Archive for June, 2017

09/06/2017

India has made primary education universal, but not good

IN 1931 Mahatma Gandhi ridiculed the idea that India might have universal primary education “inside of a century”.

He was too pessimistic. Since 1980 the share of Indian teenagers who have had no schooling has fallen from about half to less than one in ten. That is a big, if belated, success for the country with more school-age children, 260m, than any other.

Yet India has failed these children. Many learn precious little at school. India may be famous for its elite doctors and engineers, but half of its nine-year-olds cannot do a sum as simple as eight plus nine. Half of ten-year-old Indians cannot read a paragraph meant for seven-year-olds. At 15, pupils in Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh are five years behind their (better-off) peers in Shanghai. The average 15-year-old from these states would be in the bottom 2% of an American class. With few old people and a falling birth rate, India has a youth bulge: 13% of its inhabitants are teenagers, compared with 8% in China and 7% in Europe. But if its schools remain lousy, that demographic dividend will be wasted.

India has long had a lopsided education system. In colonial times the British set up universities to train civil servants, while neglecting schools. India’s first elected leaders expanded this system, pouring money into top-notch colleges to supply engineers to state-owned industries. By contrast, Asian tigers such as South Korea and Taiwan focused on schools. Of late, India has done more to help those left behind. Spending on schools rose by about 80% in 2011-15. The literacy rate has risen from 52% in 1991 to 74% in 2011. Free school lunches—one of the world’s largest nutrition schemes—help millions of pupils who might otherwise be too hungry to learn.

Pointless pampered pedagogues

However, the quality of schools remains a scandal. Many teachers are simply not up to the job. Since 2011, when the government introduced a test for aspiring teachers, as many as 99% of applicants have failed each year. Curriculums are over-ambitious relics of an era when only a select few went to school. Since pupils automatically move up each year, teachers do not bother to ensure that they understand their lessons. Overmighty teachers’ unions—which, in effect, are guaranteed seats in some state legislatures—make matters worse. Teachers’ salaries, already high, have more than doubled over the past two rounds of pay negotiations. Some teachers, having paid bribes to be hired in the first place, treat the job as a sinecure. Shockingly, a quarter play truant each day.

Frustrated by the government system, and keen for their children to learn English, parents have turned to low-cost private schools, many of which are bilingual. In five years their enrolment has increased by 17m, as against a fall of 13m in public schools. These private schools can be as good as or better than public schools despite having much smaller budgets. In Uttar Pradesh the flight to private schools almost emptied some public ones. But when it was suggested that teachers without pupils move to schools that needed them, they staged violent protests and the state backed down.

India spends about 2.7% of GDP on schools, a lower share than many countries. Narendra Modi, the prime minister, once vowed to bump up education spending to 6%. However, extra money will be wasted without reform in three areas. The first is making sure that children are taught at the right level. Curriculums should be simpler. Pupils cannot be left to pass through grades without mastering material. Remedial “learning camps”, such as the ones run by charities like Pratham, can help. So can technology: for example, EkStep, a philanthropic venture, gives children free digital access to teaching materials.

The second task is to make the system more meritocratic and accountable. Teachers should be recruited for their talents, not their connections. They should be trained better and rewarded on the basis of what children actually learn. (They should also be sackable if they fail to show up.) The government should use more rigorous measures to find out which of a hotch-potch of bureaucratic and charitable efforts make a difference. And policymakers should do more to help good private providers—the third area of reform. Vouchers and public-private partnerships could help the best operators of low-cost private schools expand.Mr Modi’s government has made encouraging noises about toughening accountability and improving curriculums.But, wary of the unions, it remains too cautious. Granted, authority over education is split between the centre and the states, so Mr Modi is not omnipotent. But he could do a lot more. His promise to create a “new India” will be hollow if his country is stuck with schools from the 19th century.

Source: India has made primary education universal, but not good

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05/06/2017

India passenger bus crash kills 22 – BBC News

At least 22 people have been killed after a bus they were travelling in collided with a truck in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.

The crash happened early on Monday in the city of Bareilly, 251km (155 miles) from the state capital, Lucknow.

A senior police official said all 22 victims had been charred badly and could not be immediately identified.

The passenger bus had caught fire following the collision. Police are searching for the driver of the truck.

India road crashes kill 146,133 people in 2015

The AFP news agency quoted police as saying the doors of the bus jammed after the collision, trapping passengers inside.

A few people managed to escape by breaking open the windows of the vehicle.

The chief spokesman of the Uttar Pradesh police, Rahul Srivastav, said the bus was carrying 41 passengers, and that those who were injured had been rushed to hospital.

The condition of many of them is said to be serious, and officials warn that the toll is likely to rise.

India has the world’s highest number of road deaths, with an accident taking place every four minutes.

Most crashes are blamed on reckless driving, poorly maintained roads and ageing vehicles.

Source: India passenger bus crash kills 22 – BBC News

05/06/2017

Why China’s wasting huge amounts of cleanly-produced electricity and how to fix it | South China Morning Post

China’s scramble to curb pollution has made it the world leader in renewable energy development, yet increasing amounts of that green electricity have gone unused as the country struggles to integrate wind and solar power into an outdated electricity network dominated by coal.

The problem threatens to slow China’s progress in clearing its air and controlling the greenhouse gas emissions that make it the top contributor to climate change. It also runs counter to a desire by Chinese leaders to fill the leadership gap left by President Donald Trump’s move to withdraw the US from the Paris climate accord.

As international energy ministers gather in Beijing this week to promote renewables, China’s difficulty in maximising its green resources underscores uncertainty over how best to transition to cleaner electricity.

“They installed too much too fast,” said Qiao Liming, China director for the Global Wind Energy Council. “A real market should allow electricity to flow between two provinces. That is currently lacking” in China, she said.China wasted enough renewable energy to power Beijing for an entire year, says Greenpeace

Thousands of new wind turbines and solar panels were installed in China’s remote provinces over the past several years as the country’s leaders sought to alleviate choking urban smog without slowing economic expansion. China now has more renewable power capacity than any other nation.Two nagging problems have dampened that success, however, according to industry representatives and outside observers: China’s sprawling power grid has been unable to handle the influx of new electricity from wind and solar, while some provincial officials have retained a preference for coal.In western China’s Gansu province, 43 per cent of energy from wind went unused in 2016, a phenomenon known in the energy industry as “curtailment”. In the neighbouring Xinjiang region, the curtailment figure was 38 per cent and in northeast China’s Jilin province it was 30 per cent. The nationwide figure, 17 per cent, was described by Qiao’s organisation as shockingly high after increasing for several years in a row.

The problem has shown some signs of improvement this year, according to the China Electricity Council. Power demand in general increased in the first quarter, giving a boost to renewables after the economy regained momentum from 2016’s slowdown.However, experts say wasted energy will continue to be a drag on Chinese renewable power potential until the country’s electrical grid is modernised and provincial officials end their preference for coal, which provides almost two-thirds of the country’s energy.

The problem is worst in winter when many coal plants provide electricity for the power grid and send out excess heat to keep homes and businesses warm.

That’s led provincial officials to keep coal plants running and to reject available wind-generated electricity despite pressure from the central government to use more renewables, said Lu Xi, a professor at Tsinghua University’s School of Environment in Beijing.

“On paper they express quite clear attitudes to promote renewables, but in reality they promote coal interests,” said Frank Yu, a renewables specialist with the consulting firm Wood Mackenzie.

To help address the issue, China’s National Energy Administration has pushed for more wind turbines to be installed closer to Beijing and coastal cities where demand is highest. That should allow renewable energy to bypass part of the dated transmission system that has been blamed for impeding its use. It also would give more populated provinces a greater stake in making sure renewables get used.China has leadership role in fight against climate change

In a separate effort, at this week’s energy ministers meeting in Beijing, Chinese officials are expected to launch a campaign to make its power supply system more flexible. The goal is to create a power grid that can more easily absorb the highs and lows associated with weather dependent wind and solar electricity, said Christian Zinglersen, the head of the Clean Energy Ministerial, which is hosting the meeting.

Still, the problem of electricity going unused could get worse before it gets better, said Zhang Liutong, a senior manager with the Lantau Group, a Hong Kong-based energy consulting firm. More solar and wind is planned in Chinese provinces that already have more power-generating capacity than they use. Additional coal plants also are slated to come online, Zhang said.

China’s difficulties, while more pronounced than in other countries, are not unique. Western countries have experienced their own renewable struggles as utilities tried to integrate weather dependent wind and solar power into electricity grids built around coal plants, which are more polluting but also more reliable.

But over the next two decades, events in developing nations including China and India are expected to play a magnified role in addressing climate change. The United States, meanwhile, appears headed for a diminished presence as Trump and fellow Republicans back away from the climate policies of former President Barack Obama.

Almost all of the increased electricity demand during that period is expected to come from developing nations, according to projections from the International Energy Administration.

China alone will account for about half the total.

China’s struggles to maximise its use of renewables will not necessarily prevent it from meeting international emissions targets that aim to keep global warming below two degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. But it will make it much more expensive unless China is able to adapt its power supply system while it is still in development, Zinglersen said.

“This is a case of political leadership catching up with the reality on the ground,” he said. “The more flexible a system you can have the more renewables you can allow for.”

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Source: Why China’s wasting huge amounts of cleanly-produced electricity and how to fix it | South China Morning Post

02/06/2017

Is Trump abandoning US global leadership? – BBC News

What is Donald Trump’s vision of American leadership? His inaugural speech gave us a headline – “from this day forward, it’s going to be only America first” – but four months on, how much more do we know?

Amid a flood of stories about the president’s lack of commitment to cherished post-war alliances, his attitude to trade and his unwillingness to collaborate on issues like climate change, Mr Trump’s critics draw pessimistic conclusions.

“The cumulative effect of Trump policies, capped by his foolish, tragic Paris decision = abdication of America’s global leadership. Shame!” tweeted Susan Rice, Barack Obama’s former national security adviser.”Donald Trump’s every instinct runs counter to the ideas that have underpinned the post-war international system,” writes G John Ikenberry, Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton.

“Across ancient and modern eras, orders built by great powers have come and gone,” he writes in Foreign Affairs. “But they have usually ended in murder not suicide.”

However, in the wake of President Trump’s first, much scrutinised foreign trip, two of his closest aides argued that America’s allies have nothing to fear.”America First does not mean America alone,” wrote White House National Security Adviser HR McMaster and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn in the Wall Street Journal.

The president, they insisted, had reconfirmed America’s commitment to the Nato principle of collective defence (there is a debate about this: his endorsement was less than explicit). Using a pejorative phrase often thrown at Barack Obama, the authors said America would not “lead from behind”. They also made it clear that the president’s approach is fundamentally transactional and highly competitive.

Donald Trump found himself out of step with other leaders at the G7 summit in Italy

They hailed Donald Trump’s “clear-eyed outlook that the world is not a ‘global community’ but an arena where nations, non-governmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage”.

Where America’s interests align with those of its friends and partners, they wrote, the administration was open to working together to solve problems.

But the two officials signed off with an unambiguous reminder of their master’s core purpose.

“America First signals the restoration of American leadership and our government’s traditional role overseas – to use the diplomatic, economic and military resources of the US to enhance American security, promote American prosperity, and extend American influence around the world.

“No place here, it seems, for Harry Truman’s 1945 declaration that “no matter how great our strength… we must deny ourselves the license to do always as we please”.

For Donald Trump, the exercise of American influence revolves around imposing Washington’s will.

Muscular approach

“We must make America respected again and we must make America great again,” he declared in April 2016.

“If we can do that, perhaps this century can be the most peaceful and prosperous the world has ever known.”

Some of the president’s fiercest critics reacted with horror to the McMaster/Cohn article.The conservative commentator David Frum said the two officials “have re-imagined the United States in the image of their own chief – selfish, isolated, brutish, domineering, and driven by immediate appetites rather than ideals or even longer-term interests.”

There were times, during the European leg of his tour, when the president’s body language and demeanour seemed calculated to confirm his opponents’ worst fears.

Trump pushes past Montenegro’s PM

When he shoved aside the prime minister of Montenegro, Donald Trump seemed to act out an ugly version of America First.

A billionaire who is used to bending friend and foe alike to his will appears to struggle with anything more collaborative.

But there are signs that his muscular approach, while popular among supporters at home, has already caused a shift in the tectonic plates of the global world order.

Germany’s Angela Merkel says the days of depending on others are “to a certain extent” over.”

We Europeans truly have to take our fate into our own hands,” she told supporters last Sunday.

She struck a similar note when welcoming the Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to Berlin.

“We are living in times of global uncertainty,” she said, “and see our responsibility to expand our partnership… and push for a world order based on law.”

For his part, Mr Li seemed only too happy to reciprocate.

“We are both ready to contribute to stability in the world,” he said.It’s been clear since Donald Trump’s election that China sees this as a moment of opportunity.

China is not being pushy, foreign ministry official Zhang Jun told reporters in January.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has committed his country to renewable energy

“It’s because the original front-runners suddenly fell back and pushed China to the front,” he said.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos it was left to China’s President Xi Jinping to defend globalisation and free trade, both frequently and colourfully attacked during Donald Trump’s election campaign.

The EU and Nato also came in for scorn, and even though President Trump has subsequently moderated his tone, damage has undoubtedly been done.

David Frum reaches a bleak conclusion. America is no longer the leader its partners once respected “but an unpredictable and dangerous force in world affairs, itself to be contained and deterred by new coalitions of ex-friends”.

Source: Is Trump abandoning US global leadership? – BBC News

02/06/2017

China flips the switch on world’s biggest floating solar farm | South China Morning Post

The world’s biggest floating solar power plant is up and running in China, as the country increasingly looks to renewable sources for its energy.

It comes at a time when Beijing is expected to take a bigger role in global efforts to tackle climate change, after the United States pulled out of the landmark 195-nation Paris deal.

The new solar farm in the city of Huainan, in the central, coal-rich Anhui province, can generate 40 megawatts of electricity – enough to power 15,000 homes. That’s according to Sungrow Power Supply, the Chinese firm that built the plant. It was connected to the city’s power grid in May.

The solar farm occupies an area that for years saw intensive coal mining. Subsidence and heavy rain created the lake where the solar panels have been installed.

Those panels float on the surface of the water, which ranges in depth from four to 10 metres.While Sungrow did not disclose the exact size of the plant, its capacity is double that of the solar farm previously considered the world’s biggest. That plant is also located in Huainan and was built by Xinyi Solar in 2016.

With US out of Paris climate deal, China’s now able to lead … but is it willing?Earlier in 2016, a floating solar farm began operating on the outskirts of London with capacity to generate just over 6 megawatts of electricity – it was considered the biggest at the time, according to a report in The Guardian.

Floating solar farms take advantage of areas that would otherwise go unused and the water helps to cool the surface of the panels, reducing the risk of overheating.

China is now the largest solar energy producer in the world – its capacity reached 77.42 gigawatts at the end of last year, according to the National Energy Administration. Renewables make up 11 per cent of the country’s energy use, but that number could go up to 20 per cent by 2030.

Earlier this year, the world’s biggest solar farm was unveiled in a remote part of the Tibetan plateau, in western Qinghai province. The sprawling Longyangxia Dam Solar Park covers some 27 square kilometres – almost the size of Macau. It can generate enough power to supply 200,000 homes.

Other large-scale solar projects in the country include the installation of 300 panels above a fish farm in Zhejiang province and a 6-million panel solar farm in the Ningxia autonomous region, which will be the biggest when it is completed.

Chinese companies are also involved in solar projects in other countries. State-owned National Complete Engineering Corporation is working with GCL System Integration Technology to build a 1-gigawatt solar plant in the exclusion zone around the Chernobyl reactor – the site of the worse nuclear accident in history.

China’s embrace of renewable energy presents a stark contrast to the climate policies of the United States, which has announced it will exit the landmark Paris climate agreement. US President Donald Trump has slammed his predecessor Barack Obama for “wasting” taxpayer money on solar companies, called wind farms both “disgusting looking” and “bad for people’s health”, and proposed an administrative budget that would slash renewable energy spending by 70 per cent.

Source: China flips the switch on world’s biggest floating solar farm | South China Morning Post

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