to implement. But then lockdown 1.0 proceeded to 2.0, then 3.0, to 4.0 and finally with everything opening in the background of a raging and preying virus stepping up on numbers, the RWAs seemed to be on shaky grounds. Long years of non-adherence to active resident participation affected decision making because who really knows what the resident wants or does not want.  Finding out may have been possible if societies had a culture of an active resident participation which would have elements of discussion, inquiry, and consensus. There is little of all that and that is yet another subject of research. Instead most RWAs did what they did in the past, the office-bearers came out with guidelines that were hardly the outcome of consultative processes and in general, hardly ever involved women and their concerns.

Some of these guidelines have pertained to entry of domestic workers and self-employed workers in the societies and even though the Government has now permitted them to enter, societies continue to put restrictions making life difficult for residents specially women who are juggling with multiple responsibilities of home management, children, home-schooling of children, care of parents and in-laws, and supporting work from home spouses. Women who had work from home responsibilities were additionally pressured. Senior citizens were worst affected and those who lived alone would have and continue to face daily days of agony and neglect. It was doubly unfair on domestic workers because it meant loss of incomes affecting even their basic survival and amenity access. They too had children to educate, rents to pay, health costs just like the rest of us. In ostensibly ensuring safety for residents, the RWAs forgot their larger responsibilities to the rest of the society, which too is integral to our existence.

The RWAs found it easier to govern by stricture rather than on advisories and best practices which has proved costly not only for residents but also for the larger society and governments. Agreed, it was not entirely their fault, because like the rest of the country, they too were caught unprepared and governments did not involve them actively in making them part of the Covid education and dissemination campaign. Some governments like Karnataka are slowly waking up to this need and reaching out to residential society managements in putting together best practices within their societies.

The fact is, the pandemic is here to stay for a long time and shutting down society gates will also aid and abet the shut down of the economy as well. Therefore RWAs will have to completely re-orient their approach to a more advisory role and focus on putting within each society, a bouquet of best practices that benefits all stakeholders that may have either residential or a professional relationship with the society. They too are workplaces and hence must also abide by some standard operating protocols which need to be put into place much like any other organized work area. In fact, their responsibility is far more because they cater to number of residents of varying age, health and occupational profiles thus making them sometimes more susceptible.

Given below is a link to a questionnaire which also mentions some best practices that RWAs can and should implement within their societies’ so as to make them better prepared to protect their residents without hampering societal interests and equity. Please do take the survey to find out to how many of these best practices is your society following?

https://forms.gle/kUiSUgefW2DApAsH6

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What Changed: Ramblings of a Covid Touched Life

Life is never going to be the same, at least not for a long time. Roads are still empty, factories are only partly working and life dotting the roadsides has gone back to the village. I hesitate to press the doorbell of my neighbor, to walk out in the open, to occupy a public utility, to travel in public transport. My shadow is perhaps a 3X factor of my physical self and both of us struggle to locate spaces that will accommodate us both. The combing of my hair and the creaming of the face is now perfunctory in front of the physical mirror as I am more preoccupied with the mirror in my soul.

The doorbell now waits for the whole day just to be rung up once by the housekeeping staff to collect garbage. The anticipation of opening the door for the morning newspapers, daily deliveries and for my help is a thing of the past. Day and night seem indistinguishable except for the color of the sky. Silence has draped the world much like dark colored curtains on the windows. Imagine asking the computer what date and day it is.

Chat conversations are peppered with spelling and grammar gaffes and so what. Those are minor compared to the ones that have resulted in millions taking to the streets and dead bodies sharing space with living ones. Aspirations of making it big and taking on the world downsized to just staying alive and getting home somehow. Climbing mountains was not important, nor winning trophies, the greatest achievement just boiled down to how many you could feed so that they did not sleep hungry.

Sales of vanity causing products tanked, but so did the faith in political processes and leadership. All that was empty, so was the likes and hearts on narcissistic posts. All you wanted or who you followed was the one who could get you help or gave you correct information and perspective. The bubbles of religion, caste, race, and class, nation got burst, you realized nothing gives you immunity because the virus was egalitarian, it did not differentiate. The mind pendulum oscillated constantly, based on the sentiment of information that waded and invaded through social media and personal networks.

The heroes were neither the politicians nor the celebrities but just the ordinary folks, who dug into their pockets, spent millions in minutes and hearts trying to feed and ferry.  For the first time, we were not fighting trolls, we were fighting power, privilege, ignorance, inefficiency, apathy, and insensitivity. Peddling religion and caste became secondary, securing jobs, cash flow, health and attendant facilities became paramount.

Civil society, health and sanitation workers, professionals, intelligentsia, long neglected by politicians became the harbingers of hope and positivism and the leaders with a purpose. They had their feet on the ground and their hearts and minds aligned and that was what was required to fight the crisis.  Writers and journalists joined the fight and reported and wrote with a purpose to tell as it is, so you did the thinking and not others for you.

The fight is long, there are going to be miles of suffering to be undergone, and the road to recovery is going to be a very steep climb. Everything will fall into place if hearts, souls, minds and priorities are in place. Let none of us forget that.

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Experience of Online Learning in the Wake of the Covid Pandemic

The Covid Pandemic has driven some of us out of our offices and roads, but ironically has required a huge majority to fend for themselves virtually on the streets. In that process, students of all socio-economic classes, have been “locked out” of their educational institutions during the “lockdown”.

The academic community rose up to the challenge with whatever resources it had and started  zooming in education using popular online platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft teams with some  added support through Facebook, Whatsapp and Google Meet. Concurrently, Whatsapp groups were pressed into action to reach across to parents and students for information, sending of notes and often to send out recorded video lectures and audio files.

Overnight, faculty and teachers learnt the art of speaking to mics, to computer screens and got a crash course in technology. We talked to almost more than 2 dozen faculty members and almost all of them without exception missed the classroom and the interaction with their students. They also had numerous concerns about how the entire learning experience was shaping out at the end of students and their inability to get a clear feedback on this from their students.

A very clear digital divide and therefore access resulted in either complete denial or only patchy reach of these classes for lakhs of students. Students from low income backgrounds had either none or only limited access to computers, smartphones and internet connectivity. Therefore education also got rationed, but in this case only to those who were digitally well-off.

Not that digital connectivity made things absolutely great for even those relatively well-endowed. There were issues of space, privacy, peace and not every household had multiple devices or multiple rooms to have uninterrupted access. Students felt cloistered with almost zilch facilities for interactivity with friends, classmates and faculty.

Video streaming was not always encouraged, lest pictures of homes becomes the objects of comparisons. Many students were facing everyday and sometimes special situations which triggered some sort of mental stress and fatigue which also hampered  earning. There is also a sense of realization that online teaching will not offer any escape or refuge from mental, emotional and sexual abuse.

Online learning in this situation is not a choice right now, it is the only option. To be fair, educational institutions, teachers, governments, policy makers, NGOs have all tried to rise to the occasion by collecting video, audio content and made it accessible to the extent possible through Whatsapp groups of parents, YouTube and at times through dedicated television and radio programs so that the less-privileged would not lose out. But there is a real fear that despite all efforts, there will be lakhs of students who are going to miss out on various facets of education, some on quality, some on quantity and some altogether. There are lakhs of migrants walking on the road and therefore those migrant children have ironically become “school-less”, besides becoming homeless. Let us also not forget that apart from the digital divide, the possibility of a gender divide also cannot be ruled out. With girls staying at home not only will they be required to take on a greater share of household chores but also have very limited access to an already shared digital device in the family.

Given all those above situations, one felt that a reasonable opportunity must also be given for students to give their feedback on their experience of online learning and how it affects them. This survey given that it is web-delivered cannot possibly include those who do not have any digital access, but we felt that at least let us get an idea from those who are to some extent digitally empowered. If we can get their feedback, we know that tomorrow even if we manage to reach out with digital access, we may well find out that the learning experience of digital education is at best going to be fragmented and substantially impersonal. What is more, as early results seem to indicate that online learning at the school level was correspondingly rated higher than at graduate and post-graduate levels. It would therefore indicate that the intervention of both parents and teachers may have contributed to this difference.

This survey, is totally anonymous, with no contact details asked, and is targeted at students aged 12 years and above, and who were required to proceed with their classes online in the wake of the Covid pandemic.

It is offered both in Hindi and English, and takes a maximum 10 minutes to do owing to its multi-choice answer options. If you wish, you can also use it as a telephone survey to reach out to students who may not have internet connectivity or access to a digital device. That would allow anyone to slip easily in in the role of a citizen researcher as well.

English link: https://forms.gle/3q2XPncgXMdvR6HM6

Hindi Link: https://forms.gle/XFvhC1TdYwXZSK9C9

This is a public interest initiative for the student community on behalf of the academic community. You can contribute by sharing widely with the student community.

Note: The survey has been closed