Are We Ready?

Dr.Navniit Gandhi
Monday, January 25, 2021

Ranjitsinh Disale, a teacher at the Zilla Parishad (ZP) school in Paritewadi, Solapur, Maharashtra, won the Global Teacher Prize 2020 on Thursday. Disale, 32, was selected from over 12,000 applicants and nominees from 140 approximately countries. The Global Teacher Prize, in partnership with UNESCO, is a US $1 million award presented annually by the Varkey Foundation, London, to an exceptional teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to the profession.

Among his many contributions, Disale worked on creating a QR code for every lesson in the textbooks of Classes 1 to 12. Disale said, "This QR code is printed in textbooks, where students can scan it using a smartphone and access explanatory videos, audio tutorials, questions, homework and assignments. It is an easy way of self-study and helps students understand difficult concepts at home."

Disale translated the class textbooks in his pupils’ mother tongue and embedded them with unique QR codes to give students access to audio poems, video lectures, stories and assignments.

In this year of lockdowns, there was much—our creativity, our capabilities, and our strengths that kept us going, and all of our forte now needs to be locked in… We have no choice. The economy must take-off, even as it is fueled by not just the public health benefits of a mass vaccination campaign but by our grit and efforts. So, are we ready? This year may prove to be bleak too, if we are not ready to push ourselves hard towards sustaining ourselves. In 2020, Indian economy went into recession for the first time in recorded history. However, if the cases continue to fall and no other catastrophe strikes, we can achieve growth above 7% this year. It is crucial that the Union government increases its development expenditure and invests hugely in infrastructure so that market forces are stimulated and growth and consumption get a boost. While the policymakers alone or the leading business and industrial groups take the lead and set the ball rolling, it is ‘we’ who must take the mantle and surge forward. The petty bickering and blame-game and hours spent on needless criticism of the government must take a backseat for a while. Let us focus on what we can…

14-year-old Vinisha Umashankar, a student of SKP Vanitha International School in Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu, has attempted doing her bit to save the planet. In 2018, she designed a solar ironing cart so that the use of charcoal can be reduced. A year later, in November 2019, her idea was brought to life by a group of engineers at the National Innovation Foundation, Ahmedabad.

Vinisha says, “To make 1 kg of charcoal 12 fully-grown trees are cut down and it is estimated that there are 10 million ironing carts in India and each burns at least 5 kgs of charcoal every day. This simple design can address the serious problem of air and water pollution.” Her idea won the Dr APJ Abdul Kalam IGNITE award and an international award called the Children’s Climate Prize, one of the world’s largest international climate awards for young innovators.

There were stories of losses, sacrifices, and struggles that kept us teary-eyed too, but on the whole, we faced it all quite bravely and triumphed over the odds too…

Akshay Parkar, a former chef with a 5-star hotel and on international cruises started his venture, Parkar Biryani House after the COVID-19 pandemic brought his career to the shores. Left with meagre savings and insurmountable expenses on the medical attention that both his parents need—Akshay decided to take this route during the pandemic when the hotel/hospitality industry was hit hard. His popularity and income are on the surge, even as the aroma of a 5-star biryani, laden with fragrant spices, emanating from the road-side stall in Mumbai beckons the passers-by.

The simple, unassuming and modest ones amongst us have reiterated: yes, we are ready!

In the midst of all the depressing discussions and bleak forecasts, true stories such as the above pierce through the dreary webs we have been weaving since February this year, and give a message clear and loud: yes, healing will happen, and it needs to happen within!

The tour, travel, aviation, road and rail transport and hospitality industries have been hit the hardest, and then as jobs have begun to be curtailed and salaries reduced—consumer buying is naturally affected and economies have shrunk worldwide. As festivals, weddings, concerts, tours, voyages and entertainment are contained—millions associated with these sectors have been laid off and obviously, those in other trade and professions have had to bear the brunt too.

In October 2020, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) slashed the growth forecast for India for the second time this year saying that the country’s economy will contract 10.3% this last quarter, the third steepest decline after Spain and Italy, and the sharpest fall among emerging markets and developing countries. The projections by our RBI as well as by the World Bank and the IMF have been all gloomier than expected, for our economy did shrink an unprecedented 23.9% in the June quarter of 2020. Retail Inflation in India in September rose to an eight month high of 7.34% as food inflation reached double-digits at 10.68%. Yes, times are tough and are likely to be tougher for us all in the days ahead.

And yet, we can!

A single mother of two, Shiji Balakrishnan was hard hit when the company she was employed with in Thrissur, closed down during the lockdown period. Though worried about meeting the expenses of herself, her daughters and her parents, Shiji has known the skills of survival using her own skill-set from when her partner suddenly passed away. Before lockdown, Shiji made earrings, bags and necklaces by watching YouTube tutorials. After the pandemic hit, she tried making special masks with ribbons for children, but the profit margins from these products were razor-thin.

“One day while scrolling through Facebook, I saw the news of a farmer in Nageshwar, Gujarat, who makes varieties of papad. After contacting him I learned how to make vegetable papads. As I had plenty of jackfruit available at home, I first tried making jackfruit papad and distributed it to my neighbours. After their good feedback, I got the confidence to try more varieties of papad and sell them. That is how I began the Amma Food Products brand and I make 12 varieties of papads,” says Shiji.

In November this year, as lockdowns were being gradually lifted, and life was kind of bouncing back towards normalcy, a host of other global economic experts such as Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley began giving positive signals and saying that India shall recover faster than expected. The silver linings were many. In 2020, India exported 14 million tons of rice and after six months of continuous fall, the overall exports of goods reported a 5.27 % growth in September 2020 to $27.4 billion.

However, our growth-story will be impacted by several factors such as the dispensation and effectiveness of the vaccine, whether or not there is a repeat in the surge of infected cases, rules and policies aimed at generating greater accountability for the domestic and the foreign industry and also by how serious we are about the government’s slogan of ‘be vocal about local’. On the external front, risks could also emerge from a slowdown in global growth, changes in commodity prices, and swings in capital flows. Politico-military standoffs with neighbours at the borders shall continue to pose challenges too.
Of course, the financial and monetary policies regularly announced from the North Block as well as the numerous stimulus packages unleashed ---will all impact the trends next year. However, a lot shall also depend on the baby steps we take to heal ourselves and the lives around us. The government may announce mega schemes and projects but finally, the realities at the micro level shall be shaped by us. How smartly we lock-in our grit; our determination to innovate; our insistence on pushing our domestic industry forward; our discipline and our integrity too shall matter.

What we have witnessed in 2020 and may witness this year too, is typically how a globalized world and its operations look like. When a pandemic hits, it hurts us all. When the growth-story resumes, a global chain reaction follows.
Other than a few politically-fueled incidents, we have largely borne this grave crisis quite well. There were no large-scale riots or any shortages of essentials. Not only were stimulus-packages released by the central government and all the state governments regularly, and our front-line medical and bureaucratic staff on their toes for a year, but we, the ordinary citizens, also coped, adapted, innovated and hence survived extraordinarily well.

Furthermore, this crisis was peppered with numerous small and big success stories of the ordinary and the extraordinary folks in our country. There were lockdowns, but we—the people of India—went about our businesses and did what best we could.

In November 2020, IIT- Madras in collaboration with Phoenix Medical Systems created and launched India’s first standing wheelchair and aptly named it ‘Arise’. The wheelchair enables persons with disabilities to shift from sitting to standing position without any external support. The best aspect of this breakthrough is that it is fully customizable while still capable of being manufactured at a mass scale and will just cost approx. Rs 15,000/- though of course, the change it shall usher in countless lives will be simply huge!

Let us keep doing our bit. Rise, we shall, if we are ready…!!!

“When this ultimate crisis comes... when there is no way out - that is the very moment when we explode from within and the ‘totally other’ emerges: the sudden surfacing of a strength, a security of unknown origin, welling up from beyond reason, rational expectation, and hope.”
- Émile Durkheim

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Dr. Navniit Gandhi is an academic, writer, author and a trainer/counsellor. Her write-ups can be read at navniitspeaks.wordpress.com
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